|1.||Apparatus for receiving a package from an outer area and securely retaining the package within an inner area or dispensing the package from the inner area to the outer area, the apparatus for mounting in or on an exterior panel or partition comprising receptacle means being movable between an expanded position to define a chamber for receiving the package and a collapsed position when not in use and having inner and outer panels normally locked but openable in sequence to allow the package to be moved from or to the inner area through receptacle means.|
|2.||Apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein the exterior partition defines the boundary between the inner and outer areas, and the apparatus is mounted in the partition in register with an aperture in the partition for passage of the package.|
|3.||Apparatus according to claim 1 or 2, wherein the receptacle means expands into the inner area.|
|4.||Apparatus according to claim 1, 2 or 3, wherein the apparatus includes means for conveying the package in the direction of the inner panel.|
|5.||Apparatus according to claim 1,2 3 or 4, wherein the receptacle means comprises a base plate having an upper front edge guided for movement in a vertical plane and a lower rear edge pivotally mounted in the region of the basal edge of the rear panel such that the receptacle means is moved between its expanded and collapsed positions by vertical movement of the upper front edge of the base plate.|
|6.||Apparatus according to claim 5, wherein side walls and a roof, together with the base plate, define the sides of the chamber.|
|7.||Apparatus according to any one of claims 5 or 6, wherein the base plate is inclined at an angle to the horizontal when the receptacle is fully expanded such that the package slides to the rear of the chamber to abut the inner panel.|
|8.||Apparatus according to any one of claims 1 to 7, wherein the receptacle means is moveable between the expanded and collapsed position by means of a pulley system operable from the outer area with the outer panel in its locked position.|
|9.||Apparatus according to claim 8, wherein the pulley system is connected to the inner panel such that movement of the receptacle means from the expanded position to the collapsed position simultaneously closes the inner panel.|
|10.||Apparatus according to any one of the preceding claims, where sensor means provide a signal indicating the presence of a live person or animal within the chamber, and the apparatus provided with means for preventing access through the inner panel in the event that the signal is indicative of the present of a live person or animal.|
|11.||Apparatus according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein secure access means are provided to prevent unauthorised opening of the outer panel.|
The delivery of goods and other packages to domestic premises is increasing dramatically with the growing use of Internet shopping. However, arranging delivery times for packages can be difficult if all the members of the household are away during normal working hours. Devices which allow unsupervised delivery or collection of packages are relatively common in areas such as banking, but these devices are generally unsuited to the growing domestic market. Particularly, known devices are not suitable for receiving or retaining large packages, and they are difficult and expensive to fit to an existing wall or door.
The present invention provides apparatus for receiving or dispensing a package from an outer area and securely retaining the package within an inner area, the apparatus comprising receptacle means for mounting on the exterior of a panel or partition, the receptacle means being moveable between an expanded position in which the package can be moved between the inner and outer area, and a collapse position in which access to the inner area is prevented.
More particularly, according to an embodiment of the invention at present preferred, there is provided a receptacle for receiving and depositing objects, the receptacle having a chamber for receiving an object and a door at one end by means of which the object may be deposited into and/or dispensed from the chamber to a first insecure region, operation of the door preferably being controlled to prevent unauthorised access to said chamber. The receptacle furthermore preferably includes a second door by means of which an object may be deposited into and or dispensed from the chamber to a second secure region, operation of the second door being controlled to prevent unauthorised access to said secure region from said chamber, and, advantageously, operation of said first and second doors being linked such that only one of said doors is operable to allow access therethrough between the chamber and the associated region at any time, thereby preventing access being gained to said secure region from said insecure region through said chamber.
Preferably, the chamber is expandable to accommodate for varying sizes of objects, the receptacle, in use, being expanded to receive an object and being collapsed when no object is present to minimise the obtrusiveness of the receptacle into the unsecure and/or secure region. It is particularly preferred that the receptacle being mounted in an opening in a panel such as a door to a building, although it may also being mounted in an opening in a wall or even in a stand alone secure container and that the receptacle expand into the insecure region, although it is also possible for it to be expanded instead into the secure region.
