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Network The Internet United States

US Wants To Build 'Internet of Postal Things' 113

Posted by Soulskill
from the because-we-need-more-internets dept.
dcblogs writes: The U.S. Postal Service plans to spend up to $100,000 to investigate how it can utilize low cost sensors and related wireless technologies to improve the efficiency of its operations. The postal service already scans letters and parcels up to 11 times during processing, representing 1.7 trillion scans a year. It uses supercomputers to process that data. In theory, the postal service believes that everything it uses — mailboxes, vehicles, machines, or a letter carrier — could be equipped with a sensor to create what it terms the Internet of Postal Things. The Internet has not been kind to the postal service. Electronic delivery has upended the postal services business model. In 2003, it processed 49 billion pieces of single-piece first-class mail, but by 2013, that figured dropped to 22.6 billion pieces. In other high-tech postal service news, Digital Post Australia has shut down. It was an attempt to digitize snail mail, but they didn't manage to convince enough senders that it was worth trying.
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US Wants To Build 'Internet of Postal Things'

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  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @05:11PM (#47266447) Homepage
    1) Want to be increase the chance it gets read, as opposed to thrown away.

    2) Want to send something physical, such as a key. This also includes any letter you think your great grandchildren might want to read some day.

    3) Want to send something that you don't want copied/replied/forwarded/subpoenaed in a law suit (A lot more important than you might think).

    4) You don't know the recipient's email address.

    5) The law says you must (important for financial papers, etc.)

    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @05:35PM (#47266729)

      This also includes any letter you think your great grandchildren might want to read some day.

      Really? I have a copy of every non-spam email I have sent or received in the last 31 years, all fully indexed and searchable. I have zero copies of any paper letters. For a while, I had a box of letters from my old girlfriends, but my wife tossed those a decade ago.

      • by plover (150551) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @05:47PM (#47266875) Homepage Journal

        I wouldn't want to go through gigabytes of anyone else's old giant email archive, not my dad's, grandpa's, or son's. I barely get through my own daily notes. I keep old emails so I can search them, but I don't think of myself as beig so important someday that anyone else will ever care.

        But I do still have a few printouts of emails my wife and I exchanged, back when we were dating in 1980. Again, not that anyone else will care.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          A lot of people care, and for different reasons.
          Historians care, because traditionally average goings on in a society get lost.
          Family cares becasue they want to remember.

        • by xaxa (988988)

          When my father died, I reset the password on his email account (it was running on the family domain, which I administer) which made it easy to discover and close various online accounts, find contact details for people we thought should be invited to the funeral, and generally find out more about things we knew existed, but didn't know much about.

          We didn't go through gigabytes of data, but searched (it's GMail).

          I haven't thought to close the account, and I don't know if my mum still has reason to access it,

      • How do you index them? Which software?

      • You are an anomaly. Statistically speaking, how many people in the world have a purely digital life?

        And by answering that, you lead me to this question which is: how relevant do you think this comment is to the conversation? Because i think it is rare enough to be considered negligible. Assuming rounding errors, there is literally no person on the planet who does this.

        And if you save something that your grandkids might read some day, even if they are purely digital, they may still save a tiny box of memo

        • by geekoid (135745)

          No, I have every important email I ahve every gotten. And I've been getting them since before people used the @ symbol.
          Not conveniently searchable. the last 8 years are the res you would need to open up with different tools.

          Today, when you look at social media, most peoples writings are digital.

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        This also includes any letter you think your great grandchildren might want to read some day.

        Really? I have a copy of every non-spam email I have sent or received in the last 31 years, all fully indexed and searchable. I have zero copies of any paper letters. For a while, I had a box of letters from my old girlfriends, but my wife tossed those a decade ago.

        Ironically I have copies of both, though the ability to search the ones that started out as paper is compromised by OCR.

        Mail gets opened and placed on the scanner, and scanned and shredded as soon as possible. Dealing with the mail happens in software.

