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Death of the PIN Code

I was reading this GigaOm piece on augmented reality when I realized that we may be very near towards making the Zipcode (or Pincode as we know it in India) completely redundant in the next 10-15 years.

The article talks about how location aware application - Layar delivers ATM locations, restaurant information and available jobs on the phone’s screen as users point the camera at their surroundings. This innovation is a combination of 3 technologies coming together - GPS (location awareness), persistent connection (ability to extract information on the move) and image recognition (point the camera and the phone knows where you are). The latter is probably a complicated and expensive technology to build everywhere, but the former two are now almost ubiquitous.

As I have written earlier, mapping services are improving every day in India - already maps to smallest detail are available for most Tier 1, 2 and 3 cities in India. With ISRO's project Bhuvan, imaging information should soon be available to a much minute detail for the smallest of villages and taluka's. Bhuvan being a government funded project, most of this imaging data will be available for public usage.

Combine this with availability of high-bandwidth persistent connection (3G / WiMax) in remote parts of India, it may soon be easier to pin point a location on a web-map than locate the Pincode for the place. The mapping location is essentially the GPS coordinate which is far more accurate a pointer than the Pincode.

The Pincode, introduced in 1972 is a 6 digit number so that there is one for each 3.29 sq kms of land in India (India's area is 3.29 million sq km). Within the 3.2 sq kms, the postman must now figure out the exact address of the recipient. On the other hand, if the sender can put the GPS code on the snail mail envelope, the post man (probably equipped with a GPS enabled mobile) can pin point the exact address of the recipient!

Given the above hypothesis, the government's plan to increase 2 digits in the Pincode is a completely redundant exercise. The department of post should rather spend money on equipping its postmen with high-tech devices and capture their tacit knowledge to develop detailed maps.

The department can engage a private player to develop special GPS enabled mobile phones for its postmen and collaborate with ISRO for imaging data from Bhuvan. The postal department could use this information not only for its own use but even sell it to private players and make some money!

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