Recognizing and Reorganizing the Mail
Since research began in the 1960s, Optical Character Recognition—the ability of machines to read printed words—was seen as an essential first step in truly automating mail processing. With such technology, a significant percentage of the US mail could be sorted and processed without a single human eye reading the address until it was ready for delivery. The unblinking mechanical eye of the OCR oversaw huge swaths of mail processing.
Developed by Lockheed Martin and the USPS and deployed in 2002, the WFOV camera can read many forms of barcodes, machine-printed writing, and even handwriting. By taking four simultaneous images of each mail piece, the WFOV camera achieved remarkable levels of accuracy.
Bulk Mail Centers—Streamlining the mail flow
As the sheer volume of mail continued to grow, it began to overwhelm the mechanical innovations of the previous 60 years. In the 1980s, the USPS made strides to keep up with this river of mail in two main ways: by using automated machines that took on more of the work of sorting the mail and by reorganizing the channels through which some mail flowed with new Bulk Mail Centers.
Lots of businesses send out millions of pieces of mail—from magazines to sweepstakes entries—sometimes in a single day. The USPS has worked out a system with businesses like this so they take on some of the work of preparing and sorting the mail, and the USPS gives them a discount on the postage. Take a magazine, for example.
Twenty-one of the new Bulk Mail Centers were built in the 1980s. The Postal Service hoped to keep up with the rising tide of commercial mass mailings by crisscrossing the nation with a network of specialized centers, and by implementing pricing policies that encouraged mailers to carry some of the burden of sorting and transporting the mail.