The present invention relates to an apparatus and to a related method for the
automatic accepting and processing of mail.
It is known that offices receiving mail for the sending thereof observe a pre-set
opening time, often limited to the sole workday morning hours.
Such opening times generally coincide with the normal daytime working hours.
This causes remarkable inconveniences for the users, which are unavoidably forced
to absent from work when needing to carry out postal sendings which, due to their
very nature, require a personalised intervention for the postage and for arranging the
An extension of such opening times, besides entailing considerable costs for the
managing companies, could not solve the problem in case open offices were few and
scattered over a wide area, as it usually happens in rural areas, where often merely
mailboxes receiving pre-postaged envelopes are available.
Moreover, postal offices are often overcrowded, forcing the users to prolonged
waits prior to getting to talk to a clerk and to carry out the desired postal operation.
The technical problem underlying the present invention is that of providing an
apparatus and a method for the automatic accepting and processing of mail allowing
to overcome the drawbacks mentioned above.
This problem is solved by an apparatus for the automatic accepting and processing
of mail, comprising:
- a user communication interface, apt to provide indications about the type of
workable mail sending operations;
- mail accepting means, to allow the receiving of a mail into the apparatus;
- payment reception means, to allow the user to pay for the requested
sending operation; and
- mail processing means, comprising an automatic postage unit.
According to the same inventive concept, the present invention further relates to a
method for the automatic accepting and processing of mail, comprising the steps of:
- providing to a user, by a communication interface, indications about the
workable types of mail sending;
- receiving a mail sending command sent by the user;
- accepting a payment means by automatic payment reception means; and
- applying a postage onto the mail.
The present invention also relates to an envelope for a mail, apt to be processed by
an automatic accepting and processing apparatus, bearing at least one graphic code,
to allow the localisation of the data of the sender and/or of the receiver by said
The present invention provides several relevant advantages.
The main advantage lies in the fact that the apparatus of the invention allows to
automatically, quickly and effectively carry out the processing of a mail, even at post
offices closing hours and on sites remarkably crowded round the clock, like, e.g.,
Other advantages, features and the operation modes of the present invention will
be made apparent in the following detailed description of some embodiments thereof,
given by way of example and without limitative purposes. Reference will be made to
the attached drawings, wherein:
- Fig. 1 is a perspective view of a first embodiment of the apparatus for the
accepting and the processing of mail according to the present invention;
- Fig. 2 is a perspective view of a standardised mail apt to be processed by the
apparatus of Fig. 1;
- Fig. 3 shows a block diagram of the apparatus for the automatic accepting and
processing of mail of Fig. 1;
- Figs. 4A and 4B show a flow chart illustrating the operation modes of the
apparatus of Fig. 1; and
- Fig. 5 shows another embodiment of the apparatus for the accepting and
processing of mail according to the present invention.
With reference to Fig. 1, an apparatus for the automatic accepting and processing
of mail is generally indicated by 1.
According to the invention, the apparatus 1 comprises an interface 2 for
communicating with the user, apt to provide to the latter indications about the
workable types of postal sending operations. In the present embodiment, this
interface comprises a visualisation unit 21, in particular a screen, preferably a 15"
colour one, to inform the user about the workable types of mail sending. The
interface 2 further comprises an alphanumeric keypad 22, to allow the user to select
the desired operation. These components will be well-known to those skilled in the
art, therefore a further description thereof will be omitted.
Of course, a variant to this embodiment can provide the selection to be carried out
directly onto the screen, according to the so-called 'touch-screen' technology.
Always according to the invention, apparatus 1 further comprises mail accepting
means 3, to allow the reception of such mail in the apparatus. In the present
embodiment, such mail accepting means 3 comprises an outside receiving pocket 31
and a handling system (not shown in the Figs.), to automatically transfer the mail
from the pocket 31 to the inside of the apparatus 1.
This handling system is based on conveyors of traditional type, therefore a further
description thereof will be omitted.
The receiving pocket 31 further comprises one or more contact sensors to
automatically sense the presence of mail.
In the present embodiment, the mail accepting means 3 further comprises
additional components, not shown in Fig. 1, which will be described later on with
reference to Fig. 3.
The apparatus of the invention also comprises payment reception means,
generally indicated with 4, to allow the user to pay for the requested sending
operation. In the present embodiment, such means in turn comprises a card terminal
41, for card payments. In this specific embodiment, the apparatus 1 can also
comprise two terminals for cash payments, in particular a notes terminal 42 and a
coins terminal 43. Of course, alternate embodiments could provide the mere presence
of said card terminal 41.
