GB2048466A - Optically controlled plumbing apparatus - Google Patents

Optically controlled plumbing apparatus Download PDF

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Publication number
GB2048466A
GB2048466A GB8011784A GB8011784A GB2048466A GB 2048466 A GB2048466 A GB 2048466A GB 8011784 A GB8011784 A GB 8011784A GB 8011784 A GB8011784 A GB 8011784A GB 2048466 A GB2048466 A GB 2048466A
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United Kingdom
Prior art keywords
means
light
apparatus according
water
valve
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Withdrawn
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GB8011784A
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Diffracto Ltd Canada
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Diffracto Ltd Canada
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Priority to US2984079A priority Critical
Application filed by Diffracto Ltd Canada filed Critical Diffracto Ltd Canada
Publication of GB2048466A publication Critical patent/GB2048466A/en
Application status is Withdrawn legal-status Critical

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Classifications

    • EFIXED CONSTRUCTIONS
    • E03WATER SUPPLY; SEWERAGE
    • E03BINSTALLATIONS OR METHODS FOR OBTAINING, COLLECTING, OR DISTRIBUTING WATER
    • E03B7/00Water main or service pipe systems
    • E03B7/04Domestic or like local pipe systems
    • EFIXED CONSTRUCTIONS
    • E03WATER SUPPLY; SEWERAGE
    • E03DWATER-CLOSETS OR URINALS WITH FLUSHING DEVICES; FLUSHING VALVES THEREFOR
    • E03D5/00Special constructions of flushing devices, e.g. closed flushing system
    • E03D5/10Special constructions of flushing devices, e.g. closed flushing system operated electrically, e.g. by a photo-cell; also combined with devices for opening or closing shutters in the bowl outlet and/or with devices for raising/or lowering seat and cover and/or for swiveling the bowl
    • GPHYSICS
    • G05CONTROLLING; REGULATING
    • G05DSYSTEMS FOR CONTROLLING OR REGULATING NON-ELECTRIC VARIABLES
    • G05D23/00Control of temperature
    • G05D23/01Control of temperature without auxiliary power
    • G05D23/13Control of temperature without auxiliary power by varying the mixing ratio of two fluids having different temperatures
    • G05D23/1393Control of temperature without auxiliary power by varying the mixing ratio of two fluids having different temperatures characterised by the use of electric means

Abstract

Apparatus for controlling the flow of water to or from a plumbing unit such as a faucet, bath tub, toilet, or washing machine includes a valved conduit 13 and means, such as an electric motor M1, for actuating the valve 16 to regulate the flow of water to or from the plumbing unit. The control means includes fiber optic tube 19 for conveying light from a light source 18 to a light detector D1, means for altering the light conveyed through the tube 19, and means responsive the detector output for generation of the control signal S1 to motor M1. The invention is particularly suited to a plumbing system in which a central valve system is provided for controlling the water supplied to a plurality of plumbing units such as found in a home, office, hospital, or school. The valves are preferably automatic, electrically operated, and located remote from the plumbing units and since their actuation is effected optically, it is not necessary to locate electrical equipment near the plumbing unit. <IMAGE>

Description

SPECIFiCATION Optically controlled plumbing apparatus This invention relates to plumbing apparatus and to the control thereof. More particularly, the invention relates to apparatus for automatic control of plumbing apparatus and, in particular, to such apparatus which is electrically actuated.

Automatic control of plumbing systems is highly desirable from many points of view, particularly with respect to water conservation and energy conservation. In many areas of the country there is a severe water shortage which necessitates the utmost in the conservation of the available water resources. In addition, because of the use of many applications of hot water in the home, hotels and commercial buildings, there is a significant energy contribution required to heat the water that is used.

Finally, the cost of filtration of the water by the supplier, even the water which is not used for drinking purposes, adds a further cost to water consumption.

While automatic plumbing systems are desirable, they are generally expensive and require elaborate precautions to avoid the hazards associated with positioning electrical devices-such as motorized valves, solenoid valves, and the like, near to the plumbing units which they serve.

