It was a Saturday morning back in 2005, standing in a long queue at Royal Mail’s sorting office, a crumpled “Sorry We Missed You” card in hand, when Rob McAlister thought there’s got to be a better way!
Over the coming weeks and months he asked around - friends and relatives all agreed it was a problem. Research into the growth of internet shopping convinced him that it was a growing problem. A quick look at existing products convinced him that there was a need for a proper solution.
He started to apply himself to the problem. Some sort of secure home delivery box was needed. The use of keys and mechanical locks was quickly dismissed as logistically not feasible. An electronic locking system with PIN number controlled access seemed obvious. But this would have to be low voltage battery powered if the product was to avoid the need to have a qualified electrician for installation. The electronics would need to be suitable for outdoor use, capable of resisting the extremes of weather and temperature. Rob tried to think of examples of low voltage battery powered products with LCD display and keypad – but could think of none. He recognised then that this was going to be a significant challenge.
With his logistics background he also knew that in order for any solution to be universally accepted and endorsed by the different parcel carriers it would have to be secure and somehow provide them with satisfactory proof that they had delivered the parcel. His early discussions with some of the carriers confirmed this. They would not generally leave the goods unless they could receive a signature. He considered the use of a unique number or barcode to be left on the inside of the box but realised this could never be considered as satisfactory proof because as soon as the first delivery took place it would be in the public domain and could be passed on from one person to another. He considered a system whereby the owner of the box would print out a different barcode or unique number and leave it inside the box for each delivery but dismissed this as impractical and logistically complex for the owner to have to manage.
The idea came to him that what was needed was a Proof Of Delivery (POD) code to be generated by a sophisticated algorithm which would generate a different code for each delivery and yet which could be decrypted if required to reveal a unique identifier which could be used to help track the delivery to a particular address – something which could be used as real proof. Eventually after several months of trying the company developed an algorithm which would generate a code, which would also contain within it a date and time stamp and because it used 9 alpha numeric characters the chances of any two codes being generated identically were billions to one.
In June 2006 the company produced a very basic first stage prototype adapting the technology used in the manufacture of safes used commonly in hotel rooms. The prototype was installed outside Rob’s own house and testing was carried out to observe the reaction of parcel delivery companies making deliveries to it. The testing went well and the company was encouraged to continue, although the first prototype was found to have many failings. It was too heavy and suffered from water ingress and corrosion of the electronics. The software also needed substantial further development.
From 2006 to 2008 the company started formulating a range of different concepts. A patent was applied for based on an access control system using PIN number access and the issue of POD signature code. The name PINPOD was born. In 2009 a patent was successfully attained.
The company spent several years exploring the possible use of plastic to reduce weight and enable a more stylish end product. CAD drawings were created of many different designs, some of which were modelled and created as prototypes. During this time it became evident that additional funding would be needed to take the project forwards and investment was secured to that end.
From 2009 to 2012 the company engaged the support of a number of specialist product design companies, consultant engineers, software designers and electronics design companies to move the project forwards. The company also contacted and gained assistance from Cranfield University.
In 2013 a breakthrough was achieved in the design of the electronic locking system enabling a multipoint locking capability with a manual override lock. Design also shifted back towards the use of metal rather than plastic.
In early 2014 the decision was taken to move forwards initially with a small wall-mounted unit and also a large floor-standing unit. Consideration to the logistics of shipping the eventual product led to the decision to redesign and create the floor-mounted unit as a self-assembly flat pack design. The design of the website and back office database was also initiated.
In the Summer of 2014 prototypes of the final version of the PinPod secure parcel delivery box were ordered from various manufacturers and these were used for testing – in particular environmental testing. The product was tested successfully in simulated extreme temperature and weather conditions.
Towards the end of July and into August 2014 the company moved to full production.
In December 2014 the PinPod secure parcel delivery box became available for sale.