Hi all again,


Following my first blog post on DIYDrones few people have asked what Pigeon Post is and why I'm posting here.


The Pigeon Post project is developing a system of technologies and standards to drag the snail mail and package delivery industry into the 21st Century.  It hopes to meet the following aims:

  • Mail packages from the customer not a post box.
  • Deliver to a person not a building or post code.
  • Delivery time is set specifically or dictated by urgency and distance not First and Second Class.
  • Price is flexible depending on demand and supply.
  • Uses the existing untapped delivery capacity of public and private vehicles for medium and long distance deliveries.
  • Cut the costs of delivering in rural areas where costs are presently the highest.

The strategy we are exploring at the moment is to use Quadcopters and internet protocol style packet switching concepts to move packages from customer to customer.


The project is slow launching this week as I'll be pitching the idea at Manchester Social Media Cafe and to The Next Web next week.  I'm looking for feedback at the moment, though not just "The technology isn't ready yet" as I've already answered that one over on the blog.  If you have any suggestions or questions about possible problems, solutions to those problems, or nice things to say in general, please comment here or email nathan@nathanrae.co.uk.  You can also follow what's happening on twitter as well.


If you would like to join the project I'm looking for people who can volunteer some knowledge, time and expertise on autonomous quadcopters and 3D prototyping.  I'm also looking for someone with a couple of spare copters laying around to make concept video showing how the system would/could work once it's up and running.  I'm going to bootstrap the project for a while until I have a comprehensive enough proposal and some video or animations before raising funding to accelerate the research stage.



Nathan Rae.

Views: 1816

Comment by Greg Fletcher on October 28, 2011 at 8:01pm

Sounds like a very good idea. Except for the quad copter part.  A quad copter flies to a location and lands in a city environment or a back yard autonomously with  GPS guidance (+/- ~ 15 ft most of the time), and then some one puts a small package in it and it tales off.  Does that sound safe and reliable?



Comment by Gary Mortimer on October 29, 2011 at 12:29am

Well best of luck but are you sure about the platfrom?

Also have you looked at CAP722 at all?


Can the quad check on elderly folk in rural areas as postmen and woman do at the moment. You should fly a multicopter for a while first and then you will be more aware of the issues.


FedEx and DHL would love to make their bigger platforms unmanned, and rumour has it that will happen between China and Australia first. I can see the point for the big stuff but not the final few miles.

Comment by Nathan Rae on October 29, 2011 at 1:58am
Greg - a quad copter will be able to use multiple technologies to help it locate the Smart Case which include the new Galilao Positioning service, the smart phone which is posting the case, the colour/pattern of the top of the Casemand the RFID tag in the case. Safe? There will be competition in safety and security as well as price and speed. More to come soon.

Gary - I'm sure businesses will want to compete for the juicy lucrative parts of the system. Community cooperatives, NGOs, local councils, etc. could become PPSPs to meet demand.

I'll be posting more on both these aspects soon on the pigeon post blog.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on October 29, 2011 at 3:09am

How will you get permission to fly outside of line of sight and in built up areas? Who will pay for the training of each pilot? All things that can be solved but don't head too far down the planning course until you have jumped regulation hurdles.


You should probably try and attend the UAS meet being held this weekend http://www.diydrones.com/profiles/blog/show?id=705844%3ABlogPost%3A... and ask some opinions.



Comment by MarcS on October 29, 2011 at 10:01am


interesting idea. Sounds like a great resaerch topic to me. With a controlled environement you could do a great
demo. Ask some of the known experts in the field (e.g. Zurich, Pennsylvania...) so they can evolve their great
indoor capabilities to an outdoor environement with an application to communicate. Technology on the academic level is ready for this. Money could come from research grants ?!

Greg: as I said above, technology in research is capable of doing such things (picking up etc.)... Wait for news on that :-)

Back to the business idea.
Apart from all legal issues and the question if it can pay off at all I see two problems: Reliability and safety. It wold be quite easy and a challenge for every hacker and kid to get one "pigeon" down and see whats in the package :-) And to get the system as reliable and safe as needed would be very expensive and probably kill any profit. Remember, you have to be cheaper than the "snail mail"...



Comment by Gerry Lichter on October 29, 2011 at 12:43pm

I'm not sure if I understand. Is the idea that the package is autonomously transported to participating moving vehicles/vehicles stopped & red lights?


Comment by Gerry Lichter on October 29, 2011 at 2:18pm

How far in to technical details have you gone in to developing this "sneakernet"? Postal work and packet routing have a lot in common. I'm sure there's a lot to be learned from looking at attempts to decentralize networks(eg TOR, Ripple Pay, Hawala etc.)


Defcon had some talks about decentralized Packet Radio projects in response to the Arab Spring/dictatorship issues.


Is you emphasis on developing a standardized fleet of vehicles or developing incentives for allowing the existing network of vehicles to accomplish work?


This probably goes without saying but an iPhone/Android app would be a good approach to infrastructure, perhaps imitating https://twitpay.com/ and their use of the twitter network as an identity standard/addressing system.


Comment by Nathan Rae on October 29, 2011 at 2:56pm

Hi Gerry,

The idea is to develop a number of standards for the physical systems and the data systems and get them in place before the technology catches up with us.  I have heard and seen no end of ideas about using UAVs for video and even some for point to point delivery systems.  At the moment we are at the same point that the Universities and institutions were at when they connected their computers together using a single line, point to point connection.  Once internet protocols were developed it meant that hundreds and thousands of computers could then use the network at the same time without having to expand the amount of data transmission lines/cables.

But because we are dealing with physical systems we are also in the same point that robot system designers and developers were before computers became powerful and cheap enough to controle the fairly simple mechanical manipulators wich revolutionised manufacturing.

I have already written up a lot of my ideas including how the business modle works for Pigeon Post, the Service Providers, the resellers, etc.  I have also worked out a system that a specialist Service Provider would use to anonymise Smart Cases and deliveries using Onion Routing concepts using an entirely off grid, clockwork driven Smart Perch housed in an enclosed space/building.  Mobile Apps would be the standard way of delivering to a person and not a postcode.

Please follow and add your comments to the main blog over at www.pigeonpost.co and sign up for the mailing list.  I'm looking for as many people to review, pick holes in and add to the concepts as they are published.


Comment by Mike on October 29, 2011 at 11:39pm

Cart before horse - as usual.

Comment by MarcS on October 30, 2011 at 1:14am

Mike, short but correct...

The problems in this project (and others..) are more on the physical and legal side. Standards and business plans are not of real use if you don´t know how your system wil look and work from the physical side (and there are many!! unknown points to solve... if its possible/paying off at all).

Ok, there is money for ideas like this added with some "artist views"...


Thats why I would propose a research project in a controlled environement. Start in one of the known "vicon rooms", Automatic charging, landing on mobile platforms, grabbing and delivering... everything already demonstrated seperately. Then go outside, also controled and make a big demo. Then you get an idea of the complexity and problems of the project and then you should start think about "reality"... Could be in some years when the "horse" is ready this way...


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