It is an object of the present invention to provide an automatic plumbing system which is efficacious, robust, safe, and relatively inexpensive.

The foregoing and other objects which will be apparent to those having ordinary skill in the art are achieved in accordance with the present invention by providing apparatus for controlling the flow of water to or from a plumbing unit which includes, respectively, a water inlet or outlet, the apparatus comprising: conduit means comprising a conduit for conveying water to or from a plumbing unit; valve means for regulating the flow of water through said conduit; means responsive to a control signal for actuating said valve means; optical control means for generating a control signal comprising light source means, light detector means, fiber optic tube means for conveying light from said light source means to said light detector means, means for altering the light conveyed through said fiber optic tube, and means for generating a control signal responsive to the light conveyed to said light detector means through said fiber optic tube; and means for conveying said control signal to said valve actuating means to effect actuation of said valve in response to said control signal.

The invention will be further understood with reference to the following detailed description which includes a description of several embodiments illustrated in the drawings in which: Figure 1 is a diagrammatic view of a first embodiment of the invention; Figure 2 is an enlarged front view of a portion of Fig. 1; Figure 3 is an enlarged side elevation view, partly in section, of a portion of Fig. 1; Figure 4 is a diagrammatic front view of portions of a second embodiment of the invention; Figure 5 is a flow sheet diagram of a third embodiment of the invention; Figure 6 is a side elevation view, partly in section, of a portion of a fourth embodiment of the invention; Figure 7 is a side elevation view, partly in section of a portion of a fifth embodiment of the invention; Figure 8 is a side elevation view, partly in section, of a portion of a sixth embodiment of the invention;; Figure 9 is a side elevation view, partly in section, of a portion of a seventh embodiment of the invention; Figure 10A illustrates a temperature sensor according to the invention; and Figure 10B illustrates a pressure sensor according to the invention.

With reference to Fig. 1, apparatus according to the invention is illustrated for controlling the flow of water to a stall shower 10 having a shower head inlet 11 and an outlet drain 1 2. A conduit 1 3 is provided for conveying water to the shower head from a mixing valve 14 which is fed by a hot water supply through conduit 1 5 and a cold water supply through conduit 1 so. A valve 1 6 is provided in conduit 1 3 for regulating the volumetric flow rate of water through conduit 1 3. Since the length of conduit 1 3 extending between valve 1 6 and shower head 11 is not under full line pressure when valve 1 6 is closed, the conduit, and particularly the portion thereof near the shower head and the shower head itself, may be fabricated of plastic or other materials less expensive than conventional plumbing materials. Accordingly, fittings such as valves, faucets, shower heads, and the like, mounted at the outlet end of conduit 1 3 can be made of inexpensive plastic materials which can be changed for decorative purposes. To this end, such fittings are preferably mounted in a readily removable manner. Flow regulating valve 1 6 is actuated by an electric motor M, and the mixing valve 1 4 is actuated by an electric motor M2.Motor M1 (and thus valve 16) is responsive to a first control signal S, generated in an optical control means 1 7. Motor M2 (and thus valve 14) is responsive to a second control signal S2 generated in optical control means 1 7. The optical control means includes a light source 18, light detectors D1, and D2, a first fiber optic tube 1 9 which conveys light from light source 18 to light detector D1, a second fiber optic tube 20 which conveys light from light source 1 8 to light detector D2, two control knobs 21, 22 (shown in more detail in Figs. 2 and 3) for altering the light conveyed through, respectively, fiber optic tubes 1 9 and 20, and a micro processor 31 which generates control signals S1 and S2 in response to the light conveyed to, respectively, light detectors D1 and D2. Information concerning the light detected by detectors D, and D2 is conveyed to the micro processor in the form of, respectively, electrical signals DS1 and DS2. The structure and arrangement of control knobs 21 and 22, which is shown diagrammatically in Fig. 1 for clarity of illustration, is shown more fully in Figs. 2 and 3, in which a single knob 21 (enlarged) is illustrated, the arrangement of knob 22 being identical.

