Item Locker This invention relates generally to item lockers and more particularly item lockers for valuable, confidential or sensitive items such as keys, computers, information files, data storage devices and the like although the locker could be used for a wider range of items.
There are a number of situations where provision of a secure or at least controlled inventory locker is required. For example in a building it would be desirable to know who had particular keys and to ensure the keys remained within the environs of the building or to provide safe storage of items such as laptop computers. The usage of lockers extends from simple temporary storage at transport locations to more complicated arrangements such as transmission of a secure container to a location separately from a key for the container held in a locker at that location, so that release of the key only occurs when authorised.
Traditional lockers are simply one or more compartments secured by a lock and key either integral with the locker or supplied by a user through a padlock. Such arrangements do not allow for inventory control and more intelligent item monitoring and usage. More recently lockers have been provided which have sophisticated communication, coded keys and other security features generally provided on a global network basis with encryption and other approaches to identify and control movement of items. Such sophisticated lockers are expensive to install, susceptible to failure and difficult to modify to particular installation requirements due to a need for system compatibility across the whole locker network whether that be in a single building or a network of buildings in the same city, region, country or worldwide.
In accordance with aspects of the present invention there is provided an item locker arrangement comprising a locker and a portable control device (PCD) with a spatial communication link between them in use, the locker having an identifier, an item inventory store, an item locator, an item access element and an item access authorisation checker; the POD having an identifier, a request function to request an item wanted or to be returned and/or to request a locker item inventory from the item inventory store and an authorisation element, whereby within a predetermined range defined by the spatial communications link the locker and the POD in use can provide a handshake exchange to respectively identity each other, the POD can request return or release of an item and/or the locker item inventory, the POD and/or the locker can confirm the request for return or release of the item or an item from the locker item inventory, the item access authorisation checker can check return or release authorisation for the PCD and if authorised provide through the item access element release or thorough associated means directions to the item or a location for return of the item in the locker and confirm transfer to the POD for the item.
Other claimed features and elements of aspects of the present invention are described in the claims presented hereafter and the description below.
Embodiments of the invention will now be described by way of example only with reference to the accompanying drawings in which: Figure 1 is a schematic illustration of a locker arrangement in accordance with aspects of the present invention; Figure 2 is a schematic illustration of an initial decision process for a locker arrangement in accordance with aspects of the present invention; Figure 3 is a schematic illustration of process steps for locker release or return in a locker arrangement in accordance with aspects of the present invention; Figure 4 is a schematic illustration of process steps for locker reservation for a locker arrangement in accordance with aspects of the present invention; Figure 5 is a schematic illustration of process steps for locker arrangement operational checks in accordance with aspects of the present invention; Figure 6 provides a block diagram of some functional features in a locker in accordance with aspects of the present invention; Figure 7 provides a block diagram of functional features in a locker arrangement during a power up phase of operation in accordance with aspects of the present invention; Figure 8 provides a block diagram of some operational functional features in a locker of a locker arrangement in accordance with aspects of the present invention; and, Figure 9 provides a block diagram of functional features in a locker in accordance with aspects of the present invention for operational checking and/or emergency over-ride in the arrangement.
Provision of security or item control lockers in a locker arrangement as described above has applicability in a wide range of situations but increasingly desired or requested requirements from users leads to relatively complex and bespoke installations which can be difficult to adapt for new requirements or expansion. It is would be desirable to provide stand-alone installations with sufficient flexibility in terms of operation for individual user requirements whilst having a generality which avoids the need for too much specific equipment for operation. A number of so-called PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) devices are now available typically in the form of Smart Phones such as an Iphone or Ipad or android devices. These PDA devices are generic and can have applications (Apps or icon accessed software) to allow effectively personal secure transportation of entry keys or latches to remote lockers in a locker arrangement in accordance with aspects of the present invention.
The specific software for a particular locker can be integrated with the PDA or be specifically downloaded through the internet or a secure communications path. For the purposes of description of aspects of the present invention the device used to co-operate with a locker will be referred to as a portable control device (PCD) as devices beyond those traditionally understood as PDA devices can be used. The PCD will typically be personal to a user or known group of users so a link can be established to that user or group of users in terms of an identifier.
