Slate Safe designed to help safeguard package delivery


Mike Koon, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Rendering of a what the Slate Safe will look like. The team expects to have a prototype reading in about a month.
Rendering of a what the Slate Safe will look like. The team expects to have a prototype reading in about a month.
The fact that Americans turn more and more to online shopping is good news for the package delivery business. It also means more chances for those packages to be stolen. According to a survey by Xfinity Home, 30 percent of Americans say they've had packages stolen from outside their home, but a startup called Slate Safe, featuring ECE ILLINOIS students and students from Purdue University is tackling that problem. 

Using technology from your basic scale, the team's solution is a one-foot-by-one-foot pad that would set outside a door to the home where deliveries are made. It would detect when weight is added to the pad and sound an alarm when the weight is removed. The owner can disable the alarm through a key fob to pick up the package.

"We're designing it off of those digital scales you see at Walmart that have Wi-Fi connectivity," said John Simonaitis, an ECE ILLINOIS senior and the electronics lead of the project. "Our hope is that its presence will be enough to deter most criminals from stealing your package."

The team has been in preliminary talks with manufacturers about production and believe the most basic device could be produced for about $20 and retail for around $25 or $30. A version with more features such as a camera and Wi-Fi connectivity would be closer to $80. Once the prototype is tweaked, they plan to run a crowd funding campaign through a site like Kickstarter to, in addition to raising funds, also gauge overall interest and get feedback on individual features of Slate Safe. 

Although market testing will reveal which features will ultimately be included, they are incorporating as much as possible into the first prototype. Among the features is a built-in infrared motion sensor camera, which would take several pictures of perpetrators from the time they are several yards away so the images would include the face and clothing of the would-be thief. 

Other technology behind Slate Safe would include solar cells, eliminating the need for charging; a Wi-Fi module, which would send notification to the owner's mobile phone when packages are removed as well as when they arrive; and radio frequency identification (RFID) sensors, which activates via a key fob to allow package access.

Simonaitis believes this solution is easier and more inexpensive than other solutions out there, such as a lock box, which would mean coordination with a host of delivery companies. He believes that companies like Amazon could be interested in partnering with them because they often are the ones that pay the cost of replacing the stolen package.

"Most of that technology is remarkably cheap today," Simonaitis said.  "We can add solar cells to the unit for a few dollars and a camera for less than ten, for example. The parts are already commercially available. We don't have to even make the chassis if we use existing templates."

The team members from Illinois include Simonaitis, John Graft and Joseph Bianco, seniors majoring in electronic engineering, and William Simonaitis, a sophomore major in accounting and finance. Andrew Wise, a senior mechanical engineering student from Purdue, leads the manufacturing side, which includes fellow Boilermaker David Murzyn, also a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. 

John Simonaitis notes that, although in many instances, online retailers like Amazon or delivery services pick up the tab for lost items, many deliveries carry sentimental value and can't be replaced.

"Thieves can't see what's inside; they just kind of guess," he said. "They don't know it doesn't have value to them. 

"It's possible that companies like Amazon might be interested incorporating our product if we can make it very inexpensive, can demonstrate people want it, and prove it's effective," Simonaitis added. "We believe our product is better than any solution currently on the market."

Read the original article on the Engineering site.