What can the postal service to change their business, a giant sensor network? – The Postman Always Pings Twice @ NYTimes.com –
THE Postal Service recently announced it had lost $8.5 billion in the last year, despite cutting more than 100,000 jobs. Without new revenue and other changes to get it back on a firm financial footing, it said, it could face insolvency by the end of 2011.
Fortunately, the service has a unique asset that could allow it to make money by collecting valuable data that would contribute to the countryâ€™s safety and economic health: its far-reaching network of trucks.
The serviceâ€™s thousands of delivery vehicles have only one purpose now: to transport mail. But what if they were fitted with sensors to collect and transmit information about weather or air pollutants? The trucks would go from being bulky tools of industrial-age communication to being on the cutting edge of 21st-century information-gathering and forecasting.
The key elements for the project already exist, including tiny, inexpensive G.P.S. receivers and radio uplinks, features found in todayâ€™s smart phones. The sensors would operate without distracting the drivers from their primary responsibilities. The service could also minimize startup costs by teaming up with a company to develop, install and operate the equipment. One company under contract with the National Weather Service is already installing environmental sensors on long-haul commercial buses to enhance weather forecasting.
The data gathered by these truck-mounted sensors would establish a baseline map of ordinary conditions, making it significantly easier to spot a problem or anomaly. Such a system could aid in homeland security by rapidly detecting chemical agents, radiological materials and, eventually, biological attacks; it could also collect detailed data to improve weather forecasts. And it could assess road quality, catalog potholes and provide early warning of unsafe road conditions like black ice.