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Title:
NETWORKED MAIL DETECTION AND NOTIFICATION SYSTEM
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2016/138582
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A detection system for detecting mail in a mailbox is described. In one aspect, the detection system includes a base portion constructed of a clear medium. The base portion defines a relief element having a ledge. The base portion includes an optical emitter directed to emit light through the relief element and into the mailbox. The base portion also includes an optical detector oriented to detect light at the ledge.

Inventors:
ARMSTRONG PATRICK DONALDSON (CA)
Application Number:
CA2016/050214
Publication Date:
September 09, 2016
Filing Date:
March 01, 2016
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
ARMSTRONG PATRICK DONALDSON (CA)
International Classes:
G01V8/12; A47G29/122; G01S17/02; H04W4/12
Foreign References:
US6275154B12001-08-14
US7280714B22007-10-09
US20020020808A12002-02-21
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ROWAND LLP (Toronto, Ontario M5H 2T7, CA)
Download PDF:
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A detection system for detecting mail in a mailbox, the detection system comprising: a base portion constructed of a clear medium, the base portion defining a relief element having a ledge;

an optical emitter directed to emit light through the relief element and into the mailbox; and

an optical detector oriented to detect light at the ledge.

2. The detection system of claim, wherein the base portion is constructed of acrylic or glass.

3. The detection system of claim 1, wherein the relief element is circular.

4. The detection system of claim 1, wherein the optical emitter is an infrared emitter.

5. The detection system of claim 1, wherein the optical emitter is oriented to emit light through a cavity of the relief element such that the light can be reflected back into the relief element by an object placed within the path of light emitted by the optical emitter..

6. The detection system of claim 1, further comprising a processor coupled to the optical detector, the processor configured to:

determine that an object has been placed on the detection system based on the amount of light detected by the optical detector; and

notify a user of the presence of an object.

7. The detection system of claim 6, further comprising a communication module coupled to the processor, and wherein the processor is configured to notify the user of the presence of an object using the communication module. The detection system of claim 7, wherein the processor notifies the user by sending an email message or a short message service message to the user.

The detection system of claim 7, wherein the processor notifies the user using a social network notification.

10. The detection system of claim 6, wherein the processor is further configured to send a message to the user regarding the status of a power supply associated with the detection system.

11. The detection system of claim 6 wherein the notification is provided without any

mechanical operation by a service provider or delivery entity.

12. The detection system of claim 1, further comprising a processor coupled to the optical detector, the processor configured to:

detect that an object has been disturbed based on the amount of light detected by the optical detector; and

notify a user when the object has been disturbed.

13. The detection system of claim 1, wherein the base portion defines a plurality of relief elements having a plurality of ledges.

14. The detection system of claim 12, wherein the detector is positioned to watch at least two of the ledges associated with at least two of the relief elements.

15. The detection system of claim 12, wherein the plurality of relief elements are positioned to detect a postcard.

16. The detection system of claim 1, further comprising a solar charged power supply.

17. The detection system of claim 1, wherein the base portion defines a void within the relief element and wherein the optical emitter is located within the void.

18. A mailbox comprising the detection system of any one of claims 1 to 17.

19. A community mailbox comprising a plurality of individual mailboxes, at least one of individual mailboxes comprising the detection system of any one of claims 1 to 17.

Description:
NETWORKED MAIL DETECTION AND NOTIFICATION SYSTEM

TECHNICAL FIELD

[0001] The present application relates to physical mail detection and notification systems, and in particular, to methods and devices for accurately detecting and responding to the delivery of physical mail in mailboxes.

BACKGROUND

[0002] The following review of related art is intended to provide examples of problems and pitfalls in the design and use of physical mail detection and notification systems. The term "physical mail" is used both to distinguish the present subject matter from electronic mail (i.e., email) and to broadly encompass any traffic related to the delivery of papers, packages, containers, and other physical objects sent from a sender to a designated location where delivery comprises a step of depositing the sent item in a receptacle such as a mailbox. The mention of the following examples of potentially related prior art does not constitute an admission that any of the following methods or devices constitute relevant prior art applicable to the patentability of the present application. The discussion of the references states what their authors assert, and the applicant reserves the right to challenge the accuracy and pertinency of any of the documents cited herein.

[0003] Existing mailbox mail detection systems typically provide means for detecting the opening or closing of a mailbox. Such systems are inherently susceptible to false positives that can occur when the mailbox is opened and closed or otherwise disturbed but no mail is in fact deposited therein. Such systems are also susceptible to false negatives whenever the mailbox contains an alternative mode of mail deposition such as a letter slot that permits a letter to be slipped into the mailbox without the door being opened. A first genus of this type of existing system encompasses methods and articles providing means for making mechanical changes to existing mailboxes, such as the affixing of a detector to the mailbox door which detects the opening of the door. U.S. Patent No. 7,525,429 to Carrigan entitled "Mail Delivery Notification System," issued April 28, 2009, the entirety of which is incorporated by reference herein for description purposes, describes an apparatus comprising a receptacle having lockable doors with a sensor that detects the deposition of an object for delivery or pickup inside the receptacle, and further describes notification means for informing a recipient that a package is ready to be picked up, or that a door has been opened. The sensor is a reflectometer or light sensor that emits a reference beam and determines whether there is a proximate object such as the mail item based upon the intensity of the reference beam that is reflected back. In this example, the notification is issued by the mail depositor and the sensor is superfluous to the system's function because the person is notified that their package has been deposited when the delivery person opens the door. This is a complex apparatus that cannot be retroactively installed into most individual's mailboxes. [0004] A problem with most mail detection and notification systems is that mailboxes are property whose owners may not permit their mechanical modification, which is typically the case with mailboxes owned by property holding companies, residential developers, and the postal service. Existing mailbox mail detection systems are complicated, and many even require the installation of a proprietary mailbox or interaction by the Postal Service. The existing mailbox detection systems are generally inadequate for most users because the detection system may not fit the space wherein an addressee desires to install his or her mailbox or which may not accommodate the type and volume of mail that the addressee receives (e.g., residential versus corporate mailboxes; letters versus packages; or inert paper versus perishable goods, live organisms, hazardous materials, and so on). [0005] In a typical mail detection and notification system, such as that described in U.S. Patent No. 6,995,671 to Dutta et al, entitled "Mailbox Status System and Method," issued February 7, 2006, the entirety of which is incorporated by reference herein for description purposes, the presence of at least one piece of mail in the mailbox is detected and an electronic notification is transmitted to the address indicating the presence of the at least one piece of mail. The disclosure typifies the lack of attention given by the prior art to the efficiency and intelligent disposition of sensors within individual mailboxes. The disclosure states that a "sensor may be mounted anywhere in the mailbox," but does not provide means for ensuring the accuracy and precision of detection given the various sizes of mailboxes, types and weights of mail items, and other criteria noted throughout the present disclosure. Many prior art designs for mail detection sensor means simply do not notice the deposition of mail. [0006] Another general type of mailbox mail detection system comprises, rather than optical sensors, means for detecting changes in the weight of the load supported by the mailbox, assuming that mail deposited therein will increase the weight pushing against the floor of the mailbox, or in other cases, assuming that the combined weight of the mailbox and its contents will detectably vary with each item of mail added to the contents. These systems are disadvantageous for requiring the installation of a scale or other means for measuring weight, either in a custom mailbox or a pre-existing mailbox, which is a relatively expensive undertaking both in the initial installation and in regular maintenance because scales are sensitive instruments requiring regular repairs and calibration. Furthermore, changes in climate may change the calibration of scales which can cause false detections to occur, requiring ongoing recalibration. Their relative complexity and cost are disincentives for the mass adoption of exclusively weight- based mail detection systems and inherent limitations to their commercial success. Scales also fail whenever mail is stuffed or crammed into mailboxes; for example when larger envelopes are folded and/or wedged into the box and then become effectively "suspended" by the friction of the envelope against the walls of the box so that their mass is not fully applied to the scale. Furthermore, it is known in the art that scales are unreliable for detecting very light objects, and most weight-detection systems fail to reliably discern small fluctuations in weight such as that contributed by a paper letter, or other low-weight mail, added to a heavy mailbox or a mailbox that already contains a relatively heavy load. Conversely, scales good at detecting low weight mail typically lack the capacity to accommodate heavy loads. For example, U.S. Patent No. 7,256,691 to Awobue entitled "Smart Mailbox" issued August 14, 2007, the entirety of which is incorporated by reference herein for description purposes, describes a fully formed mailbox apparatus (thus requiring replacement of an existing mailbox, introducing the problem typical of the existing detection systems, as explained above) in which the means for detecting mail includes motion detectors or weight detectors or both and indicator includes a local and a remote indicator.

