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Parcel Sensor Knows When Your Delivery Has Been Dropped 145

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-break-it-you-buy-it dept.
First time accepted submitter Hamsterdan writes "If you're tired of finding that your stuff has been smashed during shipping after opening your package, this device is for you. 'Called DropTag, the gadget combines a battery, a low-energy Bluetooth transmitter, an accelerometer and a memory chip. Stuck on a parcel as it leaves an e-commerce warehouse, it logs any g-forces above a set risky shock level that it experiences. The idea is that when the courier puts it in your hands, you turn on Bluetooth on a smartphone running a DropTag app and scan it before you sign for it.'"
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Parcel Sensor Knows When Your Delivery Has Been Dropped

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  • by EdZ (755139) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @07:52PM (#42826987)
    Why not just use a shockwatch and stick it on the outside? That's what they're for, and having one obviously visible is certainyl more of a deterrant to mistreatment than a normal 'handle with care' sticker.
    • by p0p0 (1841106) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @07:58PM (#42827045)
      Exactly this, So much simpler and easier since you need to get the sender to apply it, and they are more likely to attack the shock stickers apposed to hacking together a wireless g-sensor. Unnecessarily high-tech solution to a low-tech problem.
      • by p0p0 (1841106) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @08:00PM (#42827071)
        *attack=attach.
        Ugh. Though I gave myself a funny image of a UPS man mauling a shock sticker.
        • by Kazin (3499) on Friday February 08, 2013 @10:42AM (#42831847) Homepage

          As a former FedEx handler, I can confirm your suspicions - many of the handlers would intentionally smack the shock stickers.

          People need to just pack better. Your package WILL be thrown if small, and likely hit the wall of a shipping can. Your package WILL be dropped if large, probably pushed off the side of a conveyor belt. Working there completely changed how I pack stuff, for the better.

          • by hedwards (940851)

            Or, maybe the shipping companies need to be held liable for damage that happens during shipping. Nobody expects that a package will make it all the way without possibility of being dropped, but being thrown around and such isn't something which the shippers ought to expect.

          • Totally agreed about packing properly! However, I've had certain high value items delivered that had a second shockwatch somewhere inside the package, so we could tell if the package was truly damaged - falls and knocks do happen. OTOH, if I were a supervisor and saw a handler deliberately setting the sticker off, thereby potentially exposing the company to a damage claim, that person would be looking for other employment.
      • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @08:12PM (#42827207) Journal

        By including it inside the product packaging (or building it into the product itself B-) ), a manufacturer can record, not just shipping shocks in the last hop, but all shocks from the time the device was packaged at the factory. He can defend himself (and the customer) against failures (and warranty repair costs) generated by mishandling by a wholesaler, retailer, or what-have-you, not just the final shipper.

        The device would report significant events with time stamps, so the final shipper wouldn't get blamed for mishandling further up the chain.

        With integrated accelerometers and the like, the silicon-with-MEMS product would be a rather tiny chip attached to a battery - which (with modern battery tech) could power it for the shelf life of the product's design. Given Moore's law the prices for the electronic versions might come out lower than those of the mechanical version.

        Main downside might be that the battery might make the device unsuited for air freight. B-)

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 07, 2013 @08:41PM (#42827435)

          This Popular Mechanics article [popularmechanics.com] definitely proves this point. Its not just for the customer, but probably of more use for the manufacturer to do QA as far as who they have ship their product. Ditto for the shipping companies themselves. Stuff leaves factory unbroken and gets to warehouses A and B ok, but somewhere between shipping hub C and D... Uh oh! Also if keeping tabs on impacts and such over time, it would even allow the shipping company to find out if some particular employee is dinging their packages by keeping tabs on shift hours and such.

          It's nice to have it, but the recipient isn't the only customer of this particular tracking service. It would only make sense if the cell phone app to read the tag also reports all the data back home to a database where this info can be of greater use. Also not to mention everyone going through a similar supply line benefits despite not having these tags, provided problems in shipping are corrected promptly.

          • by hedwards (940851)

            The only problem there is that unless you're individually tagging packages by handler, it's of limited use int he warehouse. Still, it's not completely worthless, it would help the shipping company know which shifts to pay closer attention to and that they can ignore shifts that aren't damaging boxes. Or at least stop worrying about damage to the boxes.

