• on Aug 3rd, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 3 comments

    Imagine ordering groceries and having them delivered to a mailbox that signs for them, monitors and controls temperature to prevent spoilage, and alerts you that your food has been safely delivered.

    Meet the connected mailbox.

    Sounds like something George Jetson and his family might have, doesn’t it? Actually, it could be something you have in the not-too-distant future, given the growing interest in the so-called “Internet of Things” – essentially interconnecting digital networks of physical objects embedded with sensors that do everything from collecting data to switching things on and off.

    Think of existing systems that wire up your home so that you can remotely adjust lighting, temperature, even door locks and more via computer or mobile device. As we note in our new white paper, The Internet of Postal Things, the U.S. Postal Service has a vast and rich infrastructure that could be similarly wired to create what we call an Internet of Postal Things (IoPT), which could benefit both the Postal Service and its customers. We identify more than a dozen IoPT applications that could be developed in four key categories:

    • Transportation and logistics – Sensors on postal vehicles to increase efficiency through predictive maintenance, fuel management, and real-time dynamic routing.
    •  Smart postal buildings – Sensors to not only increase security and reduce energy consumption, but also improve customer convenience by, for example, equipping clerks with wearables (clothing/accessories incorporating computer technology) to help them find what customers need.
    • Neighborhood services – Sensors on postal vehicles, carrier devices, and mailboxes that could perform tasks useful to local authorities, such as monitoring air quality or identifying potholes.
    • Enhanced mail and parcel services – More applications like the connected mailbox, providing greater customer convenience and increased postal efficiency.

    You can check out the paper for more details, including suggestions on how the Postal Service could start building an IoPT. Meanwhile, what do you think? What IoPT applications would you most like to see?

    To get an idea how the IoPT might work, we created this video.


  • on Jul 27th, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 7 comments

    People aren’t dying like they used to. Thanks to medical advances and better lifestyle choices, Americans are living a lot longer. In fact, those who are 65 or older account for 14.1 percent of the U.S. population, or about 45 million people — the highest percentage ever, according to the Administration on Aging. By 2020, seniors will account for 16.1 percent.

    As the number of older Americans increases, so do their needs. Not all of those needs are being met. But the U.S. Postal Service could change that.

    Budget constraints in recent years have forced many providers of elderly wellness services – anything promoting physical, emotional, or even financial health – to shutter physical locations and move online. But, according to the National Council on Aging, 41 percent of older Americans do not use the Internet at all, meaning more than 18 million seniors might be cut off from programs they need most.

    With its vast network of post offices and letter carriers, isn’t the Postal Service well-positioned to partner with a wide range of wellness service providers who want to reach seniors on the other side of the digital divide?

    We hosted a forum with wellness professionals and postal employee representatives who essentially explored that question and concluded that, yes, there are numerous opportunities for mutually beneficial collaborations. We provide details of the discussion in our new paper, The Postal Service's Role in Delivering Wellness Services and Supplies.

    Among the possibilities:

    • Delivering groceries to homebound people, including those without Internet access
    • Letter carriers alerting a social services organization when a senior along their route might need help
    • Wellness organizations offering services, such as helping people manage their social security accounts, through unused postal clerk windows
    • Mobile health units stationed in Post Office parking lots

    Each opportunity would allow wellness providers to connect with more elderly individuals, and also help the Postal Service realize new revenue through fee-sharing or rental income while fostering goodwill with individuals and communities throughout the nation.

    Tell us your thoughts: What kind of wellness services would you like to see involving the Postal Service? Which of those services do you think are the most important?

  • on Jul 13th, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 2 comments

    More than half of people on this planet do not have an address, according to a Universal Postal Union (UPU) report. Without an official address, they have difficulty applying for government services, social benefits, or, in some cases, even obtaining a train pass. They cannot open bank accounts and may not be able to get health care.

    To a significant extent, a large majority of these 4 billion people cannot enjoy their full rights as citizens because they often lack an identity. “As a person’s identity is often tied to having an address, various UN organizations and other international organizations support initiatives to strengthen national address infrastructures,” the UPU report said.

    The UPU initiated its Addressing the World program more than 5 years ago to emphasize the importance of address systems to a nation’s infrastructure, especially in developing countries where a lack of street names and property numbers hinder the ability to provide public services to residents and businesses.

    And a poor addressing system also carries an economic price tag. Costa Rica estimated its lack of an address infrastructure cost it $720 million a year, the UPU report noted. Since instituting its national addressing project, Costa Rica has improved emergency services, urban planning and zoning, its postal service, and tourism, which was especially affected by a lack of street signs.

    Here in the United States, the U.S. Postal Service offers general mail delivery to individuals with no fixed address and those with no identification. Mail is delivered to a post office and held for pick-up. The Postal Service works with the federal Interagency Council on Homelessness, which strives to end homelessness.

    In October, the UPU will hold its first Global Addressing Conference to discuss innovative solutions to addressing challenges, including ways to develop and implement addressing systems quickly and at low cost. In particular, the conference will consider ways to use technology to reach those goals.

    Recent efforts suggest technology will certainly guide solutions. Irish company GO Code has found success in using a location’s geo-coordinates (it’s longitude and latitude coordinates) to help the Hope Foundation assign a unique address to each dwelling in Calcutta slums. Universal addressing solution what3words uses a unique combination of three words to identify a 3 meter by 3 meter square anywhere on the planet. And Natural Area Coding, which uses a grid system to assign 10-digit codes to locations, bills itself as the ZIP Code for the 21st Century because it provides a single, international standard.

    Do you consider addresses to be part of a nation’s infrastructure? What other ways could technology be used to help with addressing challenges?