1. Field of the Invention
The invention relates to the field of mailboxes. More particularly, the invention relates to a mailbox for a residence or a business. More particularly yet, the invention relates to a mailbox that sanitizes mail deposited therein.
2. Description of the Prior Art
The threat of dissemination of harmful infectious agents via the mail engenders insecurity and fear in broad sections of the general population. Conventional mailboxes are passive receptacles that provide no protection against such infectious agents.
What is needed, therefore, is a mailbox or receptacle that is capable of sanitizing mail deposited within the box. What is further needed is such a mailbox that effectively destroys infectious agents, without the mail first having to be opened, and without damaging the contents of the mail. What is yet further needed is such a mailbox that is affordable, simple to install and maintain, and inexpensive to operate.
BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
For the reasons cited above, it is an object of the present invention to provide a mailbox that sanitizes mail that is deposited in it. It is a further object to provide such a mailbox that effectively destroys infectious agents contained within an envelope, without the envelope having to be opened in order to expose the infectious agents to sanitizing agents. It is a yet further object to provide such a mailbox that destroys the infectious agents without damaging the contents of the mail. It is a still yet further object to provide such a mailbox that is simple to install, requires low maintenance, and is inexpensive to operate.
The objects are achieved by providing a mailbox that is equipped with means for destroying infectious agents. Such means include ultra-violet (UV) lights and, optionally, an ultra-sound unit and/or a bactericidal mister. The UV lights are arranged within the mail-receiving portion of the mailbox and subject the mail deposited therewithin to bactericidal UV radiation. Ideally, the mail correspondence has been enclosed in specially constructed safety envelopes that allow the UV-light rays to pass through the outer barrier of the envelope and to radiate the contents. The envelopes are described in greater detail in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/286 202 filed on Nov. 2, 2002, by the inventor of the present application. A conventional ultra-sound unit is also mounted within the mail-receiving portion of the mailbox and is provided to improve the efficacy of the UV-light radiation by scattering the UV light so that the light impinges upon the pieces of mail within the mailbox from many different directions. It is also known that ultra-sound at high frequencies can destroy the outer cell wall of bacteria and other micro-organisms. Ideally, the ultrasound unit emits sound at a frequency of 200 kHZ or greater, that promotes the destruction of micro-organisms and, in this way, supports the sanitizing power of the UV light.
The mailbox is adaptable to operate with power from a number of different energy sources. For example, the mailbox operates alternatively with 12 V DC, 110 V AC or 220 V AC and is connected by a conventional power cable to a conventional power outlet. A solar energy source may also be provided as well as any number of other types of energy. Ideally, power source redundancy is provided, as a safety feature to ensure reliable operation of the mailbox. If more than one source of energy is provided, the mailbox is equipped with a switching device that selects the most efficient energy source, and switches to another energy source in the case of power failure of one or the other sources.
Optionally, the mailbox is equipped with a mister, that is, a device that sprays a bactericidal mist. The mister requires some maintenance in that it must be filled with the substance to be sprayed. Because of the maintenance and the higher operating costs to operate the mister, it is ideally operated on demand, i.e., selectively switched on and off or connected to a transducer or other control device that switches the mister on when mail is deposited within the mailbox and switches it off after a predetermined period of time, after a certain volume of bactericidal mist has been disseminated, or when the mail is removed from the mailbox.
The UV lights and the ultra-sound emitter unit, if provided, are continuously operational or connected to a timer or other control device that switches the lights and the ultra-sound unit on at a certain period time before the mail is delivered or when the mail is deposited, and switches them off a period of time after the mail is deposited, or when the mail is removed.
The scope of the present invention includes a ready-to-operate mailbox assembly, or a kit for retrofitting a conventional mailbox. The kit includes UV lights, power cables and sockets, and optionally an ultra-sound unit and/or a mister, each with the appropriate mounting bracket for installing the devices in already existing conventional mailboxes.