OIG Spotlight – RARC-IB-15-002 – 04/06/2015
Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that enables mobile devices to superimpose related, digital content on top of a real-world view. AR is promising new technology which is already helping some large companies increase efficiency. The U.S. Postal Service — always looking for ways to keep up in today’s increasingly fast-paced world — has been experimenting with AR for years, but primarily for marketing purposes. There may be additional opportunities for the Postal Service to expand its use of AR into its supply chain to improve operational efficiency in several areas.
AR essentially adds a digital layer of information on top of real world images. For example, in 2013, a furniture company created an AR (app) to go with its catalog. Customers could place the catalog anywhere in their homes, activate the app on their mobile device, and see exactly how furniture would look and fit in their room through the camera’s screen. AR moved the showroom to the customer’s home, and the company saw increased engagement, especially among new customers. More than 8 million customers downloaded the app within the first few months of the catalog’s release. This year, the furniture company printed and distributed 217 million AR-compatible catalogs worldwide, including 20 million mailed to homes in the United States.
This paper identifies 10 specific ways in which the Postal Service could apply AR in its operations:
- Provide more accurate spatial information and assist with visualization when placing processing equipment in a plant.
- Direct employees to needed items in a stockroom, reducing employee training and work time.
- Direct employees to stored items ready for shipment, as DHL recently piloted with positive results.
- Guide letter carriers to pack trucks in a way that maximizes capacity while also protecting fragile items.
- Assist postal employees when performing maintenance on unfamiliar or new vehicles by displaying step-by-step instructions.
- Provide driving directions to letter carriers, helping them avoid traffic congestion or other hazards.
- Provide critical route information to new or substitute carriers about the location of hazards, hard-to-find mailboxes, or interior offices.
- Confirm the identity of recipients using AR facial recognition technology.
- Help customers determine what size box they need.
- Allow recipients to estimate when their carrier will arrive.
As the Postal Service embarks upon changes in its facilities and vehicles, it may want to explore some of these AR applications and harness their potential. Of course, this requires careful planning, adaptive experimentation and real investment. One potential strategy is to experiment in implementing AR technology in selected pilot tests to demonstrate the operational feasibility and financial viability of the technology. AR has the potential to improve the Postal Service’s mail processing, equipment maintenance, and delivery operations, as well as enhance the customer experience. It is worth exploring.