moving boxes

Drone Development Spurs Architectural Innovation



Takeout and Packages, Delivered by Drone

The Federal Aviation Administration has granted permission to Amazon (AMZN), the United Parcel Service (UPS), and Google’s parent company Alphabet (GOOGL) to start experimenting with drones commercial deliveries. In Christianburg, Virginia, where Alphabet has started testing drones, customers can receive deliveries from FedEx (FDX), Walgreens (WBA), and local restaurants via aerial vehicles. In Florida, UPS subsidiary Flight Forward and CVS Health (CVS) have teamed up to deliver prescriptions to residents of the largest retirement community in the US via drone.

Amazon Prime Air is working on a technology that could make it possible to deliver packages weighing 5 lbs or less in under 30 minutes. While this is all exciting, figuring out how to help drones land safely on homes and office buildings has been an obstacle for Amazon and other companies.

An Opportunity for Tech Startups

For tech startups, drone deliveries present an opportunity for innovation surrounding mailbox design. Valqari, a Chicago-based company, is working on a landing-pad-style mailbox specifically designed to receive drone deliveries. When a drone carrying a takeout meal or delivery box lands on top, the mailbox will open to receive the package.

Walmart (WMT) has also filed a patent application for another type of delivery receptacle. The concept uses a delivery chute mounted to the roof of an apartment building. With it, apartments could one day receive package deliveries by drone. Packages would drop from drone to chute and then move from the chute to a mailroom conveyor belt.

Other ideas include parachutes that would guide packages to a safe landing area, curbside mailboxes for both packages and traditional mail, and windowsill or rooftop pads.

Costs and Benefits of Drone Delivery

While parachuting packages may sound far-fetched, Valqari’s CEO Ryan Walsh says a drone landing pad could one day be “as common as a garage.” But before that can become a reality, urban planners and air-traffic controllers will need to design “smart cities” to safely accommodate drones. The FAA is developing a system to register drones and track them during delivery to avoid attacks or collisions. Companies that hope to use drones for delivery will also need to create systems for storing, powering, and recharging the devices.

Though there are many hurdles to overcome, advocates of drones say that drone deliveries could cut down on both street traffic and gas emissions. Mailboxes for drones could rely on solar power, and could even produce a surplus of energy that could be sold back for other uses. Mapping and meteorological sensors on mailboxes and drones could also help cities evolve their weather forecasting, mapping, and traffic systems. If experimental drone deliveries go well, researchers say these “smart cities” could be on the horizon.


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