The world may be getting smaller, but cities are getting bigger. More than 80 percent of the country’s population lives in urban areas, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Fortunately, cities are getting smarter too. Using technology, data, and analytics, cities can implement “smart” projects with the aim of decreasing traffic congestion, cutting pollution, improving infrastructure, and better managing the overall territory of the city. For example, in Kansas City, Internet-connected devices can direct streetlights to dim unless they detect motion, saving energy.

But city budget constraints and a lack of technical expertise, among other factors, have kept the development of smart cities in the United States at a nascent stage.

Enter the U.S. Postal Service. With its ubiquitous physical network and presence in every community, the Postal Service seems ideally positioned to collect the data cities need for their smart initiatives, our latest white paper says. It’s a partnership we first looked at in our research paper last year on the Internet of Postal Things. In our new paper, we explore five instances where the Postal Service could help get smart city pilots off the ground:

  1. Monitoring Pavement Conditions in Pittsburgh, PA. Potholes cost U.S. drivers $3 billion annually, so catching cracks in asphalt before they become potholes is critical. Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) wants to install in 10 postal vehicles cameras with special software that analyzes digital images of roads. The city could continuously collect city-wide data about asphalt cracks as the vehicles go on daily routes.
  2. Monitoring Bridge Conditions in Pittsburgh, PA. The nation’s bridges are also in bad shape. CMU researchers propose installing accelerometers in postal vehicles so they could collect vibration data as they cross bridges.
  3. Managing Water Infrastructure in Montgomery County, MD. The county, just outside Washington, DC, proposes installing in 10-20 postal vehicles devices that can pick up signals from beacons in leaky water pipes and fire hydrants that are losing pressure.
  4.  Identifying Warning Signs of Urban Blight in the New York Capital Region. When unoccupied properties decay, they can affect the public safety and economic development of a city and region. The State University of New York at Albany is working with nearby cities to build the capability to collect, manage, use, and share information to fight urban blight. The cities are interested in harnessing both the daily presence of postal carriers in neighborhoods and their knowledge of homes there.
  5. Monitoring Air Quality in Portland, OR. Portland is reconfiguring its transportation infrastructure along a 12-mile commercial corridor and wants to figure out what impact this will have on nearby air quality. The city is interested in attaching its sensors to postal vehicles to capture the data.

Do you think the Postal Service should use its infrastructure to partner with cities on smart projects? Do you have any reservations about this idea? Which of the potential pilot ideas makes the most sense to you?


Comments (3)

  • anon

    Yet again I leave a comment about this third world service in Dallas. Obviously, no one reads the comments or cares or prides themselves to do a good job delivering the mail.

    Oct 01, 2016
  • anon

    The PO located on Wendover Rd. Charlotte NC has so much trash and the landscaping is degrading for a federal building.

    Sep 26, 2016
  • anon

    Yes, USPS should get involved in these city data collection and analytic efforts. The data collected could help USPS focus its products and services on targeted groups, improve delivery options, etc. I highly recommend reading about the City of Chicago's "Array of Things" data effort ( Array of Things (led by The Urban Center and Computation and Data at the University of Chicago and Argonne) is creating new streams of data that help the City of Chicago understand and address the most critical urban challenges. It is designed as a ÔÇ£fitness trackerÔÇØ for the city, collecting new streams of data on ChicagoÔÇÖs environment, infrastructure, and activity. This hyper-local, open data can help researchers, city officials, and software developers study and address critical city challenges, such as preventing urban flooding, improving traffic safety and air quality, and assessing the nature and impact of climate change.

    Sep 26, 2016

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