A new item to automate... the mailbox!

#1

I was just recently (Christmas Morning) taken advantage of by a mail thief. I went out to open the gate at the road and found my mailbox open. I didn’t even know a package had been delivered as Amazon’s delivery schedule was a broad week long window. The thief got lucky and found a package in my box. Fortunately, it was only a package of aftermarket inkjet cartridges worth a piddly $50 and Amazon is great about replacing packages that get stolen. However, that is only good with Amazon packages. I decided that has to stop. I am pondering how to make my mailbox a little bit safer.

I am thinking about 2 things: Securing the box once something ha been put in and notification in more than one way that the box has been opened. The first part is pretty easy. I have mains power 10 feet from my box so I could do pretty much anything I wanted electrically wise to secure it… from a hard latch that holds under power to a magnet latch that grabs the door. I can run power out and up the center of the pole and make stuff happen. The notification part I want two fold. I want it to turn a small LED on the fence, either just in a random place that makes sense to me or on the post that the gate latch is on. That LED will reset when I acknowledge and unlock the box to retrieve my mail (OR review my footage to see who the ass-hat was that was checking my box for goodies). The second part is that I want the system to notify me either via email or via text that mail has been delivered (or that the door was opened by a would-be thief). The system will need to be unlocked remotely, even on a set timer, so that it will not inhibit the mail carrier from getting in to deposit mail and packages. I figure to add a remote unlock as well so I can push a button on my phone to reset the lock while on my home network IP.

I was pondering using a typical secure mail box design and customizing it to add the doodadds for automation so that it looks just like any other security box but in a larger format for bigger packages. I live in a rural area and people do all sorts of weird crap for mailboxes so mine won’t stick out too bad or cheese off the mail carriers for not using “approved” postal boxes.

Now if I could just fgure out how to make it legal to spray liquified dog crap all over the thief, I would be patenting that design.

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#2

I was just thinking about the same thing. I haven’t been hit in awhile, mostly since I am retired and home most of the time. But, it’s just a mater of time before I get nailed by some ass-hat porch thief, especially since I often order things from Banggood , Aliexpress & Amazon.

I have a rather large porch so I plan to attach a secure delivery box to the wall near the door. The box will have an “open once” lid, with a secure electric lock. It’s unlikely that I would get more than one package from two or more carriers in the same day so having the box lock after one opening shouldn’t be a problem. Since I have an RFID controller on my front door, using that system to lock and unlock the box makes sense. It would be easy to control the electric lock. I could also remotely open the box if needed. I can also send a text message notification, using a micro switch on the lid, to notify me if the delivery has been made or a second attempt was made to open the box. All RFID controllers have a tamper switch or a door opened sensor switch. Additionally, the RFID controller software can access a security system and turn on a camera to give me a look see at the intruder, all in real time, if I’m there or not.

I already plan on installing a proximity sensor on my porch to turn on the light, activate the security camera and notify me that someone is at my door, I will probably use the sensor circuit for secondary security for the delivery box since it is already connected to the house control center. If I also put a switch on my regular mail drop access door, this will alert me, when I’m home, that a package has arrived or that the mailman has come.

To insure use of the box, you could put up a sign with instruction for package delivery when expecting a package. I have a metal door so a magnetic sign is easy to put on the door or just have a permanent sign beside the door. Also, a lot of the postal websites USPS, UPS etc. let you leave special instructions for package deliveries if you create an account. As to standard mail, I have a mail drop installed in the wall beside my front door so if someone is determined to steal my bills, they would have to have very small articulated arms to reach inside the mail chute. Only large packages need to be put into the secure delivery box. Besides, if they want to steal my bills, be my guest.

The thing to remember about my design is that it uses existing systems so the only extra parts needed are a reasonably robust box with an electronic lock and a bit of additional wiring. If you are building your own smart home and you have not included an RFID door access system, here is another reason to rethink that decision. If you would like more information about RFID control systems,keypads and readers, let me know and I will post some additional information on what hardware I decided on for my installation. All together I spent about $200 on hardware for a 5 door system for my house and shop.

