Chicago man revolutionizing mailboxes by making them ready for drone deliveries

- Suzanne Baker | Chicago Tribune

You can build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door, Ralph Waldo Emerson noted in the late 19th century.

More than 100 years later, Ryan Walsh is building a better mailbox so the world’s goods can be delivered to your door.

The Naperville man and partner Alexander Falesch co-invented the Smart Drone Delivery Mailbox, a receptacle that replaces the traditional mailbox in front of people’s homes to allow drones to land for package delivery and pickup.

The two men in 2017 co-founded Valqari, a start-up focused on the ensuring packages that arrive at a destination safely remain secured and out of the elements until the recipient retrieves them from the box.

In 2013, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled plans for a drone delivery system and since then companies such as Google, UPS and DHL have joined the race to be the among the first distribute packages via drone.

“I saw a gap in the market,” Walsh said. “In 2013, we saw that no one else had developed this technology, which is why it was critical for us to put a stake in the ground by immediately applying for utility patents to make us the only smart mailbox option for commercial and residential use.

“We knew the biggest hurdle facing drone delivery was that there was no standardized, safe and secure landing area. This gave us a clear vision from the start that our mission would be to provide the missing piece to the last stage drone delivery process,” he said.

Walsh said to date his Valqari is the only drone delivery solution to be issued utility patents in 13 countries and territories, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, South Africa, and several other countries in the European Union.

Measures Valqari took blocks competitors from entering the smart mailbox market in these regions and positions the company as a global leader, Walsh said.

“As a result, we beat major global companies in developing the winning solution with our Smart Drone Delivery Mailbox,” he said.

Walsh drew his ideas for his improved mailbox from his experiences working with drones in the military.

A graduate of Neuqua Valley High School, Walsh spent six years in the U.S. Army, where he served three tours of duty — one in Iraq and two Afghanistan — with the 75th Ranger Regiment.

It was there that he saw the cutting-edge technology capabilities of a drone and realized it wouldn’t be long before drones could be delivering products to people’s homes, he said.

After his service and with the help of the GI bill, Walsh attended Northeastern Illinois University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, before he headed back to his hometown of Naperville to get a master’s of business administration in management from North Central College.

Valqari’s smart technology allows the mailbox to communicate with the drone to help guide it onto the landing pad.

Walsh said when a drone leaves a warehouse, it would use GPS to locate the shipping address. Once the drone is within 100 feet of the Valqari box, the mailbox would begin signaling the drone.

After landing, the box would open when authentication numbers are verified, Walsh said. The mailbox would send notification to the shipping company and the recipient that the package was delivered.

His plan is more secure than leaving a package in the middle of the front yard or dropping it by parachutes, as some of the global leaders have suggested.

Unlike traditional package delivery, unmanned drones can’t put an item on a front porch because of all the obstacles in the yard, Walsh said.

Without a secure box, packages must be left in open spaces like the yard where passersby might be tempted to grab and go or it it could get wet from rain or snow, he said.

“(The Smart Drone Delivery Mailbox) would completely eliminate porch pirates and weather damage,” Walsh said.

Walsh sees his product replacing traditional mailboxes because the new smart box can also accept U.S. Postal Service mail and deliveries via traditional vehicle, he said.

At homes like those in older sections Naperville, where mail is delivered at the front door, or at apartment buildings, Walsh said a Valquari box could be placed on a window or accessible space on the roof, away from hazards, children and pets.

Because drones will deliver meals, groceries and medications, Walsh is developing boxes that can keep meals warm or refrigerated medicines and groceries cool. “It’s going to increase the convenience factor,” he said.

The uses of drone delivery technology extend beyond packages from retailers, Walsh said. They will revolutionize the pharmaceutical, food and automotive industries.

Seafood restaurants can get fresh catch delivered and auto shops in need specialized parts don’t need to waste time sending porters out to pick up parts, he said. “It will drastically impact how business is done,” Walsh said.

Walsh’s plan to roll out his Smart Drone Delivery Mailbox to the public is dependent on when drone delivery companies get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and when 5G technology – the network by which drones and mailboxes to communicate – becomes readily available everywhere.

In the meantime, Walsh said he expects to have his product ready by the time drone delivery services begin.

Valqari recently acquired a warehouse in Plainfield to test the prototypes, and Walsh expects to have a commercial model ready by the end of the summer and consumer model by mid-year 2020.

Original article at the Chicago Tribune, here.

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