        I'd gladly move to electronic billing, except they don't actually send you the bills - they just send you reminders to go log into yet another website with a password to go download your bill (maybe). It is actually less hassle to deal with the paper. If th

      • by gurps_npc (621217)
        Not that I included that as something PHYSICAL, not something not thrown away. That is, if Barack Obama want's his great grandchild to have a physical copy of your first love letter, to put in a museum, or sell to avoid bankruptcy, then you send a real letter.
    • 1) Want to be increase the chance it gets read, as opposed to thrown away.

      Oddly, I am more likely to just toss snail-mail unopened than not. I generally go through it on the way from the mailbox to the house, and stop and toss stuff when I reach the garbage can.

      • We have a trash can in the garage, everything that's not actual relevant mail (bills, etc.) goes straight into the can without it ever entering the house. What a waste of paper, money, ink, human labor, etc.

    • by Animats (122034)

      All of which you can do with FedEx, UPS, or the USPS's express flat service. It costs more, but how many times a year do you use that service?

      Other than for bills, first class mail is dead. For bills, it's dying.

      • It's not dying for bills in my house. The billers have really screwed up electronic billing around here. They don't email you the actual bill, just a notice that your bill is available on their web site. For 'n' billers I am expected to maintain 'n' user-IDs, and passwords and go fetch 'n' bills. Pox on that. USPS has business with me until the e-bills are pushed to me.
        • by Animats (122034)

          Bank of America's online bill-paying system is quite good. They handle the interfacing with other sites, and most larger companies are interconnected with them. You can view incoming bills on the BofA site and pay them there.

          This doesn't let other companies debit your account. You have to initiate transfers while logged into BofA. So this is much safer than letting companies initiate transfers to them from their end.

          We pretty much have everything in place to replace first class mail. 98% of the paper v

      • by dj245 (732906)

        All of which you can do with FedEx, UPS, or the USPS's express flat service. It costs more, but how many times a year do you use that service?

        Other than for bills, first class mail is dead. For bills, it's dying.

        It is very valuable to grab someone's attention. Stuck in phone support hell? Company not treating you right? 49 cents and you get a piece of paper that someone, almost certainly outside of the small group of people who is treating you badly, will read. If you complain about something specific and actionable, it will be escalated and probably taken care of. 1 letter to CIGNA HQ and I got them to actually do something on my behalf. It took less time to write and drop in our office mail than a phone cal

    • by nospam007 (722110) *

      "1) Want to be increase the chance it gets read, as opposed to thrown away."

      I get all my monthly invoices per email, I throw out everything I get via snailmail, but I don't live in the US, so YMMV.

      "2) Want to send something physical, such as a key."

      Really? Envelopes containing such hard things get shredded regularly in the scanning equipment and lost.
      Also, it's not secure, nobody sane does that.

      " This also includes any letter you think your great grandchildren might want to read some day."

      Only you think tha

      • Only you think that, your grandchildren (great or not) don't and won't, unless it's your will and even that will get read to them by somebody else.

        You raise your kids the way you want, and GP will raise their kids the way they want.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        " your grandchildren (great or not) don't and won't,"
        You're projecting, stop it. You may not giver a crap about the lives of you GP or GGP, but many people do care about their GP and GGP. Why do you think genealogy has such a huge amateur following?

        Also, there are historian who wold like to archive specifically because you are a boring average person.

        "for the rest you use a courier service."
        Or spend less money with a higher degree of accuracy and use USPS.

        "And the living address you get from where?"
        Don't be

    • by plopez (54068)

      It's still pretty cheap too. Check the US Postal book rate vs UPS/FEDEX charges. Still pretty cheap. And it is for anywhere in the US.

  • by kruach aum (1934852) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @05:11PM (#47266455)

    I've never understood this term. It makes no sense as an informative expression, because everyone attempting to use the internet needs a thing to do so. There can be no internet without things. In fact, the internet exists in the connections between things. The "internet of things" is like "the story of words" or "the forest of trees". It means nothing.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's the new marketing buzzword to mean non-networked devices to be connected to the internet. The internet has traditionally been a network of desktops, laptops and phones, the "internet of things" means connecting stuff like dish washers, refrigerators, fish tanks, postal trucks, shoes, cars, potted plants and so on.

