WO2003000568A1 - System and method for packaging and delivering a temperature-sensitive item - Google Patents

System and method for packaging and delivering a temperature-sensitive item Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2003000568A1
WO2003000568A1 PCT/US2002/019637 US0219637W WO03000568A1 WO 2003000568 A1 WO2003000568 A1 WO 2003000568A1 US 0219637 W US0219637 W US 0219637W WO 03000568 A1 WO03000568 A1 WO 03000568A1
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WO
Grant status
Application
Patent type
Prior art keywords
package
insulated
temperature
drop box
container
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/US2002/019637
Other languages
French (fr)
Inventor
Grant Leung
John Stevens
Original Assignee
Grant Leung
John Stevens
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date

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Classifications

    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q10/00Administration; Management
    • G06Q10/08Logistics, e.g. warehousing, loading, distribution or shipping; Inventory or stock management, e.g. order filling, procurement or balancing against orders
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65DCONTAINERS FOR STORAGE OR TRANSPORT OF ARTICLES OR MATERIALS, e.g. BAGS, BARRELS, BOTTLES, BOXES, CANS, CARTONS, CRATES, DRUMS, JARS, TANKS, HOPPERS, FORWARDING CONTAINERS; ACCESSORIES, CLOSURES, OR FITTINGS THEREFOR; PACKAGING ELEMENTS; PACKAGES
    • B65D77/00Packages formed by enclosing articles or materials in preformed containers, e.g. boxes, cartons, sacks or bags
    • B65D77/04Articles or materials enclosed in two or more containers disposed one within another
    • B65D77/0406Rigid containers in preformed flexible containers
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65DCONTAINERS FOR STORAGE OR TRANSPORT OF ARTICLES OR MATERIALS, e.g. BAGS, BARRELS, BOTTLES, BOXES, CANS, CARTONS, CRATES, DRUMS, JARS, TANKS, HOPPERS, FORWARDING CONTAINERS; ACCESSORIES, CLOSURES, OR FITTINGS THEREFOR; PACKAGING ELEMENTS; PACKAGES
    • B65D81/00Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents
    • B65D81/18Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents providing specific environment for contents, e.g. temperature above or below ambient
    • B65D81/20Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents providing specific environment for contents, e.g. temperature above or below ambient under vacuum or superatmospheric pressure, or in a special atmosphere, e.g. of inert gas
    • B65D81/2007Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents providing specific environment for contents, e.g. temperature above or below ambient under vacuum or superatmospheric pressure, or in a special atmosphere, e.g. of inert gas under vacuum
    • B65D81/2023Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents providing specific environment for contents, e.g. temperature above or below ambient under vacuum or superatmospheric pressure, or in a special atmosphere, e.g. of inert gas under vacuum in a flexible container
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65DCONTAINERS FOR STORAGE OR TRANSPORT OF ARTICLES OR MATERIALS, e.g. BAGS, BARRELS, BOTTLES, BOXES, CANS, CARTONS, CRATES, DRUMS, JARS, TANKS, HOPPERS, FORWARDING CONTAINERS; ACCESSORIES, CLOSURES, OR FITTINGS THEREFOR; PACKAGING ELEMENTS; PACKAGES
    • B65D81/00Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents
    • B65D81/38Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents with thermal insulation
    • B65D81/3813Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents with thermal insulation rigid container being in the form of a box, tray or like container
    • B65D81/3816Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents with thermal insulation rigid container being in the form of a box, tray or like container formed of foam material
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65DCONTAINERS FOR STORAGE OR TRANSPORT OF ARTICLES OR MATERIALS, e.g. BAGS, BARRELS, BOTTLES, BOXES, CANS, CARTONS, CRATES, DRUMS, JARS, TANKS, HOPPERS, FORWARDING CONTAINERS; ACCESSORIES, CLOSURES, OR FITTINGS THEREFOR; PACKAGING ELEMENTS; PACKAGES
    • B65D2203/00Decoration means, markings, information elements, contents indicators
    • B65D2203/10Transponders

Abstract

A system and method for packaging and delivering a temperature-sensitive item includes an insulated package (10) having a substantially rigid container (20) for containing the item (50), and a vacuum-sealed outer shell (30) surrounding said container, and an insulated drop box having a first transceiver, for storing the insulated package.

Description

SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR PACKAGING AND DELIVERING A TEMPERATURE-SENSITIVE ITEM

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS This Application claims the benefit of U. S. Provisional Application No. 60/299,727

which was filed on June 22, 2001 by Grant Leung, and assigned to the present assignee, and

which is incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to a system and method for packaging and delivering an

item, and in particular, a system and method for packaging and delivering a temperature-sensitive

item.

Description of the Related Art

Temperature-sensitive items, such as chilled and even frozen items, are typically stored, for example, by vendors at low temperatures. For example, a grocer may maintain a frozen food display at a temperature of about -20 °C. When purchased by the purchaser, these temperature-

sensitive items are typically placed in a plastic or paper bag by the vendor, and transported to the

home of the purchaser. Of course, the items are not in a temperature-controlled environment so

that while the items are being transported home, the temperature of the items increases which can

cause the quality of the items to deteriorate. Indeed, in more temperate climates where temperatures are typically high, if the transport

period is long the quality of the item can be seriously and irreversibly deteriorated. In fact, if the frozen item is, for example, a frozen food, the thaw during the transport period may even pose a health risk to a consumer.

Other temperature-sensitive items, on the other hand, may require a warm temperature

(e.g., warmer than an ambient temperature). In this case, a vendor may store the items, for

example, in an oven. During the transport period the items are not in a temperature-controlled environment so that the temperature of the items steadily decreases. Again, if the transport

period is long, the quality of the items can be seriously and irreversibly deteriorated.

