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July 1, 2022 2:25 pm

Israeli Startup Rolls Out Universal ‘Mailbox’ for Urban Drone Delivery

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

A general view shows part of Tel Aviv, Israel June 12, 2022. Picture taken with a drone on June 12, 2022. REUTERS/Ilan Rosenberg

More than a decade into the testing of drone technologies for commercial use, an Israeli company believes its universal drone “mailbox” will help retailers safely deliver orders to homes in urban areas.

“We are not trying to invent, we are trying to solve, in that we have developed the only smart system that provides a solution for any kind of drones to deliver parcels to residences into deposit or post boxes,” Niv Aharoni, co-founder and CEO at Strix Drones, told The Algemeiner.

The Strix system is device-agnostic, he added, meaning “that the system can communicate with any type of drone around the world, so if you order from different companies, you can still receive the goods in the same way.”

Delivery by drone has been sought at least since 2013, when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos unveiled his vision of aerial package delivery. In June, the company announced that a long-delayed drone project will be launched in Lockeford, California, later this year. Drone delivery has generally been limited to smaller towns, where land is less dense and parcels can be dropped in residents’ backyards.

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Making commercial use more viable still faces a number of technical hurdles, including the challenge of safely dropping parcels from the sky to the ground.

Strix Drones was founded in 2019 as a manufacturer of drone-docking stations for the Israeli military, placed on the border with the Gaza Strip, before it began developming systems for the commercial drone market.

“For the last two years, we saw a lot of demand for commercial drone delivery of boxes from one point to the other, and the question we asked ourselves aws what will happen in the last meter, and what will be the best and most secure way to release a package,” Aharoni recounted.

Aharoni noted that many solutions for drone package drop-off use a winch system for release, which some deem unsafe. Strix Drones’s docking station and capsule is deployed in the field, including on building rooftops, where they can function much like a “gas station” for cars, he said.

In recent weeks, Strix introduced a street delivery box that can interface with all types of drones, for receiving goods ranging from medical supplies to take-out sushi in urban settings with high-rise buildings. The autonomous system can program drones to deliver parcels from pick-up points to docking stations, where they can be charged without human contact. After landing, recipients receive an app alert, and when they arrive the boxes open automatically for retrieval.

In June, Strix tested its system in the southern Israeli city of Yeruham as part of the public-private National Drone Initiative, led by the Israel Innovation Authority and conducted in partnership with the Israeli Transportation Ministry, the Civil Aviation Authority, and Ayalon Highways Ltd.

The company has plans to test grocery delivery with a local retailer this summer, and then to place docking stations in areas of the central Israeli city of Modiin.

Daniella Partem, head of the Israeli Center for the Forth Industrial Revolution at the Israel Innovation Authority, noted that a main challenge for the drone industry today is making the service financially viable.

“This test [in Yeruham] shows the potential for commercial drone-based solutions and is a further step in creating a viable economic model,” Partem told The Algemeiner. “We are promoting to create a nationwide infrastructure for the use of drones for delivery and many different use cases in a competitive market for more drone companies to collaborate with each other.”

“The next phase is heavier weights, longer distances, and even maybe one day drone taxies in urban areas,” she added.

Strix has manufacturing facilities in Israel and, most recently, in the US state of Ohio.

“Right now we are building the facility in Dayton, and in two months we are going to start manufacturing in the US, as we have orders from companies,” Aharoni said.

One customer is a multi-billion-dollar transport firm involved in long-distance deliveries to hospitals of items like blood tests, mother’s milk, organs, which until now used helicopters for their services.

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