In one embodiment of the invention, the receptacle may be collapsed from the insecure region with an object inside, so as to expel the object from the chamber into the secure region, so second door between said chamber and said secure region being released during such collapse to permit passage of the object therethrough into said secure region.
In the collapsed position it is preferred that the volume of the receptacle means it is reduced to a minimum so that the receptacle means lies flush with the exterior of the panel or partition or protrudes only a relatively small distance. If the apparatus is mounted to a door or a moveable panel, the collapsed receptacle means should not hinder normal use of the door or panel.
The configuration of the expanded receptacle means maybe generally parallelepiped e. g. cuboid, with the sides of the receptacle means generally aligned with the vertical and the package being received through the uppermost surface.
The receptacle means may move between the collapsed and expanded positions along an alignment plane which is generally parallel to horizontal, but the alignment plane may be inclined at a small angle to the horizontal to such that the receptacle moves away from the panel or partition along an upward path. The angle of the alignment plane to the horizontal may increase the strength and structural rigidity of the receptacle means.
In another embodiment there is provided a dispensing and/or collecting opening connecting a secure region to an insure region, access to said opening being controlled by first and second doors formed by arcuate, concentrically mounted pivotable members, each of which is moveable between a first position in which it isolates said dispensing opening from said insecure region and a second position in which it isolates said dispensing opening from said secure region. In this way, said doors may be separately moved between their first and second positions so that, in sequence, the first door is moved to its second position isolating said secure region from said opening, said second door remaining in its first position, the second door is then moved to its second position, thereby allowing access to said opening from said insecure region, in practice to all an object to be deposit therein, said second door is returned to its first position, again isolating the opening and hence the object deposited therein from the insecure region, and finally the first door is returned to its first position so as to allow access to said opening from said secure region and hence allow said object to be retrieved therefrom.
Locking means may be provided to prevent unauthorized expansion of the receptacle and/or operation of the or each door, thereby controlling access to the inner area. The locking means may in electronic communication with control means which deactivate the locking means on provision or innsertion of the recognized key or code. The control means may also be configured to issue a electronic or printed receipt after authorized access to the apparatus has been gained, or to activate an alarm or alert if an unauthorized or improper attempt is made to gain access. The control means may also include a sensor to provide a signal indicative of the presence of a living person or animal within the receptacle means and prevent access through the aperture if a person or animal is sensed.
The present invention also provides an assembly comprising a panel or partition having an aperture for communication between an inner and an outer area, and apparatus as described above mounted to the exterior of the panel and in register with the aperture.
Further, apparatus as described above may also be mounted on the interior surface of the panel or partition in register with-he aperture. The inner apparatus may be moved from its collapsed position to its expanded position by the package as it passes through the aperture. The provision of apparatus on the interior surface is particularly advantageous when the system is used on a door to prevent a delivered package or packages from hindering access through the door.
Although the invention is particularly suited for use in a door it could also be fitted to a wall or to a stand-alone container.
According to another aspect of the invention, there is provides apparatus for receiving or dispensing a package in an outer area and securely retaining the package within an inner area, the areas being separated by a panel or a partition having an aperture for passage of the package, the apparatus comprising receptacle means mounted on the exterior of the panel or partition and in communication with aperture, the receptacle means be moveable between an expanded position in which the package can be moved between the inner and outer areas, and a collapse position in which access to the inner area is prevented.
The apparatus may comprise means for preventing unauthorized access from the outer area to the inner area even when the receptacle means are in the expanded position. Access to the inner area to deliver or collect a package may be regulated through the control means.