Similar issues are encountered with respect to a delivery of temperature-sensitive items, for example, items purchased by mail order or via the Internet. Most temperature-sensitive items sold, for example, in a retail store have bright colorful packages that make the item desirable to

the purchaser. However, temperature sensitive items sold by mail-order or via the Internet, do

not need to be so visually pleasing and can, therefore, be more practical and cost effective. However, temperature-sensitive items sold by mail-order or via the Internet must be delivered to the purchaser via a delivery truck directly from a warehouse or via a courier. In case of direct delivery, the transport vehicle (e.g., a delivery truck) must have some means of keeping

the items within a desirable temperature range during a transport period (e.g., a refrigerated

truck), which can severely increase the vendor's cost of the transport vehicle. Moreover, the

delivery person and the purchaser must coordinate a delivery time so the purchaser can place the

items, for example, in a refrigerator, freezer or oven or may, in the case of food, consume it before the quality of the item is deteriorated by a change in temperature. This coordination of the

delivery also results in additional vendor expense and inconvenience to both the vendor and the

purchaser. Where the temperature-sensitive items are frozen or chilled items, one solution has been to pack the items in dry ice during the transport period. However, this is very inconvenient and

costly to the vendor. Moreover, it does not address the needs of items needing to be maintained at a warm temperature.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION In view of the foregoing and other problems, disadvantages, and drawbacks of the conventional methods and structures, an object of the present invention is to provide a system and method for packaging and delivering a temperature-sensitive item.

The present invention includes an insulated package including a substantially rigid

container for containing a temperature-sensitive item, and a vacuum-sealed outer shell

surrounding the container. Further, a vacuum may be formed between the container and the outer shell to improve insulative qualities of the package. For example, the container may include a

polystyrene box and the outer shell may include a polyethylene bag. For instance, the insulated package may more than double a time it takes to increase a

surface temperature of the item from -25 °C to -1 °C. Specifically, the insulated package may

prevent an increase in a surface temperature of said item from -25°C to -1 °C for about 20 hours.

Further, the outer shell may include a reflective coating formed on an inside surface or outside surface of the outer shell. In addition, the substantially rigid container may include

polystyrene, polyethene or polypropylene. Further, the thickness of a wall of the substantially

rigid container may be, for example, in a range of V2 and % inches. Furthermore, a pressure

inside the package may be substantially less than 760 torr. The present invention also includes a system for packaging and delivering a temperature- sensitive item. The inventive system includes an insulated package including a substantially rigid container for containing the item, and a vacuum-sealed outer shell surrounding the

container. The system also includes an insulated drop box having a first transceiver, for storing the insulated package.

The system may also include an electronic tag associated with the insulated package, the

tag having a second transceiver for wirelessly communicating with the first transceiver on the

drop box. For example, the electronic tag may be affixed directly on the insulated package.

The inventive system may also include an access card, having a third transceiver, for wirelessly communicating with the first transceiver to allow access to the drop box. The system

may further include a dock to serve as a base for the drop box, and a lock mechanism for

securing the drop box to the dock. Further, the dock may include a temperature control unit for controlling a temperature inside the drop box. For instance, the drop box may include a port for connecting to the temperature control unit. The system may also include a transport container (e.g., an insulated transport container),

for transporting the package. In this case, the electronic tag may be affixed on the transport

container. For instance, the insulated transport container and the insulated drop box may be

interchangeable.

In addition, the drop box may further include a signaling device. Thus, the second

transceiver may wirelessly communicate with the first transceiver causing the signaling device to

be activated when the package is within a predetermined distance of the drop box.

The inventive system may also include a transport vehicle having a computer system with a fourth transceiver for wirelessly communicating with the electronic tag, and a loop antenna

connected to the fourth transceiver. The system may also include a global positioning system for

navigating the transport vehicle to a destination.

The present invention also includes a method for packaging and delivering a temperature-

sensitive item. The inventive method includes packaging the item in an insulative vacuum-

sealed package, associating the package with an electronic tag, transporting the package to a

destination having a temperature-controlled drop box, and depositing the package in the drop

box.

The present invention also includes a programmable storage medium tangibly embodying

a program of machine-readable instructions executable by a digital processing apparatus to

perform the inventive method for packaging and delivering a temperature-sensitive item.

With its unique and novel aspects, the present invention provides a system and method

for packaging and delivering a temperature-sensitive item which makes unattended home

delivery possible at a very low cost. In addition, the present invention keeps warm items warm

and cold items cold and eliminates the need for temperature-controlled (e.g., refrigerated)

transport vehicles, and makes it possible to use a drop box at the consumer's home or office for

unattended delivery. Further, it can be used by a vendor to prepare a temperature-sensitive item

to be transported by a purchaser from the vendor's place of business to the home or office of the

purchaser.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The foregoing and other purposes, aspects and advantages will be better understood from the following detailed description of a preferred embodiment of the invention with reference to the drawings, in which:

Figure 1 illustrates an inventive package 10 for packaging a temperature-sensitive item according to the present invention;

Figure 2 illustrates a system 100 for packaging and delivering a temperature-sensitive item according to the present invention;

Figure 3 illustrates a transport container for holding an insulated package to be delivered, according to the present invention;

Figure 4 illustrates an electronic tag used in the inventive system according to the present

invention;

Figure 5 illustrates the circuitry of the electronic tag used in the inventive system according to the present invention;

Figure 6 is a flow chart of communications in the inventive system according to the

present invention; Figure 7 illustrates an electronic tag temporarily affixed to a package as used in the

inventive system according to the present invention;

Figure 8 is a flow chart illustrating an inventive method for delivering a temperature-

sensitive item according to the present invention;

Figures 9A and 9B illustrate a drop box used in the inventive system and method

according to the present invention;

Figure 10 illustrates an electronic access card used in the inventive system and method

according to the present invention; Figure 11 A illustrates a switch and Figure 1 IB, illustrates a keypad which may be used on a drop box in the inventive system according to the present invention;

Figure 12 illustrates an insulated container and dock used in the inventive system according to the present invention; and

Figure 13 is a flow chart illustrating the inventive method for packaging and delivering a

temperature-sensitive item according to the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS Referring now to the drawings, Figure 1 illustrates an inventive package 10 for packaging

a temperature-sensitive item 50 according to the present invention.

