Finnish postal operator Posti is trialling smart posting boxes, which can report when they need to be cleared.
The information from the smart posting boxes will save unnecessary visits by Posti employees.
"If we are able to save even 30 seconds of working time on unnecessary letterbox visits, the total benefit is significant." - Sami Reponen, Chief Process Officer at Posti.
Other events can be reported as well, such as possible vandalism. The posting boxes can be monitored via mobile phone.
Each time the posting box's slot is opened, the sensors activate. They report on the letters and cards dropped into the box in real time and notify when the box is full or nearly full. The sensors also alert in the event of possible vandalism.
There are no customer privacy implications of the sensors, as the mail is not scanned or photographed.
When there is activity at any of the letterboxes, the data is displayed on the mobile phones of Posti’s five-person test group.
Five posting boxes in Helsinki and Oulu are being tested during the three-month pilot project. If the trial is successful, the next goal is to turn all 5,140 boxes nationwide into smart letterboxes.
The smart posting boxes, being developed on cooperation with Telia, are the first in the world to use the new NB-IoT technology. NB-IoT is an international network technology that can connect a large number of devices.
Real-time data is particularly useful to Posti during peak seasons, when the smart letterboxes can be emptied according to need.
At the risk of stating the obvious, there are additional installation and maintenance costs for smart posting boxes compared to "dumb" posting boxes. The sensors could, at least, do away with the need for costly letter surveys to determine which posting boxes are in frequent use by the public.
Detailed usage data, including timing of letters lodged in posting boxes, could help in setting locations and clearance times.
What will the next step be? What other data can be gathered by smart posting boxes? And what value might that data have? Posti is already working on it:
"The letterboxes of a smart city of the future could report the daily weather or be used as a marketing platform or even a 5G network base station." - Sami Reponen, Chief Process Officer at Posti.
PostNL is also trialling smart posting boxes.
The world's postal operators are looking on with interest.
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