Background Research

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Upon developing our problem, we discovered that before designing a package pick-up system for drones, we needed some background information about various items on rules & regulations, and possible existing systems to help spawn ideas.

Package Sorting Systems

How are packages transported and sorted?
Millions of packages are shipped every day, requiring complex logistic installations to get these packages to their destinations. We are looking into the package transportation system as we could apply it in our mailbox system. The two main elements in package transportation and sorting are conveyor belts and barcodes. Conveyor belts are still the most efficient tools for mass transportation within a facility and barcodes are cheap and reliable for keeping track of the package.

The packages are moved to another belt using air-powered rubber levers. Robot arms that are commonly seen in factories are not regularly used in these mass transportation complexes as they would cause a slower and less efficient process. [1]

How are packages transported and sorted?
There are other ways of sorting packages that are not used in the big complexes but that could be useful for our system. The idea of a marble sorter could for example be applied. To get a package to a certain mailbox, there could be some tubes above it. By opening and closing certain hatches, a package would follow a predefined path and end up in the mailbox where it is supposed to go. [2]

Rules & Regulations

Drones & UAS

"Drone: an unmanned aircraft or ship that can navigate autonomously, without human control or beyond line of sight" [3]

Question: What flight regulations exist for drones in regards to height?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has several regulations for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Flight operations range from ground level to above 50,000 feet, depending on the specific type of aircraft. Drones, which fall under UAS regulations, are not allowed in Class B airspace (over large cities &/or airports) nor are the allowed to be flown above 400 feet due to interfere with national airspace [4] [5].Nowhere, however, have I been able to find a minimum height for these innovations to fly, as long they operate with no means to public harm.

Question: How does one get approval for commercial drone use?
Commercial drone package delivery would fall under the Civil UAS classification.
Currently, for civil operations one would have to apply for a “Special Airworthy Certificate, Experimental Category.” In this process one would have to show that the system can be operated safely, cause no harm to public, provide a description of how the system works etc. [6] This approval is granted for certain areas such as R&D, Market research and crew training for example [7].

The FAA Regulations are being revised due to the increase in interest of commercial and personal use of UAS’s. They are improving their UAS airworthiness certification process and developing a path for safe integration of civil UAS. How they plan to control these situations is still unclear, but I believe approval for UAS use will still be required.

What this means for our scenario:
Since we assume that drone will be able to make the delivery to our “mailbox” we have to project what the FAA may do in regards to safety & drone delivery. The above questions reveal that public safety is very important, so when designing we should consider that humans should be kept out of harm’s way when the drone is delivering a package. Whether that be through creation of a special garage the drone lands to drop, or a drop-off platform out of humans reach is up to us.


The US postal service has certain requirements for mailboxes in varying locations (suburbs vs apartments vs city etc.) The location, height and size are all relative to the circumstance. Overall, however, a mail slot size may be minimally: 1.75 inches high by 10 inches wide (metric here)[8].
There are many different kinds of mailboxes. For apartment purposes you may see cluster boxes (possibly located outside), horizontal boxes, or vertical boxes. View mailbox products here.

Question: Are there package mailboxes?
Yes, a T3 mailbox. It can hold bigger mail drops. Approved dimensions are no larger than 22 1/2 inches long, 8 inches wide and 11 1/2 inches high. (57,15x20,32x29,21cm). [9].

There are also other mailboxes especially for packages. but all these mailboxes have in common that they can't be used at flats, because they take to much space. differend mailbox 1 different mailbox 2
Question: Regulations for approval of new mailbox/package box design?
There are guidelines for residential mailboxes curbside & door slots. [10]

What this means for our scenario:
Knowing these various kinds of mailboxes exist allow us to consider them in our design process. Possibly one of these models can serve as a shell for our system design. The guidelines for residential mailboxes, just show what has to be considered should we expand to developing mailboxes for non-apartment scenarios. The USPS has strict guides for this.


Question: How are packages delivered to apartments?
Today there are only a few regulations for package delivery. PostNL is one of the biggest postal delivery companies in Holland. Their rules for package delivery are:
1) If the package fits through the mailbox it can be delivered by putting it in the mailbox. only if a signature is not required.
2) The package can be handed to the addressee, a adult roommate of the addressee or someone authorized by the addressee.
3) The package may be given to the neighbors.

Question: When is signature required for package deliveries?
In Holland package delivery with an autograph is an extra service.
The sender can order this extra service by with the package has to be delivered personally by the mailman and an autograph has to be given.
With this service the package is insured till 500 euros and the package can be followed.

Is there transition in the way mail is being delivered?
According to the quarterly figures of postNL there is a rise in the package delivery and a decline of postal deliveries.
A shift from personal postal deliveries to commercial deliveries can be seen.
Deliveries can be followed and be delivered is specified time slots.
quarterly figures of PostNL

How far will people walk

We decided that one of our options for a drone mailbox is to make pick-up points in stores or in stand-alone establishments. This approach would require less mailboxes as they will be shared with many people. For this approach it is important to know how far people are willing to walk to retrieve their package. Especially in the early stages, people will have to pay more for drone delivery as they would for regular delivery. If people are not willing to travel a certain distance, this approach will not be profitable as the amount of pick-up locations would cause to many expenses.

Research shows that on average 90% of the interviewed people will not walk further than one kilometer for destinations such as work, entertainment and restaurants. Such destinations will most likely be more important and worth more physical effort than retrieving a package. The amount of pick-up locations would have to be very high, but it is impossible to say if pick-up locations would be more cost-efficient than individual mailboxes. [11]


What kind of materials could be used to build this system?

  • Conveyor Belt(s)
  • Bar Code Scanner(s)
  • Wood
  • Locks
  • Robo Pro of Mechano Set? (for model?)
  • Metal sheeting

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NEXT: Requirements


  1. Wilson, Tracy V.. "How UPS Works" 01 November 2006. <>
  2. Vanderwerf, L. (2009, Dec 29). Students' marble sorters could lead to engineering careers. McClatchy - Tribune Business News Retrieved from
  4. "Unmanned Aircraft Systems." (2014, 20 Aug). Federal Aviation Administration. <>
  5. “Fact Sheet – Unmanned Aircraft Systems” (UAS) (2014, 6 Jan). Federal Aviation Administration. <>
  6. "Civil Operations (Non-Governmental)." (2014, 15 July). Federal Aviation Administration. <>
  7. "Experimental Category."(2011, 7 June). Federal Aviation Administration. <>
  8. "Mailbox Guidelines." (2014). USPS. <>
  9. Bonsai Media Group. (2013, 23 Sept.). "A Guide to USPS Mailbox Regulations." Mail Boss - Locking Security Mailbox. Epoch Design.<>
  10. "Mailbox Guidelines." (2014). USPS. <>
  11. "Access to Destinations" (2004-2012) University of Minnesota<,d.ZWUs/>