Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

Postal Service plants are using driverless robotic vehicles inside to help process mail faster.

The automated guided vehicles, or AGVs, perform repetitious work such as hauling mail back and forth from docks to sorting machines.

“AGVs enhance efficiency by doing stuff robots can do easily, while freeing up humans to do things only humans can do,” said AGV Program Office Manager Steve Wright.

Fitted with navigation technology that incorporates cameras and lasers, AGVs can sense their surroundings and maneuver themselves around a workroom floor, avoiding obstacles and preventing accidents.

The vehicles, which recharge on their own at battery stations, are part of the Postal Service’s broader strategy to innovate and embrace new technology. The organization also operates the world’s largest gantry robotic fleet, using 174 robotics systems to move 314,000 mail trays per day.

USPS currently uses AGVs at 13 processing and distribution centers across the nation, including facilities in Santa Clarita, CA, and Dulles, VA.

The organization plans to have more than 300 AGVs operating in plants by October, just as the holiday rush kicks in.

“There isn’t anything we have to do to our plants in order to deploy AGVs,” said Ed Houston, the Postal Service’s robotics engineering manager. “It’s very easy to put them on the workroom floor with some programming and start using them. We are able to drop them in pretty quickly.”