Knob 21, which controls water flow rate, is fixed to a shaft 22 which is mounted for rotation in a suitable bearing 23 fixedly secured in an aperture in wall 24 of stall shower 10. Knob 21 is provided with a pointer 21A to indicate the rotational position of the knob.

The end 25 of shaft 22 remote from knob 22 is threaded and threadably engages a nut member 26 which is slidably mounted for lateral movement in the direction of arrow A on a pin 27 fixed to wall 24. A pin member 28 is fixed to nut member 26 and extends outwardly therefrom to engage fiber optic tube 1 9 in a manner to be described below.

Fiber optic tube 1 9 is fixed in position behind knob 21 by means of a housing 29 having a mounting flange 30 for securing housing 29 to wall 24. As shown, the fiber optic tube is severed and includes a final portion 1 9A extending between light source 1 8 and control knob 21 and a second portion 19B extending between control knob 21 and light detector D1. Portions 1 9A and 1 9B of the fiber optic tube are secured in aligned apertures in housing 29 such that the tube portions are alignable.When the tube portions are aligned, the outer ends of the tube portions are aligned and in close proximity to one another such that the light from source 1 8 in the direction of arrow B will pass from tube portion 1 9A to tube portion 19B. On rotation of knob 21, pin 28 is moved laterally in the direction of arrow A. Movement of pin 28 deflects the position of tube portion 1 9B relative to tube portion 1 9A and thus alters the light conveyed through the tube to detector D1.The device is constructed and arranged such that, in one extreme position of knob 21, such as the "off" position in Fig. 2, pin 28 is moved to the right of the position in which it is shown in Fig. 3, such that tube portion 1 9B is out of alignment with tube portion 1 9A whereby none of the light from tube portion 1 9A is directed onto tube portion 19B. In the other extreme position of knob 21 (i.e. the "on" position of Fig. 2), pin 28 is moved to the left of the position in which it is shown in Fig. 2 such that tube portions 1 9A and 1 9B are in alignment whereby all of the light from tube portion 1 9A is directed into tube portion 19B.It will be apparent that, in Figs. 2 and 3, control knob 21 is shown in an intermediate position about half way between the extreme on and off positions. This represents a position of about half way between shut off and full volumetric flow rate through conduit 43 and shower head 11. In the position shown, member 28 holds tube portion 1 9B in a position in which it is only partly (about one half) aligned with tube portion 19A. It will be apparent that the position of tube portion B relative to tube portion 1 9B (and thus the alteration of light in the fiber optic tube) is dependent upon the position of knob 21. Motion of the tube portion 1 9B can be linked to the control knob in any suitable way. For example, pin 28 can be secured to tube portion 1 9B for motion therewith.On the other hand, if tube portion 1 9B is sufficiently resilient, no linkage is required. Alternatively, a spring or other means may be provided to bias tube portion 1 9B to the left in the sense of Fig. 3 to urge the tube against pin 28.