MisterFixIt1952

#3

I would definitely be interested in what hardware you have chosen for your project. I have not done anything with the home access system yet and RFID is on my list when I get to it. That could easily be integrated with the mailbox access controls. My gate and home are around 1000’ apart but the entire distance is either wired or long range wifi connected. I have an access point at the front gate and 3 others spread throughout the property. With the way packages are delivered, or not delivered to rural neighborhoods here, I am pondering actually making a mailbox/package vault combo or even building a package vault into the fence that works like you are planning. The mailbox would be secured but the package vault would be as well and it would be clearly marked as a package delivery receptacle. The typical delivery option is thus: If it’s postal and during the week, the mail carrier will drive it to the house if it won’t fit in the mailbox. If its postal and on the weekend, the carrier puts it in a clear plastic bag and leaves it next to the gate, whether it’s open or not. If it is fedex or UPS, it is a crapshoot and it might be delivered to the door or it might be in a plastic bag. Or it might just be left in the rain unprotected. Dumb. The vault would solve all of that. Everyone could use it.

I have decided that I am going to take my aggression out on the thieves. I have cats and LOTS of litter box filler… the dirty stuff of course. I am going to take a few of the Amazon boxes I have and fill them with used litter and a note that tells the thief they got the "s$%#t they deserved and that they were recorded on camera, which is all true. I will put one in a clear plastic bag from one of the deliveries I have already received and prop it up next to the gate and wait for someone to steal it. Then I will replace it with another one. That game can go on forever as I won’t have a shortage of boxes or cat crap. If it makes them mad and they return it, I will have them on camera a second time dumping their trash on my property. LOL

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#4

just google for “packages mailbox” there are plenty of solutions availible.
they place the packages in the top compartment and when they close the lid the package will drop to the lover compartment.

the only tweak i would like to make is a notifier when a packages is delivered.
and of course point a CCTV to the mailbox for proof of (non) delivery

#5

I have looked at a lot of them. I like what DVault sells but I can fabricate a Fort Knox-worthy level of box for quite a bit less than they are selling theirs for AND add the automation items I want in my vault. The actual mailbox piece is not a big deal as my box is already sturdy enough to do what I need it to do with a few add-ons.

#6

You’re my new hero. What a devious and clever mind you have.
Reminds me of a time working with a developmentally delayed adult who we took on an outing when he soiled himself so badly that we had to change him in a public toilet. We placed the offending clothing and cleaning cloths etc in a plastic bag inside a woven shoulder bag. As we emerged from the toilet a skateboarding bag snatcher grabbed his spoils on the run so to speak.
Oh that we could have seen the look on his face when he opened his I’ll gotten booty.
Sorry to ramble on so.

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#7

Since Amazon has basically abandoned the postal service here in my area for an Uber style delivery type network, we now get anybody they send and it’s NEVER the same person. I have now had packages left on the porch, at the camp trailer, on the hood of my truck half way between the two and in the rain at the gate. Sheesk. This project has moved it’s way up the priority list by a mile. I have decided how I am going to do it.

The box for the project is going to be WAY overkill.


I have a set of 12v linear actuators that will be WAY overkill as well. Going to use one to push a bar that has metal hooks on each end that engage the stock latch arms in the box. I figured out how to install that with a “oh crap!” release so that if the power goes out or some component fails and the danged thing is locked shut, you can just run a couple bolts out and the latch arm will fall off inside freeing the lid. This thing will literally be a vault. Nobody is going to take the time to try and get in. If they do, I will have some serious camera footage to share with the world! I will do a build video of it once I get it done. Will be bolted to a concrete pad just inside the gate and I will put a sign on the fence that instructs delivery people where to put packages.

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#8

Wow, that’s really taking it seriously! I can’t wait to see the result of this.

About 17 years ago I put a sensor in my letterbox so it would send me notifications as text messages (using a hacked Nokia mobile phone controlled by Gnokii software and a serial connection) but I didn’t try to put any physical security in place. I just wanted to know when the mail had arrived.