The card terminal 41 can receive credit cards, ATM cards, or suitable pre-paid
cards, e.g., of the magnetic strip type, issued by the company managing the apparatus
In case of cash payment, the dispensing of a possible change takes place by an
output pocket 5, schematically depicted in Fig. 1.
Each of the payment terminals described above comprises a contact sensor, to
automatically sense the insertion of a card or cash in the terminal itself, as well as
automatic transferring devices of the card or cash inside the apparatus 1, according to
modes well-known to those skilled in the art. Moreover, said terminals incorporate
means, also known, to check the validity of the payment means provided.
The card terminal incorporates further means, also known, to communicate the
amount of the transaction to a credit institution or to deduct the mailing amount
directly from a pre-paid card.
Since the implementation modes of the payment terminals will be well-known to
those skilled in the art, a further description thereof will be omitted.
Moreover, in order to indicate whether the terminal is active, i.e., operative, or
inactive, beside each said terminal a pilot light, generally indicated by 40 in Fig. 1, is
Fig. 2 shows an enlarged view of a standardised mail apt to be processed by the
apparatus 1, generally indicated by 10. Therein, the mail 10 is depicted in form of an
envelope apt to contain documents. It is understood that the invention also applies to
packages, parcels and, in general, to any type of mail.
The standardisation of the mail 10 consists in the fact that its envelope, it also
indicated by 10, has graphic codes to localise the sender and/or receiver indications.
In fact, each of such graphic codes, indicated by 103 and 104, respectively, marks a
respective box, and precisely a sender box 101 and a receiver box 102, within which
the data of the sender and of the receiver, respectively, are to be reported.
Thus, each of the boxes 101 and 102 is localisable by a unit for sender/receiver
localisation 34 which will be described hereinafter. Said graphic codes can be, e.g.,
In the present embodiment, the graphic codes 103 and 104 are directly printed
onto the mail envelope, and reported onto the same face thereof. Of course, alternate
embodiment could provide the codes to be applied in form of one or more adhesive
labels onto the envelope itself, as it will also be recalled hereinafter. Moreover, such
codes could be reported onto opposite faces of the latter.
In the present embodiment, the envelope 10 further has standardised front sizes,
ranging from a minimum to a maximum, and precisely a length indicated by a
reference height 105 in Fig. 2 and a width indicated by a reference height 106.
Preferably, such standardised sizes correspond to those presently in use in the postal
systems of the various countries.
With reference now to the diagram of Fig. 3, the mail accepting means 3 also
comprises a size measurement unit 32, apt to sense the sizes of the mail 10, a
weighing unit 33, apt to weigh the mail 10, and the aforementioned unit for
sender/receiver localisation 34, apt to localise said boxes 101 and 102 of the mail 10.
As it will also be recalled hereinafter, it is provided that the weighing unit returns the
mail when the weight thereof exceeds a certain upper threshold.
The size measurement unit 32 and the weighing unit 33 are based on contact
sensors and on one or more load cells of traditional type, respectively, therefore a
further description thereof will be omitted.
As mentioned above, the unit for sender/receiver localisation 34 is meant to work
with standardised mail 10, bearing the sender and the receiver data in a position
recognisable by the unit itself. In particular, in the present embodiment the
localisation unit 34 comprises optical sensors, apt to recognise said graphic codes
103 and 104.
Those skilled in the art will appreciate that alternate embodiments could provide
the localisation unit 34 to work with mail of standardised sizes, recognised by the
size measurement unit 32, in which the sender /receiver indications lie in a
predetermined position. In that case, said codes 103 and 104 could be absent.
The apparatus 1 according to the invention further comprises mail processing
means. In the present embodiment, such processing means comprises a control unit
6, to operate all components of the apparatus 1, communicating with such
components by electrical connections of traditional type. In particular, in the present
embodiment the control unit 6 comprises an electronic calculator incorporating
logical-mathematical computing means and a timer of traditional type.
In particular, the control unit 6 controls the opening of the receiving pocket 31
and of the output pocket 5, by an automatic control mechanism of a type well-known
to those skilled in the art.
In the present embodiment, the processing means further comprises a registration
unit 7, to register information related to each sending carried out with the apparatus
1. Therefor, this unit incorporates means for writing onto a magnetic medium of
traditional type. In particular, the registration unit 7 can merely consist of a memory
unit of a computer implementing the control unit 6 and of the related control
The processing means further provides an automatic postage unit 8 and a printing
unit 9, the role of which will hereinafter be illustrated with reference to the operation
modes of the apparatus of the invention. The printing unit 9 in turn comprises an
impact printer 91 and a scanner 92.