The POD will have a spatial communications capability with a transceiver in a locker of a locker arrangement in accordance with aspects of the present invention so that in use a spatial communications link is established. The spatial communications link has a pre-determined range so that the POD and so the user must be within a particular distance of the locker to be operable for release or return of an item so again providing assurance of user or a person authorised by the user being in the environs/vicinity of the locker. Forcing the user to be in the vicinity of the locker allows an image to be taken of the user for security and possibly evidential purposes.
Figure 1 provides a schematic illustration of some principal elements of a locker arrangement I in accordance with aspects of the present invention. The arrangement I comprises a locker 2 and a POD 3 with a spatial communications link 4 between them. The link 4 is normally a wireless link and may be Bluetooth or a similar coupling. In such circumstances, and assuming both the locker and the POD are in an operational mode, when the POD being portable moves within range a handshake procedure takes place with at least some identification/selection of the locker and/or the POD. The identification may be specific to a particular locker in terms of location/owner etc. or of a locker type generally whilst at a public level the POD may be simply identified as an already registered user or of a type of user/POD which could be registered as a user. In any event with the spatial communication link 4 in place as will be described latter a number of functions can be performed through the link 4 with control by the POD 4 and item release or return facilitated by the locker 2.
At a general level the locker 2 comprises a number of compartments 5 normally with doors with controllable locks and an automatic closure facility. The compartments 5 are designed to accommodate items such as keys, a laptop computer and other articles as required so they may have hooks or a roll out drawer or other shaping or securing for particular articles. As will be described later the locker 2 in a preferred but not essential aspect of the present invention may have a sensor 6 associated with part of the locker 2 so that location of items in each compartment 5 can be determined or confirmed. The sensor 6 may be able do determine whether an item is in compartment 5a through some characteristic deduced from a local sensor in each locker e.g. a mass sensor calibrated to a particular items weight or preferably through a specific RFID tag associated with the item which is read by the sensor 6 in a Faraday cage environment created within the locker 2.
Further sensors may be provided to confirm a door is open or shut for each compartment with central logging in the locker as required. A further feature may be that a barcode or RFID is made as a two part patch' with one part on the door and one part on a frame part of the locker 2 so that prior to opening the patch is interrogated by the POD, other RFid reader hardware or other item identifier to confirm integrity or after closure the patch again interrogated by the POD, other RFid reader hardware or other item identifier to confirm closure with a time stamp.
Although a key feature of aspects of the present invention is a stand alone locker and a POD, other RFid reader hardware or other item identifier which has integrated or downloadable functionality to allow operation with whatever locker it comes across it will also be understood that the locker may itself have some self-contained functionality. Thus, a touch screen display 7 along with an integrated or separate keypad 8 may be provided so that other functions can be provided such as a display of locker usage (e.g. which compartments have been used most often and so the items released/returned), entry of a supplemental access key by a user, an image of an item in a compartment or any other function which may have a local nature for a user or provide additional security so for example a random number or word could be generated which must be input to the POD, or touch screen as further confirmation for access.
A further aspect of the present invention relates to the communications linkage of the locker arrangement. It will be understood that the POD as a portable device is not physically linked to the locker so the communications links to the locker controller wirelessly, that is to say locker to POD and vice versa via an intermediate device such as a wireless access point or cellular data centre, or parallel. However, with either form of communication link it will be understood that essentially a local locker to PCD control via integral controller is created to allow a stand-alone operation with the central register/controller 9 or PCD only periodically connected as required such as to download software to or from the POD for a particular locker type or to provide generic usage information/monitoring without interfering with local usage or providing an essential control element for such usage. Thus, there is less likelihood of interference and tampering with locker arrangement operations.