It should be noted that the term "temperature-sensitive item" as used herein should be

understood to mean an item (e.g., a food item) which has a preferred storage temperature. For

instance, such an item may be adversely affected by any deviation (above or below) from the preferred storage temperature. For example, such an item may have a preferred storage

temperature of 25 °C and may be adversely affected by any deviation from this temperature. Generally, the inventors have developed an insulated package 10 (e.g., a frozen food package) that can be used to extend the time that a temperature-sensitive item can be out of a

temperature-controlled environment, for example, during a transport to the home of the

purchaser. For instance, for cold items, the present invention may allow the item to remain out

of the refrigerator or freezer for about 20 hours or more while preventing a surface temperature

of the item to go no higher than about -1 °C. Moreover, this claimed packaging and delivery system may have a lower cost to the vendor and may have a visually pleasing appearance making the item desirable to a purchaser.

Similarly, the present invention may allow the item to remain out of a temperature-

maintained environment for a long duration while preventing a surface temperature of the item to

go no lower than a certain (e.g., preferred) temperature. This may be helpful, for example, in a

cold climate where it is preferred that the item not go below a certain temperature (e.g., room temperature).

More specifically, as shown in Figure 1, the insulated package 10 includes a container 20

which may be fabricated of high density polymer (e.g., a high density polystyrene, polyethylene

or polypropylene) to encase (e.g., package) a temperature-sensitive item 50 (e.g., a plurality of temperature-sensitive items). The walls of the container 20 may be, for example, in a range of

about inch to 3Λ inch thick. For example, an item which has been maintained in a temperature-controlled environment (e.g., in a freezer or on a warehouse maintained at room

temperature (e.g., about 25 °C)), can be placed in the container 20 and, for example, returned to

the temperature-controlled environment.

For example, a frozen item can be stored in the container 20 in a freezer. When the

container is removed from the freezer, the container 20 may be used to maintain a temperature of a temperature-sensitive item below a certain (e.g., desired) temperature for many hours. For example, using the container 20, a frozen item may be removed safely from a -25 °C freezer and

stored at room temperature for approximately 8 hours, and never attain a surface temperature

over about -1 °C.

Moreover, as shown in Figure 1 , the package 10 may also include a vacuum-sealed outer shell 30 to reduce a pressure inside said package to sub-atmospheric pressure (e.g., less than 760 torr) and further enhance the insulative qualities of the package 10. The outer shell 30 may be formed, for example, of a thermoplastic material (e.g., polyethylene or polypropylene).

For instance, the container 20 (e.g., a polystyrene box) including the temperature-

sensitive item 50 (e.g., a frozen food) may be placed in the outer shell 30 (e.g., a polyethylene

bag). The container 20 may be airtight so that a vacuum may be pulled inside the outer shell 30

holding both the container 20 and the item, for example, forming a vacuum between the outer shell 30 and the container 20. The package 10 can thereby be made to have the insulative qualities of, for example, a high quality vacuum thermos.

Alternatively, the container 20 may be not airtight so that the vacuum is pulled inside the

container as well. Further, the vacuum may be pulled on the outer shell 30 by any conventional

vacuum processing devices. Further, the package 10 may be inexpensive and can be safely

recycled after use.

For example, the outer shell 30 may include a preformed port (e.g., a circular port) for easily inserting and removing a vacuum hose. Thus, after a vacuum is pulled inside the outer shell 30, the vacuum hose can be removed and the port easily sealed (e.g., by a thermal-seal,

screw-tight seal, etc.).

Specifically, the package may have the design of a cylinder, square or other design. In

addition, the range of volumes inside the package may be unlimited. For instance, the package may have a volume of 8 ft3 for an application requiring that amount of volume. In other words, a business may keep on hand packages 10 having various dimensions for use in particular

applications. Further, the inventive package 10 can be made to be disposable, so that a customer after opening the package can merely recycle the package.

Moreover, the insulated package 10 can substantially extend the amount of time during which a temperature-sensitive item can remain outside of a temperature-controlled environment. For example, the inventive package 10 can more than double the time it takes for a surface

temperature of a frozen item to reach -1 °C. For instance, experimentation has shown that a frozen item can be stored in the insulated package 10 outside of a freezer for about 20 hours

before attaining a surface temperature of about -1 °C.

Further, the outer shell 30 may include a reflective coating formed on the inside and/or on the outside of the outer shell 30. This reflective coating can further enhance the insulative

qualities of the inventive package 10. For instance, the reflective coating may include a

metallized (e.g., aluminized) surface coating bonded to the surface of the outer shell 30.

Alternatively, the outer shell 30 may be formed of a material having a reflective property.

Referring again to the drawings, Figure 2 illustrates an inventive system 100 for

packaging and delivering temperature-sensitive items according to the present invention. The

inventive system 100 is fully integrated and may facilitate sales (e.g., Internet sales) of

temperature-sensitive items which may require delivery (e.g., unattended) of such items.