[0007] Detection systems for arrays of receptacles have been developed which use ambient light, including the use of multiple optical sensors, to ascertain whether a receptacle is empty or contains an object therein, such as in U.S. Patent No. 8,150,656 to Kunkel entitled, "Detection of Objects or Other Materials in a Receptacle," issued April 3, 2012, the entirety of which is hereby incorporated by reference herein for purposes of technical description. The Kunkel system recognizes that a plurality of sensors can be configured to deduce the presence of an object in a receptacle, although it does not provide modularly designed apparatus for different receptacles in one system based on different user specifications. Means for controlling a multiplicity of sensors in a system are disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 7,827,009 to Kunkel entitled "Detectors and Techniques Useful With Automated Acquisition and Notification Systems," issued November 2, 2010, the entirety of which is incorporated by reference herein for the purposes of technical description.

[0008] Therefore, existing mail detection and notification systems are generally not suitable for a wide range of customers or for installation in community mailboxes (also called gang mailboxes or cluster mailboxes) that are common in condominiums, apartment complexes, post office box rental stores, post offices, neighborhood mailboxes, and the like. In light of the above, there exists a need for improved systems for detecting mail deposition in a mailbox that is inexpensive enough to be sold at low prices, that is flexible enough to accommodate the needs of distinct types of customers receiving various types of delivered goods and packages, and that can be easily manufactured according to one paradigm to fit the footprint of virtually any preexisting mailbox. Ideally, once installed, a mail detection means should not require the deliberate activation by a postal worker or delivery person, but should be able to operate accurately without anyone being consciously aware that such a system is in place. The installation of such apparatus and system should be non-destructive so that it can be removed whenever a mailbox owner changes residence or desires to stop using the service. Thus, there is a need for improved detection systems that provide one or more advantages or benefits over existing solutions.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0009] FIG. 1A is a front perspective view of an embodiment of a custom-formable mail- detection tray of the present application. [0010] FIG. IB is a top view of the embodiment of the custom-formable mail-detection tray of FIG. 1A.

[0011] FIG. 1C is a cross sectional view of the custom-formable mail-detection tray of FIG. 1A taken along line 1C-1C of FIG. 1A, [0012] FIG. 2A is a front perspective view of the mail detection tray apparatus of the present application where the tray is fitted with optical detection means for detecting the presence of mail in a mailbox.

[0013] FIG. 2B is a cross sectional view of the mail detection tray of FIG. 2A taken along line 2B-2B of FIG. 2A.

[0014] FIG. 2C is the front perspective view of the tray and optical detection means depicting methods and means for detecting an item of mail deposited in a mailbox, where a letter is being detected in the mailbox.

[0015] FIG. 2D is a cross-sectional view of the tray and optical detection means taken along line 2D-2D of FIG. 2A.

[0016] FIG. 3A is a front perspective view of a community mailbox incorporated within a system of the present application, wherein a mailbox-insertable mail detection tray apparatus of the present application has been reversibly installed in at least one individual mailbox.

[0017] FIG. 3B is a front perspective view of an individual mailbox containing the custom- formable detection tray apparatus of the present application shown within the context of the community mailbox incorporated within the system of the present application.

[0018] FIG. 3C is a front view of a means for generating and issuing notifications about mail detection and related events on the system of the present application, wherein data generated by the detection means of the tray apparatus are transformed into notification messages issued to users via networks such as a cellular communication network and received remotely by users such as by a text message or via communication through a software application on the users' cellular phone or other personal computing device.

[0019] FIG. 4 shows a top view of two differently formed sections of prefabricated sheets for manufacturing base portions of mail detection trays. [0020] FIG. 5 is a flowchart illustrating steps in the operation of an embodiment of the system of the present application. [0021] Throughout all the Figures, same or corresponding elements are indicated by the same reference numerals.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EXAMPLE EMBODIMENTS [0022] At least some embodiments of the present application provide a mechanical apparatus designed to closely fill-in the footprint of an individual mailbox. This mechanical apparatus which will herein be referred to as a "tray" for the sake of simplifying terminology, comprises a mail detection means or "mail detector". The "tray" may also be referred to herein as a detection system. [0023] The mail detection means may comprise one or more sensors, such as light or proximity sensors, arranged in a medium that has features conducive to mail detection by the sensors. The tray further comprises a power supply, a computer interface and a wireless communication module. The tray is inserted into a single mailbox of any type of construction, which may reside in a gang of community type mailboxes, a building type mailbox or a rural driveway-style mailbox, for example. The tray comprises detection means for detecting the presence of mail. The tray then notifies electronically a user whose account is assigned to that mailbox that mail has been detected therein. This service is provided as a part of a system of the application which can be provided to one user or to a variety of users simultaneously. The apparatus and system of the application may function without requiring a user to make any permanent or sophisticated modifications, alterations, or replacements to their existing mailboxes nor are any technically challenging operations required on behalf of the user or any mail delivery person, such as a postal service.