It will be apparent that the light detected by detector D1 will be a function of the light passing through tube portion 1 9B which is, in turn, a function of the light passing through tube 1 9A (assumed constant) and the relative positions of the adjacent ends of tube portions 1 9A and 19B. The light detector D1 can be any suitable light detector, or plurality of light detectors capable of generating an appropriate signal (DS1 or DS2 as shown in Fig. 1) which is a function of the light detected. In the simplest case, the detector output will be a function of the quantity of light detected.For example, the fiber optic tube could be made up of 100 optic fibers and the light detector D1 could be made up of 100 individual detectors arranged to receive light emitted from tube portion 19B, each individual detector being positioned adjacent the end of an individual optic fiber. (The optic fibers would, of course, be bundled together. However, where the tube is positioned adjacent the detectors, the individual fibers could be separated for each placement adjacent an individual detector. Thus, a wide choice of detector arrays could be employed.) it will be apparent in the illustrated case that where the knob 21 is in the full off position, no light from tube portion 1 9A would be directed into tube portion 1 9B and the light detectors would receive no light other than incidental. Housing 29 is conveniently constructed to shield the fiber optic tube from extraneous light. However, under normal circumstances, the amount of stray light which can find its way to the light detectors is minimal and light detectors are readily available which have a threshold sensitivity above this minimal level. The control signal DS1 is thus a function of the incident light. The individual output signals from the individual detectors are conveniently added to provide a single control signal DS1 which is used to actuate valve 16 by way of motor M1. While the signal can be used directly, it is preferable to employ a micro processor unit 31 which provides the possibility of providing various other functions as will be apparent from the remaining portion of this disclosure.In the embodiment just described, the micro processor is equipped to send a signal S1 to actuate motor M1 to position valve 1 6 in accordance with the position of pointer 21A on knurled knob 21. As pointer 21A is moved counterclockwise in the sense of Fig. 2, pin 28 moves to the right which reduces the total amount of light received by fiber optic tube portion 1 9B which alters the signal DS1 emanating from light detector D1. A fail safe system, i.e., one in which the water flow is cut off in the event of a failure of light source 18, is preferred. Thus, as shown, it is preferred that the signal S1 or DS1 used to actuate valve 1 6 will effect valve closure when the signal decreases.Thus, in the event of failure of any portion of the control circuit, water flow is shut off at valve 1 6.

Control knob 22 is constructed and arranged as in the case of knob 21 and is used to control water temperature by controlling the position of mixing valve 14 which controls the relative proportion, of hot and cold water introduced through conduit 1 3 from supply conduits 1 5 and 15A. In the "cold" position of knob 22, the fiber optic tube portions are in alignment and detected light is preferably at a maximum. Correspondingly, in the cold position, the optic tube portions are out of alignment and detected light is at a minimum.

This fail safe arrangement is preferred to prevent scalding in the event of a failure in the optical system controlling water temperature.

The signal DS2 is directed to the micro processor from whence a command signal S2 is directed to mixing valve 1 4 in dependence upon the position of control knob 22.

It will be readily apparent that control knobs 21 and 22 may be replaced with a single control knob of a type presently conventional in household plumbing. This type of knob adjusts temperature by rotation and flow rate by an axially in-and-out motion and these motions are readily adapted, in a single knob, to two fiber optic tubes.

Rather than deflect tube portion 19B, pin 28 may be an opaque member which is movable in a gap provided between the adjacent ends of tube portions 1 9A and 1 9B to obturate some or all of the light transmitted to tube portion 19B. Many other arrangements are, of course, possible and may be of the analog type as described above or of the digital type as described below. Another simple form of analog knob control arrangement is shown in Fig. 4 in which only the elements discussed are shown for purposes of simplicity.In this embodiment, knob 40 bearing pointer 40A is mounted on shaft 41 which carries a radially disposed obturating member 42 which moves with shaft 41 and which, upon rotation of knob 40, is movable in the gaps formed between the ends of a plurality of fiber optic tubes 43 positioned in alignment as described above in connection with Figs.

1-3. As illustrated, the knob is in a fail safe "on" position for water flow or a fail safe "hot" position for water temperature. The individual fibers of the fiber optic tube bundle are separated and arranged in an arc array, the arc being concentric with shaft 41. It will be appreciated that a very high degree of sensitivity can be achieved with the arrangement of Fig. 4.

The obturating member used to alter thelight carried to the light detector by the fiber optic tube can be an opaque member as described above. However, the obturating member may be an optical filter element of varying density from transparent, through various stages of gray translucent, either continuously or in steps, to opaque. Movement of the member past a single fiber optic element or a bundle of elements thus varies the. total amount of light passed from one tube to the other. It will also be apparent that the light which is incident upon the fiber optic tube can be supplied in any convenient manner and need not be supplied by a fiber optic tube. However, it is preferred to have a single light source such as an incandescent electric light bulb and, the use of fiber optic tubes to provide a light source for a plurality of optical control means is thus preferred.