Further, as shown in Figure 2, the inventive system 100 may also include an ordering device 105 (e.g., an Internet-based ordering device). Consumers may, for example, use such an

ordering device 105 (e.g., a personal computer connected to the Internet) to place orders quickly.

For example, with an Internet-based ordering device, a customer may view an image of the

temperature-sensitive item on a business website (e.g., the website of a retailer, distributor, or manufacturer), and place an order for the item directly over the Internet. Such orders from the ordering device 105 may be received, for example, at a distribution center 107 which distributes the items to fill the orders.

In addition, the inventive system 100 may select an optimum route for the driver, identify the correct items to be delivered at each destination, and verify that the items were actually

delivered. As shown in Figure 2, in the inventive system 100, the transport vehicle 150 used to

deliver the items may include a computer system 130 which wirelessly communicates with a base

station 120 to optimize a delivery route. The transport vehicle may also include a loop antenna

140 to facilitate a two way communication with the base station 120. Further, the computer

system 130 may include a global positioning system (GPS), to verify the location of the transport

vehicle.

The inventive system 100 may further include transport containers 200 (e.g., insulated

bags or totes) for containing the temperature-sensitive items in the insulated package 10 while being transported to a destination. As shown in more detail in Figure 3, the transport containers 200 may be made from materials such as canvas or nylon, and may include a support device 210

(e.g., a support strap) attached to the transport container 200 (e.g. at the top of the transport

container) for easily handling the transport container 200.

In the inventive system 100, the transport container 200 may be loaded with an insulated package 10 (e.g., a plurality of insulated packages), for example, at the distribution center 107.

The packages may then be transferred onto the transport vehicle 150 where the packages 10 are

sorted, for example, on shelves in the transport vehicle 150. The packages 10 may be placed on

the transport vehicle at a specific location or may be placed randomly on the transport vehicle.

Further, the location of a package 10 (e.g., location code) may determined so as to minimize driver time.

For example, the package's location on the transport vehicle may be determined based upon the route the transport vehicle must take to deliver all the packages 10. For example, the

packages 10 can be placed from left to right, front to back, upper to lower or lower to upper or in

any other order, according to such factors as the destination of the package 10 or the anticipated time of delivery. Further, packages 10 with the earliest delivery (i.e., closest destinations) may be located on the lower left side of the transport vehicle. The packages 10 may then proceed up

and right along the wall of the transport vehicle so that packages 10 having the latest deliveries

(i.e., closest destinations) would be located on the lower right side of the transport vehicle. Therefore, the driver may make a delivery knowing, for example, a package 10 located at a

particular location on the transport vehicle is to be delivered to a particular destination. On the

other hand, as explained below, the insulated packages 10 or transport container 200 in which the

packages 10 are contained, may include an electronic tag which generates a signal (e.g., a light or

audible signal) to alert the delivery person to the correct package 10 or transport container 200 he is to deliver.

Further, as shown in Figure 4, the inventive system 100 may further utilize small

electronic tags 210 (e.g., electronic modules). The electronic tag 210 may be located, for

example, in a small translucent pocket 220 on the transport container 200 or on the package 10.

The tag may include a signaling device (e.g., plurality of signaling devices) such as a red or green

light emitting diodes 320, a liquid crystal display 330 (LCD) for alphanumeric display, and

switches 340 (e.g., buttons) for controlling the electronic tag 210.

The electronic tag 210 may be used, for example, to help direct the placement of insulated packages 10 on the transport vehicle. For example, a package's proper location on the transport vehicle may be displayed on the LCD 330 so that it may be easily viewed, for example, by package handlers at the distribution center 107.

Figure 5 provides a more detailed description of the electronic tag 210. As shown in Figure 5, the electronic tag 210 additionally may include an inexpensive processor 320 (e.g., a

low powered four bit microprocessor), a memory device 330 (e.g., a random access memory

(RAM)) or other nonvolatile memory device for storing a unique identification number. The

identification number may be permanent, so that it can be changed only with a special program

and transmitter.

The electronic tag 210 may also contain a transceiver 350 (e.g., a two-way

communication chip) for allowing the electronic tag 210 to communicate with the base station 120. The two-way communications chip may be, for example, a low-cost CMOS analog digital chip. The two-way communications chip may be connected to orthogonal ferrite antennas 360

that are able to transmit and receive using low frequencies to the loop antenna which is wirelessly

connected to the base station.

Further, the electronic tag 210 may wirelessly communicate with the base station 120 via a bi-directional wireless link. The wireless link may include, for example, a low frequency

conductive loop requiring minimal power and allowing communication within a small area.

Further, the LCD 330 may be programmed to display both numeric as well as alphanumeric

information transmitted to the module via the base station 120. The circuitry may be solar

powered or powered, for example, by a battery 370 or other power source. Battery life using

conventional alkaline batteries is likely to exceed five years, and with AAA batteries the life maybe longer.

Further, the inventive system 100 may include several hardware and software

components. As shown in Figure 6, routing software 510 may be used to calculate an optimal

route based on the GPS coordinates of the address is where items are to be delivered. A global

positioning system 520 (GPS), may detect the location of a transport vehicle in real-time. A

mapping guidance system 530 may also be used to direct the driver to the correct address. This is

particularly important if the system is used for nighttime delivery when addresses and street signs

are not normally visible.

