Wearable Technology Fuels the UPS Smart Logistics Network

By Nick Costides, President of Information Technology, United Parcel Service (UPS)

Nick Costides, President of Information Technology, United Parcel Service (UPS)

All around the world, UPS’s brown package delivery vehicles are a familiar sight. It seems like almost everyone knows our friendly uniformed drivers, iconic gold shield, and commitment to making deliveries on time. Clearly, after more than a century in business, people think they know UPS. But they don’t know the half of it. Let me give you a peek behind the “brown curtain” where technology and disruption have been a consistent theme since 1907 when UPS founder Jim Casey launched this company as a bike messenger service in Seattle.

Since that humble beginning, we have debuted one groundbreaking technological innovation after another: the first conveyor belt for packages, our airline, and use of predictive analytics to optimize the routes our drivers travel.

Along the way, we have been an engine for global trade and, recently, the explosion of e-commerce. Today, 6% of everything manufactured in the U.S. and 3% of everything produced in the world, flows through the UPS network. At the heart of it all, is a laser focus on new technologies and processes that generate unique customer benefits, excellent service, and network efficiencies.

Today, UPS, which delivers about 21 million packages and documents each day, is building a next-generation global logistics network—smart, integrated, and flexible. It also features high levels of automation and real-time connectivity.

"With wearable technology, UPS is building a next-generation global logistics network that is smart, integrated and flexible, featuring high levels of automation as well as real-time connectivity"

Against this increasingly high-tech backdrop, UPS has advanced a sophisticated strategy for integrating mobile and wearable technologies. We have hundreds of thousands of mobile and connected devices in use throughout our operation. For example, there are mobile delivery devices that our local delivery drivers carry, the wearable scanners used by our operators in hubs and the smartphones and tablets that render real-time data for our management teams.

Our Wearable Technology Story

Our wearables story began back in the 1970s when we were innovating customer solutions that were not available in the marketplace. Our initial efforts included hands-free, eyes-free speech recognition. It began with a limited vocabulary, and we worked with industry leaders to develop the use of noise-canceling headsets and large-vocabulary dictionaries as well as adaptive speech recognition engines that were considered modern for the time.

By the 1990s, our wearable initiatives were hitting their stride. In 1995, we deployed a wireless wearable terminal and barcode ring scanner across our operational network. This was the first wearable technology in the industry. The device consisted of a wifi-enabled terminal on the forearm and a ring scanner on the finger. Initially, the ring scanner was cabled to the terminal. Later, it was connected via Bluetooth.

Repeatedly, we’ve introduced wearable technologies into our network with great success. Advancements have enabled us to generate network benefits that improve efficiency and employee safety.

At present, wearable technology is ubiquitous throughout our network. Workers in our hubs can use a wearable imprinter to scan and sort packages and apply labels seamlessly. The next generation of the imprinter has gotten even smaller, eliminated the paper label, and now prints the same information directly on the packaging.

The benefits of wearable technology are striking. But they come into focus during the peak holiday shopping season when UPS hires nearly 100,000 seasonal employees to handle the high package volumes. Training these employees takes time, and memorizing sort information is tedious for new hires.

One solution we launched recently is Dynamic Sort Instruction (DSI), which leverages our wearable ring scanner and artificial intelligence to push verbal instructions through Bluetooth headphones to users in our sort aisle positions, eliminating the need for complex sort knowledge or experience. With DSI, the employee scans the package and hears a voice that says which belt to place the package on.

With this technology, anyone can join the team and sort packages quickly and accurately. DSI doubles the speed of package sortation and reduces sorting errors by more than 60%.

A Proud History and an Eye on the Future

These are just a few examples of our game-changing wearable technologies. The list goes on, and these investments deliver important operational benefits that save our company money while making the network more efficient. For our customers, these technologies mean new and better service offerings.

As I said, we’ve been at this for a long time. But, in a way, our wearables story is only just beginning. As we move forward into a data-driven world powered by connected devices and wearable technologies, our lessons from the past inform our strategy for the future.

Today, UPS is exploring smart packages with digital labeling technology, new containerization options, blockchain technology to streamline data flow, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. You name it; we’re evaluating it.

With new technological advancements, our network grows stronger and more integrated. UPS knows it has to be that way. Technology, along with advanced real-time data analytics, fuels our network as we work to capture more opportunities offered by robust global trade and the e-commerce revolution. Our technology truly transforms our physical assets into the world’s most integrated and smartest logistics network.

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