The 60,000 drivers who man the brown United Parcel Service trucks that crisscross the United States all begin their day the same way -- by examining a routing map that tells them where to make drops, and in what order.
Trucks are loaded according to that day's route, which changes every day along with the packages they carry.
For a company that handles an average of 12 million packages a day -- more during the holiday season -- that routing information is critical.
That's the reason UPS' Roadnet division, the Timonium-based computer research and development arm of UPS, is trying to come up with a better way to keep track of America's street names, house numbers and little things like which roads are one-way or left-turn only.
The person overseeing that effort is Scott Corrigan, 38, who joined Roadnet as general manager about three months ago.
Mr. Corrigan said his primary task now is to oversee development of an advanced Geographical Information System (GIS) that can be used to help plot drivers' routing and package drops every day.
"We drive the streets every day, so it is critical that we know information about all the streets, addresses, where intersections are, which sides of the block are odd and even," said Mr. Corrigan, who started his career at UPS as a driver in Houston 18 years ago.
UPS' GIS system, which is still in the early planning stages, will eventually include a national geographical data base of every address in America. The Herculean research task, which requires every address to be visually verified, will take years to complete.
That new GIS data base will be used in conjunction with an existing software application developed by Roadnet that generates routing maps for drivers every day, Mr. Corrigan said. The latter plots routes and decides how trucks should be loaded for maximum efficiency.
Roadnet is an old hand at the delivery game, Mr. Corrigan said. One Roadnet invention currently in the deployment stage is an electronic clipboard known as a DIAD -- short for Delivery Information Acquisition Device.
UPS' proprietary DIAD permits written signatures to be captured directly onto the clipboard's electronic screen, which is actually a pressure-sensitive computer. That information can be downloaded later into UPS' central computers.
Having computerized information on hand immediately makes it easier for UPS to track packages and handle customer inquiries, Mr. Corrigan said. The DIAD is replacing the paper-based clipboards with carbon note pads.
Under Mr. Corrigan, the business of package delivery at UPS should become even more high-tech. Among the 40 projects under way at Roadnet today: A private communication system for UPS drivers.
According to Mr. Corrigan, Roadnet researchers haven't decided exactly what kind of system they'll wind up developing. He said it may take the form of a cellular system, but then again, it may not. Whatever it is, he said, it will be far superior to pulling over to use pay phones. "We'll be taking aggressive steps to advance the technology of UPS and Roadnet," Mr. Corrigan said.