I’ve been planning to do an episode about it, because I’ve since replaced the front gate and letterbox, so I need to install a new notification system. I also backed the Package Guard project on Kickstarter way back in 2016, but that seems to have gone off the rails so I was thinking about making my own. Deliveries are made to our front door in a spot that’s out of sight from the street, and I have a camera pointing straight at the front door with motion detection enabled, so I’d know if anyone stole a package. My plan is just to put a pressure-sensitive mat beside the door with a sign that says “place packages here”. When something is put on it, I’m notified. If the object is later removed without me disarming it, an alarm goes off. Just like Package Guard, basically.

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#9

I have started it. The box has been purchased, the pad is poured and the design is sorted out. Now all I need is to figure out how to program the ESP32 to make it all happen. No idea there but that is why we do all this stuff… to learn. Gotta love the internet…

Part one of the video series:
Building the package vault, part one

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#10

This is great! I’d like to do a blog post linking to the video, but it’s currently unlisted. Do you mind if I link to it, or would you prefer to keep it semi-secret?

#11

I don’t have a problem with you linking to it. I will go ahead and make it public once I get home this evening. I pretty much keep my videos unlisted on the idea that the stuff I make isn’t for general consumption but as long as it has use for other people, I have no problem with it being out in the wild. Link away.

#13

Next step…

Add a numeric keypad & set up passcodes for specific delivery services.

Then, when you start going nuts ordering stuff one day, UPS, the postal service or whatever trusted courier you like can add to the content of the box even if it’s been tripped already.

#14


That’s on my list for sure! Also… set up combinations for the gate as well through the same controller! Different functions for different things all through the same keypad.

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#15

I love the idea of using the large metal work box… I also have theft issues occasionally & am definitely going to clone this project… although I’ll probably use an old electric trunk pull-down latch & loop (old Firebird/Camaro/Trans-am model) for the lock since I have them on hand and they come provisioned for open/closed sensing, electric unlock, and an automatic light… love the idea!!! I’m honestly running out of stuff I can think of to automate and this is deffinitely one I missed!!!

#16

The trunk latch was one of the many ideas I had. I opted to use the existing setup with modifications mostly because I don’t have the tools available here to install new parts the way I wanted… welded as opposed to bolts that may be exposed. I definitely think the trunk latch is one of the most secure was to do it though. You don’t just pry a trunk lid open. I pondered doing a trunk latch and using a stock trunk lock cylinder as well just for nostalgia purposes but a flat tip screwdriver and vice grips makes that easily defeat-able. Make sure to post pics or video of your project under the project showcase category so others can check it out too. I would love for a ton of people to start doing this project. I am fed up with thieves.

#17

I’ll have to do that… My work season is about to start for the year so hopefully I can get some time to put it all together b4 winter!! Lol And dont worry, I’m welding the top loop directly to the lid and a bracket to bolt the actuator to so the bolts arent accessible from the outside… the pin codes will be the fun part because I’m definitely a fan of encryption and making signals outside the house “less than hackable”… I started on one for a door lock a cuple years ago that used a 10 character string sent to both ends over mqtt to map out numbers to letters so u could easily remap the “code” to make it harder to wireshark the plain text pin codes… I’ll have to try to find & finish it…

#18

Make sure to set up some way to get in should the power go out or the actuator quits. One of my versions had shouldered bolts holding the assembly on and I welded the bolt to the actuator on the inside. There was a bolt head someone could try to undo but they would strip it because it was stainless and soft. Then at least, I could take a grinder and strip off the bolt head and free the actuator allowing the lid to be opened and repairs made. If you have to destroy the box to get.in yourself, you lost the game.

#19

I was actually going to copy the gap from the trunk in my bracket design to keep the original gm key cylinder!!! But good thinking…

#20

This is a great idea, I been promising such a setup to my wife for the last 6 months, even though I am almost home 100% of the time, but our driveway is about 60m long and sometimes you don’t know the postman has been. This project has given me a kick in the behind to do it.

Only problem is I would need a battery/solar setup and a decent antenna to get back to the home network. Sounds like the next thing for me to obsess over lol.

#21

Direct bury cat5e isn’t that much and if u know how to crip ur own ends u can robably DIY poe the line and get enough 12v off the 2 extra pairs to run a simple trunk popper… the current draw shouldn’t be that much… maybe an amp…