Figure 2 provides a schematic illustration of an initial decision process in block diagram for a locker arrangement from initiation or start 21 to the expected outcomes; item removal 22, remove pre-booked item 23, pre-book item 24, item return 25. After start I a user provides identification by an appropriate method which may be personal information such as a PIN or fingerprint or an electronic identifier such as POD, a swipe card, SIM card in a mobile phone in an initiation process step 26. Once identified a personalised welcome screen is presented 27 to the user on the locker display or a visual display on the locker itself. The personalisation may be a prompt to release an item or return an item connected with the identifier or presentation of a locker item inventory for a locker within the spatial communication link range but as indicated will be personalised to a user's expected requirements. For security an image of the user is captured 28 and a video of the action of the individual user for verification or otherwise. From the personalised screen a user selects an option 29 and the locker determines from or for that request whether the specific user determined through the identification stage is authorised to perform the desired action as outcomes 22 -25 and if authorised the necessary action can be performed or is allowed.
The selection of the locker by the user through the POD and controller can be remote from the locker in a pre-selection or through the reservation/pre-book outcome so that it is only when the POD comes within the spatial communication link range will that operation with the locker itself becomes effective.
Figure 3 provides a schematic illustration in block diagram form of the process steps to provide outcomes 22 (item removal) and 25 (item return) as illustrated in figure 2 along with illustrating a further option of providing administration for the locker arrangement. As before the process starts 30 and a screen is displayed with options leading to outcomes 22, 25. The user selects or requests an outcome 22, 25 as desired.
With outcome 22 initially an item removal screen 31 is provide followed by an item removal options process step 32 where the user selects a locker to open 33 within the present or future expected spatial communication link range between the selected locker controller and the PCD and selects from a list (locker item inventory) 34. The list 34 may be for the selected locker or for a group of lockers if the item wanted is not in the locker first selected. The locker opens 35 if the user is authorised by the identification process described above as step 26 in figure 2 but if the user is not authorised or the item is not in that particular locker then the locker will not open and there will be return to the removal option step 32 to select another locker in the present or expected spatial communication range or another item or both. Once the locker is open it will be appreciated that the item is expected to be removed 36 and afterwards the closure or door to the locker is closed 37. A sensor may also be used to confirm removal. After closure all items are scanned to confirm actions completed and video recording paused for next action.
The item return process 25 is similar to that described with regard to the removal process 22 above so initially an item return screen is presented to a user with item return options 39 comprising selection 33 of a locker and a definition 40 of items out of the selected locker or all items out of all or some lockers presented so that return of one item or a type of item can be selected. As previously this request for return can be authorised or declined for a number of reasons However, if return is authorised then the locker opens 35 and the item is returned 36 and the door closed 37 with a sensor to confirm return.
Figure 4 provides a schematic of the process steps for outcomes 23 (remove pre-booked item) and outcome 24 (pre-book item) described with regard to figure 2. The process for removal 23 is relatively simple and after user identification involves sequentially input of a PIN 40, capture of a user image 41 for security, opening of a locker 42 and closing of a locker door 43 before logout 44. Such an approach is conventional and depends upon pre-authorisation regulated by the initial identity determination 26 (figure 2) and the PIN 40 for access.
The reservation process 24 requires initially presentation 45 of the whole item inventory list for all lockers so the user can select an item 46 and then indicate 47 when the item is required in terms of a time slot for determination 48 whether the item is available. If not available then a return process is provided to determine 49 whether other times are available which may be offered or selected at indication stage 47 by a user. If yes then a reservation is made 50 and the user may provide confirmation 11 before logout 44. The reservation stage 50 will also further confirm that the user is authorised to receive the item at the time or the reservation is conditional and subject to action which may be payment or other authorisation prior to the issuance of a reservation PIN for use at the process step 40 for the outcome 23 for item removal as described previously.
It will be appreciated that ensuring correct operation of the locker arrangement is important or there may be emergency situations when all compartments in a locker will need to be opened at once or item location information and locker identifiers updated so there is an administration option 50 (figure 3). With this option 50 as illustrated in figure 5 initially generally there is validation 51 of a user as an administrator or having other suitable authority then if an individual user a picture and video of that user may be taken 52 for verification. Once these identification and verification process have been performed legitimate administrative operations can be performed such as illustrated opening 53 all compartments and lockers sequentially in the arrangement with the administrator constantly alerted 54 to this status of the locker arrangement with its inherent low level of security and capacity for item movement control.
