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Amazon gets flak from Little People over ‘dwarf-tossing’ patent

To this country’s people of unusually small stature, dwarf tossing is an insult and, according to Little People of America, “ objectifies the entire dwarf community.”
That didn’t stop Amazon inventors from using a hypothetical dwarf figurine to illustrate the operations of a newly patented warehouse-robotics system that “tosses” inventory items into bins.

“The inventory system causes the dwarf to be brought within reach of the robotic arm,” the patent granted Tuesday says.
“Information from the sensor package and/or item database is used to determine a trajectory for tossing the dwarf by the robotic arm across a known distance to the first receiving location … the tossed dwarf is transferred down the corresponding chute to be loaded into another inventory holder.”

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The practice of putting people with dwarfism into padded suits and helmets and having drunken bar patrons compete in how far they can throw them has drawn strong criticism from Little People of America, a non-profit representing people with dwarfism.
Upon being informed about the Amazon patent, the Little People were not amused.
“Any time that ‘tossing’ and ‘dwarf,’ that those words are put together, is a real concern for us,” said Michelle Kraus, advocacy director for the organization.
“It really opens up the possibility of mocking and really dehumanizing little people, people of short stature.”
Dwarfism can result from more than 300  different medical conditions , leading to an average height of four feet. The most common condition, achondroplasia, affects up to one in 15,000 people, according to the National Library of Medicine.
Amazon associate Renee Plascencia of Stockton gets ready to scan items<br />before stowing them in a portable storage unit to be carried away by an<br />Amazon Robotics robot at the Amazon fulfillment center in Tracy, in April<br />2016. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group) 
Amazon, which has populated many of its distribution warehouses — including in Tracy — with robots that move racks of consumer products from place to place, is working furiously to develop robots that can replace the human “pickers” and “stowers” who manually fill the racks and remove items from them for shipping.
For its just-patented system, the Seattle e-commerce titan envisions robotic arms that can “hold” an item with a grasping mechanism or suction apparatus.
“Robotic arms can be used to toss items to receiving locations that are located above or below the robotic arm,” the patent document says.
That receiving location could be a chute or conveyor belt, and receiving locations could have shock-absorption capability to prevent or reduce bouncing, the document says.
Identification of an item would be part of the process.
“If an item is determined to be too fragile for tossing, the item may be sidetracked or otherwise diverted for moving through the inventory system in another manner that does not include tossing the item or that includes tossing the item over shorter distances or with other less intense tosses,” the document says.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its use of dwarf-tossing as an example in the patent.
Many patented technologies never see the light of day, so there’s no guarantee that Amazon will incorporate the robotic tossing system into its warehouse operations.
 

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