        • How is this easier than assuming that everyone who takes delivery of said package just rejects it at the acceptance stage if the shock detector has gone off? No need for anything fancy like USBs/wireless data connections to databases etc (see below). "It's broken - I don't sign for it". Done.
          • by hedwards (940851)

            Because the delivery people don't typically have time to wait around for you to unbox the item you've bought and verify that it wasn't broken in transit. Often times they don't even wait around to see if anybody responds to the knock at the door.

    • Exactly what I thought of. This is a solution in search of a problem, one which ShockWatch already solved. (No, I don't work for ShockWatch, and I don't even know if my employer uses them. I've never seen them in our warehouse.)

      • by markxz (669696) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @08:53PM (#42827541)

        Shockwatch labels that release sarin (or equivelent) gas when broken would incentivise good handling of the item.

        Otherwise couriers will continue to smash the items up.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Shockwatch labels that release sarin (or equivelent) gas when broken would incentivise good handling of the item.

          No need to kill anyone. Some thioacetone [corante.com] would work just as well.

          • Sounds similar to Captan. My father used to install pipelines in Alberta and they used it to test for leaks. The farmers could smell that stuff from a mile away (literally). If you splashed it on your clothes, you BURN them!
        • by cdrudge (68377)

          Postal workers already have a bad enough rap with "going postal". With cutbacks and losing Saturday deliveries, do we REALLY want to give then another weapon?

    • by hduff (570443) <hoytduff AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday February 07, 2013 @08:11PM (#42827177) Homepage Journal

      Why not just use a shockwatch and stick it on the outside?

      If they really worked reliably, they would be in wider use. I would gladly pay the small premium for these things as would many people.

      But I suspect that it would not ameliorate the problem since damage and returns are built into the cost of doing business and the shippers have no incentive to correct the problem any moer than they have..

      • by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @08:47PM (#42827491) Journal

        But I suspect that it would not ameliorate the problem since damage and returns are built into the cost of doing business and the shippers have no incentive to correct the problem any moer than they have..

        The problem is that the guys loading the trucks can only go so fast.
        BUT, since time is money, the shippers run the sorting machines at highspeed, and the loaders are forced to treat your package like a football in order to meet their quotas and keep boxes from piling up.

        So it isn't that the damages and returns are built into the cost of doing business, it's that (for the shipper) the damages and returns cost less than the profits from destroying every N-th package.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          No, the problem is companies like UPS will hire any scumbag off of the street. I had a friend who was a package handler for UPS in Oakland he told me about all of the ex-cons, druggies and thugs they had tossing packages around. He said that if the package had "Fragile" or "Handle with Care" printed on it, they would purposely damage it. They hire people who don't give a fuck about their own lives, let alone a job. No labels or shock sensors are going to stop them from destroying your packages.

          • by Waccoon (1186667) on Friday February 08, 2013 @03:43AM (#42829729)

            I work for a medical distributor. Our standards for shipping quality are supposed to be much higher than companies like UPS. However, the quality of our operation suffers tremendously from the massive volume we are expected to ship every day.

            All of our packages travel on a conveyor belt system without being placed in a tote. Smaller, expensive items are repacked into larger boxes, but these then also go directly on to the belt. Needless to say, belt jams and other mishaps result in considerable damage to product, ranging from scrapes, shavings, and rips (which go to the customer) to holes being punched into the sides (which may be inspected and repacked into other boxes before being shipped, but are usually just taped). So long as the customers accept delivery, that's the quality we continue to deliver. Despite damages and returns processing, we make a decent profit, so the only thing that matters is that line A is larger than line B.

            I was surprised to see what the inside of the NewEgg warehouse looks like. All product goes down the conveyor belt in plastic totes, preventing damage. It puts our filthy operation to shame, and I'd bet those $300 video cards aren't much more expensive than the medical devices we deliver. If damages occur regularly, the blame should go to penny-pinching management for providing such a destructive work environment, not the employees.