In order that the invention may be well understood, there will now be described some embodiments thereof, given by way of example, reference being made to the accompanying drawings, in which: Figure 1 is front view of a door incorporating a secure receptacle according to a first embodiment of the invention; Figure 2 is a sectional side view of the receptacle of Figure 1 in its closed position; Figure 3 is a sectional side view of the receptacle of Figure 1 in its open position; Figure 4 is a sectional side view of a receptacle according to a second embodiment of the invention with shutters in a first position; Figure 5 is a sectional side view of the receptacle of Figure 4 with it shutters in a second position; Figure 6 is a side view of a collapsible receptacle according to a third embodiment of the invention shown in its collapsed state formed by a plurality of interconnecting telescoping box sections ; Figure 7 is a perspective, partially cut away view of the receptacle of Figure 6 in its expanded configuration ; Figure 8 is a sectional side view of the receptacle of Figure 6 having side and top and bottom walls formed by hinged plates shown in its expanded configuration; Figure 9 is a sectional side view of the receptacle of Figure 8 shown in its collapsed configuration; Figure 10 is a sectional side view of a variation of the receptacle of Figure 6 which includes an actuation motor and has side and top and bottom walls formed in a concertina manner; Figure 11 is a sectional side view of the receptacle of Figure 6, shown in its expanded configuration, which is formed by a plurality of interconnected telescoping box sections; Figure 12 is a perspective view of the receptacle of Figure 11 ; Figure 13 is a side view of the receptacle of Figure 6 shown in its collapsed configuration; Figures 14a and 14b are perspective views of box sections which may be used to form the receptacle of Figures M to 13; Figure 15 is a sectional side view of the receptacle of Figure 10 in its expanded configuration; Figure 16 is a variant of the receptacle of Figure 6; Figure 17 is a sectional side view of the receptacle of Figure 16 in its expanded configuration but with side and top and bottom walls formed by hinged plates ; Figures 18a and 18b are top views of a modification to the receptacle of the invention; Figure 19 is a schematic representation of a display system for use with the receptacles of the invention; Figure 20 is a partial side view of a collapsed receptacle according to a fourth embodiment of the invention; and Figure 21 is a view of the receptacle of Figure 20 shown in an expanded configuration.
Referring first to Figures 1 to 3, there is shown a first embodiment of a secure parcel receptacle. The receptacle 1 is pivotally mounted in an opening 2 in a door 3 so as to be pivotally movable, in the manner of a swing bin, between a first closed position shown in Figure 2 in which the receptacle is retracted at least partially into the opening 2 in the door 3 so that access to the interior 4 of the receptacle from the exterior of the door 3 is inhibited, and a second open position shown in Figure 3 in which the receptacle 1 is pivoted forwards from the opening 2 so as substantially to fully expose an upper side 5 of the receptacle to area outside the door and hence to allow access to the interior 4 of the receptacle from outside the door, in particular to allow a parcel to be deposited therein. A catch 8 is also provided which engages against the inner side of the door to limit the outward pivotal movement of the receptacle.
The receptacle 1 may be pivotally connected to the door 3 at its bottom as shown in Figures 2 and 3, or may be alternatively be pinned to the door through its sides, in which case the bottom of the receptacle 1 will swing inwards as the top portion is swung outwards into its second open position Preferably, a handle 6 is provided on the front of the receptacle to facilitate manual movement between said first and second positions. Alternatively, however, the movement of the receptacle may be driven by a motor which is operated through buttons provided on the door 3.
Once the receptacle 1 is in its open position shown in Figure 3, a parcel or the like which is to be delivered may be inserted through the upper side 5 of the receptacle into the interior aperture. Preferably, the upper side 5 is covered by a hinged safety lid 7 which is prevented from being opened when the receptacle is in its closed position by the beam of the door which bounds the upper side of the opening 2 in which the receptacle is mounted but which may be rotated away from the upper side 5 which the receptacle I is in its open position to expose the interior cavity and allow the parcel to be deposited therein. Once the parcel has been so deposited, the safety lid 7 is closed and the receptacle 1 pivoted inwards back to its closed position, where the beam of the door again prevents the lid 7 being opened and hence prevents unauthorised removal of the parcel.
In the illustrated embodiment, the base 9 of the receptacle is an arcuate shape so as to provide a decline towards the interior side of the door 3. In this way, as the receptacle is closed with a package inside, the decline of the base 9 causes the parcel to slide to the back of the receptacle. In a preferred embodiment, the back panel 10 of the receptacle is hingedly connected at its upper edge to the upper side 5 so that, as the parcel slides on the decline of the base 9, it pivots the back panel 10 out of the way and falls onto the floor area inside the door. In this way, the receptacle is automatically emptied after each delivery, thereby ensuring that a previously delivered parcel cannot be removed by another person who later delivers another parcel. Of course, it will be understood that a flat inclined surface may also be used in place of the arcuate form shown in Figures 2 and 3 to achieve the same effect.