    • by vux984 (928602)

      I've never understood this term. It makes no sense as an informative expression

      \shrug -- the 'internet' is traditionally a network of computers and the network gear to connect them. The 'internet of things' is connecting everything that isn't really recognized as a 'computer' to the internet.

      Sure strictly speaking, any 'thing' that is capable of being connected to the internet rises to become a 'computer' in some sense, but people still retain a cognitive sense that some things are computers, and other thi

    • Man, we so missed out on the "Internet of Buggy Whips".

    • by plover (150551)

      The 'things' you seem to be thinking about are computing devices that are all deliberately meant for data access. The 'Internet-of-things' things are the non-traditional devices, such as washers, dryers, light bulbs, garage doors, thermostats, and other devices with some other primary purpose that is not data access.

      The concept is that today, 99% of the things on the Internet are computers first, and most people have only one or two. But when the day comes that everyone puts a hundred appliances on the net,

      • by geekoid (135745)

        The Cloud has specfic meaning, just like the internet of things.

        You people are so short sighted.
        And there are more things then people on the internet already.
        See: Phones.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          The Cloud has specfic meaning, just like the internet of things.

          It is supposed to, but all kinds of things which aren't really cloud services are being sold as cloud services.

          And there are more things then people on the internet already. See: Phones.

          Phones are traditional user devices, which represent people. It's more about stuff like home appliances, gas meters and traffic lights. And eventually, as internet connection becomes ubiquitous, everything else which now has at least a microcontroller in it, and lots of things which don't.

    • I've never understood this term.

      . . . just wait until someone comes up with an "Internet of Things Cloud" . . . or should it be a "Cloud of Internet Things" . . . ?

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Thanks for letting us know you have no idea what either means and instead you relieving yourself of the burden of ignorance, you just make fun of people.

    • by baKanale (830108)
      Since the idea is to connect and/or monitor everything (or at least many or most things) to a network, maybe it should be called the "Internet of Everything" instead?
    • by brunes69 (86786)

      The internet of things referrs to the concept of connecting all kinds of devices and sensors to the internet that have essentially zero processing power.. all they do is serve as inputs to other cloud-based systems. Traditionally, things that were connected to the internet were "smart" - they were computers, laptops, or more recently tablets and smartphones. The internet of things is dumb. It is thermostats, wireless cameras, bluetooth proximity devices, sensors in roads and driveways, in cars, in light bul

  • I like mail (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    For some reason, too many people instantly lose the abillity to care about what they're sending out (like the dreaded top-post), or even spell. In contrast, most of us have learned in school how to write a passable letter and there's something about having the thing in your hands, looking it over before stuffing it into an envelope, that makes people think again and perhaps even correct errors and such.

    Because of that it'd be a shame to no longer be able to send letters. Then again, plenty of postal volume

  • simple (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Xicor (2738029)

    the fix for the postal service is simple... dont send trucks to the middle of nowhere every day. in the cities, they are actually making a profit... but because they send a truck out every day to the middle of nowhere for one letter, they lose tons of money.

    • Re:simple (Score:5, Insightful)

      by spire3661 (1038968) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @05:19PM (#47266555) Journal
      Daily postal service to all citizens is the mark of an advanced society. I dont care how much money it loses, its necessary and dont fuck with it.
      • by Ichijo (607641)

        Where do you live that your neighborhood gets mail delivered every day of the year?

        I think Xicor's suggestion was just to increase the number of days where rural areas wouldn't get mail delivered, that's all. Another way to equalize the cost of mail delivery across all addresses is to reserve door to door mail for urban areas. Why should poor inner city residents subsidize mail delivery for middle class suburbanites? Shouldn't welfare flow in the opposite direction?

        • by kwbauer (1677400)

          In a true "equal before the law" (equal in the eyes of the government) welfare wouldn't flow in any direction at the behest of the government because redistributing wealth is not one of the enumerated powers of the US government.

