Someone in Toronto came up with a way to stop porch pirates once and for all
People in Toronto have been looking for ways to prevent their packages from being stolen by so-called "porch pirates" as they grow increasingly frustrated with the phenomenon, even though it has resulted in some pretty good comic relief at times.
This was an issue in the city even prior to the pandemic, but it's more problematic than ever at a time when we've been getting so many more of our essentials delivered. So much so, someone who's been having issues with deliveries for years has invented a way to prevent package theft: a smart bench with secure storage.
"In 2014 I started getting missed-delivery notices from shipping companies. The last straw was when I had to drive for 45 minutes to pick up a package at a depot in Etobicoke, which is when the practical part of me kicked in and got into action," Eric Martin, Founder & CEO of North of Modern Inc. and inventor of the Boxr bench, told blogTO.
"I initially started thinking about combining a collapsible parcel box with a doorbell, camera, intercom and house number. A sleek, minimalist all-in-one concierge of sorts."
Calling the invention Ringr, Martin was encouraged by his wife to apply to what he calls "OCAD's answer to a startup incubator": The Imagination Catalyst.
Martin quickly realized he'd have trouble getting funding for the project as he says "the incubator and the tech world in general was biased towards software startups" and "developing a hardware product is a capital-intensive endeavour." He then decided to strip down Ringr to the basics.
"I made the decision to boil the product down to its most valued feature, which I'd determined from conducting customer interviews. By doubling down on the parcel delivery problem that occurs when nobody is home to receive them, something new emerged," says Martin.
"Upon studying what people are willing to allow rent-free on their front porches, the constraints of cultural adoption and hiding-in-plain-sight were given priority and defined the design approach early on: it had to be furniture, not equipment."
In 2016 the design was developed based more on a form-follows-function principle: a frame, a container and a seat that come together to form the Boxr bench proof of concept.
"The market research I'd done in the delivery box space pointed to products that either look like toolboxes or standard issue parcel-drop boxes from Canada Post or FedEx which stand out like a sore thumb on a front porch.
"They say that you are your own best customer and I knew that I would not accept any of these products to live on my front porch," says Martin.
He built the first full-size prototype in late 2016, starting with the metal frame in a friend's garage.
"The container was made at a local metal shop with a CNC machine out of sheet metal. The wood seat was hand-made by another friend at his shop. The prototype had an electronic lock with keypad access, and a mechanical override for keyed access."
In 2017, Boxr was first debuted to the public at Toronto's Interior Design Show, even garnering the attention of Chris Hadfield. He and others who reached out as a result of the Interior Design Show became the product's first beta testers.
"In 2018 I built two more prototypes that were shorter in length than the original. The frames and containers were made of metal again, but this time the seats were made from a beautiful 100% recycled paper product that is stronger and more dimensionally stable than solid wood," says Martin.
"I also changed the electronic lock to save space inside the box. I have been testing these prototypes through all seasons with more beta-testers who've reached out through word of mouth or the occasional social media post."
Boxr was already ingenious before COVID, but it's taken on a new life in our new normal. Not only is it ideal for contactlessly receiving deliveries whether you're home or not, it can also be used for personal pickups and dropoffs between family and friends. On top of that, it's also just a great secure storage unit for that extra clutter.
The idea is that when you order something online, you enter the delivery instructions, which work in tandem with a small sign posted on your front door that tells delivery personnel to how to use Boxr.
"The delivery personnel finds the Boxr access code on the shipping label and enters it into the keypad to unlock the box," says Martin.
"The personnel then opens the box, places the package inside and closes the lid, which self-locks after a set amount of time. For exchanging stuff with peers, simply text the access code to your friends, neighbours or family, which they enter into the keypad to open the box and place things inside or take something from it."
To store things on your front porch, simply put your stuff inside and retrieve it with the access code. Already pretty impressive, but Boxr has even bigger plans.
"I am currently working with two manufacturers to finalize the design and determine the cost to manufacture Boxr in volume. This critical information will set the retail price of Boxr for the upcoming crowdfunding campaign," says Martin.
"For the second version of Boxr, we will offer an app for, among other functions, managing access codes and users easily from your mobile phone.
"Our mission is to create a seamless and certified-secure delivery experience that starts at the checkout page of your online shopping website, or app, and ends only when the parcel is in your hands."
He added that he has plans to partner with e-commerce platforms like Shopify to "test this idea as a system and learn and grow from there."
If this sounds like the answer to your prayers when it comes to the plague of porch piracy, you can already reserve a spot for Boxr's crowdfunding to help make this system commonplace.
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