One of the distinct advantages of the present invention is that the valves are located remote from the plumbing unit. Thus, the valves can be located in a convenient location for service and repair and less space is needed for installation of the plumbing unit. Another advantage of the remote location of the valves is that electrical equipment, such as power supplies, electric light sources, motorized valves, solenoid valves, and the associated wiring is all located away from the plumbing unit which virtually eliminates the possibility of shock hazard. In this connection, shock hazard is still further reduced by using nonconductive materials, such as plastic, to conduct water to the plumbing unit.The use of plastic pipe for this purpose is eminently practical in the present invention since the conduit leading to the plumbing unit from the remote control valves is under no pressure once the control valves are closed. Non-conductive fiber optic tubes are readily available and it will be seen how shock hazard can be virtually eliminated.

The invention is applicable to all plumbing units including those having basins, such as sinks, bath tubs, clothes washing machines, dishwashers, toilets, swimming pools, and the like which units usually include means for accumulating water in the basin and means for draining water therefrom. However, the invention also has application to other plumbing units which normally do not have basins and drains, such as devices for watering lawns, plants and the like, ice makers, humidifiers, hot water heaters, water purification systems (e.g. filtration and ion exchange) and the like. The invention is also readily adapted to control of hot water heating systems and to the heating of homes or other buildings.

While the invention has principal application to water supply, it has substantially applicability to water drained from various plumbing units. In particular, as shown in Fig. 5, the drains from various "clean" plumbing units, including sinks 50, tubs 51, shower stalls 52, clothes washers 53, dishwashers 54, and dehumidifiers 55, may lead to a common drain line 57 which includes a pump 58 actuatable by an optical control means in accordance with the invention to regulate the flow of the drain water to a holding tank 59.

Pump 58 is conveniently actuated to effect drainage of line 57 by a control system in accordance with the invention using an optical control means employing an arrangement as shown in Fig. 6.

In Fig. 6, the wall of pipe 57 in an area 60 upstream of pump 58 is provided with a window 61 of transparent glass or plastic. A fiber optic tube 62 directs light from a source, not shown, onto the inner surface of window 61. If the drain line 57 is filled with water behind window 61, a substantial portion of the light is transmitted into the water whereas, if the pipe is empty of water, a substantial portion of the light is reflected into a further fiber optic tube 63 positioned to transmit the reflected light to a light detector as described above. The light detector signal is used to actuate pump 58 to commence draining line 57 and to stop the pump when line 57 becomes empty. If desired, a plurality of pumps may be employed, for example, a pump for each plumbing unit.In any event, a pump is only required for those plumbing units located below the holding tank since, otherwise, the drainage may be by gravity.

Flow of water from the holding tank, to be used where drinking water is not required, such as in watering of plants and shrubs, may be readily effected by the invention by employing an optical control system according to the invention actuated by a control element 64. Control element 64 may be located at any convenient location, such as a central control panel or adjacent a plumbing unit, such as a watering device, to which the water from the holding tank is directed. A pump 65 is used to control the flow of water from the holding tank through outlet pipe 66. It will be understood that pumps 58 and 66 act as valves in that they permit water flow when actuated and they do not permit water flow when not actuated.

Fig. 6 is also illustrative of the use of the present invention to control the level of water in a plumbing unit, such as a bath tub. In this event, numeral 57 represents the bath tub wall and the lower level of light reflected to element 63 when water is present behind window 61 is indicative of the fact that water has reached the level of window 61. The lower light level detected by the light detector is used to generate a signal to shut off the water supply to the bath tub. This system is thus fail safe in that light failure or power failure will result in turning off the water supply.