A database 540 holding the correct transport container 200 and the ID for the tag attached

to the container plus the GPS address may also be stored (e.g., in a database) on the computer

system 130 (as shown in Figure 2). The computer system 130 may also include, for example, a

display 545 (e.g., a laptop computer with a flat-panel display) which is temporarily located near

the delivery driver in the transport vehicle. The computer 130 may include a transceiver 550

connected to the loop antenna 140 for wirelessly communicating with the base station 120.

The base station 120 similarly may include a transceiver allowing it to wirelessly

communicate (e.g., through the loop antenna 140) with all of the electronic tags 210 in the

inventive system 100 by the unique ID number of the tags. Thus, the inventive system 100 can

activate a signaling device (e.g., an LED) on a particular transport container 200 or insulated

package 10 when the delivery driver arrives at the destination for that particular insulated

package 10.

In addition, the base station 120 may poll all of the electronic tags 210 in the inventive

system 210 (e.g., using the loop antenna 140) in search of a particular electronic tag 210 and in communicate only with that particular tag. Thus, the base station 120 is capable of placing specific information on the display 330, activating/deactivating the signaling device (e.g., flashing the light emitting diodes 320), selectively activating each electronic tag 210 included on a package 10 or on a transport container 200 (e.g., on the transport vehicle).

The inventive system 100 may also determine an optimal route for the transport vehicle.

An optimal route may be used, for example, to minimize time or distances traveled by the

transport vehicle. The optimal route may be determined, for example, using a GPS system and

the coordinates or addresses of each package's destination. The optimal route may be, for example, input into the computer system 130 which may also be located on the transport vehicle. The ID numbers of the electronic tags 210 can also be loaded into the computer system 130. The

GPS system can also be used to guide the transport vehicle to a package's destination via a map,

or other conventional routing software.

Thus, when the transport vehicle arrives at a package destination, the computer system 130 can alert the driver, for example, audibly or by displaying a text message on the computer system display 545. The message to the driver may include, for example, the destination address,

the number of packages 10 to be delivered, and the package's location on the transport vehicle.

In addition, the computer system 130 may cause the electronic tag 210, for example, on the transport container 200 in which the insulated package is located, to be activated (e.g., using the

loop antenna 140) so as to facilitate locating the insulated package 10 by the driver. For

example, the signaling devices (e.g., light emitting diodes) on the electronic tag 210 may be

activated so that the driver can easily locate the package 10.

Therefore, the driver need only locate the package or container emitting a signal (e.g., a flashing light) from an electronic tag, remove the package 10 (e.g., from the container 200) and

deliver it to its destination. The driver may also activate the switch 340 (e.g., a button) on the

electronic tag 210 to indicate that the package 10 has been properly delivered to its destination. In addition, if for some reason the package 10 could not be delivered, the driver may place the package 10 back in the transport vehicle 150 (e.g., in the transport container 200) and activate a

switch (e.g., on the electronic tag 210) to indicate that delivery was attempted but unsuccessful.

Further, additional information can be displayed on the LCD 330 of the electronic tag 210

at different times. For example, after the transport container 200 is loaded on the transport

vehicle, the number of packages 10 contained in the transport container 200 can be displayed so the driver can periodically check the contents of each transport container 200.

Furthermore, when the transport container 200 is empty, the driver may deactivate the

electronic tag 210 using an activation switch 340 (e.g., a button) on the electronic tag 210. The

electronic tag 210 may also be automatically deactivated, for example, by placing the transport

container 200 and/or the electronic tag 210 at a particular location on the transport vehicle. In

addition, the computer system 130 may wirelessly communicate with the electronic tag 210 in

order to detect that the transport container 200 is no longer in use.

The container 200 used by the inventive system may include, for example, a tote. In this case, the electronic tag may be located, for example, on the front of the tote. In addition, a

simple, inexpensive electronic tag may contain a single LED to facilitate locating the package

(e.g., insulated package) by the delivery driver.

Further, as shown in Figure 7, a small electronic tag 601 may be placed, for example, not on the transport container 200 but instead, directly on the insulated package 10. In this case, the driver may remove the tag 601 as the insulated package 10 is delivered to its destination, and place the tag in a special bin located, for example, in the transport vehicle. Further, the electronic tag 601 may be placed on the package using an adhesive pouch 610 having a plastic window. The tag 601 might be very flat like a credit card with only a single lightning diode 620, and a

small switch 630 (e.g., button) and in all other respects is the same as the electronic tag 210 in

Figures 4 and 5. The switch 630 may be used for confirming delivery of the package to its

destination or alternatively to allow the tag 601 to be used as an access card to open an electronic

drop box (e.g., an insulated drop box) at the package's destination.

For example, the driver may activate the switch 630 (e.g, push a button) on the tag to gain

access to a drop box located at the package's destination (as discussed below). The tag 210 on

the package wirelessly communicates with the drop box causing the drop box to open. After the

driver places the insulated package 10 in the drop box, the tag 210 may be removed and placed in a bin located, for example, on the transport vehicle. In addition, the driver may deactivate the tag

210 to indicate that the tag 210 is no longer in use and/or that the package 605 was properly

delivered, using the switch 630 on the electronic tag 210. Further, the tag may include a memory

which records, for example, the date and time that the tag was used to open the drop box. For example, Figure 8 is a flow diagram illustrating a method 700 for delivering a

package according to one aspect of the present invention. As shown in Figure 8, the method 700

may include inputting (710) a delivery address to the computer system to determine an optimum

delivery route, placing (720) a package (e.g., an insulated package) in a container having an electronic tag, placing (730) the container on a transport vehicle, and activating (740) a signaling device on the electronic tag associated with a package (e.g., the electronic tag on the container holding the package) when the transport vehicle arrives at the package's destination.