In order to control access to the receptacle, a solenoid or the like is preferably provided on the interior of the door which engages in an opening in the side of the receptacle to prevent it being moved into its open position. An entry control 11 such as an electronic key pad is then provided on the exterior of the door by means of which the solenoid may be released, for example upon the correct code being entered, to allow the receptacle I to be pivoted into its open position and a parcel deposited therein, the solenoid being re-energised upon movement of the receptacle to its closed position again to prevent unauthorised opening thereof Furthermore, in order to prevent the hinged back panel being used to obtain unauthorised access to the property in which the invention is installed, a further solenoid or the like is provided on the receptacle which operates to prevent movement of the back panel 10 when the receptacle is in its open position.
Referring now to Figures 4 and 5, there is shown another embodiment of the invention. The receptacle has inner 20 and outer 21 concentric arcuate shutter panels which are pivotally connected to the door 22 at the base of an opening 23 therein for rotation about a common point 24 so that each is independently movable between a first outer position in which it extends outwards and downwards from the front surface of the door 22 to an outer base panel 25 which extends from the base of the door 22 into the area thereoutside, and a second inner position in which it extends inwards and downwards from the inner surface of the door 22 to an inner base panel 26 which from the base of the door 22 into the area thereinside. Solenoids 27,28 are also provided to independently control the movement of the inner shutter 20 and outer shutter 21 between their inner and outer positions, de-activation of the solenoids being controlled by suitable controllers.
Upon arriving at the door to deliver a parcel, the delivery person will find the shutters locked in their outer positions shown in Figure 4 in which the opening 23 in the door 22 is enclosed between each shutter 20 and the outer base panel 25 so that access to the interior of the property is inhibited. Upon correctly identifying themselves, for example by inputting a correct code into a key pad or use of a security key, the solenoid controlling movement of the outer shutter 21 is released, allowing the outer shutter 21 to be pivoted about its hinge 24 into its inner position shown in Figure 4. Alternatively, if no object is present in the receptacle so that the need for the chamber to be secure is avoided, the outer shutter 21 may, by default, be unlocked so that the delivery person may move it to its inner position without having to input a code or the like. Once the outer shutter 21 is in its inner. position, the solenoid controlling its movement is re-energised so as again to lock the outer shutter 21 in its new position, whereupon the solenoid inhibiting movement of the inner shutter is released, allowing the inner shutter 20 now also to be moved to its inner position shown in Figure 4.
Once both shutters 20, 21 are in their inner positions, the parcel may be placed on the outer base panel 25 and slid through the opening 23 onto the inner base panel 26. Care must be taken at this point to make sure that no part of the parcel will interfere with the movement of the shutters 20,21 back to their outer positions. For this purpose, sensors may be provided to alert the delivery person if the parcel is not properly or adequate inserted into the opening.
Once the parcel has been delivered through the opening 23, the inner shutter 20 is pivoted back to its outer position and locked in place by its associated solenoid, whereupon the solenoid locking the outer shutter 21 in its inner position is released and the outer shutter 21 too is returned to its outer position, thereby providing a double wall through which a would-be thief would need to penetrate in order to steal the parcel deposited therein or gain unauthorised access to the interior of the building through the receptacle. By only allowing one of the shutters to be moved at a time, at no time is a through opening provided into the building in which the receptacle is installed, thereby ensuring unauthorised entry into the property is prevented throughout the delivery process.
The inner base panel 26 is advantageously attached to the door 22 by a hinge 29, allowing it to be pivoted against the inner surface of the door as shown in Figure 4 when not in use to provide a much more compact arrangement. It may then be pivoted into its horizontal position ready to receive an object. This may be achieved automatically, such as through operation of a drive motor upon the delivery person correctly identifying himself as discussed abbove, or by the panel 26 being engaged by the outer shutter 21 as it is moved from its outer to its inner position, causing it to pivot away from the inner surface of the door ready to receive an object upon delivery of a parcel being commenced. In a development of this embodiment not shown, the shutters themselves may be constructed in a collapsible manner, such from a concertina material, whereby the outer base panel 25 too may be pivotally attached to the door 22, allowing it to be stored in a folded position lying against the front surface of the door 22 with the inner 20 and outer 21 shutters housed in a collapsed state within the opening 23 in the door between the inner 26 and outer 25 panels, this providing a particularly compact storage configuration for the receptacle.