Various sources of light may be used in the present invention. In an extremely simple version, a single fiber optic element can be used in conjunction with a light emitting diode. The light emanating from the optic fiber is directed onto a further optic fiber and conveyed to a light detector where the detected light is used to generate a control signal in accordance with the invention. The light directed onto the second optic fiber can be altered in any convenient manner such as by deflection, by obturation, or by attenuation. In the case of a single fiber, attenuation by means of a light filter of varying density or color is particularly suitable. The light is conveniently but not necessarily visible and the word "light" is used in a broad sense to include near visible to the extent that it is transmittable by fiber optic elements.Fiber optic elements are well known per se, widely available, and becoming less expensive and of increased efficiency.

Various types of widely available light detectors are suitable. A preferred type of light detector is an electronically amplified photodiode. In a basic version of the invention, the output signal of the photodiode is employed to energize a solenoid valve. The valve is actuated by the presence of a signal and closed by its absence, the valve thus acting as a cut-off valve. In this embodiment, the control knob, button, or the like used to alter the light conveyed to the photodetector conveniently acts as a digital control having two positions: a first position in which the light is conveyed to the photodetector and a second position in which the light is not so conveyed.

It is, of course, possible that the control knob, button, or the like, energize a light source, such as an electric light bulb, adjacent the fiber optic tube used to convey the light to the light detector. This is not preferred, however, particularly if the control knob, together with its electrical wiring, is located near a plumbing unit.

As shown in Fig. 1, the water passing through conduit 1 3 may be heated locally in the area adjacent the plumbing unit by any suitable heater such as a gas heater or an electric heater 67.

In a preferred embodiment of the invention in which the light altering means comprises a member, such as pin 28 of Fig. 3, which obturates light directed to the fiber optic tube which is employed to convey light to the light detector, the apparatus includes means for utilizing the obturated light to provide a visual indication of the position of the control member. In a basic version, such as the "on" or "off" embodiment described above, the control knob and light obturating member are provided as a single piece 70 shown in Fig.

7. Member 70 is a two position switch (of which the details are not shown) mounted in wall 71. Fiber optic element 72 is used to provide a light source for fiber optic element 73 which conveys the light to the light detector (not shown). The body of member 70 is translucent and the portion which obturates the light passing between elements 72 and 73 is provided with a 50% mirror 74 positioned to direct about half of the light from element 72 into the body of member 70, the remaining half passing into fiber optic element 73.Thus, in the "on" position illustrated in Fig. 7, light is conveyed through element 73 to the light detector (not shown) for generation of a control signal, and light is also conveyed through the body of the control member 70 thus providing a visual indication, at the control knob, that the switch is in the "on" position. When member 70 is pushed inwardly to the "off" position (to the right in the sense of Fig. 7), an opaque portion 75 on member 70 obturates the light passing between elements 72 and 71. Thus, in the "off" position, no light is conveyed to the light detector or into the body of the control member and the absence of light in the control member provides a visual indication that the switch is in the "off" position.It will be apparent that this lighting arrangement is of the preferred "fail safe" type in which the absence of light in the control knob in the event of a power failure is indicative of the "off" mode. There are many advantageous variations of this aspect of the invention, all of which are made possible by the fact that light is used as the means for generating a control signal. For example, in the case of a water temperature control valve, different colors of light may be used to indicate different temperature settings such as blue for cold, red for hot, etc. this can be accomplished in many ways, such as by providing different color light sources or by using various color filters at the control knob. For example, for controlling water temperature, assume that there are three control knobs 70, each being arranged as shown in Fig. 7.The knobs are located in side by side adjacency much like the keys on a calculator, the face 76 of the left button marked "cold", the middle button marked "medium" and the right button marked "hot". For the "cold" button, light coming through tube 72 is blue, conveniently by locating a blue filter at the end of tube 72.

