Postal service vehicles, mailboxes could be used to collect data for smart city projects

Around the world, smart city projects have been launched in a bid to decrease traffic congestion, cut pollution and improve infrastructure. But there are barriers to furthering these initiatives, including limited budgets and difficulties in collecting large amounts of data. Could postal services help drive smart city projects?

Yes, according to the US Postal Service (USPS), which says that sensors and other data collection devices could be attached to its carriers, vehicles, post offices and mailboxes, facilitating the collection of multiple types of data for local governments.

The USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently conducted interviews with city, university and private-sector stakeholders involved in smart city projects and found they were eager to collaborate with the Postal Service on future initiatives.

In its report The Postal Service and Cities: A “Smart” Partnership, the OIG identified five pilot projects in which the Postal Service could participate. They include:

  1. Assessing city road conditions by analysing images from vehicle-mounted cameras.
  1. Using vibration data collected by vehicle sensors to monitor the structural integrity of bridges.
  1. Collecting data on water pressure and leakages from fire hydrants and underground pipes.
  1. Helping to counteract urban blight by identifying early warning signs such as vacant properties.
  1. Measuring the prevalence of air pollutants across the city through vehicle-mounted sensors.

Becoming involved in these projects could benefit both cities and the Postal Service itself: for example, better road conditions would reduce vehicle maintenance costs. It would also help the Postal Service advance its sustainability plans, strengthen its role as a public service provider, and potentially generate new revenue.

However, the organisation would first need to address questions surrounding data ownership, privacy and security. Other issues to be addressed include the need to select a suitable business model, determine the appropriate level of its involvement, and consult with unions especially if any work is required of postal employees, the report said.

“The time is right for the Postal Service to begin to think about these questions and to explore the opportunity to extract new value from its infrastructure,” USPS concluded.

Sign up to our newsletter

Meet our experts