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A QR for misdelivery

Pupil’s ‘smart mailbox’ wins plaudits

Vinoda Thiyagarajan’s idea for a “smart mailbox” won two awards at a national invention competition for K-12 students.

Vinoda Thiyagarajan has devised an award-winning cure for what ails many carriers and customers alike: a “smart mailbox” to prevent packages from being delivered to the wrong address.

Her idea works like this: Customer-specific QR codes — those blurry matrix squares you see on just about everything, including mailing labels — are affixed to individual mailboxes, and if a delivery is attempted where the codes don’t match, carriers’ handheld devices alert them to the error.

Vinoda, who lives in Lewis Center, OH, and who’ll enter seventh grade at the end of the summer, visited local postal facilities several times to get a sense of how operations work.

She also met via Zoom with USPS executives — including Dr. Joshua Colin, chief retail and delivery officer; Scott Bombaugh, chief technology officer; Pritha Mehra, chief information officer; and Eric Gilbert, the Columbus, OH, postmaster — to refine her idea.

“It was nice getting feedback from the group to improve my invention and thanks to them, I was able to make some changes,” Vinoda said. “Some of the advice I took is to think about it from a business standpoint and consider the cost and also add a QR code for front door delivery.”

Her innovation delivered Vinoda all the way to the national-level competition of Invention Convention — a K-12 program that teaches students problem identification, problem solving and entrepreneurship — where it took third place among sixth graders.

The smart mailbox was also singled out for the Inclusion Award, which honors projects that help those around them “feel respected, valued and supported,” and comes with a $1,000 scholarship.

“We are so appreciative to USPS for taking the time to speak with Vinoda. It really motivated her to improve her invention,” said her mother, Mey.

The Invention Convention awards ceremony, which was held June 9 at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, MI, can be viewed on YouTube.

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