It may deliver in snow, rain, heat, and gloom of night, but the U.S. Postal Service can't seem to deliver a net-positive operating budget. Even after drastically cutting personnel last year, the USPS still went $8.5 billion into the red, a budget gap that could lead to insolvency this year. But in an op-ed in Saturday's NYT, Chief Counsel to the Chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission Michael Ravnitzky proposed an interesting idea to help the Postal Service get back in the black: turn mail trucks into a data-producing nationwide sensor network.
Ravnitzky's idea (which he's careful to point out is his and not that of his employer) is to take the USPS's biggest asset – it's massive fleet of vehicles – and turn them into the most robust data collecting operation in the land. Right now each truck has a single purpose: to deliver mail. But fitted with an array of cheap sensors, mail trucks could wireless deliver real time information on weather, pollutants, traffic, road conditions, and even locate gaps in cell phone coverage and television signals.
Their regular routes cover most American roadways each and every day in predictable patterns, making it easy to establish a baseline map of normal conditions that would very clearly express anomalies. Accelerometers could log pothole locations and patches of rough road that require maintenance. Sensor arrays could even contribute to homeland security, acting as a first line in the detection of chemical, radiological, or biological threats. And of course, the USPS could make this data available to businesses and researchers – at a reasonable fee.
As ideas go, it's not a bad one. Sensors tech gets cheaper all the time, and it derives added value from an existing system rather than requiring a new one. New York City did something similar when it required all cabs to begin carrying GPS locators, and that initiative has provided the city with reams of real time traffic data that has in turn led to changes in the way traffic is managed. A nationwide network could do the same thing, but it could reach far beyond traffic patterns to the sciences, national security, and a host of other fields.
Plus, it might just deliver the Postal Service from insolvency.
Correction: We erroneously described Michael Ravnitzky's title as chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission in a previous version of this text. His correct title is chief counsel to the chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission. The copy above has been amended to correct the error.
I have an idea USPS. Update your old outdated systems. Learn to compete with the rest of the delivery services out there. I won't ship USPS if I can help it simply because I can't see where my items are in semi-real time, heck you cant' even track packages on a daily basis. Don't spend the money on updating your trucks.. spend it on updating your tracking services and you might just start seeing people stray away from the big 3 services. When it boils down to it, all 3 cost about the same, take approx. the same amount of time in transit, people are going to pick a service that provides them with more "comfort" services and sorry USPS your tracking services are the worst in the country.
This is part of the ever expanding government control grid. TSA telescreens in stores, body scanners everywhere, garbage collectors trained to spy by the FBI, iPhone snitch apps, now this. George Orwell could not have imagined such a world. We are in big trouble if we allow this.
I’d bet Google would be interested in putting some 360 street view cameras on those trucks.
If this data is made publicly available in real time, I'm all for it. Then communities can build their own monitoring systems for environmental factors, road maintenance, etc.; the government can monitor for threats; the weather services can get a boatload of new data, and "the people" can provide oversight to the type of data that's being collected. As long as it's collecting ambient data and not OUR data, it could be pretty awesome. (Until the USPS is no more, at any rate.)
USPS missed the boat 10 years ago; in a free market system if you do that you make room for someone else to provide the service and you then become salvage material for the next innovator.
Answer this: The USPS provides me a house address, does the USPS provide me an email addresses?
So hotmail is the new USPS.
And if the sensor platform idea is profitable someone will buy the USPS fleet and routes then sell the delivery service infrastructure to UPS or scrap it.
Pretty good idea - it could be useful for many other companies too, but the US Government has so many wasteful over-lap and a lack of communications between it's own divisions and branches that it could be likened to the worst run business ever.
Why not also have advertisements on the sides too - people get paid pretty good money to drive around as mobile billboards? Good old fashion advertising.
Oh and they could sell ice-cream out the back as well!
When I saw the headline, I thought of the (well deserved) criticisms and trouble with governments around the globe that Google is having for allegedly and "accidentally" collecting live wifi traffic from unwitting wireless users. But, as I read on, it wasn't that at all. At least, it's not explicitly stated as one of the proposed services. That would be really bad.
As long as absolute, and strict privacy protocols are implemented, I like the idea.