[0024] At least one embodiment of the present application provides a system useable by any type of user via an improved means for detecting and responding to mail deposits in a mailbox, wherein any number of existing mailboxes are rapidly and reversibly made part of the system by the semi- permanent installation of the mail detection tray apparatus of the application. The tray is an optical detection apparatus for mail that comprises features which include, for example, construction from a custom-formable material that in some embodiments is any plastic, acrylic, or other suitable rigid or semi-flexible substance, allowing each tray to be constructed differently for different types of applications. These include lightweight applications or rugged applications, either low cost construction or more durable construction, depending on any individual user's needs. The tray is designed in such a way that its basic functions can be achieved no matter what dimensions are required for the mailbox. The portion of the tray constituting the detection means may comprise one or more layers of material where at least one layer comprises a transparent or translucent medium having relief elements formed therein, which are cut-out shapes that create ledges in the medium. The presence of the ledges in the tray apparatus improves the optical detection of mail that is placed within a mailbox or other receptacle housing the tray; for example, it can be used to detect mail that is placed on top of the tray as it rests in a mailbox (e.g., when an object of mail is delivered or deposited into a mailbox of a user of the system). Thus, the system of such embodiments does not require any permanent modification of existing mailboxes but can be implemented quickly and non-destructively into any location for any individual user or community of users. This method for implementing a mail detection system circumvents restrictions that may be imposed by the agency governing the use of mailboxes, whether said agency is a postal service or a property manager, homeowners' association, and the like. The present application will provide mail delivery notifications to users without requiring any deliberate interaction with the system on behalf of the postal service provider, by other mail delivery entities, or by the user when mail is delivered. [0025] At least some embodiments of the present application provide a user with a semipermanent insertable structure or tray comprising a plurality of sensors that are configurable in different ways to accommodate any mailbox application, both in regard to the size and shape of the mailbox and in regard to the expected type of mail to be received and detected therein. An array of sensors can be positioned therein to achieve either simple or complex mail detection functions, where different sensors having different modes of operation can be used together in a variety of ways. The reliable and efficient manufacture and distribution of these tray structures to customers of the system is made possible by the novel paradigm of the structure and function of the tray, as explained in detail in the description below.

[0026] At least some embodiments of the present application provide a mail detection apparatus for insertion into a mailbox which comprises a clear rigid sheet such as an acrylic sheet or a glass sheet serving as a medium in which to produce a relief of certain shapes which may include bowls, ridges, grooves, or steps. Said shapes are relief elements which advantageously allow for the capture and transmission of detection signals comprising light, and in particular, Infrared (IR) light, via optical mail detection means that are built into the tray. The presence of and strategic placement of relief elements, in conjunction with sensors, in the medium allow for the capture and transmission of light over broad areas and enables the use of fewer sensors to achieve the same mail detection effects or outcomes.

[0027] Some embodiments provide a system comprising means for generating a no-touch electronic notification to an addressee who receives mail at the mailbox. The notification accurately and remotely informs the addressee when postal service mail is deposited in the mailbox, without requiring any particular mechanical operation to be performed by the postal service provider or any other mail delivery entity, and without requiring any permanent modification of the mailbox structure itself in order for the addressee to install and use the application. [0028] In one aspect, a detection system for detecting mail in a mailbox is described. The detection system includes a base portion constructed of a clear medium. The base portion defines a relief element having a ledge. The detection system further includes an optical emitter directed to emit light through the relief element and into the mailbox and an optical detector oriented to detect light at the ledge. [0029] The base portion may be constructed of acrylic or glass and the relief element may be circular. The optical emitter may be an infrared emitter. The optical emitter may be oriented to emit light through a cavity of the relief element such that the light can be reflected back into the relief element by an object placed within the path of light emitted by the optical emitter. [0030] The detection system may include a processor coupled to the optical detector. The processor may be configured to: determine that an object has been placed on the detection system based on the amount of light detected by the optical detector; and notify a user of the presence of an object. [0031] The detection system may include a communication module coupled to the processor and the processor may be configured to notify the user of the presence of an object using the communication module. The processor may notify the user by sending an email message or a short message service message to the user or using a social network notification. [0032] The processor may be configured to send a message to the user regarding the status of a power supply associated with the detection system; for example, to inform the user when the power supply is less than a threshold. Such notifications, for example, allow the user an opportunity to replace batteries before they are depleted.

[0033] The notification may be provided to the user without any mechanical operation by a service provider or delivery entity.

[0034] In some embodiments, a processor coupled to the optical detector is configured to: detect that an object has been disturbed based on the amount of light detected by the optical detector; and notify a user when the object has been disturbed.

[0035] In some embodiments, the base portion may define a plurality of relief elements having a plurality of ledges. In some such embodiments, the optical detector may be positioned to watch at least two of the ledges associated with at least two of the relief elements. By way of example, the plurality of relief elements may be positioned to detect a postcard.

[0036] The detection system may include a solar charged power supply.

[0037] The detection system may include a base portion that defines a void within the relief element and the optical emitter may be located within the void.

[0038] The detection system may be provided in a mailbox or community mailbox, for example.

[0039] Objects, features, and advantages of the present application will be more readily apparent from the following detailed descriptions of some preferred embodiments thereof. The present application is not limited in its application, details, or components merely to those set forth in the following description and illustrations. The present application resides not merely in any one of the features set forth in this specification, but also in the particular combination of all of the features and improvements claimed. Methods and devices consistent with the present application are capable of other embodiments. In general, the order of the steps of disclosed processes may be altered within the scope of the application.

[0040] Referring first to FIGs. 1A-1C, an embodiment of a mailbox-insertable detection tray 101 is illustrated. The detection tray 101 may also be referred to herein as a detection system or as a "tray" or "tray apparatus". A top layer 11 of a base portion 10 comprises an acrylic sheet. The top layer 11 may also be referred to herein as a sheet, a medium, or an upper layer. The sheet elements in any embodiment may be composed of a material that is rigid or even semi- flexible, amenable to having reliefs, or "shapes," formed or cut therein, where said reliefs or shapes are geometric areas such as bowls, cubes, rectangles, grooves, ridges, and any other geometry whereby the smooth continuous surface of a sheet of the base portion is interrupted. The use of a sheet composed of a clear medium enables the tray 101 to advantageously capture and transmit light via an optical sensor detection means, where a few well-placed sensors can more effectively cover a given area compared to sensors without the tray and its medium; whereas existing mailbox notification systems which utilize optical sensors must use more sensors and / or collectors placed in more elaborate configurations to cover the same area. The typical optical detection means of the present application comprises one or more optical emitting elements and one or more optical collecting elements such that optical signals are emitted from the former element(s) and said optical signals, or changes in optical signals caused by the presence of mail, are detected at the one or more collecting elements. And these collecting elements can be positioned to watch one or more ledges in the tray.

