Smart Drone Mailbox Secures the Future of “Last Inch” Deliveries – Now. Powered
The concept of delivering food, packaged goods and medical supplies to consumers by drone did not begin with COVID-19. But the pandemic has added urgency to the race, as companies such as Zipline, Wing Aviation, Amazon Prime Air and UPS Flight Forward attempt to mobilize networks of drones to deliver packages safely and quickly to consumers and commercial offices.
Putting the Customer First
Unfortunately, these companies plan to deliver time-sensitive packages to the ground outside a home or business, leaving them vulnerable to “porch pirates,” inclement weather or curious pets.
Enter the smart drone mailbox: a technology-enabled container that opens, receives and stores packages in a safe, secure, climate-controlled box accessible only by a homeowner or business owner. It offers a potential solution to the more than 1.7 million packages lost or stolen in the U.S. daily, as CNBC reports.
“The drone companies have been focused largely on all the innovative features of their drones, but if that innovation doesn’t create a safe, secure and convenient experience for consumers, it will never be adopted,” Ryan Walsh, CEO and co-founder of Chicago-based startup Valqari, a developer of smart drone mailboxes, said in an interview with Now.
However, Walsh and Valqari are not alone in recognizing an opportunity to make drone delivery a safe, convenient and preferred service by consumers.
“I believe that when one person has an idea, 10 others have the same idea at the same time,” Dan O’Toole, CEO for Indianapolis-based DRONEDEK, another competitor in the smart drone mailbox space, told Now.
Precision Made Easy
Both Valqari and DRONEDEK are in the early stages of developing their mailbox concepts; Valqari is already producing units while DRONEDEK is working to complete its first functional prototype. The basic operating principles of their mailboxes are quite similar. Pending broader deployment of drone delivery networks, neither company expects smart drone mailboxes to become commonplace just yet.
When a customer orders a delivery by drone, the package is loaded into a drone-compatible container, then flown to the customer location guided by GPS coordinates. Once the drone is within approximately 100 feet of the mailbox, it reverts to a vision-based landing system, then begins an authentication process with the smart drone mailbox. This process verifies that it’s the right drone delivering the right package to the right mailbox.
When the authentication process is complete, the drone lands on the mailbox, the mailbox opens its door, and the package is delivered. The drone then sends a notification of the delivery to both the shipper and the recipient to let them know that the smart drone mailbox has taken digital custody of the shipment and that it’s now available for the recipient to pick up at their convenience. The recipient communicates with the smart drone mailbox via a phone-based app.
“One of the great things about a smart drone delivery mailbox is that you don’t have to leave work and stand in your front yard to receive a package,” said Walsh. “Drones are designed to provide a convenience for us, not an inconvenience.”
And yes, he adds, smart drone mailboxes are designed to be “drone agnostic” and compatible with conventional delivery services. The same app that will allow a consumer to open the smart drone mailbox to retrieve a package will also allow a FedEx driver, a U.S. Postal Service employee or even an Amazon Prime driver to open the mailbox to deliver a package.
Reinventing the Mailbox
“The mailbox has not been disrupted since 1858 (when the U.S. Postal Service was launched),” said O’Toole. “Between smart cars, smart phones and smart houses, it’s time for the mailbox to catch up.”
To that end, O’Toole plans to give each DRONEDEK a patented, climate-controlled cargo area that could be set digitally by a shipping organization.
O’Toole is also thinking about…