Postal Service automation, which already can send about half of all delivered mail to the final letter carrier unseen by human eyes, will become even more automated with the use of automatic teller machines, postal officials say.
Instead of waiting in line to deal with a postal clerk, postal customers will be able to weigh their own letters and parcels and check a video display to find the cost of mailing various classes of mail, said Fred J. DiLisio, director of operations research for the U.S. Postal Service.The automatic teller will accept bills, print postage labels, sell stamps, dispense labels for insured, priority and certified mail and provide information.
"People are tired of long lines and crowded lobbies," Mr. DiLisio said in an interview last week. "We believe we can give them the service they want."
Both the automated teller and a smaller information machine will use video disc technology to answer questions from customers, dispensing information about such topics as wrapping packages, costs and benefits of different classes of mail and types of service, stamp collecting, obtaining the ZIP code for an address and other information, Mr. DiLisio said.
These machines should be able to handle an estimated 68 percent of post office customer business, the Postal Service estimates, freeing clerks for more complex transactions.
At present, as much as half of all delivered mail gets to the final letter carrier without a human being having to read the address, postal officials say.
A field test of the new teller machines is scheduled for northern Virginia next year, says Herbert H. Schiller, assistant postmaster general for technology.
Postal officials are encouraged by the ready public acceptance of automated tellers in the banking industry. Electronic bank tellers have expanded from banks to locations in markets and convenience stores, and increased from about 2,000 machines in 1973 to more than 65,000 in use today, the American Bankers Association reports.
Technology has speeded up the handling of the more than 147 billion pieces of mail that pass through the postal system annually. And despite the individual tales of delays, the service reports that 95.5 percent of local letters - within a city - were delivered overnight last year. In addition, it said nearly 90 percent of letters were delivered in two days within 600 miles, and three days across the country.
Automatic sorting and handling equipment has been a major factor, with only 40 percent to 50 percent of mail requiring a human to read the address before it gets to the final carrier, according to Kenneth J. Hunter, senior assistant postmaster general for management and research technology.
Much of the business mail arrives pre-sorted, already arranged by ZIP code, he said.
And machines called optical character readers can read addresses on much of the mail and automatically apply bar codes - those little lines that appear on foods and other goods.
In the postal system, the bar codes allow machines to do the three or four sortings of mail that are needed before it is handed to the final letter carrier, Mr. Hunter explained. The codes can be seen at the bottom edge of many envelopes arriving in American homes today.
Gary P. Herring, director of the Postal Service's Office of Advanced Technology, said his division is developing robot-like machines that can pick up and sort large envelopes and odd-shaped items and parcels.
The post office anticipates it will handle 250 billion pieces of mail by the year 2000.