Lockheed Hired to Improve Mail Reader System

Lockheed Martin Corp.'s distribution technologies division has been tapped by the U.S. Postal Service to upgrade its computer reader system to increase the percentage of mail automatically read and processed.

With the upgrade, the Postal Service hopes the system will increase the readability rate of handwritten letters and machine-printed addresses above their 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 Martin of Bethesda, Md., will earn about $12 million per percentage point increase in the processing of this mail over the first year the software is being used, Miller said.

Lockheed Martin 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. 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, according to Postal Service spokesman Mark Saunders. He said the system has already saved a fair amount of money, and that increasing the automatic reading rate by even one percentage point would bring substantial savings.

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