[0041] When the tray 101 is installed within a particular mailbox, the base portion 10 and its medium of one or more sheets would be sized to closely fit the footprint of a mailbox so that it substantially occupies the whole floor of the mailbox compartment; while the relief elements formed therein would be spaced and/or positioned in such a fashion to detect randomly placed and smallest sized mail (or according to whatever parameters were required by the user of the mailbox, such as the type of mail that is deposited therein or the quality of the notification results desired by the user). For example, in some embodiments, the relief elements could be configured in an array with relief elements spaced to detect small items of mail, such as postcards. The efficient optical sensor means comprising sheets with relief elements, combined with the ability to custom fit the base portion into any mailbox easily, constitute some of the novel advantageous features of the present application.

[0042] Turning now to FIG. 1A, the top layer 11 of the tray 101, has relief elements 12 that are shapes, in the form of circular discs, or just "circles." The relief elements 12 are voids formed in the solid base portion 10 of the detection tray 101. The relief elements 12 of the base portion 10 allow for the capture and transmission of light through the top layer 11 by refraction and reflection, particularly at the edges and interior surfaces of the shapes, which can enhance and partition the performance and the roles of the different optical sensors in a given tray. The optical properties, such as refraction and reflection at any given ledge or surface of any given sheet of the tray determines, in part, the sensitivity by which the tray can detect mail deposited upon it. The choice of material used in the manufacture of the sheets of the base portion 10 are made in consideration of these factors primarily, but also of secondary factors such as the cost and ease of custom fitting the apparatus into various mailboxes, and the suitability for use in different environments, such as environments where mailboxes are exposed to different temperature ranges and extremes, to varying amounts of humidity and aridity, to solvents or reactive chemical materials, to human activities requiring ruggedness and weight capacities, and so on. Thus a person of ordinary skill in the relevant arts would understand how to choose appropriate materials for the construction of the detection tray 101 with its base portion 10 and sheet 11, within the bounds of the application in order to optimize its performance in various conditions. The application is not limited only to detection means comprising optical sensors, and other properties may be considered in the construction of the base portion instead of optical properties, such as properties affecting sound reflection for embodiments which comprise sonic detection means, and the like.

[0043] The relief elements provide edge lighting. More particularly, the edges of the relief elements, which are generally referred to as ledges herein, allow light that has been reflected by an object (such as a parcel or letter) that has been placed overtop (or underneath in the case of ceiling mounted trays) the relief element to collect. Such collection may enhance detection capabilities. The relief elements may by formed using a computer numerical control (CNC) machine. In other embodiments, the base portion 10 may be formed with a mold which is configured to form the relief elements during the molding process. The edges of the relief elements may, in some embodiments, be surface treated to enhance light collection; for example, the edges may be etched, scored or otherwise treated to enhance the "edge lighting" effect.

[0044] FIG. IB shows a top view of these same elements, while FIG. 1C is the side view of a cross section marked by the dotted line in FIG. 1A. In the top layer 11 of the detection tray 101 illustrated in FIGs. 1A - 1C, the relief elements comprise three circular relief elements 12. Note that in other embodiments shapes other than circles are effective, such as ovals, grooves, squares, rectangles, or any other shape imparting desirable features; and the number of relief elements may be any number, and may be more or less than the three used in this example, wherein the example illustrated, where each shape in the base portion 10 is formed, a ledge exists having a surface facing perpendicularly, typically, or nearly perpendicularly, alternatively, to the planar surface of the sheet of that layer. In the top layer 11 of detection tray 101, the ledges 13 of the circles 12 are perpendicular to the surface of the top layer 11 and have slightly rounded edges where the two surfaces meet. In other embodiments (not illustrated) to enhance the collection efficiency of the ledges (i.e., in collecting reflected light), the ledges may not be perpendicular to the planar surface of the sheet. For example, ledges may be angled in the range of approximately 55 to 75 degrees. By way of further example, in one such embodiment, the relief elements for a truncated cone.

[0045] The precise angle and surface contours of a ledge in a sheet are also relevant to the parameters of the detection means of the tray, and variations of these dimensions or other physical properties of the ledges can be applied to adjust or "fine-tune" the performance of the detection means of the tray, whether said detection means be optical, sonic, or other. A person of ordinary skill in the relevant arts will understand how surface properties of materials used in the manufacture of a sheet affect its interactions with light and other modes of proximity detection, and will choose to install base portions comprising materials, shapes, and ledges that provide the best performance inside of a particular mailbox under a given set of conditions. The shape, material composition, and other physical properties inside of a given mailbox may affect not only the choice of materials used in the construction of the base portion 10 but also the choice of the relief elements formed therein and the features of their respective ledges and sensors. For example, a metal mailbox may scatter, reflect, or otherwise interfere with optical signals differently than a wooden mailbox, and appropriate adjustments in these features of the base portion would be made. Different embodiments, or installations thereof for individual users, may comprise sensors with adjusted arrangements; for example, the distance among the IR sensors, and the distance or orientation among their transmitting elements and collecting or receiving elements, may be altered in response to particular conditions, so as to avoid reflecting off of the interior of the mailbox itself; and proximity sensors could also have their detection distances altered to achieve the same modified functionality without departing from the spirit of the application as described in these embodiments.

[0046] By way of example, in one embodiment, the base portion 10 of the detection tray may have a height of between 4mm and 10mm and the relief element 12 may be a circle having a diameter between 4 and 10cm. In the base portion 10 of the detection tray 101 a second layer comprises a second set of relief elements 14 which are smaller circles having a second set of corresponding ledges 15. Each of the relief elements in the second set of relief elements is located at the bottom of a corresponding one of the main relief elements 12. That is, the relief elements in the second set are located away from an opening of the primary relief element 12. The opening of the relief element 12 is the portion of the relief element that can be covered by mail or a parcel placed on the tray. In some embodiments, the relief elements may have a depth of between 2 to 5mm. It will be appreciated that the dimensions provided herein may be varied in other embodiments.

