Something I've spotted many times out here in the country: A small, one-story house or trailer home with a long aluminum wheelchair ramp permanently installed in the front. And the mailbox for the house is on the other side of the road.
It's difficult enough to be confined to a wheelchair in the countryside—some of these homes have gravel driveways, as asphalt is pretty expensive—but to then have to wheel across the two-lane road, which is regularly traveled by logging trucks and occasionally, a random off-leash pit bull, just to get your mail has got to be stressful.
I looked into it, and some houses have their mailboxes on the wrong side of the street by design, and it's impossible to have them moved to the right side. The Postal Service has carefully-mapped routes and the carrier only has time to travel down certain roads in certain directions, so that they can loop back on other roads and cover the whole county. And regulations say they can't get out of the car to carry the mail to the other side.
My wife and I unfortunately have our mailbox on the wrong side, and it's more than a half-mile round trip from the house and visually obscured by trees. We are not in wheelchairs (yet, I feel like many of us will eventually be), so it's a mere annoyance if we travel to the mailbox and it turns out to be empty. The one UX "hack" that we employ is to leave the mailbox door open, so when we get within fifty feet we can see if the mailman has closed it, meaning there's mail inside.
What would be ideal, for both us and a wheelchair user, is if the mailbox itself was a drone that automatically flew to the front porch when it had mail. When you emptied it, it would then fly back to the mailbox post. Maybe it wouldn't be clawed out of the sky by a hawk or a barn owl.
As far as I know, nobody's working on that. But industrial designer Kevin Banos, while working for ID firm Leadoff Studio, did at least get to work on the design of this speculative USPS Mailbox Sensor, which would at least work from Wi-Fi range.
"In collaboration with MRM//McCANN's product innovation lab, we worked on the creation of the USPS Mailbox Sensor, a device that streamlines the mail receiving process," Banos writes. "We joined forces with electrical engineers and model makers to prepare a prototype to be showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)."
"We led all industrial design efforts of the concept, creating a modern product design aesthetic for USPS [that] would fit in most free-standing mailboxes across the US," writes Leadoff Studio. "The design of the angles and grooves on top of the tech product allow any type of mail to fall over onto the sensor when the postal worker tosses it into the mailbox."
The CES they designed it for was in 2019, and there's no word on whether the USPS actually plans to move forward on these. Maybe I can talk them into the drone thing!
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