            BTW, I also worked for the USPS in one of their central hubs during the holiday season. Their operation didn't involve a conveyor belt, but it did involve literally throwing boxes into large cardboard tubs sitting on pallets, which were then driven into delivery trucks. The speed we were expected to maintain was the problem, not minimum wage druggies or thugs.

            I can't comment on UPS. I've never worked for them, and from what I hear, I don't want to because their operation is even more hectic than ours.

    • by MrEricSir (398214) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @08:15PM (#42827235) Homepage

      Or how about a label that just says "Yes, this packaged was dropped" applied to every package prior to delivery?

      Based on my experience, that would have near-perfect accuracy. Also it's cheaper than an electronic solution.

      • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @08:25PM (#42827315)

        this is actually how UPS, the shipping company got its name.

        it was a phonetic spelling mistake: they meant to call the company "oops!".

        (the more you know...)

    • man, that takes me back. I first saw those SW indicators on DEC disk packs (rp06, rm05, the old school vax/vms disk platters on a spindle). fun times.

    • by Ant2 (252143)

      I ordered a box of 10 of these, but they were all activated by the time they arrived. Crap, now what?

    • Couriers have figured out that the best way of dealing with a Shockwatch is to rip the filament off the box.

  • Sooo (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Reverand Dave (1959652) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @07:54PM (#42827013)
    Many of the things I have ordered lately have been so grossly over packaged that you could nearly smash the entire package before actually hurting the contents (I'm looking at you Amazon). I can see how this would be really useful for ordering overly fragile things, but if it costs more than shipping insurance is it really going to be worth it?
    • Re:Sooo (Score:5, Insightful)

      by vux984 (928602) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @08:05PM (#42827133)

      Yes, because people want what they ordered within a few days of ordering it. They do not want to make insurance claims even if they eventually get made whole.

      So getting it to the customer right the first time has value.

      • I guess you'd have to do situational CBA to find out if you'd want to pay for something like this on a case by case basis.
    • by p0p0 (1841106)
      I ordered a MicroSD card and a mini Wireless N adapter from TigerDirect and the box was huge and full of several feet of brown paper packaging it's ridiculous. Like, 10 feet of paper. Same thing when I ordered speakers from Amazon. The warehouse is only a couple of towns away and the box was 3-4 times bigger than the item and full of paper.

      On the opposite side of it I received an HDD from eBay which only had one layer of bubble wrap and an envelope. Worked fine, but the contrast was amusing.
      • YOU paid for shipping. Returns cost them money. Think about that for about 6 seconds and the world will make more sense to you.

      • by Obfuscant (592200)
        It costs money to stock different sizes of boxes and to pick the right one the first time. Or pick the wrong one the first time, I mean. Repacking takes time. Their automated warehouse may also not be set up for tiny boxes ...

        While the ebay shipper is usually doing things on a small scale by hand to start with.

        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          Not to mention figuring out shipping costs in the first place. The shipper charges you based on the size of the box and the weight of the box. If you don't know the size of the box, you can't give an accurate shipping amount. So you oversize all your boxes to make sure you don't lose money on the shipping.
      • Sorry about that, it was the best packaging I could find at the moment and I was a little peeved that the drive auctioned for so little.
      • Our distributor for most stuff at work (one of the big guys in AU) has the irritating tendency to send an oversized box... with no packing material.

        For example, I have literally opened boxes with a single sheet of paper in them - that are on the order of a cubic metre.

        Not so big a deal for paper of course (just bewildering) but when you get components shipped the same way (often with one, completely insufficient, plastic airbag pack in the box too, rattling around with the part) it makes you wonder what t

      • For many shipping companies in the US they charge you by weight, not size, so they use very light, bulky shipping material and lots of it.
    • by decora (1710862) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @10:17PM (#42828143) Journal

      if you ever have a job where you have to sling around heavy rectangular objects all day, you will eventually realize that 'over packaging' is really the solution to most of the problems in the cycle.

      it helps machines that auto-sort work faster and better

      it helps people who handle stuff work faster

      it helps the seller

      it helps the buyer

      if the industry had to 'coddle' every package it would slow down the entire line - from the machinery based roller setups to the people packing stuff in trucks to the people leaving stuff at your door.

      it would almost make more sense for a shipping company to auto-matically 'repack' flimsily packaged items with the identical address and only ship them after doing so, just to avoid the hassle of people who dont understand how the system works.

