SingPost says it did not plagiarise SUTD student's design for smart letterbox

Left: SingPost's smart letterbox prototype. Right: A photo embedded in a public LinkedIn post by Singapore University of Technology and Design student Jerry Neo shows a machine described as an "auto mailbox".
Left: SingPost's smart letterbox prototype. Right: A photo embedded in a public LinkedIn post by Singapore University of Technology and Design student Jerry Neo shows a machine described as an "auto mailbox".PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM, JERRYMEOWS/INSTAGRAM

SINGAPORE - SingPost is refuting an allegation by a student from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) that it had plagiarised a school project for its smart letterbox prototype which was unveiled earlier this week.

In a public post on LinkedIn on Thursday (Sept 26), Mr Jerry Neo lamented that "seemingly reputable companies" such as SingPost "can copy student's project wholesale and claim to be world first".

Mr Neo, who according to his profile is an undergraduate student in SUTD's Engineering Product Development pillar, posted a photo dated in April of a group of students and a man he identified as "VP of SingPost" standing next to a machine described as an "auto mailbox".

He also uploaded screenshots of a text message exchange in which the alleged SingPost representative requested a video and photo of the project.

In the messages sent in May, Mr Neo asked about working with SingPost to further develop their project, to which the other party responded that a joint project would not be ideal "as our requirements are quite different".

Mr Neo wrote on LinkedIn that his team was not credited in SingPost's announcement on Tuesday of the development of a prototype of a smart stamp and letterbox system that would enable postmen to bulk load mail items into machines for sorting into storage slots.

In a statement on Friday, SingPost called the allegation that it had plagiarised the design of its smart letterbox from Mr Neo's school project "untrue".

According to the company, Mr Neo and his classmates had approached SingPost in February to ask for assistance with their school project, titled "letters ATM machine".

By that time, work to develop its own smart letterbox had already begun, SingPost said.

 
 
 
 

"SingPost informed Mr Neo and his group then that we were working on a similar project but were unable to reveal more due to a non-disclosure agreement with our prototype developer, who had already come up with a preliminary smart letterbox design," said a spokesman.

"Mr Neo's design was never used in our iteration process or shared with our prototype vendor... in fact, despite exchanges over text, SingPost did not receive nor do we possess Mr Neo's designs," a spokesman said.

SingPost declined to reveal the identity of the staff member who consulted on the students' project, but said the person worked in the postal engineering department and had no involvement with the design of the smart letterbox.

Describing the design and operation of the two machines as "markedly different", SingPost said key differences include tracking capabilities, the use of a mechanical arm for the sorting and storage process, and the ability to deliver multiple letters to the same storage unit simultaneously.

Still, it said it could have done better in its "communications with Mr Neo and his team to avoid this misunderstanding", and added that it is arranging a meeting with the students and professors involved to clarify the matter.

When contacted on Friday afternoon, Mr Neo deferred comment, saying that he would be meeting SingPost representatives later in the day to discuss the issue.

SUTD said in response to queries that it is "working with all parties to clarify the claims". 

"Our faculty and student have accepted SingPost’s invitation to meet for clarification purposes," a spokesman said.