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A Delivery Service Turns Cars Into Mobile Mailboxes

Is that junk in your trunk? No, it’s a package waiting for you, delivered while you were at work. One catch: Someone else has the keys to your car.

The endless selection and effortlessness of online shopping has transformed the way people acquire basics, from shoes to groceries. But the rise of e-commerce hasn’t changed the way companies get us our packages. If you happen to be away from home when a package arrives and have to head to the post office to retrieve it, the convenience of making a purchase online can be negated in an instant.

A new service called CarDrops presents a potential solution—at least, for car owners. The Belgium-based startup wants to repurpose car trunks as mobile mailboxes, allowing delivery services to leave behind packages, even when the car’s owner is not around. But first they’ll have to convince consumers to grant CarDrops access to their trunks and to data on their cars’ locations.

CarDrops founder Nick De Mey explains how the service works: Consumers install a tracking device into their car’s on-board diagnostics system, which records location data and allows CarDrops to notify delivery services about a driver’s likely whereabouts at the time of delivery. If a delivery is scheduled for 3 p.m. on a Thursday, for example, the deliverer will know that the customer is typically at work then, and head for the office parking lot with the package. If the car isn’t there, CarDrops can notify a delivery person at the last minute about the change in location, preventing a missed connection. The consumer can follow along—tracking the delivery online, and receiving a text when it’s been placed in his car.

"Normally with deliveries, people would drive to the house, and wait in front of the house," says De Mey. "When nobody’s there in the end, they have to come back," costing the delivery service money and frustration for the consumer.

But the question remains whether consumers would be ready for such an intrusion into their privacy. "It’s a new concept of course—deliveries in your car—so you can imagine that there are a lot of questions around it," De Mey admits. But he argues that it’s all about building trust, and making the experience relatable to other moments of allowing companies access to intimate spaces, for example, the way that people allow hotel maids and valets access to expensive personal property or let telecom companies track their locations by providing location data on a cell phone.

CarDrops is keeping its test group tiny for now, with private pilots of just 50 cars taking place in Belgium and Germany. But the small test has attracted huge companies; De Mey’s staying silent about the e-commerce site and delivery company that he’s testing CarDrops out with, but he says both are industry leaders in Europe.

If all goes well, it’s possible CarDrops will make a public roll-out in a year’s time. "We got very big brands that are contacting us to see how they can cooperate, how they can integrate into our service," De Mey says. "It gives us some confidence that we’re sitting on something very nice."