As the unit may be large enough for a small person to climb in, preferably there is also provided a sensor 30, such as a passive infra-red device, which scans the interior of the receptacle and detects the present of movement or warmth inside the receiver. Only if no such presence is detected will the solenoid preventing movement of the outer shutter from it inner position, in which access to the interior of the property from the receptacle is prevented, to its outer position, in which access to the interior of the property from the receptacle is possible, be released. Such a scan may best be carried out after the outer shutter 21 has been returned to its outer position and locked in place, thereby avoiding the sensor mistaking the movement of the delivery person inserting the object into the receptacle for the presence of an unauthorised or unacceptable object or person within the receptacle. Furthermore, there is advantageously a delay between the outer shutter 21 being locked in its outer position and the inner shutter 20 being released from its inner position, during which time the sensor scans the interior of the receptacle.
The movement of the various parts of the receptacle may be carried out manually by the person delivering the object, suitable instructions, either active or passive, being provided. Alternatively, however, the movement of the inner and outer shutters, and also the pivotal movement of the inner base panel ( as well at the pivotal movement of the outer base panel25 in the embodiment mentioned above in which the shutters are collapsible), may be achieved by motors controlled by a suitable controller such as a PIC. Furthermore, an object transporting system, such as a conveyor belt, may be provided on at least the inner base panel 26, by means of which the object may be moved off the inner base panel onto the floor inside the building after the inner and outer shutters have been returned to their outer positions, thereby enabling the inner base panel to be returned to its folded position after delivery of the object is complete and hence avoiding it inhibiting the door being opened. Similarly, the outer base panel25 may also be automatically returned to its upright position laying against the surface of the door by a motor in the arrangement in which the shutters 20,21 are collapsible. The object transporting system may alternatively take the form of a pivoting ramp hingedly attached to the free edge of the inner base panel26, upon which ramp the object rests when positioned on the inner base panel 26 and which is pivoted about said free edge so as to provide a decline towards the interior of the building, thereby causing the object to slide off the inner base panel 26 Referring now to Figures 6 to 9, there is shown a further embodiment of the secure receptacle of the invention in various different configurations. The receptacle 40 is again positioned in an opening 41 formed in a door 42 and has a front 43 which is accessible from the exterior of the building and a back 44 which is accessible from the interior of the building. The front 43 has a door 45 therein by means of which an object may be delivered into the interior 46 of the receptacle. As with the previously described embodiments, operation of the door 45 is preferably controlled by a solenoid or other locking means which operates normally to lock the door 45 in its closed position but which may be released, for example by entry of the correct code into a key pad 39, use of the correct key or the like. Similarly, the back 44 of the receptacle has a panel 46 mounted thereon which may be pivoted out of the path of an object contained within the receptacle as discussed in more detail hereinafter to enable the object to be moved out of the receptacle to the interior side of the door 42. Again, in order to prevent easy access to the interior of the building through the receptacle by a would-be thief or the like, suitable locking means, such as a solenoid or the like, is also provided for the back panel 46 which is used to lock the panel 46 against the back 44 of the receptacle and hence prevent access to the interior of the building from within the receptacle when the door 45 of the front 43 of the receptacle 40 is unlocked.
A sensor (not shown), such as a passive infra-red device, is also advantageously provided which scans the interior of the receptacle and detects the present of movement or warmth inside the receiver. Only if no such presence is detected will the locking means release the back panel46 of the receptacle to enable the object to pass into the interior of the building.
