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“Blocks”: Innovation placed into lockers that will save you time

Article June 29, 2020

Article

“Blocks” are smart lockers placed in an office building’s lobby that proved their worth during the coronavirus crisis thanks to how they enabled contact-free delivery of packages. They save time for couriers, receptionists, and their users.

Blocks is a Czech startup that celebrated a full year of operations and its ten thousandth delivered package just this spring. These smart storage spaces installed in lobbies are a place where the courier of an e-shop, internet service, shipper, or even a workmate can store a package so that you can pick it up whenever you want.

“E-commerce has leapt ahead once again due to the coronavirus, and so there will be more packages to come,” states Bartoloměj Holubář, Blocks’ co-founder and CEO, in his interview for #MORETHANOFFICE.

Bartoloměj Holubář, CEO and co-founder of Blocks. Photo by UP21

How have your services been affected by the pandemic? Did you see a drop in business?

You’re right, there weren’t people in the buildings. But all the same, the coronavirus played in favor of contact-free approaches, and we believe that this is something that needs further work when it comes to buildings. As far as our business, naturally we delayed our project launches that were planned for March, April, and May until summer or fall.

Your lockers are mainly intended to save time. For whom and how exactly?

The Blocks lockers are typically in an office building’s lobby. If a courier, workmate, or receptionist has a package for you, they place it in the locker and we automatically send you a notification that you can come and pick it up. It’s all up to you whether you do so immediately or later.

The locker saves time for couriers, who just bring over the package and don’t have to wait for you; for receptionists, who don’t have to receive it and contact you, and naturally for you, because you can pick it up whenever it’s convenient for you. Blocks are a shared logistics point inside a building that offer you flexibility of place and time and rid you of dependence on personal contact.

WOOD WITH SOFTWARE

Can you choose different designs for the lockers?

Most of the lockers are made out of wood, but they can be metal as well. The product’s design is module and basically unlimited, even though we have prototypes pre-prepared based on our analysis of packages’ sizes. Thanks to our system’s high configurability, we’re able to serve both lobbies and office buildings’ interiors. And 99% of our service is made up of software.

Could you explain that a bit?

The user interacts with a touch screen that is connected with our mobile app and with the admin interface for the client. These three programs constantly communicate with each other, and thanks to periodic updates, the software never becomes outdated.

Using QR codes, that software lets a user open a locker, send a notification, and store a package, and it also offers ongoing data on locker load levels in a given building, lets a user reserve a locker, and work with other services such as online dry cleaners. The system is as maintenance-free as possible, it can be managed remotely, and if needed, clients can adjust various settings directly in the client admin zone – for example adjusting notification frequency, shortening storage time in periods with high load levels, or even opening lockers for reasons of safety.

OFFICES, LIBRARIES, APARTMENTS, AND MORE...

Where all will people run into Blocks lockers?

We’ve been running a year, and in that time we’ve dispatched 10,000 packages. Our technologies are available to employees of Deloitte in the Churchill office building. They’re also used by UniCredit Bank and O2 in their buildings in the BB Center. There are also Blocks at Coral Office Park in Nové Butovice and will soon be available at Parkview in Pankrác as well. We’re currently in negotiations with the developer of the JRD residential projects on placing Blocks into their projects as well. Further uses suggest themselves at university campuses, libraries, and more – but for the moment we’re focusing on office buildings and residential buildings.

And how much do your lockers cost?

Blocks is a monthly service, which is always free for users themselves. It’s purchased either by companies for their employees, or by landlords for their tenants.

A SCHOOL PROJECT WITH GREAT AMBITIONS

How did this whole project get started?

It arose purely from the problem of how e-commerce is growing and yet buildings aren’t prepared to handle it. I expanded on this subject in my bachelor’s thesis on industrial design at the Faculty of Architecture of Czech Technical University in Prague, where I studied the functional and aesthetic aspects of products in connection with needs within buildings. The company’s co-founders then assisted with bringing the idea to life from the software angle. After about one year, we presented our prototype at the Orgatec 2018 trade fair, where it met with a major response. This was a huge motivation for us to go ahead and to improve our product.

Where would you like your company to be in 2025?

I’m confident that Blocks has the potential to become a standard part of office and residential buildings both in Prague and in other major cities. We would like to expand into other countries. In these, we’d prefer not to ship “air” (that is, entire boxes), but just the software, and then to cooperate with companies working in e.g. building digitalization, or with local furniture and architecture specialists.