There is nothing more exciting or magical than receiving a package. Knowing that someone took the time to carefully place the contents into a box instantly creates a connection. For well over 200 years, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has been delivering these connections to the receivers. But this is changing, allowing the sender to participate in this connection. And the USPS is driving innovation and personal connections through a series of prototypes and technology explorations as recently exhibited at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Showcase (CES).
I was invited to CES by the USPS as an influencer to explore these innovations that expand the experience. And, as part of this program, I received an early prototype of a device designed to create shared connections. Known as “The Most Wonderful Ornament,” this gadget is more than just some cool technology. It actually is a means to connect with friends, family or loved ones regardless of distance. Let me explain.
USPS’s Most Wonderful Ornament Prototype
We have all shipped packages. We know the process. You carefully place the items you want to ship in a box, seal it up, address it, and send it on its way. In more recent years, technology has come into play where we can now “see” where our package is – in transit or delivered. This is where technology traditionally has stopped. Until now.
The Most Wonderful Ornament brings a new type of status to this process, adding “opened” to the usual statuses of “shipped” and “delivered.” It’s important to reflect on this for just a second. The connection between the shipper and receiver was a loose one, at best. “Did you get my package?” was often followed by “did you open it yet?” Answering the first question can currently be done but the second question often required a person-to-person connection.
With this new type of status, the USPS answers the second question for you. This goes beyond just simple technological innovation and moves towards long distance communications. Remember, when you think about it, the USPS is one of the first “social networks,” enabling conversations and shared experiences regardless of location.
So, what exactly is The Most Wonderful Ornament? Essentially, it is a connected device that you can hang on a tree or place somewhere that gives you a visual notification as to the status of a package it is paired to. You simply plug The Most Wonderful Ornament into a power source (like a string of lights) and it connects magically to a network to receive over-the-air updates on the status of a specific package. Blue = dropped off at USPS and on its way, Red = delivered to the destination, and Green = package has been opened. So, just by looking at the Ornament, you know exactly where your package is at any point in the process. And, once it hits the magical green color, you are sharing the experience with the receiver.
The Ornament is paired with a USPS box which has an electronic tracker built in. Sensors in the tracker know when a package has been opened, and this information and status change is sent, real-time. Within seconds, the light on the sender’s Ornament is changed.
For me, the physicality of the Ornament creates the shared experience. If you are so lucky as to see the Ornament change from red to green, you naturally participate in the connection. While it is not the same as physically “being there” for the unboxing experience, it does provide the ability for a shared excitement of the process.
Below (as well as directly on YouTube), you can see my own personal experience using The Most Wonderful Ornament prototype over the holidays as I mailed a package to my dad.
But the Ornament was just one of several prototypes and experiments where the USPS is pushing the means to truly connect with the consumer and even with businesses. At CES, I learned about several other USPS innovations, particularly the Smart Blue Box and the Smart Mailbox.
The Smart Blue Box – USPS Prototype
The blue mailbox is iconic and an instantly recognizable object. It hasn’t changed in color or form in decades. But, this could be changing in the near future as evidenced by a prototype of the Smart Blue Box which was on display at CES 2017.
I viewed it as a merging of multiple things: the traditional mailbox, going into a Post Office and interacting with a Postal worker, and smart interactive technology.
For starters, the prototype I interacted with instantly created a connection. Normally, you simply open the mailbox, drop off your letters, and leave. Not anymore. Blue Box, as it is affectionately named, instantly endeavors to be helpful and strike up a conversation.
You can ask it if the mail has been picked up already, or where the actual nearest Post Office is and when it closes, or even what the weather forecast is. Curious as to if you have enough postage for your letter or package, you can place the item on the interactive box on top and it weighs it, providing the potential postage needed for mailing.
And as it interacts with people, it learns, with its built-in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning improving over time. I even found it to be funny – at one point it didn’t understand what I said (due to the noise at CES) and it told me to “go home, get a glass of water, and get some sleep.”
While merely a prototype, I found the Smart Blue Box to be a strong example of evolving the mailing experience beyond the expected and traditional.
The Smart Mailbox – USPS Prototype
In a similar manner, the Smart Mailbox prototype transforms the receipt of mail from a traditional point in time to an interactive event. For me, the only way I currently know if I have received mail is if I’m at home and see the Post Office truck go by. If I’m at work, I’m blind to this moment in time and merely make it part of my routine to check my mailbox when I get home. The Smart Mailbox aims to change this and potentially go beyond electronic notification of delivery.
While still in its early stages of development, the Smart Mailbox has lots of potential once it becomes connected. For starters, you can be electronically notified when your mail is delivered, eliminating needless trips back and forth to the mailbox. Conceivably, if you attach the Smart Mailbox to your home network, you could have it trigger actions within a smart, connected home. A light, for example, could change color when mail is delivered.
For those people wanting to pay closer attention to elders, you could potentially get remote notifications with an elder family member goes out to get the mail. Also, communities or building could be networked together, possibly allowing neighbors to send digital messages via their mailboxes to each other.
But again, the point here is moving beyond what is traditional, building in interactivity and communication, and evolving the experience, all driven by technology being explored and tested by the USPS.
“It’s All About the Box”
From an ornament that knows when a box has been opened, to a traditional mail delivery box turned “smart,” to a mailbox that lets you know when your mail has been delivered, the USPS is transforming how we think about the mail. Moving beyond just a mundane activity (sending and receiving mail), we now have a glimpse of how this same activity can become an event and even an interactive, shared experience.
Disclosure Text : This is a sponsored post and I have received compensation to prepare to research it as well as write it. All opinions within this article, unless otherwise noted, are my own. More information can be found on my About page.
HTD says: Sending and receiving mail is undergoing a digital transformation, enabling richer, interactive experiences as the USPS develops innovative, new technologies.