Light coming through tube 72 for the "medium" button is yellow and for the "hot" button is red. The switches are coupled so that only one can be in the "on" position at any one time. When the cold position switch is "on", the switch knob will be blue and light will pass through tube 73 to its associated light detector to actuate a pre-determined cold water valve setting. If the medium switch is turned on, the blue switch light will go out and the medium switch knob will be colored yellow. Light will pass to the light detector associated with fiber optic tube 73 associated with the "medium" control knob, generating a signal for a pre-determined valve setting for medium water temperature. The "hot" setting and indicator light is effected in the same manner. It will be apparent that many more control buttons can be provided.Moreover, the color indicator may be analog rather than digital. For example, the knob 80 shown in Fig. 8 is slidably mounted in wall 81 for movement from a "cold" position, shown in Fig. 8, with 50% mirror 86 interposed between fiber optic tube elements 82A and 83A. A light filter 87 is interposed between the ends of fiber optic tubes 82A...G and the control knob to color the light directed from the light source 82 to the fiber optic tubes 83A...G used to convey light to the light detectors. The filter is graduated in color, either gradually or in steps, in any appropriate way such as blue through red. An opaque portion 84 on member 80 prevents light from striking elements 83B. . G. Thus, adjacent element 82A, the filter is blue and the knob 80 will appear blue when in the position shown in Fig. 8.Portion 85 of member 80 is also opaque. Accordingly, as member 80 moves to the left, in an analog fashion, the color of the knob changes in analog fashion and the light from light source 82 is selectively directed to one or more fiber optic tubes 83A...G positioned below 50% mirror 86.

Knob 80 is also movable to a full "off" position to the right on the position shown in Fig. 8 wherein opaque portion 84 obturates all of the incident light.

As explained above, in a simple system, the light detector output, amplified as appropriate, can be used to actuate valves. However, it is preferred to interpose microprocessing means to gain the advantages afforded by microprocessing technology which is widely available.

For example, in a household, the control unit can include timing functions and priority functions which will greatly facilitate water usage.

The timing of watering of plants and shrubs is a good example. The most appropriate time for application of water is dependent upon many factors and may occur at a time when the home owner is away. In a simple case, the system includes means for opening a watering valve for the time period 6 to 7 P.M.

All that is necessary is to push a control button, such as that of Fig. 7, and a control signal is generated for opening of the water valve. A time, super-imposed on this circuit, permits the signal to actuate the valve only at the time period set on the timer. This aspect of the invention has particular advantage in those areas where electric rates differ during different parts of the day. Usually, rates are lower at night. The system can include timers for control of hot water heating as well as for the actuation of appliances that use hot water (e.g. dishwashers, clothes washers). By using more and more electricity in the "off peak" hours, the consumer saves on electric bills and the electric supplier can operate with a smaller plant because of the consequent reduction in peak demand for electricity.The same results are achieved with any electrically powered devices, such as heaters, where the heat generated by electricity can be stored for subsequent use. Priority of water usage is also advantageously incorporated in the control system. For example, the system could be preprogrammed such that, where hot water is low, shower units take first priority followed by tubs, sinks, dishwashers and clothes washers. Thus, if a dishwasher and a shower are in use, the system would be pre-programmed, on sensing a low quantity of hot water, to shut off the dishwasher until a sufficient quantity of hot water was restored. Any suitable means can, of course, be used to detect temperature including fiber optic tubes which can be used to "read" thermometers or other temperature indicating devices.For example, a bemetallic strip may be positioned as a means of altering light conveyed to a light detector in the same manner as pin 28 in Fig.

3. Where water flow rate (pressure) is a problem, the system can also include a flow rate priority system in which, if pressure drops, a low priority plumbing unit is shut off in favor of a higher priority unit. For example, for lawn watering or other timed plumbing units, flow rate is important. Detection of flow rate can be made in any convenient manner including by the use of fiber optic tubes which can be used to "read" a rotameter or other flow rate indicating device.

Another feature readily incorporated in a microprocessor is the recording of light levels when the system is "off". This is used as the basis for setting the gain of the system as well as to permit compensation, if needed, for a deterioration in light source, accumulation of dirt, etc.