In addition, as shown in Figure 9 A, the inventive system 100 may include an insulated drop box 800. The space inside the insulated drop box may range, for example, from between

about 1 cubic foot to 30 cubic feet. The temperature inside the box 800 may be controlled to between about 35 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. As shown in Figure 9A, the insulated drop box may be formed of a variety of materials, such as plastic or metal, and should have good insulative

properties. The lid of the box should have a tight seal. In particular, the insulative properties

should be sufficient to ensure little energy is required to maintain a temperature inside the

insulated drop box 800 within a desirable range. For example, the walls may be formed of a

single layer of a conventional insulative material having a sufficient thickness and density to

provide the desired insulative features. Alternatively, the box 800 may be double-walled and

have insulative material (e.g., a conventional insulative material) therebetween.

In addition, the insulated drop box 800 could include a humidity control feature to

regulate the amount of moisture inside the box 800. For example, the humidity inside the box

800 may be controlled so as to remain below 50% relative humidity. To regulate humidity, the

box 800 may include a conventional humidity measuring device (e.g., a hygrometer) and a

dessicant material (e.g., a conventional dessicant) to remove moisture from the air inside the box 800. Alternatively, the box 800 may include a more extensive humidity control device which

may involve air exchanges such as with conventional heating, ventilation and air conditioning

(HVAC) systems. Such air exchanges may be desirable, for example, to inhibit the growth of

mold or mildew inside the box 800.

In addition, the box 800 may include a switch to activate and deactivate the temperature control and/or humidity control features. Further, the box 800 may have an switch to regulate the temperature and humidity inside the box 800 within desirable ranges. Such switches may be

located, for example, on an inside wall of the box. The switches may also be remotely located

inside a home or business such as, for example, a home or business which is serviced by the insulated drop box 800.

In addition, as shown in Figure 9B, the drop box 800 may include, for example, a

processor 825 (e.g., a fixed programmed four bit microprocessor), a memory device 830 (e.g.,

random access memory (RAM)) and a power source 835 (e.g., a lithium battery). The drop box

800 may also include a transceiver 840 (e.g., a custom two-way communication analog chip) and an antenna 845 to transmit and receive data over a short range link. As mentioned above, the

power source 835 (e.g., battery) should have a long service life (e.g., over five years) over many

(e.g., several thousand) transactions.

Further, the insulated drop box 800 may also optionally include a signaling device 855

(e.g., light-emitting device(s) such as one or two light emitting diodes) that can be optionally

used to identify a correct package when a delivery driver arrives (e.g., when a package is located within a certain distance of the drop box). In addition, as shown in Figure 9B, the antenna 845 in the drop box 800 may include a larger loop antenna for improved two-way communication.

The drop box 800 may further include a lock mechanism 860 having, for example, a low

powered motor and a screw that can move a rod forward to lock the lid of the box 800 and

rearward to unlock the box 800. Obviously, as would be known by one of ordinary skill in the

art taking the present application as a whole, other lid-locking mechanisms could be employed. The box 800 may also have a switch 870 (e.g., a button) to control an operation of the box 800. Further, when the lid is closed, the processor in the drop box 800 may automatically cause the lock mechanism 860 to lock to prevent an entry to the box 800.

As explained above, orders may be transmitted to a distribution center 107 where temperature-sensitive items are loaded onto a transport vehicle. The transport vehicles, for example, may deliver the orders to the specially designed insulated drop-box 800 between about

10:00 pm and 6:00 am when traffic is minimal. Each transport vehicle may be equipped with

Global Positioning System guidance that guides the vehicle to the boxes using an optimal route,

as well as a wireless communication system that activates a signaling device (e.g., a light

emitting diode) on the transport container 200 which contains the correct order as the driver

approaches the destination. The navigation system tells the driver where to stop. The driver may

then select the corresponding transport container 200 or package 10 on which the signaling

device is activated and deliver the container 200 or the insulated package 10 to the insulated drop

box 800.

In addition, as shown in Figure 9A, the insulated drop box 800 may include a signaling

device 805 (e.g., an LED) which may be activated to signal to the driver where the package 10 is to be delivered. The box 800 may also include a switch 815 (e.g., a button) located, for example,

on the outside of the box to activate and deactivate the security features of the box 800. The box

800 may also be secured to a dock 850 which may be used, for example, to lock the box 800 in a

stationary position and provide other features to the box 800 as explained below.

The driver may open the lid 820 of box 800, remove the temperature-sensitive goods (i.e.,

the items ordered) from the container (e.g., insulated container) 200 and place them in the

insulated drop box 800. The insulated packaging and/or the environment control devices (e.g., temperature and humidity control devices) on the insulated drop box 800 may help to ensure that regardless of the environmental conditions outside the box 800, the contents of the drop box 800

are stored at a temperature which will maintain a desirable temperature of said temperature- sensitive item for a predetermined period of time. As shown in Figure 10, the inventive system 100 may also include an access card 900 for

accessing the drop box 800. For instance, instead of using the electronic tag 210 on the package

10 or container 200 to access the drop box, the delivery person may use the access card 900. Similarly, after the item has been delivered the drop box 800, the customer (e.g., home or business owner) may open the drop box 800 and remove the package using the access card 900. It is important to note that the database in the transport vehicle and the route may be

based upon the GPS coordinates of the insulated drop box 800. This makes it possible for the

driver to locate the box 800 via a route based system even during the night when it is not possible

to see addresses or street signs. This combination of a lockable insulated drop box 800 and GPS coordinates of the box 800 used as the destination makes it possible to do night time deliveries to the box 800 and further reduce costs. Costs are reduced because of reduced traffic and the ability

to park almost anywhere, with the added advantage of not requiring signatures or human

interaction to successfully make a delivery. Thus, it is possible to do three to four times the

number of deliveries using this system than with conventional delivery systems.

