When I was a Christmas postman, many years ago, some of the bored guys in the sorting office's loading bay liked to play a boisterous game of "catch" when parcels marked "video recorder" and "fragile" arrived. How they guffawed when one landed in the bottom of a skip with a sickening crunch, ruining somebody's Christmas.
I was reminded of those days when a bargain iPod dock, bought online, arrived recently - dead to the world. Was it dead out of the factory gate? Or had the parcel suffered some physical abuse in transit? Now a British invention company called Cambridge Consultants has developed a sticky radio tag that will spill the beans on dodgy delivery firms.
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.
A readout then shows what's happened to the parcel in transit, with the option of a graph that shows you if the box has been mistreated - and when. If it has clearly been beaten up, you don't sign and refuse delivery. The $2 tag will run on a coin battery for "many weeks", the inventors say, and there may be incentives for the parcel deliverer to reuse it after scanning. DropTag comes from Cambridge Consultants' wireless group, which last year unveiled a Bluetooth-powered automatic gear changer for a bike.
At the moment DropTag is a solution in search of a user. British patents are already filed, but Cambridge Consultants hopes a major delivery chain or e-commerce firm will buy into the tech at the massive Hannover Messe tech fair in Germany in April.
Image by C.WisHisSoc/Everett/Rex