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Robot Postal Workers Invade San Francisco

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Want to pick up a package from your Aunt Marge, but don't have time to run down to the post office or shipping center?  There may be a robot in your future.

No, Mr. Machine will not wait on line for you. The soda-machine-sized devices stay put. providing a way to ship and receive packages that blends the concept of time-shifting with that of a Redbox video rental.

Working with seed capital, Swapbox, Inc. has  installed 22 of the kiosks around San Francisco — most of them since May — and plans to ramp-up its operations if it can line up A-round financing later this year.

Time and Space

"It's what we call a super post office," Founder-CEO Neel Murthy told CMSWire in an interview. "It sends and receives packages on your behalf, so you don't synchronously have to be there like a real post office."

Here's how it works. First, you rent an address that is for your own personal compartment in a Swapbox in your neighborhood. When a package arrives, the system sends you an alert by text or email.

If you'd like to ship something, you can place it into your box and the kiosk will automatically compare rates for UPS, FedEx and the US Postal Service and ship your package from the lowest-priced carrier.

Customer pay the usual shipping costs, plus $1.99 per package, a fee that Swapbox shares with the retailer hosting the robot. If you have a lot of packages, you can opt for a flat-fee per month.

Murthy said business is good, with "multiple thousands" of customers now using the boxes. Even so, the company is currently offering 50 percent off shipping rates to encourage adoption.

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"I'll give you a hint," said the 26-year-old Stanford grad. "We're not making any money. We're losing quite a bit right now, but for the short-term I think it's worth it."

As if it isn't losing money fast enough, Swapbox will also wrap your package for you for free. To use that service, you just leave your item in your box with the shipping directions.

"We hired a professional packer to go out on a truck, and he just packages up the item in a box and puts it back into the Swapbox," Murthy explained.

"The thing we're banking on is the volume," he added. "It works pretty well with volume. The guy can pack up about 10 packages in 10 minutes."

Shipping Partners

The company already works with UPS, FedEx and the US Postal Service and it planning to add other shippers. If a package comes in from an unaffiliated shipper, it first goes to the Swapbox warehouse and then is delivered to the robot-kiosk within two hours.

When delivering a package, the shipper simply scans a bar code which opens on of the doors to your box. In goes the package and out goes an alert.

Title image by GULFX/Shutterstock.com.

 
 
 
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