The Null Device

"Fragile" packages cop more abuse

After a gaming PC sent to a competition winner arrived in pieces, Popular Mechanics magazine decided to investigate the conditions endured by parcels shipped across the US. They built data-logging devices for recording shocks, placed them into parcels, shipped them with various carriers, and examined the data recorded to see how many times they were dropped and what forces they were subjected to. One result from the trials: packages marked "FRAGILE" were subjected to more abuse than unmarked packages, as if out of spite:
One disheartening result was that our package received more abuse when marked "Fragile" or "This Side Up." The carriers flipped the package more, and it registered above-average acceleration spikes during trips for which we requested careful treatment.
Given how battery-operated data-loggers are cheap these days, why aren't such investigations being conducted routinely? One would think that between government trade-regulation bodies, consumers' rights organisations and the shipping companies themselves, there'd be a lot of call for someone to be sending statistically significant quantities of anonymous G-shock loggers regularly through the post and publishing or otherwise acting on the results.

There are 3 comments on ""Fragile" packages cop more abuse":

Posted by: Greg Mon Nov 29 11:42:45 2010

This is an intriguing idea. I've heard urban myths about package-handlers giving worse treatment to items marked 'fragile', but it's never occurred to me that it's possible to test it. Full marks to Popular Mechanics.

I wonder if someone will invent a small, cheap, packaged sensor that can be included inside individual parcels by senders who want to be able to prove mishandling in case of breakage? (As opposed to statistical inference over many measurements.)

Would this cross the line and become spying? I figure most people would consider it inappropriate to audio- or video-record postal workers. Is it also inappropriate to record the forces they apply to parcels? I suppose, unlike sound and pictures, force recording is at least anonymous.

I imagine these being placed inside fragile goods at the factory in order to track treatment between manufacturer and consumer. Imagine receiving your new laptop, purchased online, and being told on first bootup how much it was knocked around before you got it.

Posted by: gusset Mon Nov 29 13:45:58 2010

As costs go down I can image this sort of tracking becoming standard for fragile items. I've received a smashed up PC before now, had DHL lose one part of the three park bundle, and frequently currier valuable electronics between our offices. This would be a great record.

And on the point of photographing postal workers, previous visual parcel tracking here:

Posted by: acb Mon Nov 29 16:46:37 2010

Greg: I'm sure that's technologically possible. Someone could fab a chip with a low-power ARM CPU, an accelerometer, some Flash memory and a USB interface, attach it to a battery, and build it in enough quantities to make it affordable, or indeed, sell it in bulk to insurance companies who'd give them to customers and factor the cost into policies.