In order to accommodate for differing sizes of objects which may be required to be inserted into the receptacle, the side walls 50 and top and bottom walls 51 are axially extendable as shown, for example, in Figures 7 and 11. In one embodiment, this is achieved by forming the side walls in the concertina manner of a bellows. This may be achieved by forming the side and top and bottom walls from a plurality of hingedly connected panels, thereby enabling them to be folded against each other, or by use of a collapsible frame covered by a suitable material. Alternatively, the receptacle may be formed by a plurality of interconnecting box sections of successively smaller size which sit one inside the next and are telescopically extendable/collapsible are shown in Figures 10 and 11. In both cases, extending reinforcing arms 52, formed for example by lazy tong arrangements, are advantageously provided to reinforce the side 50 and top and bottom 51 walls and also to improve the security of the side and top and bottom walls and reducing the risk of their being compromised.
When the receptacle is empty, the side and top and bottom walls will normally be collapsed as shown in Figure 6 in order to minimise the overall size of the receptacle and hence reduce its obtmsiveness. In order to deposit an object therein, the front 43 of the receptacle 40 is moved forward away from the door 42, drawing the side 50 and top and bottom walls 51 behind it and expanding the receptacle to a size suitable for receiving the object which is to be placed therein. A handle 53 may be provided on the door 45 to facilitate expansion of the receptacle. Alternatively, said movement may be achieved automatically by means of servo motors mounted on the interior side of the door 42 and operable either from outside the door 42 by pressing a button or automatically when a correct activation code is entered into a control key pad 39.
Once the receptacle has been expanded to the required size, the front door 45 thereof is opened using the door handle 60 provided and the object placed in the interior of the receptacle. The door 45 is then closed, whereupon it is automatically locked shut by means of the solenoid discussed above. Once the front door 45 is securely fastened, the locking means, which, as discussed above prevents the panel 46 at the rear of the receptacle being opened and hence inhibits access from the interior of the receptacle into the building when the front door 45 is open, is released so that, as the receptacle is collapsed by moving the front 43 back towards : the door 42, which may be achieved either by the delivery person manually pushing the front 43 of the receptacle back towards the door 42 or by the receptacle automatically being retracted by motors, the object inside the receptacle engages against the back panel 46, causing it to pivot out of the way and allowing the object to pass into the interior of the building. In this way, the receptacle is free to be used again without the possibility of a subsequent depositor removing the previously deposited object.
Preferably, as shown in Figures 7 to 10, the back 44 of the receptacle 40 has two panels attached thereto, an upper one 46 which is hingedly attached to the upper edge of the back 44 of the receptacle and extends downwards partially across the opening in the back 44 of the receptacle, and a lower panel 46a which is attached to the lower edge of the back 44 of the receptacle and extends upwards partially across the back 44 and meets upper panel 46 so that the two together complete close the back 44 of the receptacle. Locking means, such as solenoids or the like, are then provided for both panels 46,46a in order to enable both to be locked in their closed positions. In this case, as the object is pressed against the rear panels 46,46a when they have been unlocked (i. e. once the door 45 at the front 43 of the receptacle 40 has been secured), they each pivot about their respective hinges out of the path of the object allowing it to pass through to the interior of the building, the lower panel4 6a providing a ramp surface down which the object slides to assist its complete exit from the receptacle. The lower panel 46a may be biased by a spring into its closed position so as to ensure that the back 44 of the receptacle may be re-secured after delivery of an object, which spring should be strong enough to lift the lower panel 46a during the final stages of the expulsion of the object from the receptacle, causing the object to tip away from the receptacle 40 further into the interior of the building so as to ensure that it is fully expelled from the receptacle and hence that the rear panels 46,46a may be re-secured in their closed positions for re-use of the receptacle. Alternatively, the movement of the lower panel 46a may be driven by a motor 54 (see Figures 10 to 13), such as a stepper motor, which, upon the front door 45 being secured, pivots the lower panel 46a away from the back 44 of the receptacle to form a ramp down which the object slides as it is pushed out of the receptacle during the collapse thereof, the upper panel 46 being moved aside by engagement of the object thereagainst as described above, and which lifts the lower panel 46a once the receptacle has been returned to its fully collapsed configuration, so that, in the event that the object is still not fully expelled from the receptacle, the lifting the ramp will cause it to tip away from the receptacle and clear of the lower panel 46a, after which the upper 46 and lower 46a panels may be re-secured to the back 44 of the receptacle. As can been seem in, for example, Figure 6, the lower panel 46a preferably overlaps the upper panel 46. In this way, the stepper motor 54 may be used to secure both panels 46,46a closed by locking the lower panel46a in place, the overlap then preventing movement of the upper panel46.
