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The world’s first smart mailbox is ready for drone deliveries

DroneDek’s ‘Mailbox of the Future’ debuts next week in Indianapolis suburb

DroneDek's smart mailbox accepts deliveries in any form — including by drone (Photo: DroneDek)

The iPhone has quickly become one of the most ubiquitous products in history, right up there with the lightbulb and gas-powered car.

It’s a short list. But Dan O’Toole thinks his smart mailbox could make the cut.

“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,” O’Toole, the CEO of DroneDek, told Modern Shipper in an interview in October.

At the time, O’Toole’s vision was just that — a vision. But on Monday it will finally begin to take shape when DroneDek completes the first deliveries to its “mailbox of the future” in Lawrence, Indiana. The high-tech receptacle will receive deliveries of both traditional mail and hot food that will be airdropped via drone.

DroneDek’s mailbox is built to handle delivery in all of its many forms. It boasts a list of features as long as the iPhone’s terms and conditions, but each is put to good use to make the receptacle as secure, sustainable and self-reliant as possible.

A promotional video showcasing the features of DroneDek. (Credit: DroneDek)

The DroneDek has a conventional mail delivery slot as well as a secure storage compartment that holds drone deliveries. Sensors in and on the device can detect threats like explosives or biohazards, automatically alerting both the user and emergency authorities. A floodlight and heated door allow the mailbox to operate safely at night or in extreme climates.

To unlock the storage compartment, the drone sends a signal wave containing an encrypted code to the mailbox’s docking station. Users can open the compartment in a variety of ways, including through an entered code, key, keypad, fob or their own cell phone.

Read: Drone Disruptors: DroneDek’s mailbox of the future

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The mailbox is also equipped with everything needed to charge a drone on its docking station. A solar panel mounted on the docking station is the primary power source, but the receptacle can also connect to an internal power supply, onboard battery power and even wind power. The docking station also includes a motorized sliding door and a wind block.

DroneDek communicates with the drone directly, using GPS information to provide an accurate landing spot. It also includes second-phase navigation to guide the drone into final landing position and is Bluetooth enabled with a two-way speaker system.

A drone drops a package into a DroneDek receptacle. (Credit: DroneDek)

“We’re showcasing how this mailbox is ready right now for traditional delivery and what it can do in the near future when federal regulations are relaxed to enable autonomous delivery,” said O’Toole. “We’re also marking the start of secure autonomous package delivery. It’s historic.”

The deliveries slated for Monday are part of a larger pilot project involving other DroneDek mailboxes and an accompanying app powered by Oracle Cloud, the company said. Mailboxes are situated outside four locations, including a Culver’s and local restaurant La Hacienda in the Indiana city.

“This is where the food delivery business is heading,” said Marco Dominguez, a spokesperson for La Hacienda. “We’d love to be among the first restaurants in the country to offer delivery via drone.”

Two more mailboxes are stationed outside Bloomerang and Schneider Geospatial, a pair of Lawrence tech companies excited by the prospect of bringing O’Toole’s technology from vision to reality.

“The pandemic got us used to delivery, but this is next level,” said Bloomerang CEO Ross Hendrickson. “We’re a tech company, so we’re early adopters. We’re also serious about delivering to our customers and to our team.”

Watch: Drones in the Backyard

Added Schneider Geospatial CEO Jeff Corns: “Robotic delivery at Purdue University was a novelty when that began, and now, no one even thinks about sharing the sidewalk with those devices. The pandemic really increased consumer demand for delivery, and consumers want faster, more secure ways of getting their products. DroneDek solves that in a really cool way.”

The presence of companies like Bloomerang and Schneider Geospatial is part of the reason DroneDek picked Lawrence, Indiana, as its base of operations. The city won TechPoint’s Rising Tech City Mira Award in 2020 and is known for the Fort Ben Tech Campus, a redeveloped mixed-use military base that serves as a hub for nearly 30 local tech companies.

“DroneDek chose to grow with us because we are rapidly becoming known as a city that encourages tech innovation,” said Mayor Steve Collier. “We’d be happy to add ‘birthplace of the smart mailbox’ to our claims to fame.”

The pilot in Lawrence could just be the start for DroneDek. Last November, the company signed an agreement with India tech and manufacturing conglomerate Bharat Electronics Limited. The Bangalore-based company plans to manufacture up to $50 million worth of smart mailboxes for DroneDek.

But if you want to see the DroneDek in action today, you can. The company conducted an  eye-catching pilot project at the Lakes of Taylor Golf Club in Michigan last year, delivering snacks and drinks to golfers on the course.

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Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that India-based Bharat Electronics Limited will be manufacturing up to $50 million worth of the smart mailboxes for DroneDek.

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Jack Daleo

Jack is a staff writer for FreightWaves and Modern Shipper covering topics like last mile delivery and e-commerce fulfillment. He studied at Northwestern University, majoring in journalism with a certificate in integrated marketing communications. Previously, Jack has written for Backpacker Magazine and enjoys travel, the outdoors, and all things basketball.