[0047] A second or additional layer of the base portion 10 of any embodiment may be assembled by layering distinct sheets, where the distinct sheets may be composed of different materials, or, as in the detection tray 101 FIGs. 1A-1C, may be formed in one piece such that two or more sets of relief elements exist in one or more planes within one sheet. Or a sheet may comprise only one level of relief elements. In FIGs. 1A- 1C the second set of relief elements 14 are shown as being countersunk a part of the way down into the medium of the top layer 11 within the space of the first set of relief elements 12. The second set, or lower set, of relief elements 14 provide a compartment or void wherein one or more components of optical sensors of the optical detection means can be situated during deployment of the detection tray 101. More specifically, an optical emitter is situated in the second set of relief elements. This particular embodiment's stepped down circular relief construction thus ends up with two stories of vertical ledges, 13 and 15, formed in two sets of circular relief elements 12 and 14. [0048] A component box portion 20, or "control box," is attached to the base portion 10 and comprises an interior space for electronic and signaling devices covered by an outer cosmetic cover 21. An antenna 22 serves to transmit electronic messages to and from a remote communications portion (not shown), such as a mobile electronic device like a cell phone or tablet, or to some other computer. The cosmetic cover 21 serves to hide, protect, and organize the electrical or electronic components which control and provide power to the means for providing mail detection and notification functions of the apparatus. This cosmetic cover 21 may be removable and may allow an installer to conveniently access and identify elements therein (not shown) such as a power source, computer memory and microprocessors, SIM card or other communications interface, according to the particular construction of the embodiment. The antenna 22 may reside outside of the covered box portion 20 as shown in the detection tray 101 of FIGs. 1A to 1C or alternatively it may be housed internally; the antenna may also be adjustably positionable such as by being mounted on a rotating base or by having an arm or joint that allows its direction of protrusion to be custom-adjusted. In this embodiment, the antenna 22 transmits electronic messages in response to output instructions from an internal logic processing device which generates notification signals based upon input received from infrared optical sensors placed within the base portion 10, which electronic messages are sent according to Short Message Service (SMS) protocol (i.e., text messages) to a user's mobile telephone device. The application comprises novel logic for regulating the different signals received by and generated by the various sensors according to their distribution within the base portion 10, and preferred embodiments of the system comprise novel software applications to represent these data and deliver notification to a user.

[0049] FIGs. 2A-2D illustrate an optical detection means 30 for detecting mail using the detection tray 101 of the application. FIGs. 2 A and 2B illustrate an embodiment of the detection means within the tray wherein a combination of sensors are installed; this particular arrangement is shown for demonstration purposes and is not to be construed as limiting the scope of the application. FIGs. 2C and 2D illustrate a mechanism by which an item of mail can be detected by the system using the tray. A sensor component, or a portion thereof, comprises an infrared emitter 31 (which may generally be referred to as an "optical emitter") that emits an infrared (IR) light emission 32 vertically upwards (or downwards if the tray is ceiling mounted) through the cavity of circular relief shape 14 and vertically upwards (or downwards if the tray is ceiling mounted) through the cavity of circular relief element 12. More particularly, the infrared emitter 31 emits light in a direction that is away from the base portion 10 of the tray 101. The infrared emitter is oriented so that light emitted by the infrared emitter does not generally contact the base portion 10 (and, in particular, the ledges of the relief elements) unless it is reflected by an object. That is, it is generally oriented towards an opening provided by the relief element 12. The light is oriented so that the light will escape the relief element 12 when an object is not placed over the opening. However, if an object, such as a letter or package is placed within the path of light emitted by the optical emitter (e.g., by placing a letter or package over the relief element's opening), then the light will contact the object. At least a portion of that light is reflected back towards the base portion where it can be detected by a detector 36 (which may be referred to as an "optical detector."). The optical emitter is, therefore, oriented to emit light through a cavity of the relief element such that the light can be reflected back into the relief element by an object placed within the path of light emitted by the optical emitter; for example, in some situations, an object placed on top of the tray may be detected; or, if the tray is ceiling mounted, objects placed under the tray may be detected.

[0050] The second set of relief elements 14 may extend through the thickness of the bottom layer of the base portion. For example, the second set of relief elements 14 may be a cylinder having one opening through which light can be emitted through the first relief elements 12 and another opening where the optical emitter is received. For example, in one embodiment (not shown), the optical emitter 31 is provided on a printed circuit board ("PCB") and the PCB is layered underneath the base portion such that the optical emitter protrudes from the PCB and into an associated one of the second set of relief elements 14. In at least some such embodiments, numerous optical emitters associated with the numerous relief elements may be provided on a single PCB. [0051] Accordingly, a detector 36 of the sensor discerns the IR signal incident upon its surface, which in this case is coterminous with the outer edge of the ledge 13 of a relief element 12. Presently no directly emitted or reflected beam is striking the detector 36. But in FIGs. 2C and 2D, a letter 61 is placed in the mailbox in which the tray is installed (not shown) and the letter 61 now rests upon the top layer 11 of the base portion 10 of the tray. As evident from the changes shown in FIG. 2D, the emitted light 32 is being reflected by the letter 61 to send reflected light 33, such as reflected IR light, into contact with the detector 36 of the detection means 30 (the detector 36 may also be referred to as a collector). In fact, the scattered portion of reflected light 33 is effectively collected or pooled at the ledge 13 of the relief element 12 where the detector 36 is placed, or which is within the field of view of a detector / collector. And, scattered portions of reflected light 33 may also be collected or pooled at other ledges such as ledge 15 of relief elements 14 which can simultaneously or alternatively be placed in view or in proximity to the same or other collectors, thus enabling very complex and intricate arrangements for the detection means of the application, which in turn enables complex and precise mailbox monitoring capabilities. But in general, this pooling effect enables that detector/collector elements of the application to acquire more specific and reliable information about objects placed in, on, or near the tray of the application, because their signals are collected at the ledges in a way that is logically related to the organization of these features in the base portion. By using the ledge to collect light and allow that light to travel to an optical detector, the detection area of the optical detector is effectively expanded. [0052] While the detector 36 is placed at the ledge 13 in FIG. 2A, in other embodiments, the detector may be placed away from the ledge 13. The detector 36 may be placed so that its sensing element effectively faces the ledge 13. Since the base portion of the tray is constructed of a clear medium, such as acrylic or glass, the light is able to travel from the ledge 13 to the internal portion of the base portion that houses the detector 36. [0053] The detector 36 is, in at least some embodiments, inserted within a void formed in the base portion. In at least one embodiment, not illustrated, the base portion defines such a void. The void includes an opening an end of the base portion through which the detector 36, which may be mounted on a PCB, may be inserted. For example, in one embodiment, the base portion has a void which allows a PCB having the detector 36 mounted thereon to be received. [0054] Methods for organizing the placement of sensors and relief elements, including software comprising functions for modeling alternative arrangements of detection means in the medium of the base portion, are included as part of the system of the application.