Within each locker as indicate a stand-alone function is provided so as illustrated in figure 6 a main controller in the form an expansion chassis 60 is provide to co-ordinate operation of a processor chip 61 acting as the heart of independent operation of the locker in arrangement. The chassis 60 will provide necessary power switching to locks for each compartment of the locker under the control of the processor 61 which in turn will provide typically LED indicators 62 of locker status e.g. which compartments are open. The processor 61 will also receive status signals from sensors 63 for items in terms of location in or out of the locker and of locking mechanisms 64 for each compartment of the locker. The main controller on the chassis 60 will normally have a relay board with a relay switch for each locking mechanism 64 and a further processor 66 to utilise the sensor status and locking sensor status to log item movements as well as variations in item return locations in the locker for charging or other conditioning/testing.
As indicated above it is desirable that not only release of an item through opening of a locker compartment door is controlled for removal or return of an item but also confirmation of return through a sensor within the locker and movement of an item within the vicinity of a locker determined by the range of the spatial communication link between the locker and the POD. Thus, the state of each sensor where provided must be determined. Figure 7 provides a block diagram of the process steps for such sensor status determination.
Figure 8 illustrates some operational functions for a locker in terms of an initial open command 80 to a compartment in a locker and co-ordination of sensors to confirm item position initially within the locker and activation of the locking mechanism for release of an item or return of an item.
Figure 9 provides a block diagram of functional features for the locker in an over-ride or emergency release mode as envisaged with regard to figure 5 above. The processes of checking through sensors compartment status throughout all compartments of the locker run side-by-side with the sequential one after the other opening of each compartment.
Aspects of the present invention allow remote administration of a locker system from anywhere with a portable PCD device including; iphone app, ipad app, android devices, smart phone and any other remote internet linked via Wi-Fi and the GPRS, 30 and 40 cellular networks and related internet linked devices. A locker cabinet or compartment can be opened, it is possible to reserve items in particular lockers and view reports of usage and where available items are located. Typically securely encrypted connections (WPA2(TKIP)) are used over WlFl and 40/30/GPRS or any versions there of cellular networks. PCD devices are paired either specifically or as a group to a locker or groups of lockers in a system for added security. Thus, the locker arrangement has the following features:-Standalone -all lockers are standalone with in-built software and server, operating on a suitable voltage such as l2volts, allowing remote access in vehicles or worldwide with periodic recharging. Data is transferred via WIFI when in range of a docking station or 30/GPRS when roaming.
Advantageously, radio frequency or other identification tags are attached to every item. A reader identifies all items/keys stored within the secure cabinet and then other positioned readers track the item, in the vicinity transferring the information using the internet or local IT networks via wired networking, Wi-Fi, 40/3G/GFRS or other wireless data transfer techniques to track the movements of any item where readers are enabled. Furthermore, video and warnings can be linked as items appear within range.
Aspects of the present invention allow any catalogued asset or keys to be automatically booked out, removed, physically tracked, recorded and returned or delivered anywhere without fuss. Such release can be facilitated via the touch screen on the locker, other linked stations or the portable POD through an icon accessed software packages pre-loaded or specifically downloaded to the POD as required.
The stand alone lockers have an in-built 12v system and an inbuilt touch screen, computer, scanners, still camera video camera (linked), Windows or Linux based operating systems, RFid reader, WIFI and 30/GPRS communication systems and use the PlO microcontrollers with bespoke designed green technology to save system power alongside next generation infra red sensing technology. The link to a central register/controller can allow each locker to have a self repairing function and a path for reporting fault finding in the systems and attempts to tamper with the locker.
The stand alone ultra hi-security software allows authorised users to view, report and edit without requiring changes to each system; the PCD adapts to allow control and access to the lockers in its current or expected purview. Separate RFid readers will monitor items as they enter or leave up to the locker in terms of the individual zones or compartments then through the pre-determined range of the local spatial communication link movement of the POD and so item can be monitored particularly if the item has an identifier such an RFID tag or distinctive feature which the POD needs to periodically scan to confirm vicinity pairing.
Furthermore, separate readers, identification modules, tracking devices or video cameras may be automatically activated by items or users or POD as they enter reader zones.