      • by Leuf (918654) on Friday February 08, 2013 @12:33AM (#42828915)

        You can't really tell if something has been adequately packed unless you either open it or it already shows damage (lack of packing material allows the box to crush). UPS and Fedex would be more than happy to slap you with a reboxing fee* if they could.

        *plus fuel surcharge on the fee, because everything gets a fuel surcharge. This notice about the fuel surcharge gets a fuel surcharge.

    • When I order at amazon.co.uk the order is packed in cardboard. A simple box filled to the brim with what I ordered (usually books and blu-rays) if they could. If they couldn't it's filled with some brown paper (probably recycled).
      Paper and cardboard have very good recycle processes (although the fibers tend to shorten during recycling).
      I wouldn't call it over packaging, I call it perfect packaging.
      But then again, I haven't had a package that was dented. Not a scratch on the outside box, and I get a lo
  • If customer's are willing to pay a bit more for this feature, would it not be viable for online retailers? Especially those of the technology scale...
  • don't have Bluetooth-enabled smart phones?

  • ShockWatch (Score:5, Funny)

    by Todd Knarr (15451) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @08:11PM (#42827185) Homepage

    Oh, kind of like the ShockWatch labels [shockwatch.com.au] we used all the time on shipments then?

  • by patmandu (247443) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @08:21PM (#42827283)

    ...can finally know if he should sign for that mail-order cat?

    • Does that mean that Schrödinger can finally know if he should sign for that mail-order cat?

      No, it's going to be bloody furious [wikia.com] either way.

    • by muphin (842524)
      but how will you know if the cat is dead or alive, without looking in the box.... Schrodinger had the same issue
  • by rminsk (831757) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @08:29PM (#42827343)
    Who will recycle the sensors? All we need is more electronics and batteries ending up in the landfill.
    • This is an excellent point. If I had mod points, they would be yours.

      I keep trying to imagine a situation in which these things could be bulk-recycled but don't know enough about the materials/science.

    • After you have received a number of packages, you can send them back to the retailer. You'll need to include in the parcel some kind of sensor to make sure your sensors don't get dropped in transit.

    • by equex (747231)
      i wonder if this is a scenario for small vibration powered devices, it should be possible to charge a small capacitor to power an RFID chip, storing the G-forces at work when the device is powered on by said vibration.
  • Doesn't matter, at best they refund the sender and you have to hope the broken bits are insured - you're not getting anything from the shipper no matter how it happened.
    Been there, done that, had an obvious fork tyne hole through a box containing a server with a bent chassis. In the face of that evidence FedEx refunded the shipping to the guys that sent the server but I was left with a bent server. It still ran for a couple of years but it's resale value was zero.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      In the face of that evidence FedEx refunded the shipping to the guys that sent the server but I was left with a bent server. It still ran for a couple of years but it's resale value was zero

      You did it wrong. See, you tell the sender "You sent me a bent server" and they tell you "well we sent it correctly but the shipper broke it" and you say "I don't care, I will sue you if you don't send me a non-bent server, if the shipper destroyed the object that's your problem" and then you're done.

      • by dbIII (701233)
        Then the sender says - "fuck you, we don't even have a branch in your country any more, we are not the ones that broke it, and international legal action is going to take years and cost more than a couple of dozen servers".
        This "just sue" shit is naive and implies you never think of budgets or consequences. I'm sure you can do better than that if you actually think before posting.
        It was cheaper to just stop dealing with them and find a vendor that would keep their promises - besides, why buy a server from
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Then the sender says - "fuck you, we don't even have a branch in your country any more, we are not the ones that broke it, and international legal action is going to take years and cost more than a couple of dozen servers".

          Oh, so you're outsourcing to another country, and now you want sympathy. None is available.

          This "just sue" shit is naive and implies you never think of budgets or consequences. I'm sure you can do better than that if you actually think before posting. It was cheaper to just stop dealing with them and find a vendor that would keep their promises

          It would have been cheaper not to buy from some disreputable dirtbags in the first place.

          why buy a server from the USA when it's assembled elsewhere, you can cut out the middleman and have repair turnaround times that are under a month?

