Mail That Never Gets Lost

A paper-thin GPS unit that could help the postal service put an end to mail delays

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Even snail mail is getting a tech upgrade. This month TrackingtheWorld, a California-based GPS developer, expects to begin mass-producing Letter Loggers—small GPS-equipped envelope inserts that could help the U.S. Postal Service spot bottlenecks in the system. The insert is durable enough to shoot through sorting machines without crushing the circuits. A high-gain antenna pulls info from a satellite every few minutes and records the letter’s location to a memory card (to prevent interference with other devices, it won’t transmit data in real time). Yet it’s the same size and weight as a few sheets of folded paper.

The technology lets users track a letter’s every move. A vibration- and tilt-sensitive motion detector determines whether the Logger was sitting idle, being sorted, or bumping along in a truck. This data syncs with the GPS locations via Google Earth, allowing officials to spot places where mail lingered too long. The USPS is still weighing the results from last year’s trial run of the technology (in the Denver area), and there are no plans yet for a commercial model. But even if you won’t be able to personally track your Valentine’s cards, it could help ensure that those Luddite love notes arrive on time.