[0055] The field of view of the detector 36 may be narrow or wide depending on the user's needs and is influenced by the transparency and reflectivity of the top layer 11 of the base portion 10. For example, the detector 36, is one with a relatively narrow field of view, as can be seen from its corresponding representation by the thin black lines extending from the detectors 36, 37 and 38 in FIG. 2A, and 36 in FIG. 2C. The detector 36 is positioned in the tray to watch only a segment of the ledge 13 in its local relief element 12. A collector may be configured to only detect reflected light in the upper layer of the base portion 10 (e.g., at the level of the relief element 12) but not in the lower layer (i.e., not at the level of the second set of relief elements 14) or according to other finely tunable parameters. In contrast, the alternative detector 37 has a wider field of view and watches a span of the base portion including the ledges of two relief elements 12, which are relief circles in the example. In some embodiments, a line-of-sight detector 38 which would only detect items situated directly between the two portions of the line- of-sight detector 38 so as to block their line of sight with each other. The line-of-sight detector 38 may be included to complement the other detector 36, 38. However, it will be understood that the line-of-sight detector 38 need not be included and the detection could be performed solely with a detection which is not line-of-sight based but which instead relies upon reflections. [0056] Accordingly, while FIG. 2A illustrates the use of a plurality of sensors in a single tray, the tray may not include all such sensors. That is, the figure illustrates alternatives and all of these alternatives may not be present in an embodiment. For example, as noted above, the line-of-sight detector 38 may not be included in an example tray which includes one or both of the detector 36 or the alternative detector 37. [0057] Other more elaborate trays may be configured with chutes and trap doors or other dynamic features which can actually filter mail based on size and weight or otherwise sort the mail out into different groups for detection by distinct means. The corresponding logic operations performed in the logic processing means of the component box portion 20 of the apparatus can issue more detailed or complex notification messages to users based upon this information. A clock or timer component may also be included to give information about the time in which mail is deposited and the duration for which its signal has been detected, as well as to dictate the periodicity of signal emission by the detection means, which is particularly useful when the tray is powered by batteries and energy conservation is desirable. [0058] In any one tray of the application there may be installed multiple types of detection means utilizing any combination of detection methods and protocols. For example, the emitter may emit other types of light besides IR wavelengths, or it may take the form of a sensor, such as a proximity sensor, that detects objects through the opening of a relief element, or alternatively through the translucent portion of the medium of the sheet. Variables from one installation to another, or for one user to another, such as the dimensions of the mailbox, of the base portion of the tray, of the geometries of the relief elements, the type of mail expected, and the materials by which any of these is composed will all be taken into account to determine the optimum mode of the detection means in any given application. The application specifically recites methods for optimizing the detection of specific types of mail in specific conditions such as these in conjunction with the use of a tray apparatus such as an embodiment of the detection trays described herein which comprises a plurality of distinct detection means, or a plurality of emitters and detectors / collectors.

[0059] In a simple example of the method by which the application works using IR light emitters and collectors and a base portion composed of a clear medium, such as acrylic or glass, the IR light emitted by an emitter travels through an opening below a relief element and strikes an object of mail. The IR light striking the mail is reflected back towards the vertical ledges of the nearest relief element and illuminates the surface of the ledge. Additional or farther relief elements may also participate in the detection of the same piece of mail. The IR collector that is positioned to cover or "watch" that ledge, or that portion of the ledge, within its range of view acquires the IR light signal in response to the typical piece of mail. The acquisition may be registered by the signal processing components of the application as a definite value of an amount of IR light, as a certain spectrum or wavelength of light, or as an increased amount of light occurring within the collector's field of view. (These precise measurements can improve the efficacy of mail detection even distinguishing between the addition of a new piece of mail and the mere shifting of mail already in the compartment of the mailbox.) The signals are converted into an electronic output that is transmitted to logic components in the covered component box and processed by an operation that generates a responsive output signal 62 (such as an electronic message, for example), which output is transmitted by the antenna means to a receiving unit, which may be a user's computer or cell phone, as illustrated in FIG. 3C. This electronic message notifies a user on a mobile device or computer that they have mail in this mailbox, and it may also notify them of additional information regarding the type of mail or its disposition within a portion of the mailbox in embodiments where the tray and / or detection means are configured to make such distinctions.

[0060] FIGs. 3A-3C depict an embodiment of the mailbox mail detection and notification system 200 of the present application. FIG. 3A is a front perspective view of a community mailbox 201 comprising numerous individual mailboxes 202 incorporated within a system of the application, wherein the tray 102 comprising the detection means of the application has been reversibly installed in one or more of said mailboxes, and example of which is shown in FIG. 3B as example mailbox 203. FIG. 3 A also shows a central hub 221 (which may also be referred to as a system antenna subcombination) comprising means for relaying information from the one or more tray apparatuses in the mailboxes of the community mailbox 201, where said system antenna comprises an external antenna 222, a solar charged power supply apparatus having solar panels , electrical and electronic controllers 224, and a battery, plus an automated central communication means for wirelessly communicating the data generated during operation of the system 200. The system 200 further comprises methods for communication and for providing services, and these are flexible to accommodate services for a single mailbox and for a plurality of mailboxes. Complementary services 300 for individual users may be provided in a software application 301 as shown in FIG 3C.

[0061] FIG. 3B is an enlarged perspective view rendition of one of the mailboxes 203 among the plurality of mailboxes 202 of the community mailbox 201 from FIG. 3 A. The tray 102 therein is formed by a method whereby the medium of the base portion is cut or molded to appropriate size and dimensions to closely fit the footprint of the mailbox. The relief elements can be shaped and spaced in whichever position or fashion is expected to be necessary or most effective for detecting the type of mail received, or as a default, as would be necessary to detect the smallest anticipated object of mail that may be randomly placed in the mailbox. Users who request the service would be able to insert the tray into their mailbox and open an account with a subscription based service using their cell phone or a web browser. The tray of the application remains in the user's mailbox semi-permanently. [0062] As shown in FIG. 3B, the tray 102 is designed to rest at the bottom of the user's individual mailbox occupying most of that mailbox's footprint in order to maximize the detection area and avoid violation of any would-be rules of mail placement imposed on the postal service. The tray houses the detection means described in the previous drawings herein which comprises a sensor or an array of sensors. In one embodiment, the sensors are Infrared (IR) sensors positioned in such a fashion to detect mail either laying flat in any orientation or position in the application or standing upright in any orientation or position in the application. These sensors may be positioned on the bottom plane of the application facing upwards and/or in the corners or sides of the application pointing diagonally cross-corner or facing the opposite parallel axis, for example. These sensors are preferred to have a wide angle of detection to create a larger overlapping detection area to prevent non-detection of mail that may be placed haphazardly in the application. The sensors are tuned to not be tripped by the mailbox form factor itself, in the case of IR sensors this is referred to as an adjustment of nominal range to avoid detecting reflections from any of the six interior surfaces of the mailbox itself. Alternatively these sensors may take the form of other sensors such as photoelectric sensors.