      • I agree quick communication is the mark of an advanced society, but refusing to upgrade when better options are available is the mark of a doomed society.

        When daily physical mail was first invented, it was great. But now that we have cell phones, email, faxes, SMS messages, Slashdot discussions, surely you can see daily physical mail is now SLOWER and less advanced for most messages.

        When the first person put a horse shoe on a horse it was an advancement. But when we have cars, subways, trains, etc
        • When basic internet access becomes a government supplied service, then we can talk about forgetting about ubiquitous postal service.

          It isn't, and no one is proposing to make it such when they talk about shutting down the USPS.

        • by hattable (981637)
          "Most messages" yes, but it is perfectly acceptable for the people using the USPS to send mail. The effective spread is not as great for the mail system as compared to horse shoes and rubber tires. That and government-provided access. A homeless man with nothing but a forever stamp and an envelope to his name can still send a letter.
          • Several people have brought up the cost and barrier to entry of email. Email service is essentially free (gmail, hotmail, yahoo mail) and free WiFi is not that hard to come by. Maybe I'm jaded living in Silicon Valley but all of Mountain View has free WiFi, most libraries and coffee shops provide it, etc. I suppose the main cost is renting $2 worth of computer time at a Kinkos if you are homeless and want to send an email.

            But I'm definitely a believer in social safety nets. Currently, I believe there
        • by geekoid (135745)

          You really and truly have no clue what having a post means, do you?

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Daily postal service to all citizens is the mark of an advanced society. I dont care how much money it loses, its necessary and dont fuck with it.

        No, it is really not necessary. Three deliveries a week would permit business to go on. If you absolutely needed something there quicker, you could pay for parcel service. Or you could move into the modern age and embrace digital communications, because most of what has to be sent urgently through the mail is just information anyway, and it would have made more sense to use the internet.

        Now, broadband internet access to all citizens, that would be the mark of an advanced society. We don't have that, though.

        • Postal Service IS broadband information delivery, it just has ridiculous ping times. Never underestimate how much data the USPS can ship. I would argue that USPS STILL ships more data than the internet.
          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Postal Service IS broadband information delivery, it just has ridiculous ping times. Never underestimate how much data the USPS can ship. I would argue that USPS STILL ships more data than the internet.

            It would be interesting to do some kind of study to find out. But the point stands, every other day ought to be often enough to move parcels, which is about the only thing they actually ought to be doing. Spam, bills, and personal correspondence can all be handled more efficiently by the internet.

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        Daily postal service to all citizens is the mark of an advanced society. I dont care how much money it loses, its necessary and dont fuck with it.

        Free bread after the gladiators slug it out was once the mark of an advanced society... :)

      • Is this a "religious" view -- a postulate, an axiom -- or do you have a rational justification for it?

        What about delivery on Sundays? (Delivering only 6 of 7 days is not daily.)

        So, you don't care how much money it loses? How about, say, a billion dollars a year? How about a trillion?

        One trillion, divided by about 330 million, works out to about $3000 a year.

        I'm not sure I'd be willing to foot that big a subsidy. How 'bout you pay my share, too, if it comes to that? It's only money, and as you point

        • by bmo (77928)

          >postal service loses money

          But then the Congress and the Bush administration in 2006 forced the USPS to pay for all of its retiree health benefit payments for the next 75 years in 10 years. NO BUSINESS, PUBLIC OR PRIVATE, DOES THIS and it has created an untenable position. It's like the whole concept of proper amortization and actuarial tables never existed.

          Prior to that, the USPS was profitable.

          Republicans: "If it works, fuck with it anyway. Point at it when we've made it fail and say 'government sux'

          • Even if true -- I keep hearing about this pension funding change by the Eeeevillll Republicans, but that doesn't make it so -- so what? It's still a screwed up government operation. If it can be screwed up by partisan efforts, it's inherently flawed.

            Also, you didn't answer the question about why you say it's true that: "Daily postal service to all citizens is the mark of an advanced society"

            And you also didn't answer the less challenging and less abstract question about a lack of Sunday delivery.