Referring now to Figures 18a and 18b, there is shown a development used for receiving thin parcels which may be used with any of the previously described embodiments, although is particularly effective when used with the previously described expanding receptacle having a part of panels on its back side. The arrangement has a holdering arm 65 which is pivotally attached to the side wall 66 of the receptacle proximate to the rear thereof and biased by means of a spring 67 to bear against the rear panel68 of the receptacle. A delivery person having only a small package which would not be expelled from the receptacle but which is unsuitable for depositing through the normal letter box may, upon gaining access to the receptacle, pivot the arm 65 away from the rear panel 68 and deposit the parcel therebehind as shown in Figure 18b where it will be held by the spring loading of the arm. Next time the rear panel is retracted, which may be next time a large object is delivered or may be done automatically by a motor, the pivoting of the arm 65 will cause it to slid off of the parcel, allowing in to drop onto the floor inside the building. Until such time as the parcel has been so released, the front door 69 of the receptacle, will, of course, be kept secure. Instead of being mounted on the side wall 66, the arm may alternatively be mounted on the top wall, the pivotal movement of the rear panel about an axis parallel to the pivotal axis of the arm facilitating the resting of after the rear panel has opened and avoid the arm 65 interfering with the closure of the rear panel 68.
In a further modification, a manually operated ram may be provided on the inner side of the front 43 of the receptacle which can be operated from outside the door 45 to push the object within the receptacle towards and through the back 44 thereof, thereby further ensuring that the object is fully expelled from the receptacle into the interior of the building so that the receptacle can be reused. In its simplest form, the ram is formed by a bar which is slidably moveable back and for through an opening in the door 45 and which is sufficiently long enough to push the object clear of the lower panel44 whilst not being too long to inhibit the complete collapse of the receptacle.
In an simplified arrangement, the opening rear panel 46 may be dispensed with and replaced with a fixed panel 60 as shown in Figure 16, the object then remaining within the receptacle until such time as the owner returns and removes it, although this has the drawback that if a second object is to be deposited into the receptacle, the risk exists that the depositor may remove and abscond with the earlier delivered object.
Expulsion of the object from the receptacle may be further facilitated by mounting the receptacle in the door 42 at an outward inclined angle, the downward slope of the receptacle towards the interior of the building then promoting movement of the object towards and out of the back 44 of the receptacle. Furthermore, in order to prevent sagging of the receptacle when in its expanded configuration, fold away supports may be provided at various points along the bottom wall of the receptacle which automatically move to a protruding position in which they engage against the floor to support the receptacle as it is expanded and which are furthermore automatically folded away as the receptacle is collapsed. All of the various embodiments described may, as all ready stated, be used in conjunction with a coded key pad which controls the opening and movement of the various parts. Such a key pad may be operated by a unique code, so that the same code is communicated to each delivery person, although this has the disadvantage that having delivered one parcel, a dishonest delivery person could later return and gain access to the receptacle using the same code. Preferably, then, the key pad, may be programmed with a plurality of once only use codes, or has a rolling code system, whereby a delivery person can be provided with a unique code, or can advise a suitable code with which the system can be preprogrammed, by which he can gain to access the receptacle and deliver the object therein, but which only works once, thereby preventing a dishonest person subsequently returning and gaining unauthorised access to the receptacle. Furthermore, with the every expanding facilities offered through mobile phones, it is envisaged that in the future, the receptacle may be unlocked by the owner phoning it from his mobile phone upon receiving notification from the delivery person that he are at the premises with the object to be delivered.
In the alternative embodiment shown in Figures 20 and 21, a front door 100 is pivotally mounted about its basal edge in the direction of arrow A. As with the previous embodiments, operation of the front door 100 is controlled by locking means which holds the door 100 in a closed position to prevent unauthorised access to the receptacle. In a configuration similar to the embodiment shown in Figure 6 to 9 and described above, the receptacle has axially extendible side and top walls. However, the base of the receptacle in the expanded position comprises an inflexible board or base plate 101 which is pivotally connected to the lower rear corner of the receptacle.
