Local startups team up to advance drone parcel-delivery system

Two local companies are at the forefront of making the once-fantastical notion of drones delivering packages to your doorstep a reality.

Startups Pierce Aerospace, a firm pioneering a system that identifies a drone (ownership, etc.) in flight, and DroneDek Corp., a smart-mailbox company, on Thursday announced they have partnered to advance commercial drone delivery. Both companies are based in Indianapolis.

The partnership unites Pierce Aerospace’s remote-identification expertise and technologies and DroneDek’s patented last-mile logistics offering, including a drone mailbox system.

The teams’ combined systems can provide the infrastructure that enables package delivery to government, commercial, institutional, and residential locations throughout the world, officials from both companies said. The result is authenticated, to-your-door delivery that is private and secure, Pierce and DroneDek officials added.

By happenstance, Pierce CEO Aaron Pierce ran into Dan O’Toole and his son, Steve, earlier this year while in Silicon Valley. Pierce attended Carmel High School with Steve O’Toole.

They struck up a conversation and found out something stranger than the fact that they bumped into each other almost 2,500 miles away from home.

“I didn’t know we both found our way into the drone business,” Pierce said, referring to Dan O’Toole’s role as CEO of DroneDek.

Quickly, Pierce and O’Toole realized they could work together to benefit both companies—and the state.

“By partnering together for at-home development, we plant a flag in Indiana as a proving grounds for commercial drone advancement,” Pierce said.

Pierce Aerospace’s remote flight-identification service provides a means to authenticate “who’s who” in the airspace through either network or local broadcast capabilities, Pierce explained.

DroneDek, which is unveiling a prototype next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, makes a smart internet of things-integrated mailbox that is designed to accept drone deliveries securely.

Pierce’s Flight Portal ID integrated into DroneDek gives consumers assurance about the drones flying over their neighborhoods while enabling the drones to authenticate deliveries to the mailboxes below. With this partnership, neighbors can confirm that the drones arriving in their communities are authorized to be there.

“By pairing Flight Portal ID with DroneDek, we can deliver trust from the sky to the ground, verifying that the drones arriving at DroneDek [mailboxes] are the drones the consumers expect to be delivering their packages,” Pierce said.

“At the macro level, this partnership establishes the infrastructure to scale drone delivery operations in the last mile. The network effect of distributed DroneDek mailboxes equipped with Flight Portal ID technology further assures consumers and communities about drones overhead while strengthening and advancing the overall commercial drone delivery business model for all parcel carriers.”

While drone delivery isn’t exactly at the doorstep just yet, Pierce said, “infrastructure partnerships like this open the threshold and produce the conditions for remarkable societal development. We’re approaching a historical point in postal services akin to Benjamin Franklin’s reorganization of the postal service, the first mailbox adoptions in the mid-1800s, airmail, and private-sector parcel innovations of the last few decades.”

“DroneDek changes the way commerce happens,” Dan O’Toole said in a statement. “By nature of our features, connectivity and saturation, we are a natural partner of this important Remote ID technology that ultimately benefits the consumer.”

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