            Instea

          • It's a mistake to call it profitable unless you include one subsidy most people ignore: the cost of the bullets provides to those the federal government has enforce the postal monopoly, and the guns that carry them, and the employees who carry those guns.

            Enforcing a statutory monopoly requires armed force. That cost of maintaining 100% market share should be included in the calculations. Call it a market expense, if you like.

    • by bmo (77928)

      Yeah, a lot of savings can be done by not doing anything at all. /sarcasm

      A lot of the value of the postal service is that you can send stuff from the sticks to the cities and back again. You propose cutting out half of that. Go look up "network effect."

      You must be an accountant.

      --
      BMO

    • Actually, the rural runs aren't that particularly expensive to the USPS. I was once a rural carrier, and most rural routes actually require the driver to use his/her own vehicle (with a paid stipend on vehicle use). This is actually a cheaper arrangement for the USPS than sending LLVs around. Plus, with the rural routes, you don't get that much of a drop in box count. They just add more miles to your route. The PO I worked for had a rural route that had over 100 miles on it.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Actually, the rural runs aren't that particularly expensive to the USPS. I was once a rural carrier, and most rural routes actually require the driver to use his/her own vehicle

        I can't speak for anywhere else, but they've discontinued all of that in Lake county. There used to be one of those white RHD Imprezas here, and a dilapidated old jeep, but now it's all official service vehicles. The jeep kept breaking down, I stopped and found out who the carrier wanted me to call because it was in a cell phone void, then called it in from my house.

        • The USPS has been swapping in LLVs for owner owned vehicles, but usually that only goes for routes that are under 25 miles or so and have a large number of boxes. My main route was one of these, consisting close to 25 miles with 750 boxes. What seems to be happening is what was considered 'rural' back 15 years ago isn't really rural anymore but is still being delivered by rural carriers. So in higher density areas, they're turning what was traditionally a real rural route into a sort of city/rural route
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Most people hate using the cellular network with a passion. Just hook up NFC boxes to all your big blue mailboxes, and people will hilariously be getting their email by checking a physical mailbox.

  • 21.6 billion of that was junk mail
    • Nah, 'bulk' mail is never sent first class. They got a rate class of their own, usually marked as 'standard'. Having a bit of inside knowledge of the post office as a former carrier, I can definitely say they make a pretty penny on all that bulk mail. This is why they won't do anything that would disrupt that revenue stream especially with the massive drop in first class (which was mostly comprised of business correspondence, ie bills and checks going back and forth).
  • by mister_playboy (1474163) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @05:52PM (#47266937)

    Mentioning the decline in first-class mail without mentioning the increase in package volume is highly misleading... but then again, ever since the pre-funding mandate nonsense in Congress there has been a rather obvious attempt to dismantle and/or privatize the USPS.

    The USPS *does* need to be reformed, however. The workplace environment created by management is extremely toxic. Safety rules and labor laws are routinely violated and quality of serivce is constantly compromised in order to increase management bonuses. The various postal unions are fighting a losing battle against the abuses and the Hollywood accounting, and the increasing number of "temp" employees is going to weaken the unions' position even more.

    Efficiency in operations should not just be a euphemism for barbarism in the workplace. If you want to see the war against the middle class up close and personal, just sign up to be a CCA at the Post Office.

    • I can't give much perspective from the city carrier side, but as a former rural carrier, I didn't see much push to violate safety protocols from management. Actually, my manager was particularly up on new safety info coming from higher up and made sure we all knew about it once a week. However, I do have to say a few things on the incentives to break safety codes. All rural carriers are paid via route evaluations. So, if your route evaluates for 8.5 hours to complete, you will get paid for 8.5 hours no
    • by geekoid (135745)

      The why do they hire nurses to ensure physical safety in the workplace?

