USPS hires Lockheed to improve mail reader system

USPS hires Lockheed to improve mail reader system

The Postal Service has hired Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Distribution Technologies division to upgrade its computer reader system to increase the percentage of mail that is automatically read and processed.

The deal was reached as the service gets ready for its busiest day of the year: It predicts post offices will handle 200 million to 300 million letters and packages today.

With the upgrade, USPS hopes the system will increase the readability rate of handwritten letters and machine-printed addresses above their current rates of 75 percent and 87 percent, respectively. The system will depend on advances in optical character recognition software, said Nancy Miller, director of recognition systems for Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed will earn about $12 million per percentage point increase for both types of mail over the first year the software is being used, Miller said. Lockheed has upgraded only a handful of sites, but the software is ready to be deployed nationwide.

The Postal Service sorts mail at a rate of 12 envelopes per second or 30,000 per hour. Those that cannot be read by the remote computer reader are scanned and read again by another computer. Finally, if that machine cannot read the letter, the scanned image is sent to postal employees.

The cost of automated mail sorting is about $5 per 1,000 letters, and the cost of manual sorting is about $55 per 1,000, Postal Service spokesman Mark Saunders said. He said the system has already saved USPS a fair amount of money, and that increasing the automatic reading rate by even one percentage point bring about substantial savings.

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