Further, as shown in Figure 10, the access card 900 which allows access to the insulated

drop box 800 may include a short range wireless link to control a lock mechanism (e.g., a battery

operated lock mechanism) contained in the drop box 800. The access card 900 may include an

inexpensive processor 920 (e.g., a low powered four bit microprocessor), a memory device 930 (e.g., a random access memory (RAM)) or other nonvolatile memory device for storing a unique identification number. The identification number may be permanent, so that it can be changed

only with a special program and transmitter. The access card 900 may also contain a switch 975 (e.g., a button) to control an operation of the access card 900.

The access card 900 may also contain a transceiver 950 (e.g., a two-way communication

chip) for allowing the access card 900 to communicate with the drop box 800 and other devices

in the inventive system 100 (e.g., the base station 120). The two-way communications chip may be, for example, a low-cost CMOS analog digital chip. The two-way communications chip may be connected to orthogonal ferrite antennas 960 that are able to transmit and receive using low

frequencies to the loop antenna connected to the base station. Further, the access card 900 may

wirelessly communicate with other devices via a bi-directional wireless link. The wireless link

may include, for example, a low frequency conductive loop requiring minimal power and allowing communication within a small area.

Further, the access card may include a display device 970 (e.g., a light emitting diode

(LED) display) which may be programmed to display both numeric as well as alphanumeric

information transmitted to the access card 900. The circuitry may be solar powered or powered, for example, by a battery 980 or other power source. Battery life using conventional alkaline batteries is likely to exceed five years, and with AAA batteries the life maybe longer.

As mentioned above, a record of opening and closing times can be kept in the memory

device included in the drop box 800 so that when the driver opens the box 800 to place an order

he can "harvest" this information. Further, as shown in Figure 11 A, the drop box 800 or the

access card 900 may include a single button 975 and one or two display devices 970 (e.g., light emitting diodes) to indicate the status of the box 800.

Alternatively, as shown in Figure 1 IB, the box 800 or access card 900 may have a small keypad 1000 to enter in a Personal Identification Number (PIN). The keypad 1000 would allow

the driver to program the security level of the access to the box 800 when placing an order using

the keypad on either the access card 900 or drop box 800. For instance, if it is a high security item, the box 800 could open only with a one time use PIN. For lower security, a standard PIN known by the customer may be used, and for low security items the driver may not enter a PIN. The access card 900 having a keypad 1000 could also be used by third party couriers, so that each

driver might have a PIN. This would make it possible to change the program of the box 800 to

disallow the use of a particular PIN, for example, if a driver left the delivery company. In addition, the PIN and keypad 1000 may be used to monitor who accesses the drop box 800.

As mentioned above, the inventive system 100 can be used to effectively package and deliver items such as temperature-sensitive items. Further, as shown in Figure 12, the container

200 (e.g., transport container) can be made to have a design similar to the insulated drop box

800. In addition, as explained above, the insulated transport container 200 may have a electronic

tag 210 and packed directly on the transport vehicle, then removed from the transport vehicle and placed on the dock 1120 located at the package's destination. This may further help to eliminate

the need for a refrigerated truck.

Specifically, the transport container 200 may be placed, for example, on the dock 1120 which may have the same features as the dock on which the insulated drop box 800 may be

stored. Further, the container 200 may be designed to interface with the dock 1120 in the same

manner as the drop box 800 so that the insulated drop box 800 and the transport container 200 may be coni dered nterchangeable. Further, the dock l 120 may be fabr cated of heavy concrete and have a lock ng mechan im 1130 that makei t eaiy to place the traniport conta ner 200 or box 800 on the dock 1120 iecurely.

Therefore, the del very perion may del ver the niulated packagei 10 to the deit nat on and remove the packagei 10 from the traniport conta ner 200 and place the packagei 10 n the

niulated drop box 800. Alternat vely, when there ex iti a dock but not a drop box 800 at a

deit nat on addreii, the dr ver may i mply del ver the traniport conta ner 200 to the deit nat on addreii and iecure t to the dock 1120.

L ke the niulated drop box 800, the cuitomer may open the niulated traniport conta ner 200 w th an acceii card i m lar to that deicr bed above and remove the del vered goodi. The

dr ver may return at a later date, open the box w th h i acceii card 900 and unlock the niulated

traniport conta ner 200 from the dock by releai ng the lock mechan im 1130 from ni de the niulated traniport conta ner 200.

Further, the lock mechan im 1130 on the dock 1120 may nteract w th the lock mechan im 860 on the drop box 800 ai expla ned above, to iecure the drop box 800 or traniport

conta ner 200 to the dock. For nitance, the lock mechan im 1130 m ght have a dei gn i m lar to

a hydraul c qu ck releaie coupl ng uied to connect hydraul c 1 nei on heavy equ pment. For

nitance, the lock mechan im 1 130 on the dock may nclude a male port on of the coupl ng, and

the lock mechan im 860 n the drop box 800 or traniport conta ner 200 may nclude the female

port on of the coupl ng (or v ce veria).

Thui, when the box 800 or traniport conta ner 200 i poi t oned on the dock 1 120 and

engaged (e.g., puihed down) both lock mechan imi 860, 1130 may be act vated. The uier may, for example, open the box 800 or transport container 200 and pull back the collar on the coupling to thereby release the drop box or container from the dock.