The processing means further comprises a unit 12 for filling sending report, i.e.
sending minutes or a sending certificate, and return receipt, i.e. return postcards. This
filling unit 12 provides a supply of express and registered mail sending reports and a
supply of return receipts.
As it will hereinafter be detailed, the filling unit 12 comprises means for
automatically applying, e.g., by glueing, onto said sending reports and return receipts
the indications of the sender and of the receiver printed by the printer 91. Said means
can, e.g., comprise roller conveyors of traditional type.
The apparatus 1 further comprises a standardised label dispenser 11, in
communication with the output pocket 5 for the outside dispensing of said labels.
As it is schematically shown in Fig. 3, each of such labels 111 bears graphic codes
to identify boxes inside which the sender and/or the receiver data should be reported.
In particular, each label 111 bears two boxes, each one identified by a graphic code,
analogous to the ones described above with reference to the standardised mail 10 and
therefore indicated by the same reference numbers already used.
The operation modes of the apparatus 1 will hereinafter be described with
reference to Figs. 3 and 4.
In a so-called waiting or 'stand-by' condition of the apparatus 1, the control unit 6
controls the visualisation unit 21 so that a list of the workable types of mail sending,
the associated codes to be typed in onto the keypad 22 to carry out a selection and the
code to be typed in to obtain a standardised label 111 be displayed thereon.
Therefore, a user wishing to send a non-standardised mail, i.e., lacking said boxes
101 and 102, can send to the apparatus 1, by the keypad 22, a command for the
dispensing of a standardised label 111.
As it is reported in Fig. 4A, in the present preferred embodiment it is provided
that the apparatus 1 ignores any selection or label dispensing command until the user
provides, by the payment reception means 4, a valid payment means. This prevents
an improper use of the apparatus 1 by persons lacking a suitable payment means.
Upon receiving said command, the control unit 6, by the visualisation unit 21,
communicates to the user the due amount.
Since the payment modes by the terminals 41, 42 and 43 of the payment reception
means 4 and the associated validity checks of the provided payment means are of
traditional type, a further description thereof will be omitted.
Of course, if the payment cannot correctly be carried out due to any reason, e.g.,
an invalidity of the payment means or a non-correspondence between the requested
amount and the one paid out or available on the payment card, the control unit 6
commands the restitution of the payment means provided, and sends to the user,
always by the visualisation unit 21, an error message.
Optionally, if the amount paid or available onto the payment card is insufficient, it
can be provided that the user be allowed a maximum time interval, computed by the
timer of the control unit 6, within which to provide a supplementary payment means.
If no supplementary payment means is provided within said interval, the control unit
6 sends an error message to the user and operates the components of the apparatus 1
to restart the operation cycle, restoring the apparatus 1 itself in said 'stand-by'
If instead the payment is correctly carried out, or if it is provided that the label
111 be dispensed free of charge, the control unit 6 enables the label dispenser 11 to
dispense a label 111 through the output pocket 5, then restores the apparatus 1 to said
Then, the user can apply the label 111 onto the mail and report in the dedicated
boxes 101 and 102 the data of the sender and of the receiver, respectively, thus
obtaining a standardised mail 10 apt to be processed by the apparatus 1.
Hence, it will be appreciated that, by virtue of the dispenser 11 of standardised
labels 111, the user can make use of the apparatus 1 even employing a common
commercially available postal envelope, with no need to previously purchase a
specific envelope therefor.
Upon obtaining said standardised mail 10, the user can use the apparatus 1 to
carry out the desired type of postal sending, selecting the type of sending to be
carried out among those indicated on the visualisation unit 21, always upon having
provided a valid payment means. In the present embodiment, the apparatus of the
invention allows to select any type of postal sending among those provided by the
managing company, e.g., ordinary mail, priority mail, express mail, registered
express mail, and, in general, any type of registered mail, with or without return
As said above, the selection is carried out typing in a suitable code onto the
keypad 22, according to the instructions shown onto the visualisation unit 21.
Upon receiving said selection command, the control unit 6 commands the opening
of the receiving pocket 31 of the mail accepting means 3.
Of course, a further preferred embodiment can provide the receiving pocket to
automatically open right after the checking of the validity of the provided payment
means, prior to the carrying out of a selection of a type of sending.