[0063] FIG. 3C illustrates an embodiment of a service 300 of the system operating on a cell phone of a user 309 whose mailbox is being monitored by the hardware of the system. A software application 301 may assist in the publication of notifications 310 received from the system as well as the input of commands and controls 311 which the user can issue to the system, such as to adjust the rate of issue of notifications or the sensitivity of the detection means and any other programmable factor of the application. In at least some embodiments, the software application 301 comprises a user interface 312, and preferably a distinct graphical user interface sufficiently recognizable as to qualify for trademark and trade dress under the intellectual property laws of most nations and states worldwide. [0064] The trays of the application can be manufactured in various ways from various materials, but one particular advantage of the design is that in certain embodiments trays can be custom manufactured and fitted to meet the specifications of any mailbox or application, and this can be accomplished cheaply and rapidly. FIG. 4 shows a top view of two sections of a prefabricated sheet for base portions of tray apparatuses of the present application. A first sheet 401 is rectangular and has been formed with three circular relief element therein while a second sheet 402 comprises nine smaller reliefs. Accordingly, a large sheet could be cut into base portions of different dimensions. The first sheet 401 could be used in a small mailbox while the second sheet 402 could be used in a larger mailbox, such as a parcel locker.

[0065] As mentioned previously herein, alternative shapes and dimensions for these reliefs are included in other embodiments, and the arrangements of relief elements within a given sheet will be determined according to the desired performances of the detection means and the parameters determined by methods of the application which methods are useful for determining the ideal relief shapes to use in different mailboxes, under different circumstances, and to accomplish particular detection results. The black material in the background of FIG. 4 and visible within the central circle 405 is simply a ground cover on a manufacturing floor and is not part of the application.

[0066] A method for installing a mail detection and notification system comprises the formation of tray apparatuses of the present application by obtaining the specifications of a mailbox application from a user, determining the optimal materials and dimensions of the base portion to accommodate the mailbox, determining which detection means and relief shapes to include therein, and then cutting or forming the appropriate sheets, installing the sensors of the detection means, and fastening a control box to the sheet, then wiring the sensors to the components of the tray's control box, and finally shipping the apparatus to the location for installation in the user's mailbox. [0067] The tray's sensors detect the presence of mail, and they may be queried by the logic of the electronic components in the system continuously or periodically. The logical control means may comprise microprocessors located in the component box portion 20 or in a central control hub on a network, such as on an internet-based server. The sensors generate data which is received by and parsed in logic processing means to determine whether a notification should be issued and what the contents of the notification should be. These notifications may be generated in instantaneous response to a change in conditions in the mailbox, at set times, or in response to a query issued remotely by the user.

[0068] In one embodiment of the present application, the notification means works as follows. When the tray's detection means detect the presence of mail, according to a detection program that queries the contents of the mailbox either continually or at specified intervals of time, the logic means of the system (either in the component box portion 20 or in a central hub 221) sends the user an electronic textual or visual message via the antenna (e.g., 22 or 221). An electronic textual or visual message may be generated and distributed from the tray or the central hub associated with the system antenna. In the community mailbox implementation such as that shown in FIG. 3A, one or a plurality of individual trays may be tethered to one or several external power supplies, antennae, wireless transmission method(s) and wireless service providers.

[0069] The wireless transmission method may be any suitable transmission method including, for example, cellular communication such as Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), 3G, etc.; however the tray (or a central hub coupled to the tray) may also transmit a message via other transmission methods such as AM/FM radio, television, Wi-Fi, Satellite, two-way radio and Bluetooth. The programming of the application such as the programming of a destination phone number(s) or destination email address(es) where the messages will be sent or the programming of a time clock to set the application's subscription period for billing purposes can be achieved via an interface located in the component box portion 20 or at a control hub (e.g., 224). This interface may be a wireless communication means or a physical interface, such as a Universal Serial Bus (USB), a mini USB or data jack, as examples of the physical interface type, or any wireless communication protocol such as Bluetooth Wifi, NFC or ZigBee, GSM, and similar or equivalent methods. Either interface may be accessed via a software or mobile app residing on the user's mobile device or computer. A receiver can be adapted to receive the signals transmitted from the individual trays of the application, particularly when multiple trays (and mailboxes) are coupled to a hub, as in the example described for the community type mailboxes. The receivers may be transceivers which may bounce or retransmit these messages from hub to hub to create larger networks or mesh networks.

[0070] The notification that is sent to a user from the tray may not be sent directly from the tray to a user device. Rather, the notification may be sent to a server, which may be an Internet server (which may also be referred to as a cloud server). The server may, for example, access a database which may be used by the server to determine notification preferences. For example, each tray may be associated with a unique identifier, which may be transmitted by the tray to the server. This identifier may be used by the server to identify the user account associated with that tray. For example, when a tray reports an event (e.g., the detection of a new item, the removal of an item, etc.), the tray may notify the server about this event and may provide the server with the unique identifier to the server. The server then takes this identifier and looks up the appropriate user account. Contact information associated with that account and/or preferences (e.g., specifying a mode of communication such as SMS, email, etc.), may then be retrieved and the notification may be sent in accordance with the retrieved information. Accordingly, any references to notification throughout this document contemplate both direct notifications from the tray to the user device and also notifications that are assisted by an intermediary, such as an Internet server.

