May 17, 2020

How to stop a porch pirate

Harry Menear
3 min
A record $9.2bn was spent in the United States on Cyber Monday 2019 and this week, billions of parcels are making their way around the world, with billi...

A record $9.2bn was spent in the United States on Cyber Monday 2019 and this week, billions of parcels are making their way around the world, with billions more ready to be sent in the run up to Christmas. 

Last year, more than 87 billion packages were shipped around the world and this year, with record breaking ecommerce holidays like SIngles’ Day, Amazon’s Prime Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, that figure is expected to climb. 

However, not all packages reach their destination. As ecommerce deliveries have become increasingly common around the world, next-day delivery culture has given rise to a new form of criminal: the ‘porch pirate’

In the same way that the invention of the train gave rise to the first train robbery (for a more modern example, how about last year’s revelation that around 30% of delivery drivers have helped themselves to a free meal, or exploited a loophole in UberEats' policy to score free food? Not that these figures suggest much more than the fact that delivery drivers are being underpaid to the point where snatching a handful of cold fries is an effective replacement for dinner, but we’re not here to talk about that, so anyway) the digital disruption of ecommerce has created a new type of crime and criminal with a specific target. 

I the run up to the holiday season, research firm C+R released its package theft statistics report, which found that 36% of respondents reported having a package stolen from their porch at least once. Of the 2,000 individuals included in the report, 9% reported having more than five packages stolen, and the average cost of replacing a stolen item came to just under $110. 

Given that - to briefly harness the power of quick maths - if an estimated 11mn Americans had a package stolen in the past 12 months, and the C+R report pegged the average online order at around $222, then porch pirates are costing the US economy (that’s to say nothing of other major delivery markets like China and the UK) about $2.4bn every year, and that figure is (while probably erroneous) definitely on the rise. 


In response to this trend, a few enterprising people have started to take matters into their own hands. Following the theft of a package from his doorstep - and the blunt refusal of local police to do anything, despite having door cam footage of the thief’s face - a frustrated ex-NASA engineer turned science Youtuber turned his impressive combination of technological expertise and, frankly, pettiness to the challenge. 

Last year, Mark Rober created what is known as a ‘bait box’ that not only projects a genuinely upsetting amount of glitter all over the unsuspecting porch pirate, but adds insult to injury with the repeated application of a fart-scented perfume. This year, he made a new and improved version and, while it is very sadly not on sale anywhere, is a delightful piece of engineering. 

There are also plenty of companies that take a less combative approach. The ever popular door cam company Ring has been providing home security systems for several years now, and in January this year, Canadian company Parcel Guard launched an ultra safe deposit box for packages. 

However, ‘the world’s smartest mailbox’ costs just under $550 and, for most people, the inconvenience of losing a pair of slippers that make your feet look like flamingos might not outweigh that price tag, even though C+R reported that the average person who invested in anti-theft measures following being robbed spent about $191. Personally, I recommend the age old solution of hiding round the corner of your house drenched in fake blood, carrying a slingshot and a bucket of dismembered Barbie doll parts. It also deters carollers. Humbug, etc. 

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Jun 16, 2021

SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data

British Army
3 min
Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM, explains the important role that SAS is playing in the British Army’s digital transformation

SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation. 

“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.

In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”

Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.

Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”

SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”

With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.

“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”

Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.

“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”


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