- The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently granted USPS a patent for a sorting robot intended to work inside a delivery vehicle's "freight bay" en-route to deliveries.
- The robot would be capable of "grasping items and moving them between the item storage bins," grouping items to be delivered to the same address and shrink wrapping the items together.
- The language in the patent suggests the robot would also be able to pass items, or groups of items, through a window from the freight bay into the cab of a delivery vehicle so that the driver may deliver them. The patent stipulates one or more robotic arms could be used in a single vehicle.
The robot described and depicted in the patent is not terribly complicated, consisting of an arm with some dexterity — the type of apparatus common in manufacturing scenarios. But it could replace some of the work generally performed by humans in a U.S. postal building. Most mail and parcels come to a local post office presorted by zip code but must be further grouped by route and address from there. Performing the final phase of this sorting en-route could cut down on delivery time and labor required to deliver a package somewhat.
USPS did not respond by press time to inquiries regarding the possibility of the timeline of implementing this technology, and just because an entity is granted a patent does not mean a technology will ever see the light of day. But labor has been a source of financial strain for the postal carrier, so technological solutions may have taken on a new hue lately.
"Current methods of item delivery are expensive, at least in part due to personnel costs," reads the patent. "Methods and systems to reduce the human operator's workload along a delivery route are needed to reduce the cost associated with item delivery."
Fiscal year 2018 was the first year in five years USPS cut jobs (10,000 of them to be precise) instead of creating new ones, according to Government Executive. Plus, new proposals for employment terms show the service dropping benefits in the future in an effort to cut costs through the payroll.