I have an idea also, "Get rid if the bulk rate!" At my home alone I dump 5 to 10 pounds of pure rubbish from my mailbox WEEKLY. I have read the old outdated argument about bulk being the mainstay of the postal service and anyone with one functioning brain cell can see how flawed that is. In my life I have watched the price of a simple letter go from 2 cents to 40???? or what ever ridiculous price it is. I have refused to do business with anyone who wishes to pay by mail except for one customer from North Carolina. That takes three or mostly four days to get here and then it is delivered to wrong addresses a lot, but that is another story. Make a paper plane and sail it across the nation faster and surely as accurately.
i have an idea - USPS has no business competing with UPS or FedEx in overnight deliveries or any other priority services. Postal service should go back to its original roots and be a guarantied service to all US territories, a way for government to communicate with all people and the cheapest way to send letter or package to anywhere on the globe. I see no problems cutting service on Saturday or making it 3 day a week for that matter.
People keep saying that the USPS must compete to succeed. Try to convince UPS or FedEx to deliver a letter for $0.44 to someone who lives out in rural America. The USPS is a government service like road maintenance, sidewalks, streetlights, etc. No private for-profit company will ever stop at every house every day for so little. The reason the USPS loses so much is that UPS and FedEx concentrate (cherry pick) on the profitable deliveries (packages/Express), while the USPS is hampered with it's commitment to delivering everyday mundane, low profit material. USPS is not-for-profit, all of the money it brings in goes toward it's employees and overhead. It is fleeced for mail delivery by the airlines. There are a ton of rules hampering it from competing. Ever see a USPS plane? Not allowed. And there's more. Be careful what you wish for. They do us a great service and would be sorely missed.
I will tell you what is wrong with the USPS is that they claim this is a radical idea! When in fact a small think tank company presented this concept to them before they presented a similar concept to SAIC and OSI (yes companies involved in bomb scanning). SAIC was interested to use the sensor and info and turn it against citizens and use it in urban warfare, OSI didn't care and the USPS said they don't partner or do anything that isn't in their "core interest". Even when the report was clear that the data was more profitable than the mail.
I can see Mr. Ravnitzky digging in some old file and coming across the proposal and thinking no one is going to remember this one! But alas we do! The projected budget at the time ( around 2000) was only around 20 million and would have given them a 2 year jump start on Google street view.
To do the same thing with an outside company doing their own fleet would have ran at least 80 Million and taken over a year to cover do all of the USA once. The data being sold to cities for maintaining roads and utilities, appraisals and tax (ooh yeah tax), real estate companies, and police department would have to be sold for a higher price and would have faced stiffer resistance from privacy groups.
A better idea to clean up communities and increase revenue would be to turn the letter carriers into code enforcement officers. The postal trucks could be outfitted with cameras to take pictures of poorly maintained sidewalks, and any obvious hazardous property conditions. With a simple press of a button, pictures could be taken as evidence, and fines would be given. The town/county/state could share in the profits.
Another idea would be to set up real time license plate scanners to find stolen cars or people wanted for questioning who own those cars.
The TSA and DHS allowed a loaded gun to go through a scanner this week. Having the postal truck further invade our privacy will not make America a safer place to live.
Wouldn't it be better to simply let the Post Office go bankrupt. Surely no American bureaucracy deserves it more. The Constitutional Post Office was jobbed out to Ben Franklin. A much better arrangement.
Most of its years have been spent giving jobs for political payoffs. Either crassly in the 19th Century, people who work on our political campaigns get jobs or lately when Clinton grossly increased the middle management structure to please the government employee union. How can managers belong to a union anyhow?
I have to admit - I rarely if ever ship something UPS or FedEx. I always go with the post office. Nothing against UPS or FedEx but the USPS is just cheaper. And the user who said 44 cents on anything within the US - you nailed it. That's cheap - really cheap. The USPS has caught too much grief and needs a little more appreciation.
Trust me - when the you know what hits the fan and they need to ship out an anecdote for anthrax or small pox - you won't have FedEx at your door - it will be the USPS delivering those vials. And I doubt you get PopSci and the other magazines via FedEx. Something obviously needs to be done with the post office but yeah...
Sell the USPS to Google and watch the magic happen.
Those of you who think the USPS is so ineffective, haven't paid attention to your package tracking. I often see FedEx or UPS pass off deliveries to USPS. Obviously for reasons advantagious to THEM, not USPS or to you.
And the Postal Service is mandated by the Constitution. Insolvency will change it, but not eliminate it.
Data Capture is one possibility. Simply networking them should provide reams of data. Since they literally travel everywhere, they could offer security checks for homeowners on vacation for example.