[0071] In some embodiments, the data that is sent to the Internet server may be processed to identify consumer trends, mailbox usage trends, etc. Such data may be used to optimize delivery operations (e.g., postal operations), to establish prices, etc. [0072] In some embodiments, the sensors mounted on or within the tray of the application and the electronics in the control boxes thereof are powered by a local power supply in the control box. The preferred power supply is disposable consumer batteries such as AA (aka "double A", Mignon battery or IEC R6), and the batteries are in enough quantity to power the application over a long period of time (more than a couple months). Alternatively, the power supply may be centralized, such as when a community mailbox is used, in which case each tray provides an additional power cord. The central hub 221 of FIG. 3 A for example provides a solar powered battery system for operating a plurality of individual tray apparatuses. The typical component box portion 20 houses a removable Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card to provide wireless communication service should the application use Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) to send the notification message to the user. The SIM card may be preloaded as a pay- per-use, a fixed amount of SMS allowed over a defined period or may be of a subscription type service. Alternatively, when a community mailbox configuration is used, each tray apparatus may be connected via a data connection port to a central hub such as 224 from which all messages are relayed. [0073] In a typical embodiment of the subscriber service of the system of the application, when mail is placed in a mailbox containing a detection means connected to the system of the application, one or more sensors (which may include optical emitters, optical detectors and a processor coupled to such optical detectors) detect the presence of the mail, as well as the time of deposit of the mail. If the sensors are of the IR type, changes in the field or return signal which are due to the presence of the mail are detected using an optical detector. The detection of mail or a parcel may be made by comparing the amount of light detected by the optical detector to a threshold (which may, for example, be a threshold that has been previously determined and stored in memory associated with the tray). The mail or parcel is referred to as the sensor's target, or an "object". The tray (or a central hub coupled to the tray) then sends a wireless message transmission to a user's mobile device or computer using a transmission protocol and/or a transmission service provider. The mobile device or computer then displays the message received from the tray on its screen that indicates to the user that mail has been detected by the tray in their mailbox. The displayed message on the screen can be in the form of a Short Message Service (SMS) or an email, and the notification message may read "you have postal service mail in your mailbox." As mentioned previously, messages may be substantially more complex and may include graphical display outputs. Any message may also be distributed via the internet or a cellular network or other means such that it is received by the user in the form of a social network notification, such as Facebook or Twitter, or by some other software application or web- based application. The application may also send messages to the user's mobile device or computer as to the status of the power supply or as to the status of the applications subscription service.

[0074] FIG. 5 is a flowchart to illustrate a logic diagram a method for making and using the system. First, at 502, the apparatus of the detection tray is assembled and programmed and caused (at 504) to reside in the mailbox of the user. Then the postal service or another mail delivery entity places mail in the mailbox which settles upon the tray apparatus, or otherwise interacts with the detection means therein. The tray's sensors then detect (at 506) the presence of mail, such as in the case of IR sensors when they detect a change in the return signal from the emitted signal. The tray (or a central hub coupled to the tray), with a detection of a change in the return signal, then sends an electronic message (at 508) to the user's mobile device or computer, which may be in the form of an SMS or email via GSM which is then displayed on an interface of the screen of the mobile device or computer at 510.

[0075] Additional embodiments further comprise an alarm function and / or an anti-theft function, whereby the detection means can detect a disturbance in the disposition of mail (or other object) in the mailbox (or other receptacle) and alert a user or other authority that a suspicious event or change has taken place. For example, the logic of the system could be instructed at what hours of the day to expect changes in the contents of the mailbox, as when the postal service normally delivers mail, or when the user retrieves his or her mail. Any addition or subtraction of mail items from the mailbox at unexpected or unauthorized times would be recognized by the system as likely theft, vandalism, or other intrusion. In response to detecting such intrusions the system issues a specific notification to the user and to the appropriate authorities, and / or it may trigger an alarm apparatus to sound, where the alarm apparatus may be installed in the tray itself, nearby (e.g., hidden and separate from the tray and the mailbox), or on the user's cell phone or other remote device. [0076] The base portion of the detection system discussed above can be constructed of other clear materials apart from the examples listed above including, for example, polycarbonate or polypropylene.

[0077] In at least some embodiments, the trays described herein may be configured to avoid the effect of sunlight on the optical detectors. For example, the tray 101 may be installed within a mailbox which may be exposed to sunlight in certain operating conditions and states; for example, when a user opens the mailbox during the daytime. Accordingly, a processor associated with the tray and/or the optical emitter may be configured to eliminate or reduce the effect of ambient infrared radiation. For example, the emitter is, in some embodiments, pulsed at 38,000 cycles per second, or 38kHz. Very few natural sources have the regularity of a 38kHz signal, so this frequency can make the tray less prone to interference from sunlight and other sources of infrared radiation.

[0078] The tray (e.g., the processor associated with the tray) may also be configured to detect other operating conditions and to generate alerts or notifications based on other detected conditions apart from those discussed above. For example, the tray could be situated in a parcel locker. The operator of the parcel locker may be concerned that an unauthorized parcel might be added to the parcel locker, creating a security threat. A sensor associated with the tray could detect the presence of such parcels using the optical emitters and detectors discussed herein (e.g., using the base portion that includes the relief element), and could report the presence or absence of a parcel to a system associated with the operator of the parcel locker. Such reporting could be done periodically, when a change in status is detected (e.g., when something is added to or removed from the locker), or upon request by the system associated with the operator of the parcel locker. The system associated with the parcel locker could, for example, be configured to check the status information received from the tray against other information, such as a database, which indicates whether a parcel was recently added to the parcel locker.

[0079] In one embodiment, a lock associated with a parcel locker is an electronic lock that is controlled by a processor, such as a server or other computer. The lock selectively provides access to the locker. In one embodiment, processor may be configured to control the lock based on information received from the tray. For example, the processor may also be coupled with a door status detector which detects the opening of a door to the locker. After the door has been opened and the contents of the locker removed (which is detected by the tray), then the processor may prevent re-locking of the locker until predetermined conditions are satisfied (e.g., until a further parcel is to be added in the locker, or until the locker is determined to be empty). Such an embodiment could prevent, for example, a human being from being inadvertently locked within the locker.

[0080] Furthermore, while the example embodiment discussed above refers to a base portion that includes both a top layer and a bottom layer, it will be understood that these may not be physically separate sheets. That is, in some embodiments, the features of both of these layers may be provided by a single sheet (which may be a clear medium such as acrylic or glass). For example, the top layer (which defines the relief elements 12) and the second layer which defines the second set of relief elements 14 may be integrally formed (e.g., provided by a single sheet).

[0081] As noted above, in at least some embodiments, the trays described herein may be used in a community mailbox having a plurality of individual mailboxes. In some such embodiments, at least some components described as being provided in the detection tray may be provided centrally. For example, in at least some embodiments, each mailbox may have a tray that includes the relief elements and emitters and detectors described herein, but a central processor and/or communication module may service a more than one of those trays. This orientation reduces hardware requirements and may also reduce service costs since wireless service associated with a single unit may provide wireless capabilities to a plurality of trays.

[0082] It should be emphasized that the above described embodiments of the present application exemplify some, but not all, possible implementations of the present application and have been set forth in order to provide a clear understanding of its qualities. Those skilled in the art will appreciate that the conception upon which this disclosure is based may readily be utilized as a basis for designing of other structures, methods, and systems for carrying out the several purposes of the present application. The following claims should be regarded as encompassing equivalent and various constructions insofar as they do not depart from the spirit and scope of the methods and devices consistent with the present application.