In addition, the dock 1120 may also be used to house devices for providing the

temperature and humidity control features discussed above. In other words, the insulated drop box 800 or transport container 200 may be devoid of any active temperature or humidity control devices, but may include ports or ducts which interface securely to the dock 1120 when the box 800 or transport container 200 is secured to the dock. This would allow, for example, heated,

chilled or conditioned air to be generated outside the box 800 or transport container 200 and fed

into the box 800 or transport container 200, for example, through a valve (e.g., control valve) to

help maintain a desirable temperature and/or humidity. This conditioned air could be generated,

for example, using a peltier device contained in the dock or alternatively be remotely generated by a system in a house or business and attached to the dock 1120, for example, via an insulated

conduit (e.g., hose).

In addition, as shown in Figure 12, the present invention includes an inventive method

1200 for packaging and delivering a temperature-sensitive item. As shown in Figure 12, the

inventive method 1200 includes packaging (1210) the temperature-sensitive item in an insulative

vacuum-sealed package and associating (1220) the package with an electronic tag. In addition,

the method 1200 includes transporting (1230) the item to a destination having an insulated drop

box and depositing (1240) the package in the insulated drop box. The inventive method 1200

may also include placing the insulated package in a transport container having an electronic tag

With its unique and novel aspects, the present invention provides a system and method

for packaging and delivering a temperature-sensitive item which makes unattended home delivery possible at a very low cost. In addition, the present invention keeps warm items warm

and cold items cold and eliminates the need for temperature controlled (e.g., refrigerated) transport vehicles, and makes it possible to use a drop box at the consumer's home or office for

unattended delivery. Further, it can be used by a vendor to prepare a temperature-sensitive item to be transported by a purchaser from the vendor's place of business to the home or office of the purchaser.

While a preferred embodiment of the present invention has been described above, it

should be understood that it has been provided as an example only. Thus, those skilled in the art

will recognize that the invention can be practiced with modification within the spirit and scope of

the appended claims.

Claims

CLAIMS What we claim is:
1. An insulated package, comprising:
a substantially rigid container for containing a temperature-sensitive item; and a vacuum-sealed outer shell surrounding said container.
2. The insulated package according to claim 1, wherein a vacuum is formed between said
container and said outer shell.
3. The insulated package according to claim 1 , wherein said container comprises a
polystyrene box, and wherein said outer shell comprises a polyethylene bag.
4. The insulated package according to claim 1 , wherein said insulated package more than
doubles a time it takes to increase a surface temperature of said item from -25 °C to -1 °C.
5. The insulated package according to claim 1 , wherein said insulated package prevents an
increase in a surface temperature of said item from -25 °C to -1 °C for about 20 hours.
6. The insulated package according to claim 1 , wherein said outer shell comprises a
reflective coating formed on one of an inside surface and outside surface of the outer shell.
7. A system for packaging and delivering a temperature-sensitive item comprising: an insulated package, comprising:
a substantially rigid container for containing said item; and a vacuum-sealed outer shell surrounding said container; and
an insulated drop box comprising a first transceiver, for storing said insulated package.
8. The system according to claim 7, further comprising:
an electronic tag associated with said insulated package, said tag comprising a second
transceiver for wirelessly communicating with said first transceiver.
9. The system according to claim 7, further comprising:
an access card, comprising a third transceiver, for wirelessly communicating with said first transceiver to access said drop box.
10. The system according to claim 7, further comprising: a dock to serve as a base for said drop box.
11. The system according to claim 8, further comprising:
a transport container for transporting said package, wherein said electronic tag is affixed
on said transport container.
12. The system according to claim 11, wherein said transport container comprises an
insulated transport container.
13. The system according to claim 8, wherein said, electronic tag is affixed on said insulated package.
14. The system according to claim 10, further comprising: a lock mechanism for securing said drop box to said dock.
15. The system according to claim 12, wherein said insulated transport container and said insulated drop box are interchangeable.
16. The system according to claim 11 , wherein said drop box further comprises a signaling
device and wherein said second transceiver wirelessly communicates with said first transceiver
causing said signaling device to be activated when said package is within a predetermined
distance of said drop box.
17. The system according to claim 4, further comprising:
a transport vehicle comprising:
a computer system comprising a fourth transceiver for wirelessly communicating
with said electronic tag; and a loop antenna connected to said fourth transceiver.
18. The system according to claim 17, further comprising:
a global positioning system for navigating said transport vehicle to a destination.
19. The system according to claim 10, wherein said dock comprises a temperature control unit for controlling a temperature inside said drop box, and
wherein said drop box comprises a port for connecting to said temperature control unit.
20. A method for packaging and delivering a temperature-sensitive item comprising:
packaging said item in an insulative vacuum-sealed package;
associating said package with an electronic tag;
transporting said package to a destination having a temperature-controlled drop box; and
depositing said package in said drop box.
21. The insulated package according to claim 1 , wherein said substantially rigid container
comprises one of polystyrene, polyethene and polypropylene.
22. The insulated package according to claim 1 , wherein a thickness of a wall of said
substantially rigid container is in a range of ' > and V* inches.
23. The insulated package according to claim 1 , wherein a pressure inside said package is
substantially less than 760 torr.
24. A programmable storage medium tangibly embodying a program of machine-readable
instructions executable by a digital processing apparatus to perform a method for packaging and
delivering a temperature-sensitive item, said method comprising: packaging said item in an insulative vacuum-sealed package; associating said package with an electronic tag; transporting said package to a destination having a temperature-controlled drop box; and
depositing said package in said drop box.
PCT/US2002/019637 2001-06-22 2002-06-21 System and method for packaging and delivering a temperature-sensitive item WO2003000568A1 (en)

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US60/299,727 2001-06-22

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