Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Last Mile Problem Solved With Digital Keys

Imagine a world where you can go online and order any goods from anywhere in the world, including hot and cold food or drink, and it’s delivered safely and securely to your home first time everytime, and you don’t have to be there to collect the delivery. 

Isn’t that going on now? Well, no. If this world did exist you wouldn’t read stories like this in Gizmodo, “UPS just delivered a $400,000 drone to some dude by mistake".

A simple solution to the parcel delivery problem?

You also wouldn't read stories like this either in Forbes,  “If you get a misdelivered package, UPS will give a stranger your home address". 

And you wouldn't be really frustrated when you get a note in your letterbox, when you are expecting a parcel delivery saying that you have to visit a Post Office between office hours to pick up your parcel.

These stories above are just some recent examples of the last mile problem getting press coverage. I'm sure we'll see plenty more in the future unless we address the problem sometime soon. 

Of course we all know what the problem is.

But what we don't really know the answer too is 'why isn't there a solution yet?' Or is there? Well let’s drill down a little bit first to better understand the problem.

1) We like to order stuff online, and have it delivered to our house, but our letterboxes are too small/insecure to accept the delivery of goods, and so we have to be home to accept the delivery, but most of us work, so we can't be home to accept delivery.

That’s about it, really. What this leads to is;
Delivery driver leaving a note in your letterbox saying you weren’t home (gee thanks) and asking you to go pick up your package from a Post Office, or some warehouse somewhere.

What this also leads to sometimes;
Delivery driver dropping off your package on your doorstep where its exposed to thieves, weather, and nature (insects, animals), and the possibility of wrong address (like the drone package delivery above).
It can also lead to the delivery driver throwing your package over your fence like this FedEx guy here (see picture above).

Here is what we believe is the solution;

Place some sort of large secure container in front of your home which can accept parcels.

Well that sounds like a pretty simple solution right, or is it? 

If it seems that simple, then why as a society have we not come together yet to offer this solution?

Perhaps we need to break down the solution some more to understand why we don't have a solution yet. Ok so lets try this.

1. The large secure container must be lockable(or restrict access to the public, but not to the deliverer of the parcel) so that no-one can access the container and steal what’s inside.

This design below sort of restricts access to the public, but not to the deliverer of the parcel. So that's good. But this design below also creates other problems too such as 'breaking contents of parcel', 'parcel being too big for hole', 'parcel spoiling (food and drink)'.

As the name implies, drop in the parcel, and smash the parcel

So therefore the solution must involve a different design. And if its a different design, then it must involve giving a key to the parcel delivery guy so that is secure.  

Now gone are the days where there was one postal delivery guy that always came at the same time each day – so you can’t exactly give out one key to that one guy and solve the problem. 

The chances are if you order a parcel, you will get a different delivery guy each time. So how do you put a key in all the different delivery drivers hands (hide it under the mat in front of the container? – uhh oh –I don’t think that is very secure.

Lets try this ‘give the parcel delivery guy a digital key’ – digital keys are a lot easier to distribute than metal keys. The Digital Key could be in the form of a code, or it could be in the form of a smartphone, or in the form of a card or a fob.

Ok, so how do you get that digital key to the parcel delivery driver? – you can’t exactly give a different digital key to every house in the form of keycards to every different delivery driver right? 

Lets give him a code. Put the code on the label, next to the address so he can see it, so when he goes to deliver the package, he can use the code to open a lock, and then open the container lid, place in the parcel, and the container lid locks again.

Do we have a solution yet? Not quite - the problem here is the same as with giving out the same username and password to every employee to access confidential information and never changing it. And that is who can you trust to not give the passwords out to others?

One of the delivery guys might not be such a good guy, and he might come back a few hours later and steal your parcel with your code, or he might sell your access code to someone else, who could come back at anytime and steal your parcel. 

So therefore, lets give the parcel delivery guy a digital key in the form of a code that only works for one time use. Problems solved now? - no still not yet. What we've done now is create a new problem with this solution -that is we’re not providing confirmation and verification that the package has actually been delivered.  

Normally this confirmation would be done by you signing to say that you have accepted the delivery. Or you turning up at the Post Office with some sort of ID that matches the name on the delivery label.

Some companies offer a parcel delivery container that they claim solves this confirmation issue, and that is to have a QR code inside the lid, or some sort of unique code, that the delivery driver scans or records to confirm delivery. The only problem with this is that it still sort of relies on the honesty system. 

Proof of signature?

What is to say that the delivery driver actually opens your secure lock with his one-time access code, scans the code, or writes down the code, locks the door, but doesn't actually place your parcel inside?

Some companies claim to solve the confirmation issue by having the lock send an instant automatic text notification to you saying that the delivery has been completed.  This is certainly a feature that many new smartlocks offer too.But this still does not guarantee that the parcel has been successfully and securely delivered.

So to solve this new problem – we suggest a second and third verification method in addition to the confirmation codes/QR scanning methods. 

How about adding a sensor to the base of the container, that also sends a notification when it detects some weighty parcel hitting it? But the problem here is that the delivery guy could simply drop a rock onto the sensor, and then walk off again with your package.

So we suggest a third verification method, and that is having a camera record or snap the delivery guy in the process of placing your delivery. This video camera could be set to record on motion detector, like many different types of CCTV. You can buy motion detector security camera's these days for ten bucks, so its not a matter of cost here.

You could even have this video coming as a live feed to your mobile phone on detecting the motion, and watching for yourself your package going into the container, and the delivery guy leaving empty handed.  Or you could simply record 5-10 seconds of footage to a cloud database somewhere as back-up if you have any problems.  If all the delivery drivers suddenly learn that these secure delivery containers have three methods of verification, then I’m sure they won't try to pull off anything dodgy. 

But more importantly three methods of verification give you, the recipient of your precious parcel, comfort. You also get a bullet proof guarantee that your parcel has successfully been delivered.

So in summary here is the solution to the last mile delivery problem;
1.       Sell to the homeowners a large secure parcel delivery container that has the following;
·         A codepad lock that features one-time password type technology and interfacing smartphone app so a homeowner can generate one-time access codes. The homeowner can write down those access codes next to their names on the parcel labels when they place online deliveries. The access code will only work for one delivery to open a lock on the parcel container
·         The container features sensors, wi-fi equipment, so that when a deliver is made, the recipient receives a text notification that the delivery is made. The container also houses a video camera for extra verification, with real time streaming to homeowners smartphone, when a delivery person arrives (if they desire).

Here are some added bonuses;

  • Make the parcel container large so as to accept any size deliveries – such as a two or three boxes of groceries
  • Make the parcel container insulated to keep food and drink deliveries at the same temperature for a period – such as until you get home from work to retrieve your parcel.
  • Make the parcel container securely fastened to the property (e.g concrete base, screwed in) so that it can’t be destroyed by vandals/weather etc.
  • Make the parcel container fit in with the aesthetics of the environment in which it will be installed – that is make it fit into the front garden of a house – a metal bin does not fit in with the aesthetics of the front garden of a house.
Next week we'll show you images and prototypes of our solution.

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