Concomitantly to the opening of the pocket 31, the control unit can also indicate
to the user, by the visualisation unit 21, the sense of insertion of the mail 10 in said
Alternately, such sense of insertion can be signalled to the user in a suitable
instruction panel applied onto the outside casing of the apparatus 1, near to the
receiving pocket 31.
Of course, in the present embodiment the sense of insertion is standardised as a
function of the position of the boxes 101 and 102.
Hence, the user has a predetermined time interval, computed by the timer of the
control unit 6, to insert the mail 10 into the pocket 31. If the user does not insert the
mail into the pocket within the predetermined time interval, the control unit 6
commands the closing of the pocket 31 and the restoring to the 'stand-by' condition.
This step, it being a check of traditional type for automatic apparatuses, was not
reported in Fig. 4.
When the mail 10 is laid into the pocket 31, the contact sensor/s sense its presence
and therefore the control unit 6 commands the closing of the pocket 31. Then, the
handling means automatically transfer the mail inside of the apparatus 1, towards the
subsequent units of the accepting means 3.
In particular, the size measurement unit 32 measures the size of the mail 10, and
then the latter is weighed with the weighing unit 33. The sizes and weight data thus
obtained are sent to the control unit 6, which checks whether they be compatible to
the mail types processable by the apparatus 1.
Moreover, the unit for sender/receiver localisation 34 sends to the control unit 6 a
signal related to the detection of the sender 101 and receiver 102 boxes, or to the lack
thereof, so that the control unit can check the mail processability. It has to be pointed
out that, in case the mail has been inserted in a wrong direction, in particular
upturned, the localisation unit analyses the face of the mail lacking the boxes 101 and
102, and therefore the mail is refused.
In case any one of said checks yields a negative result, the control unit 6
commands the restitution of the mail 10 via the receiving pocket 31, and it further
enables the restitution of the payment means provided and the sending of an error
message by the visualisation unit 21.
In this case as well, the steps and the associated checks carried out via the
accepting means 3 controlled by the control unit 6 are represented by an individual
block in Fig. 4.
Instead, in case of a positive outcome yielded by such checks, the control unit 6
computes, by the computing means, the amount to be paid by the user in light of the
selected type of sending and of the measured data of size and weight transmitted by
the size measurement unit 32 and by the weighing unit 33.
Then, the due amount is communicated to the user by the visualisation unit 21.
In this case as well, it is provided that the mail 10 be returned to the user jointly to
an error message and, optionally, to the provided payment means, if the payment is
not correctly being carried out, or if a supplementary payment means is not provided
within a predetermined time interval.
Then, the control unit 6 enables the automatic postage unit 8 to apply the due
postage onto the mail. Such postage, in form of a stamp or of a postmark certifying
the payment, is applied onto the mail in a predetermined relative location with
respect to the boxes 101 and 102 thereof.
In case the user has requested a priority mail delivery, the control unit 6 further
enables the postage unit 8 to apply also a priority mail indication, e.g., a label or a
postmark, onto the mail 10.
Moreover, in case of a request of registered or express mail delivery, the control
unit 6 enables the scanning of the boxes 101 and 102 by the scanner 92, on the basis
of the signals transmitted by the unit for sender/receiver localisation. The data thus
scanned are then printed by the impact printer 91. These printed copies of the
sender/receiver data are then applied, in the filling unit 12, on a registered or express
mail sending report.
In case a registered mail with return receipt is requested, an additional copy of
said data is produced which, always in the filling unit 12, is applied onto a suitable
Upon processing, the mail is conveyed to the collecting unit 13, whereat it is
periodically collected by postal clerks.
The delivery data, and in particular the requested type of delivery, the size and the
weight of the mail, the paid amount, the type of payment means provided, the time
and the date of the operation, a serial sending number assigned by the control unit 6
and, if scanned, the files containing the sender and the receiver data, are transmitted
from the control unit 6 to the registration unit 12 and stored therein for future
reference of postal clerks.
This same data, jointly to an identification code of the apparatus at which the
operation has been carried out, are printed by the impact printer 91 on a receipt R
issued to the user with the output pocket 5. Preferably, this receipt R will be printed
on paper apt to certify the authenticity thereof, having a control key apt to confirm
the authenticity of the receipt itself.
