Jun 03 2021

USPS Uses Edge AI Apps to Help Track Down Missing Packages Faster

The U.S. Postal Service is using artificial intelligence technology from NVIDIA to help it gain efficiencies.

If your package gets lost in the mail, artificial intelligence may soon be coming to the rescue to speed up its delivery.

The U.S. Postal Service has partnered with the technology company NVIDIA to roll out edge artificial intelligence applications that are helping the service track down packages in a matter of hours instead of days, according to an NVIDIA blog post.

Together with NVIDIA, the USPS has stood up the Edge Computing Infrastructure Program to analyze the billions of images the postal service’s processing centers generate. The program, which leverages the NVIDIA EGX platform, can process vast quantities of data and quickly help the USPS hunt for packages.

“Missing packages that used to take eight or 10 people several days can now be tracked down by one person in a couple of hours,” an NVIDIA spokesperson tells FedScoop. “ECIP also enables rapid application deployment; new capabilities, that previously would have taken months, can be deployed in as little as two weeks.”

Todd Schimmel, manager of letter mail technology at USPS, says, “The models we have deployed so far help manage the mail and the Postal Service — it helps us maintain our mission.”

How USPS Is Leveraging AI to Serve Customers

The USPS has faced criticism over delays in the delivery of mail and packages over the past year, as the coronavirus pandemic took a toll on the service’s workforce and operational changes led to delays. About 78 percent of first-class mail was delivered on time in the first quarter, down from more than 92 percent of first-class mail delivered on time during the same period the previous year, USPS CTO Scott Bombaugh said at a USPS Board of Governors meeting in May, according to CBS News.

The USPS processes a huge volume of mail and packages every day. “Roughly 129 billion pieces of mail and 7.3 billion packages were processed by the Postal Service last year and within its infrastructure are thousands of scanners, cameras and other elements,” Nextgov reports.

The partnership with NVIDIA is part of an effort by the USPS to leverage technology to make its operations more efficient. The AI tools are being rolled out at 195 USPS processing centers

The USPS is using four NVIDIA V100 Tensor Core GPUs in HPE Apollo 6500 servers. “Today, each edge server processes 20 terabytes of images a day from more than 1,000 mail processing machines,” the NVIDIA blog post states. “Open source software from NVIDIA, the Triton Inference Server, acts as the digital mailperson, delivering the AI models each of the 195 systems need — when and how they need it.”

The USPS has long used optical character recognition technology to scan mail and packages for legibility. Now, however, according to NVIDIA, the new OCR application to manage the USPS’ imaging workflow will “live as a deep learning model in a container on ECIP managed by Kubernetes and served by Triton.”

Departments within the USPS, from enterprise analytics to finance and marketing, have come up with as many as 30 applications for ECIP, and Schimmel hopes to launch a few of them in 2021, according to the blog post.

“One would automatically check if a package carries the right postage for its size, weight and destination,” the post notes. “Another one would automatically decipher a damaged barcode and could be online as soon as this summer.”

“This has a benefit for us and our customers, letting us know where a specific parcel is at — it’s not a silver bullet, but it will fill a gap and boost our performance,” Schimmel says in the post.

DIVE DEEPER: How is NASA bringing edge computing and artificial intelligence to space?

Tashi-Delek/Getty Images