Smart Mailbox Makes Its Debut Monday
INDIANAPOLIS — In 2014, years before a pandemic would make grocery delivery the norm and Amazon would deliver over a billion packages a year, Dan O’Toole knew people would need a new kind of mailbox, especially with automated delivery via drones.
That’s when he created Dronedek, a “smart mailbox” that could securely accept packages from both drones and humans. His own mother thought the futuristic mailbox able to keep food warm or prescription drugs cool was “crazy,” the founder and CEO said in an interview Wednesday.
However, “if you come up with a futuristic idea and people don’t think you are crazy, you are too late,” O’Toole said.
The entrepreneur had applied for patents before and been shut out because his latest idea had been approved for someone else days or weeks before his submission, he said.
However, he submitted plans for Dronedek’s smart mailbox just in time, and the company’s has its first autonomous delivery scheduled for Monday, Aug. 8.
A McDonald’s in Lawrence, Indiana, is set to deliver a Big Mac and french fries to the Dronedek at a nearby local business.
“McDonald’s french fries are the best and we are excited to watch this new delivery option,” said Eric Moore, the local McDonald’s franchisee, in a statement. “Dronedek’s climate-controlled mailbox is a game changer. We can’t wait to see Dronedek become a delivery option for everyone, everywhere.”
O’Toole is working with Uber Eats, DoorDash and other major retailers to ensure the companies’ delivery people — which will likely be replaced by delivery drones in the future — can access the smart mailboxes and fix the temperature accordingly.
The availability of drone delivery is caught in a bit of “a chicken-and-[the]-egg situation” currently, O’Toole said. While companies are homing in on the technology to make deliveries via drone, there isn’t a secure way for people to get those deliveries, so they might remain skeptical, O’Toole said.
It’s a problem even now as package theft is on the rise, he said. In 2021 about 23% of Americans had a package stolen, according to C+R Research.
The Dronedek will give people the option of a safe, secure place for drones to deliver goods, O’Toole said.
Drone delivery allows for “faster, cheaper, fresher [service], everything everyone wants,” he said.
His company saw a great deal of interest through a crowdfunding campaign last year that raised $3.5 million from more than 4,000 people. The company will do another campaign this year, he said.
Currently automated delivery makes more sense as the labor market tightens and environmental worries of greenhouse gas emissions are raised, O’Toole said.
His company recently commissioned a climate change study from KERAMIDA, a sustainability consulting firm, that estimated 1% of deliveries made by drones would take 3,000 trucks off the road each year, he said.
But that’s not all, fewer “road repairs, less accidents,” he said. “There’s a huge domino effect that just cascades through the ecosystem when we start talking drone delivery.”
Also, the secure shipping location means fewer stolen goods, which translates to fewer shipments overall, because the whole system is more precise, he said.
He’s also encouraged by the steps the Federal Aviation Administration has taken to consider new regulations to allow for this drone delivery to really take hold, O’Toole said.
“I think there’s definitely a strategy to getting this all approved and opened up sooner rather than later,” O’Toole said. “And we see that movement every day.”