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The Postal Service Wants to Send You Mail Via Email

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We’re still a ways off before paper mail disappears for good, but you may soon be receiving more of your deliveries on the computer. The U.S. Postal Service is testing a new feature called Informed Delivery that emails recipients black-and-white photos of their letter-size mail each morning.

If you’ve received letters that day, the USPS sends you an email by 11 a.m. that includes pictures of any envelopes that were processed. The service allows users to "check their mail" when they’re away on vacation, or when they’re home and don’t feel like walking outside. Up to 10 parcels can be viewed in an email message and additional items can be checked on the same online dashboard where users track packages. After testing the service in Northern Virginia starting in 2014, the Postal Service is now expanding Informed Delivery to the New York metro area. They’re considering introducing it to even more places next year, but until then the rest of the country will be stuck checking their mailboxes as well as their inboxes every morning.

[h/t: Vanity Fair]

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Design Firm Envisions the Driverless School Bus of the Future
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Engineers have already designed vehicles capable of shuttling pizzas, packages, and public transit passengers without a driver present. But few have considered how this technology can be used to transport our most precious cargo: kids. Though most parents would be hesitant to send their children on a bus with no one in the driver's seat, one design firm believes autonomous vehicle technology can change their rides for the better. Their new conceptual project, called Hannah, illustrates their ideas for the future of school bus travel.

As Co.Design reports, Seattle-based design firm Teague tackled both the practical challenges and the social hurdles when designing their driverless school bus. Instead of large buses filled with dozens of kids, each Hannah vehicle is designed to hold a maximum of six passengers at a time. This offers two benefits: One, fewer kids on the route means the bus can afford to pick up each student at his or her doorstep rather than a designated bus stop. Facial recognition software would ensure every child is accounted for and that no unwanted passengers can gain access.

The second benefit is that a smaller number of passengers could help prevent bullying onboard. Karin Frey, a University of Washington sociologist who consulted with the team, says that larger groups of students are more likely to form toxic social hierarchies on a school bus. The six seats inside Hannah, which face each other cafeteria table-style, would theoretically place kids on equal footing.

Another way Hannah can foster a friendlier school bus atmosphere is inclusive design. Instead of assigning students with disabilities to separate cars, everyone can board Hannah regardless of their abilities. The vehicle drives low to the ground and extends a ramp to the road when dropping off passengers. This makes the boarding and drop-off process the same for everyone.

While the autonomous vehicles lack human supervisors, the buses can make up for this in other ways. Hannah can drive both backwards and forwards and let out children on either side of the car (hence the palindromic name). And when the bus isn’t ferrying kids to school, it can earn money for the district by acting as a delivery truck.

Still, it may be a while before you see Hannah zipping down your road: Devin Liddel, the project’s head designer, says it could take at least five years after driverless cars go mainstream for autonomous school buses to start appearing. All the regulations that come with anything involving public schools would likely prevent them from showing up any sooner. And when they do arrive, Teague suspects that major tech corporations could be the ones to finally clear the path.

"Could Amazon or Lyft—while deploying a future of roving, community-centric delivery vehicles—take over the largest form of mass transit in the United States as a sort of side gig?" the firm's website reads. "Hannah is an initial answer, a prototype from the future, to these questions."

[h/t Co.Design]

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Google Home Is Finally Able to Multitask
NBD Photos, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
NBD Photos, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The hallmark of any great assistant is a talent for multitasking. Now, CNET reports that this ability is now a part of Google Home. The voice-activated device can finally process and execute two tasks that are said in a single command.

With earlier versions of the software, if you wanted to ask Google Home to cancel an alarm for a certain time and set a new one, for example, you would need to speak the first command, wait for it to be completed, and then say the second. The new feature allows you to string together both requests without pausing. This is the case for tasks that are related, like playing a song and turning up the volume, as well as those that are unrelated, like checking football scores and asking for cake recipes.

To save even more breath, you can combine this tool with Google Home’s Shortcuts feature. Shortcuts lets you assign short phrases to more complicated commands (like replacing “play workout playlist on Spotify” with “workout time”). Now you can use Shortcuts to have Google tackle multiple tasks at once by saying just a couple words.

The home assistant’s new ability is limited: Three tasks is still too much for it to keep track of, even if you’re pairing a two-task shortcut with one straightforward command. So after asking for a time and weather update, you’ll have to be patient before asking Google the answer to the universe.

[h/t CNET]

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