          There's a whole lot of reasons. I'm sure you can do better than that if you actually think before posting.

          • by dbIII (701233)
            They became disreputable dirtbags after a takeover, then started selling outsourced Asian designed and built hardware via the USA - and I'm not in the USA so don't see the point of paying extra shipping just to get a badge stuck on the front.
            Thus your criticism is misplaced so please jump on something you can really criticise instead of just shooting a messenger.
            Making shit up to try to simplify reality to squeeze in your naive view is really strange when corresponding with the person that saw the reality,
  • by Anonymous Coward

    UPS says that they might drop your package from a height of three feet onto a concrete floor, on a corner.

    You are supposed to secure the contents so that they can withstand this without damage.

    I bet a lot of people are going to find that the package was in fact not mishandled, but inadequately packaged.

    Don't get me started about newegg and how they package their drives

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think the idea is they package it for a 3 foot fall and this thing tattles if the box undergoes a 6 or 12 foot fall or a collision of the truck.

  • by sexconker (1179573) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @09:06PM (#42827641)

    Highly informative video.
    www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Q6_9A90cUk

    • lol, even the ad was perfect, it's the mcdonald's one where a package goes down an conveyor belt and ends up falling off the end :)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I worked loading and unloading parcels on a plane years back. If it isn't dropped it will be thrown (or passed), squished, kicked and cushion heavier items guaranteed. Marking fragile means nothing as every package is marked that way. If those involved in the transportation of your package, treated every package as fragile our parcel delivery system would slow to a crawl. These guys deal with literally tens of thousands of packages daily. Most companies have figured this out and package products to absorb a

  • by ZorinLynx (31751) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @09:26PM (#42827763) Homepage

    I'm not sure why they are talking as if this is a new thing.

    I remember receiving a large box at work ten years ago; it was something very expensive, I believe from IBM. There was an electronic shock sensor in the package, with a clock and everything that would log the time of any excessive shock or tipping.

    This was between 2001 and 2003. In fact I STILL HAVE the thing, it's in a desk drawer somewhere at work.

    So yeah, nothing new to see here, move along.

    • by BillX (307153)

      Agreed, I was under the impression many such systems existed for shipment monitoring. Most include temperature in addition to shock logging, e.g. for transporting fruits and other perishables ("cold-chain certification"). Heck, I was on a team that designed such a device for the Tomahawk missile canisters back in the day, 10 years' logging of shocks, temperature, humidity, pressure (the canisters were filled with an inert gas) and fluid intrusion. The only thing missing was an RF reader (RF doesn't travel w

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      well.. the new angle is the bluetooth angle.. so you don't sign off on the package if it's been mishandled.

      not sure how it'll help with you not getting sticked at least for the price of shipping though.

  • My UPS guy is super nice so if a package looks like it went through a war, he says "That looks damaged. You might want to open it and check it out before signing for it." So if it's demolished, and I don't sign for it, then what? My senders don't insure stuff. I don't think UPS even offers insurance. What do they actually do? Just drive off with my package?
    • by cdrudge (68377)

      I don't think UPS even offers insurance.

      See that line on the shipping form that asks for the item's value? That's the insurance. I think it's something like $.35/$100 declared value. If your items shipped are under $100, they are automatically covered for up to that.

  • by Errol backfiring (1280012) on Friday February 08, 2013 @04:38AM (#42829957) Journal
    The simplest device is a sticker that shows "TRUE". I never saw any transporting firm that had any respect for the parcels.
  • by ios and web coder (2552484) on Friday February 08, 2013 @07:20AM (#42830579) Journal

    What is this "puts it in your hands" of which you speak?

    I haven't had a courier service have me sign for anything in a couple of years, even if the package is clearly labeled as such. I have lost sleep, trying to make sure that someone would be home to sign for valuable packets, only to have the courier plonk it down on our stoop, and, quite literally, RUN AWAY without even ringing the doorbell. I have video surveillance of both doors of my house, and I sometimes amuse myself by comparing the running styles of UPS and FedEx deliverygoblins.

  • Sounds pretty cool .. and my classmate Chuck developed something like this for a workshop project of his .. in 1982.

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