UPS using beacons to prevent package-loading errors

UPS is installing Bluetooth-enabled beacons on trucks to keep packages from being loaded onto the wrong vehicle -- and it’s applying for a patent for the system.

While UPS is known for delivering packages, it also thinks of itself as a technology company.

UPS says the beacons in its “Preload Smart Scan” system communicate via Bluetooth with scanners that UPS workers use when loading packages onto trucks.

Trucks are carefully loaded for drivers’ routes, and the scanners indicate where each package belongs on the truck.

If a package goes into the wrong vehicle, the beacon can detect the problem and notify the worker loading the package.

That can help reduce missed delivery deadlines and save time and money, according to UPS. Drivers with misloaded packages "often have to travel miles out of their way to correct the mistakes," the company said.

UPS expects the beacons to reduce misloads by 70 percent.

The company plans to have the beacons installed at more than 300 of its locations in the United States this year, reaching 47 percent of its U.S. package trucks. It also plans to expand the technology to its international operations.

While “off-the-shelf” beacons had too broad of a signal to differentiate between trucks lined up next to each other during loading, UPS says it worked to get customized beacons with a tighter range and longer battery life.

The idea behind the patent application is that other companies may also be able to use the technology for loading vehicles or other functions.