It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a …robot hummingbird

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It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a …robot hummingbird

I was intrigued by the unveiling of AeroVironment, Inc.’ s tiniest spy drone, the nano hummingbird. With a 6.5 inch wingspan, the nano hummingbird robot is the latest in the trend to go smaller and more autonomous:

  • Digital modeling systems like Dassault Systèmes’ Catia and Siemens’ TeamCenter now make it faster, easier and cheaper to prototype new ideas,
  • Rapid processors, 3-D software libraries and affordable geo-positioning and sensing technology now provide foundations for automated, vision- and sensor-based robot guidance
  • Many schools such as Princeton are now involved in the development of autonomous vehicles, participating in annual contests.
  • Google ‘s fleet of seven self-driving cars have driven over 1,000 miles over California roads without any human intervention using cameras, radars, lasers and…Google maps.

There are plenty of other interesting examples, like the Italian automated trash-collecting robot and the widespread use of automated equipment for storage and fulfillment in warehouses.

It is my belief that the use of automated equipment for the delivery of mail is all but inevitable. Most, if not all of the technical difficulties have been solved:

  • In the U.S. nearly 95% of addresses on mail are read and understood by machines,
  • Nearly all addresses are geocoded on maps,
  • Vehicles now know how to drive themselves, if only we could deal with the bad human drivers,
  • Robotic arms exist to manipulate mail of all shapes and weights,
  • Perhaps we just need a mailbox that is more machine-friendly….

Automated mail delivery by robot could be done at night, when there is not traffic, relieving congestion and improving the environment. In FY 2009, USPS spent $9 Billion on delivery labor (just labor, in one year), and a large part of it could be potentially saved if delivery could be automated. One percent of that is $90 Millions.

I think the USPS should spend a little bit of money figuring this out…what do you think?

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