Drones Are Poised To Reshape Home Design - Kanebridge News
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Drones Are Poised To Reshape Home Design

Landing pads, special mailboxes and more: A future where delivery drones buzz through neighbourhoods could prompt architects and builders to rethink.

By BETH DECARBO
Tue, Jan 12, 2021 12:14amGrey Clock 4 min

Let’s say you want a hamburger.

With a few taps on your phone—no onions, please—the order is placed, with delivery set for within the hour. Soon, your specially wrapped burger appears on the horizon, borne aloft by a humming drone. A retractable door on your rooftop opens to reveal a landing pad and delivery receptacle. The drone places the burger into a box, preferably heated, and a small elevator brings it into the house. “Ding.” Your app alerts you that your burger is warm and waiting.

It’s getting closer: A future where droves of drones buzz through neighbourhoods to drop off and pick up groceries, food orders and packages. Architects and builders might have to rethink overall home design to accommodate remote delivery, with drone landing pads mounted on kerbside mailboxes, built onto rooftops or perched on windowsills. This, in turn, could reshape entire neighbourhoods to include designated drone airspace and traffic patterns designed to ensure the safety of residents.

Drone divisions created by Amazon.com Inc., United Parcel Service and Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. have all received permission from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for limited deliveries, paving the way for commercial drone service. Amazon Prime Air is testing technology to deliver packages weighing up to 2.26kg in 30 minutes or less. Alphabet’s Wing trials in Christiansburg, Va., allow residents to get deliveries from FedEx Corp., Walgreens and local restaurants. In Florida, UPS subsidiary Flight Forward and CVS Health Corp. deliver prescription medications to residents of the Villages, the largest retirement community in the U.S.

Still, none of the major players have figured out a seamless way for consumers to receive their deliveries at home. Cargo landing in backyards and driveways raises safety questions regarding both people and packages.

At least one tech startup is working on a solution. Valqari, a Chicago company founded in 2017, is developing drone-delivery mailboxes that can accept all types of shipments, from retail packages to restaurant meals. The top of the mailbox acts as a landing pad, and the drone activates a retractable door to a space where packages can be safely deposited, explains Valqari founder and chief executive Ryan Walsh.

Mr Walsh says he envisions drone-delivery mailboxes mounted on rooftops and windowsills of homes or part of a centralized bank of mailboxes that can serve a neighbourhood or apartment complex. Someday, drone-delivery mailboxes will be “as common as a garage,” he says.

The idea isn’t far-fetched. In South Florida, the Paramount Miami Worldcenter condo building was designed to include a “skyport,” a platform on the roof that could someday accommodate vertical takeoff and landing, or VTOL, vehicles as a shuttle for residents. While the possibility of air taxis is years away, “I could see package delivery as happening sooner,” says developer Dan Kodsi, chief executive of Royal Palm Cos. “We have capability because elevators run all the way to the roof.” He adds that the skyport concept has been a selling point at Paramount Miami, where apartments are for sale from about US$750,000 to US$11 million for a penthouse. “Some people bought [units] knowing that it could potentially raise the value of their property,” he says.

Another concept for potentially incorporating drone delivery into residential development comes from Walmart Inc. The retailer <a”icon none” href=”https://pdfaiw.uspto.gov/.aiw?PageNum=0&docid=20190300202&IDKey=1EE7B2FDEDBE&HomeUrl=http://appft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1%26Sect2=HITOFF%26d=PG01%26p=1%26u=/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.html%26r=1%26f=G%26l=50%26s1=20190300202.PGNR.%26OS=%26RS=” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>submitted a patent application for a delivery chute mounted onto an apartment building. Drone deliveries would be dropped through the chute and onto a conveyor belt, which would transport packages into the building’s mailroom for distribution.

When the majority of homes are outfitted with drone-delivery mailboxes and landing pads, they could form the cornerstone of “smart cities,” Mr Walsh projects. Outfitted with solar panels, the mailboxes could provide their own electricity—and even generate enough electricity to sell back to the grid. Data from meteorological sensors could ensure that drones will be able to land safely, with the added benefit of making weather forecasting hyper-local. Masses of mailboxes would also provide a place to put transportation sensors that could report real-time road and traffic conditions or telecom technology that could bolster wireless signals, making cities smarter. Mapping sensors would be particularly useful in remote or rural areas, which tend to be the least mapped.

Enthusiasts say that drone deliveries require less manpower than delivery trucks and would reduce both traffic congestion and fuel emissions. But before hamburgers can fly through the sky, a lot of things have to happen. Chief among them is a drone air-traffic control system to manage unmanned aircraft and protect the airspace from attacks. Currently, the FAA is working on a way to link drone registration to uniform tracking requirements, allowing the agency to identify drone operators and digitally follow their vehicles from takeoff to landing. Tech innovators must ensure that collision-avoidance technology can avert drone crashes. And companies themselves must surmount logistical challenges in stocking, deploying and recharging drones.

On the consumer end, the public will want assurances that their peace and privacy is protected. For example, in Australia, drone-delivery trials by Wing resulted in complaints from residents in suburban Canberra that the crafts were noisy and intrusive. Based on that feedback, Wing developed new propellers that emit a quieter, lower-pitched sound, an Alphabet representative says. In terms of privacy, she added that drone cameras take still, low-resolution images that are used strictly for navigation.

Overall, the main concern is safety, says German academic Mario Schaarschmidt, who specialises in logistics, technology and innovation management in services. Earlier this year, Dr Schaarschmidt and his colleagues at the University of Koblenz-Landau released a paper that aimed to assess whether consumers would willingly adopt drone deliveries. People who were interviewed in the research most frequently cited fears about their personal safety as well as financial risks of property loss.

Over time, Dr Schaarschmidt thinks widespread drone deliveries could become the norm for homes, “but only if the first deliveries with drones go smoothly. If you experience any problems, people won’t accept them.”



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”