The same data reported on the receipt R, except those related to the sender and to
the receiver, can also be printed on the mail by the same printer 91. In fact, the
impact printing mode allows to print even onto surfaces which are not completely
flat. Alternatively, this printing can be carried out on an adhesive non-removable
paper strip which will be applied onto the mail 10 by conveyors of traditional type.
According to a variant operation mode, the optional reports and return receipt can
also be printed at a subsequent time, on the basis of the registrations onto the
registration unit 7, under the supervision of a postal clerk.
Those skilled in the art will appreciate that several variants can be effected to the
hereto described embodiment of apparatus, always falling within the scope of the
same inventive concept. Hereinafter, some further embodiments of the apparatus of
the invention will summarily be described, with sole reference to the components
differentiating it from said first embodiment.
According to a second embodiment, the optical sensors of the unit for
sender/receiver localisation can be associated with character detecting means, in
order to detect not merely the presence of standardised boxes, but also the effective
presence of a sender and/or receiver indication therein. In an even more advanced
embodiment, the localisation unit could also comprise character recognition means.
The latter could comprise a recognition program loaded onto the control unit and
associated with the scanner managing programs.
Moreover, in a third embodiment it is provided that the user supplies to the
apparatus a mail void of any sender and/or receiver indication. Then these data can
be directly typed in by the user onto the keypad and printed by the impact printer
directly onto the mail or onto an adhesive member to be applied thereon. In that case,
the control unit will be a computer of traditional type incorporating a word
processing program visualised on the display. Of course, according to this
embodiment even the optional return receipts or sending reports are automatically
compiled with no need for a scanner.
A fourth embodiment of the apparatus of the invention is shown in Fig. 5.
According to this fourth embodiment, an apparatus according to the invention,
generally indicated by 100, provides a main body 120 comprising a user interface 20.
This interface 20 in turn comprises a printed panel 201 bearing the instructions to
operate the apparatus 100 and a plurality of selection buttons 202, each associated
with a type of sending. The interface 20 further comprises a display, e.g., of digital
type, to indicate the due amount to the user.
The apparatus 100 further comprises a dispenser 110 of standardised labels 111,
disjoint from the main body 120 of the apparatus 100 and provided with its own
payment reception means 400 analogous to those described with reference to the first
embodiment. This dispenser further comprises a label output pocket 50.
Hence, in light of this fourth embodiment, the apparatus of the invention can
concomitantly serve two users, one requesting the dispensing of a standardised label,
and another one the sending of a mail already in a standardised format. Thus, the
flow of users is managed more effectively with respect to the first embodiment.
Moreover, according to a fifth simplified embodiment, the apparatus of the
invention can directly provide to the user the sending reports for the sending by
express or registered mail and the return receipts, analogously to what was hereto
described for the labels 111. Therefore, this simplified embodiment provides that
such reports and receipts be compiled by the user. Upon compiling, these reports and
receipts are provided to the apparatus via an input pocket, e.g., the same receiving
pocket 31. Thus, the presence of the scanner and of the filling unit in the apparatus
In light of a sixth embodiment, the user interface comprises an acoustic signal
emitting unit, to provide the operating instructions of the apparatus with vocal
messages to a user.
It will also be understood that the present invention relates to an extremely
simplified embodiment, in which an automatic apparatus is merely capable of
carrying out an automatic applying of postage onto mails of a single standardised
format, to be delivered by ordinary or priority mail.
In this simplified embodiment, the user interface can consist of a mere panel,
bearing information about the workable type of sendings and the related price, which
in this case is fixed. Moreover, in this embodiment the receiving pocket of the
accepting means could be shaped so as to allow only the insertion of mail having
sizes acceptable by the apparatus. Hence, also the size measurement unit can be
Moreover, due to the type of sending, no compilation of sending reports or return
receipts is required, and also the issuing of a receipt to the user can become
superfluous. Therefore, also the printing, filling, and the localisation unit can be
It will presently be appreciated that the apparatus of the invention not only
provides an additional service to the postal service users, but, by relieving the
workload of postal clerks over the working hours of the post offices, improves the
service quality of the latter and abates the risk of human errors in the treatment of the
The present invention further relates to a method for the automatic accepting and
processing of mail, comprising the steps of:
- providing to a user, by an interface as hereto described, indications about
the type of workable postal mailings;
- receiving a mail sending command sent by the user;
- accepting a payment by automatic payment reception means as hereto
- applying the postage onto the mail.
The present invention has hereto been described with reference to preferred
embodiments thereof. It is understood that other embodiments thereof may exist, all
afferent to the same inventive concept, all falling within the protective scope of the