As lockers tend to be at remote or separate locations there can be down time for system failures but by providing an inbuilt security dongle and removable back up it is possible to allow instant re-flash (re-booting with downloaded software) if required, alongside self diagnostic and repairing circuits. The locker software is a means to work with the POD to confirm an operating environment rather than provide authorization itself; the POD itself is an identifier and it is that identifier which triggers the locker to release or allow an item to be returned. The identifier and so the user take responsibility for the item whilst the locker ensures that responsibility is transferred (in or out) and logged in the locker as well as centrally by a real token such as an RFID tag or by a deductive virtual tag, that is to say the item was in the compartment which was opened so the item must have been removed or vice versa if the compartment was originally empty with sensor and video and image back-up were required.
Arrangements in accordance with aspects of the present invention can be expandable up to large number of access identifier keys e.g. I million keys for 60 lockers using a readily available Smartphone or other means as the identifier.
Arrangement allow fast and simple three stage secure and reliable process steps or stages to access use and return items with full tracking namely, Login > choose locker/item > Take item.
Basic flow Item(s) are booked out from the touch screen on the locker, PCD, separate internet linked computer, or using a remote wifi or internet linked appliance such as iphone or ipad, which may also be stored and tracked within the system, using id photo, video & system recording.
Item(s) are tracked by time, date and duration (if required) within preset areas i.e. where readers and sensors are installed to monitor item movements, or OPS tracking is available Items and users may have preset parameters including time and area limits -if perimeters are exceeded alarms may be activated, or information recorded, video, audio, e-mail, SMS messaging or other linked devices may be automatically activated wherever they are.
As all lockers are typically 12v and stand alone, they may be used with no mains power supply with periodic re-charging as required In the locker each compartment will have a door or similar closure with a multi-sensor self-tailoring monitor to ensure door open/door closed readings cannot be misread.
Random return allows all items to be recorded wherever they are returned to a locker within any web-linked system worldwide with local stand-alone deposit by the locker to controller and PCD spatial communication link and reporting through the PCD in a serial communication path or individually and separately by the POD and/or locker in a parallel communication path to a central register or controller for mutual confirmation/verification.
In terms of operation the locker will operate as follows in one embodiment:-; User opens icon based software access on the POD -> User welcomed and asked what action is required. I. View item(s) 2. Return item(s) 3. Book out/ remove item(s) 4. Admin 1. View items -a list of all items (locker item inventory) appears on the PCD and/or a display associated with the locker with in/out status and expandable item photo and if out within which zone in the vicinity of the locker the item is currently located, user clicks item for info: If out -name, number, item photo and user photo shown.
If in -item photo, description shown with book out? y/n If yes -now? Or date and time request and duration.
2. Return Item(s) -A list of items the POD is associated with is provided as an inventory of user's items out then a prompt is provide to allow an indication of which item the user would you like to return along with an option to put some other item in the locker then the following steps will occur in terms of displayed messages and user responses:-Thank you -locker 2 position 4 is open giving directions for return Any comments? Yes -200 character window No next item? (Action stored and noted if returned or not) Pre-booked items should be highlighted.
3. 3. Remove item(s) -A message will be provided to the POD and/or on a display as part of the locker to list items already associated with the POD and so user such as You already have.then the following messages and responses will provide process stages and steps in the locker arrangement:-What items or keys would you like to remove? Optional search button highlights items searched.
A full list of authorised items with preset time limits shown for user to highlight as many as required then hit check out -each locker lights and unlocks in turn -camera 2 records video three seconds after last door closed -camera I (photo) records whenever accessed Search: horizontal column Item Position Reg/Id number Type I Type 2(i.e.style) number (i.e.colour) 4. Admin -Firstly the POD and/or the locker display will provide a message such as Welcome John Smith(administrator) -what would you like to do? then the following options listed:-Reports -> users, items, time scaling. Actions, photos, zone activity, camera activity, dates/times.
Edit/add item -> photo, description, access level, time allowed Edit User -> Photo, name, access level, time allowed, information.
