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World's First Mail Processing Equipment

Labor mechanized by the world's first automatic postal code reading and sorting device that could recognize handwritten characters, which led to development of labor-saving machines for an advanced information society which was soon to come.

World's First Mail Processing Equipment

Japan's postal system began in 1871. However, for about 100 years until Toshiba developed the world's first automatic postal code reading and sorting device that could recognize handwritten characters in 1967, mail was sorted by hand. For this reason, the efficiency of sorting operations depended on the level of expertise of the persons doing the sorting.

Adoption of machinery to improve the efficiency of postal operations was under consideration. In 1965, a project began under the leadership of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. This project consisted of the Devices Division (at the time, the Yanagimachi Plant) and the General Research Laboratory (now the Research & Development Center), and was initiated with an analysis of the systems used inside a post office. What then followed was the development of machines with specific functions; firstly, an automatic mail reading and recognition device (TR), then an automatic mail handling and printing device (TC), and finally an automatic mail sorting device (TS).

In 1966, the first trial device was completed for reading non-cursive handwritten numerals. Next, the project was entrusted with research into reading freely written numerals, which involved a wide range of handwritten characters collected from around the country. This analysis resulted in a report that reading such numbers was feasible. In 1967, the General Research Laboratory's optical character recognition (OCR) technology was used to complete, at long last, the world's first device for reading handwritten characters, the TR-2.

This recognition device was composed of three types of components: the mechanical components that handled the letter itself, the recognition components that read and recognized the postal code, and the control components that determined the category for the letter based on the postal code written thereon. Letters placed in the feeder were sent through one at a time, and only the postal code was converted to an electrical signal, using a visicon (digital) camera. This signal was sent to the recognition section as a numerical signal via a circuit which detects and queries only the postal codes, where recognition was made using a unique selection system. The results from here were transmitted to the control components, where, after the appropriate category pocket had been chosen, the letter was transported via synchronized categorization gates into the designated pocket.

The red squares on envelopes used for writing postal codes are unique to Japan. The use of these boxes makes it possible for optical technology to convert the lines of the numerals within these fixed boxes to signals. However, freely written numerals vary widely according to factors such as the writing implement used, the size and location of the characters, and the width and density of the lines used. Repeated improvements were made by gathering samples containing as many as 300,000 characters from across the country and conducting analysis simulation. This resulted in the manufacture of the TR-3 (with 50 category pockets) and TR-4 (with 100 category pockets) models for practical use. Together with the start of the postal code system, these were announced publicly on July 1, 1968 at Tokyo's Central Post Office.

In parallel to practical realization of the mail reading and recognition device (TR), the company completed the world's first automatic mail handling and printing device (TC) through detection of stamps in 1967. In 1968, the company also completed the mail reading and recognition device capable of recognizing letterpress numbers. For all these efforts, Toshiba won the Prize of Japan Society for the Promotion of Machine Industry in 1969 and the Mainichi Industrial Technology Award in 1970 and received high acclaim from home and abroad. The machine led to development of labor-saving machines in post offices, stations and banks for an advanced information society which was soon to come.

Automatic mail handling and printing device TC-3 Type

Automatic mail handling and printing device TC-3 Type

1969 International Post Expo participants visiting Yanagimachi Plant

1969 International Post Expo participants visiting Yanagimachi Plant

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