Does anybody even use mailboxes anymore? It seems like utility bills, political flyers and cards from Grandma are just about the only things being delivered via snail mail. But that’s about to change — the mailbox is getting a makeover.
DroneDek is the company leading that charge. The maker of the so-called “mailbox of the future” has been hard at work developing its patented smart receptacles, mailboxes that are designed to handle deliveries via nearly any mode –– including drone –– as well as provide heating and cooling, charging, autonomous pickup, communication, security and a whole lot more.
DroneDek’s commercial applications have been limited since beating out Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service for a smart mailbox patent, but the company on Wednesday announced a massive deal with Indian technology and manufacturing conglomerate Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) that will see its smart mailboxes distributed worldwide.
BEL, a government-owned organization with a $6.7 billion market cap, primarily manufactures aerospace and defense products such as radar, missile systems and weapon system upgrades. As part of its agreement with DroneDek, the Bengaluru-based conglomerate will purchase up to $50 million worth of DroneDek smart receptacles, with units expected to be delivered by Q2 2022.
“DroneDek must work with the reliability and redundancy of a 747 airliner with 300 people on it,” said Dan O’Toole, DroneDek’s CEO and founder. “This new collaboration between BEL and DroneDek gives us the edge and credibility we have been looking for in the marketplace.”
DroneDek’s smart receptacles help simplify the last mile of deliveries in three main ways –– cost reduction, better efficiency and anti-theft security.
An estimate from the the Department of Transportation predicts that drone deliveries will cost less than $1 over the last mile, compared to around $2 for trucking deliveries. Drones can also boost efficiency by eliminating the need for trucks to weave their way through neighborhoods over and over again, instead taking the shortest route possible. Then at the dropoff point, DroneDek protects packages through an authentication model that allows only the owner of the mailbox to open it via the DroneDek app.
With a whopping 111 patent claims filed or awarded, DroneDek’s product road map has been set for some time. All it needed was someone to make it, and it finally found that in BEL.
“We are always raising the bar on our technical offerings, and we want to continue to be a company of firsts,” said Anandi Ramalingam, chairman and managing director at BEL. “The DRONEDEK opportunity presents for BEL a new vertical in the changing landscape of worldwide, last-mile logistics — one in which we will be able to put a stake in the ground and build on.”
While DroneDek has yet to sell its smart receptacles commercially, it’s conducted several demonstrations, including an eye-catching pilot project at the Lakes of Taylor Golf Club in Michigan, where it helped deliver snacks and drinks to golfers at the 10th hole. The company has also delivered hot wings and burritos to hungry residents in Indiana, where DroneDek is headquartered.
“I always say it’s kind of a pop culture moment,” O’Toole told Modern Shipper in an interview last month. “You take a picture of your family right now and everybody’s on their iPhone — nobody’s looking at the camera, right? This has the ability to insinuate itself into the fabric of our lives every day in the same way that the iPhone has.”