Movement of the upper edge of the base plate 101 is guided for movement in the vertical direction such that downward movement of the upper edge urges the side and top walls of the receptacle into the expanded position shown in Figure 21. Similarly, upward movement of the front edge of the base plate 101 causes the receptacle to retract The base plate 101 is prevented by a stop 102 from being pushed into a horizontal position. It is preferable for the base plate 101 to remain at a small angle to the horizontal when the receptacle is in the fully expanded position so that a package placed in the receptacle slides towards the exit at the rear. This stop 102 also prevents the base plate 101 moving past a horizontal position which could result in the receptacle becoming locked in its expanded configuration. The panel 103 at the rear of the receptacle is openable only when the front door 100 has been returned to its locked position.
In use, after access to the front door is obtained, the front edge of the base plate lOi is moved vertically down to expand the side and top walls. The package is placed into the expanded receptacle, and due to the incline of the base plate 101, slides to the rear of the expanded receptacle. When the front door 100 is closed and locked, the rear panel 103 is released to allow the package to slide to the floor, and the receptacle returned to its collapsed position ready for the next delivery.
In a preferred configuration a pulley arrangement is utilised to allow the movement of the receptacle to the collapsed position with the front door locked. Particularly, a pulley mounted at the top edge of the base plate 10i is used to lift the front edge of the base plate, thereby collapsing the receptacle.
A main spool 104 may be mounted on the inside of the front door 100 to allow manual actuation of the base plate 101 via an external handle, or the collapse of the receptacle could be motorised. By an extension of the pulley arrangement the rear plate 103 can also be closed and secured in position by the same mechanism that collapses the receptacle, or the rear panel could be independently operable as described in relation to the previous embodiment.
Mechanisms other than the pulley arrangement described above could be used to actuate the receptacle. For instance a hydraulic ram or electric stopper motor would be effective.
In the embodiment shown in Figures 20 and 21, the receptacle expands into the building to minimise the external impact of the device.
It will, of course, be understood that, although the invention has been described above in connection with the delivery of objects, each of the embodiments and variants of the invention may also be used to enable an object to be securely stored for collection whilst the owner is not present by the owner placing the object in the receptacle from which can later be retrieved by the authorised person using the correct code to gain access to the interior thereof.
In all of the above described embodiments and variants of the invention, a receipt dispenser may also be provided by means of which the delivery person may be issued with a confirmation of delivery/collection. The interior of the receptacle may further more be temperature controlled, for example by use of suitable insulation material, provision of refrigeration means or the like to enable temperature regulation of an object placed therein. This has applications, for example, to the delivery of groceries etc ordered from a supermarket via the Internet, which service is increasingly being offered.
Although in all of the above described embodiments it has been specified that the front door of the receptacle should be secured when the receptacle is empty and is not released until the delivery person has correctly identified themselves, it will be understood that in situations where there is no object contained within the receptacle, it may be acceptable for the front door thereof to be left unlocked, although the rear panel must then be secure. Only when an object is present within the receptacle is it essential that the front door be so secured.
Display means may also advantageously be provided, for example indicator lights on the front of the door of the building as shown in Figure 19, which provide the user with guidance on the current status of the receptacle and instructions on the next step which should be carried out. For example, when used in conjunction with the expandable receptacle described above, the lights 125-130 may be labelled as follows : 125-Pull fiame handle 126-Turn door handle, open door and deposit object 127-Close door 128-Please wait 129-Please push handle A 130-Please enter security code.
It will, of course, be understood that the above is only an example of the instructions which might be provided and will vary depending on the particular embodiment and the features provided. Furthermore, instead of lights, an LCD or similar display may be provided.
Finally, in all of the embodiments described above when used in conjunction with motors to move the various panels and open and close the various apertures, it is advantageous for a CPU which controls said motors to operate on a"timed out"system, whereby, if after a predetermined period of time the receptacle has not been closed or a manual signal to effect such closure has not been received, the CPU assumes that the delivery person has forgotten to effect such closure or has not done so properly and proceeds to execute a preprogrammed closure and object transport cycle.
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