Amazon plans to install always-on surveillance cameras in its delivery vehicles

Amazon plans to install high-tech video cameras in its delivery vehicles in order to better monitor the behavior of drivers as they deliver packages, according to a new report from The Information.

The hardware and software will be supplied by Netradyne, a California company behind a platform called Driveri that uses cameras and artificial intelligence to analyze a driver as they operate the vehicle. The camera then gives real-time feedback — including automated suggestions like “distracted driving” and “please slow down” — while collecting analysis that is used to later evaluate drivers during their shifts.

An unlisted, week-old video hosted on the website Vimeo details the partnership. It’s narrated by Karolina Haraldsdottir, Amazon’s senior manager for last-mile safety, and outlines the company’s goals as reducing collisions and holding drivers more accountable for mistakes on the road. The initiative mirrors one Amazon has taken with its long-haul trucking fleet, in which SmartDrive cameras monitor freight drivers for signs of fatigue and distracted driving, according to a separate report from The Information.

The marketing video showcases how the cameras record “100% of the time” (though without audio and not viewable live) and upload footage to a dedicated safety team for review if any one of 16 signals is triggered through an incident happening on the road or an action the driver takes. The driver is able to manually disable the camera, but only when the ignition is off. Drivers are also allowed to manually upload footage when they choose to.

“We’re always searching out innovative ways to keep drivers safe. That’s why we have partnered with Netradyne to help make improvements to the driver experience,” Haraldsdottir says on camera. She describes Netradyne as the first company to merge AI with video “to create industry-leading safety systems, reducing collisions by a third through in-cab warnings and another third through improving driver behaviors.”

Haraldsdottir says Amazon wants to “set up drivers for success and provide them support for being safer on road and handling incidents if and when they happen.” But The Information talked with some drivers who are concerned the use of Netradyne’s technology might constitute unfair and invasive surveillance and place even further burdens on them as they try to meet tight deadlines.

Amazon has historically relied on last-mile operators like the US Postal Service and UPS to get packages to customers’ doorsteps, but the company has increasingly begun using its own growing logistics network of airplanes, trucks, and delivery vehicles to cut costs. For last-mile deliveries, that has included both third-party delivery companies Amazon contracts directly and a growing platform of Uber-like workers using their own vehicles under the Amazon Flex platform.

As part of this network, Amazon operates a fleet of tens of thousands of delivery drivers all over the country that, as part of these third-party firms, are not technically company employees. Nonetheless, these drivers operate Amazon Prime-branded vehicles and are subject to any restrictions or monitoring the company puts in place in many ways similar to the intense control Amazon exerts over its warehouse workers. That includes minute-by-minute surveillance via mobile app of where a driver is on their programmed route and whether they’re falling behind schedule.

Those monitoring tools appear to also include new Netradyne cameras, although The Information says it’s not clear when Amazon intends to install the cameras and how widespread throughout its delivery fleet they’ll be. “We are investing in safety across our operations and recently started rolling out industry leading camera-based safety technology across our delivery fleet,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “This technology will provide drivers real-time alerts to help them stay safe when they are on the road.”

In using its own network of both professional and civilian delivery drivers, Amazon has faced scrutiny in recent years for prioritizing speed and consumer convenience over the safety of delivery personnel, while at the same time placing increasingly onerous restrictions and requirements on its drivers dictating the route they take and the order in which they drop off packages to avoid delays.

Last fall, Amazon was caught surveilling contract Flex drivers in private Facebook groups to see whether some were planning labor actions like work stoppages or strikes. In March of last year, Amazon came under fire for declining to pay Flex drivers forced to stay home due to the coronavirus, despite Uber and Lyft opting to compensate their drivers.

Amazon delivery drivers have also caused dozens of accidents over the last half-decade, including some that resulted in deaths, but the company often avoids liability for the accidents due to the way it employs third-party firms and independent contractors, reported The New York Times in 2019. Just earlier this week, Amazon was ordered to pay more than $61 million to Flex drivers as part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over wage theft allegations.