Edit system ->Edit cameras or scanners or back up etc. -Aspects of the present locker arrangement and system define a complete standalone system; meaning that all software can be used at the touch screen without the need for an external piece of software on a remote control computer to use or administer the system -The locker may be powered by wireless charging and also multiple in-locker items charging in one locker can be provided through use of a Duracell MYGRID or similar approach.
-As the functionality is provided by the POD/controller and each locker in a spatial communication link it will be understood that additional lockers can be added to the present arrangement with different locators and identifiers taken from those available. Prior systems were difficult to expand integrally in the same set up in that each prior locker would have its own control keys so migration of all those control keys to a single controller would present problems.
-Aspects of the present invention can use facial recognition in association with the POD and controller to locker spatial communications link as an additional security feature.
Technoiogically advanced design incorporates a "Faraday Cage" into the locker allows RFID identifiers to be used for each compartment and/or item to read all items inside a locker, and ensure signal leakage doesn't cause misreads of items outside the unit.
Generally within the vicinity of the locker remote RFID readers can position any item with an RFID tag to within a metre allowing movement control relative to base locker location which can be relayed by the locker and/or the PCD to a central register/controller.
The PCD normally through an icon based short cut or so-called App together with specifically designed unique hardware attachments allows download of an RFID reader and rEid tags and software access direct to the POD particularly if in the form of Iphone or Andriod device-making the POD locatable too whilst the POD can act as a reader of RFid and other identifying tags The POB attached hardware item can effectively making the POD in to an RFID reader which is wirelessly recharged when in the cabinet of the locker.
The arrangement allows additional tracing of rEid tagged items within their range, anywhere in the world.
Rfid readers can be placed in a depot in Dubai or other location anywhere and will notify a central register/controller in the UK or other location anywhere when a tag enters its area.
The POD can also be used as a tag by downloading software which transmits its location using Keytracker UHP tag hardware The POD can also be used as an identifier, allowing "permission" or authorisation to be transmitted to a user's phone, which when shown to a locker arrangement and controller issues or releases the items or keys to a user with a 3D barcode, image recognition or code pin entry.
Within a locker a random return tray can be provided -the locker recognizes an rEid tag associated with an item and opens the correct pathway to place it back in position Interrelationship of system boards The system boards will be controlled via serial or USB or other date transmission techniques via single byte commands, it will comprise of a Main board, KRO (key relay control) board, locker/key chip boards, and smart expansion boards (see figure 6).
Main board/chassis The role of this board is to receive signals via serial or USB or other date transmission techniques, decide which line the data should be sent over and set data bits to the corresponding binary number. This system used will be: I All 8 bits will be set to a corresponding binary number for each line when used in conjunction with a KRC and key chip boards -I.E 00010010 refers to chip board 18 * All 8 bits will be set to high when used in conjunction with a locker board Once the bit has been set the board will send the start bit to alert boards to check for data, the board will then poll for a high signal back from the corresponding board or from the USB/serial interface and send the stop bit.
Chip board The role of the chip board Is to wait for the start bit, check if it is required to operate if so operate an LED and locking mechanism. It polls for a change in state of the onboard sensors whilst also waiting for the stop bit if either changes the board will stop and send sensor state signals out via the sensor line To change the role of the board you will need to change a jumper to the corresponding setting for either locker or key settings Locker board -waits for all 8 bits to be high before operating all switch's on the DIL switch must be ON Key board -waits for a high bit which corresponds to the state of the DIL switch 1-8 The sensor will work by randomly choosing three out of the six IR sensors if it fails to get a reading from the chosen three after two attempts it will choose a different three sensors if it fails again it will pulse the sensor data line to warn of a fault or problem
The role of the KRC is to receive a signal from the main board and decipher which chip board needs to be operated and choose the corresponding data line. The KRC has 4 connectors with each capable of operating 1-8 key boards for a total of 32 individual key boards. No data analysis in regards to sensor data is done on this board Smart Expansion The smart expansion is used to increase the capacity of the system by splitting the work load over more than one PlC chip Data Lines * Upto 16 lines for data transmission * I line start bit * I line stop bit I I line sensor bit It will be appreciated by those skilled in the art that any number of combinations of the aforementioned features and/or those shown in the appended drawings provide clear advantages over the prior art and are therefore within the scope of the invention described herein.