  • As a former rural carrier, I can tell you those blasted scanners the USPS gives the carriers are a total pain. They can't scan barcodes in full sunlight, which is absolutely crazy considering we're either outside or in a truck that has full windows. So next time watch your poor mail carrier try to scan your next package, especially if there isn't a cloud in the sky. You'll see us try to hide the thing in the shade, move the scanner around, and generally get aggravated at it. Something like NFC would be
    • Would NFC really be the answer here? I would think it would still be better to pick a more robust bar code format (QR codes would offer a nice phone-app tie in for customers) and supply better quality scanners? After all you can just print a barcode/QR code...

      • Well, having anything that provides faster reading would really improve efficiency. These same scanners are used by the clerks when all trackable items arrive at the PO. So speeding both the clerks and the carriers jobs would really help.
        • by gl4ss (559668)

          camera qr can do a match in 1-2 secs from live feed on a shitty phone.

          1d barcodes are so dead.

          besides, two years ago the us postal service was using qr codes for stamps already so wtf?

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        That's not the problem, the problem is lowest bidder or pork. The equipment is just shit. At least they finally got a decent system, I rarely have to wait on it any more. Although sometimes it is still down, which is pretty pathetic. Redundancy is just a word to the USPS

  • by whereiswaldo (459052) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @05:54PM (#47266955) Journal

    I receive more parcels now than ever before. Most of my shopping is done online. How is that not good for the postal service?

    • The USPS lost on letters but it gained in package shipments. The actual numbers show they've only grown as a result; plus netflix helped a bunch with letter mailings.

      Thing is they are under attack by the GOP who is ideologically against them in addition to corps funding the attack upon them. Like the 2006 scam to fund their pension out 75 years in advance which put them into debt and forced all these budget solving ideas we hear about to save them money. They are required to not lose money; by fools in co

  • Maybe this will help the USPS catch up their tracking system to somewhere around the the turn of the millennium.
  • solved using this. You might want to look at https://www.techdirt.com/artic... [techdirt.com]

    In a nutshell, the Post Office has a customer base of only about 400 companies. The actual American public is lost in the noise as far as the Post Office is concerned.

    • And it's these 400 customers who demand delivery tracking. USPS performance is inconsistent across facilities and they are always pulling tricks like "unload incoming bulk mail and let sit for 2 days before doing an inbound scan". Those 400 customers want to know why a percentage of their multi-million-dollar bulk mailing arrived in the mailbox after the sale was over. That's what drives the tracking initiatives.

  • That make me go postal
  • George Bush was in office. It takes a democrat to allow monopolies, but it takes a commie to lose money while doing it..
    I would post AC, but the flames get fanned faster this way.
    • by iggymanz (596061)

      president does not determine post office budget nor funding

      we've never had a commie president, nor even socialist one. Varying degrees of state capitalism and corporate fascism, yes.

  • ..all what I can think of is "what a great game" [youtube.com].
  • The USPS is not qualified to build an internet of anything. They have already built an internet of people, and yet it is not very good. For example, they can easily create routing loops by misentering a zip. There's a bulletin taped up in my local post office (the hub for my county) which addresses this issue, which is how I became aware of it to begin with. If they enter the wrong zip when they take in a package, then the package will bounce back and forth between the desired destination and the real desti

    • No, they are not qualified, and the project wouldn't be done internally. The USPS is a treasure trove of outsourced, poorly-implemented half-done years-late projects, such as Flats Sequencing System and eInduction. The whole entity looks like a gigantic money funnel to companies like Northrup and Accenture.

  • I had to laugh when they screamed about ending Saturday service. I haven't had reliable Saturday service in over a decade. Maybe one Saturday a month maybe less. And the rest of the week is even worse. On a good week we get mail 4 of the 5 days and when it comes, if it comes it's after 7pm. We stopped leaving mail for pickup years ago because if it didn't get lost, it would add 2 days to delivery. As it is, it take 5 days to send a 1st class letter to an address in the same zipcode. The USPS is Welfare for

  • Hard to have any love for the postal service when they fill my mailbox with junk mail addressed to current resident. At least email has a spam filter. I tried to opt out but they get really upset and tell you there is no way to opt out. The mailman said the junk mail pays the bills at the USPS these days.

"Irrationality is the square root of all evil" -- Douglas Hofstadter

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