Another form of digital control is illustrated in Fig. 9. In this embodiment, a single fiber optic tube 90 is used to convey light from a source 91 to a mirror 92, back through tube 90 and out through a branch 90A and onto light detector 93. Mirror 92 thus acts as the source of light for conveying light to the light detector. This light is altered by knob 94 which is mounted for vertical movement between mirror 92 and tube 90. As the knob is moved, a series of opaque areas 95 and clear areas 96 pass tube 90. A counter is used in the micro computer which simply counts up the number of pulses which determines the predetermined signal which is used to effect a pre-determined setting of the valve controlled by actuation of knob 90.

The system can also include means for pulsating the water directed to one or more of the plumbing units included in the system.

Such means are well known, such as devices to pulsate shower water, and will not be described herein. When employed in the present invention, an optical control device in accordance with the invention is provided at a suitable location, such as near the plumbing unit, and actuation of the control knob will result in actuation of the pulsating means.

This has particular application to showers, for cleaning toilets, tubs or other plumbing units having a basin. If desired, special cleaning orifices may be provided in the toilet or tub, such as around the periphery of the basin, and actuation of the pulsating mode control will direct pulsating water through these orifices positioned for a specific function such as cleaning.

It will be apparent that as the system incorporates more and more features, such as timing, temperature control, flow rate, water level, pulsation, etc., the various plumbing units which utilize these features can be. simplified. For example, a clothes washing machine can be provided which simply includes a basin, an agitator, an inlet and a drain outlet. All of the remaining functions of temperature control, water level control, pressure, and timing can be positioned in a central, easily accessible, location. The control knobs, buttons, etc., themselves, of course, can be located wherever desired, conveniently near to the plumbing unit. An arrangement of this type is particularly advantageous in apartment buildings or the like where hundreds of small and inexpensive clothes washing machines may be serviced by a single control system in accordance with the invention.

Another major application of the invention is to permit a choice between two or more grades of water to be directed to a plumbing unit. For example, where a sink faucet is to be used for drinking water, a "drink" control knob would actuate a valve directing water to that faucet through a purification system. In a "regular" mode, the purification system would be by-passed. This would permit a municipality to supply water of less purity at lower cost and the consequent savings would more than offset the costs of the installation and operation of the individual purification system because the amount of water used for drinking purposes is minuscule in comparison to total usage.

Another feature readily incorporated into the system is controls which permit "push button" setting of a plurality of conditions such as water flow rate and temperature. In the home, a plurality of such control knobs would be provided at the plumbing unit, for example a shower, and a household member using that shower could make an appropriate setting in the micro processor that would preset the water temperature and flow rate as desired on actuation of one of the control knobs. The control knob is preferably provided with means to identify the preselected conditions such as a plate identifying the person or specifying the conditions.

Another control aspect of the present invention is to utilize fiber optic tubes to monitor the opacity and the contents of a toilet to determine the amount of flushing water used.

The micro processor is thus programmed to provide more rigorous flushing conditions (e.g. flow rate; water volume) where more opacity is detected.

While the emphasis of the invention is on water controls, various other optically based sensors can readily be incorporated. For example, fiber optic tubes will readily detect the presence of smoke and are eminently suitable as smoke detectors because of their small size and unobtrusiveness. Another example is to detect the mode of door locks, window locks, and the like. A fiber optic tube could lead from each element to a control panel which would provide a visual indication of the mode of each lock in a building. If desired an alarm system could be included which, when set, would be actuated by the interruption of light received by a fiber optic tube.

Where the function to be performed by the light does not require much power, the light itself may be used, together with a voltage cell, to perform the function.

In the context of lending further capability to such plumbing control system consider Fig.

10 which illustrates low cost optical/fiber optic based sensors of physical variables, in this case, pressure, temperature and flow, all of which are of value in monitoring the characteristics of water being delivered to present within or exhausted from a basin for example, (All could be required, for example in constructing a dishwasher or clothes washer according to invention.) An additional extrapolation to humidity sensing is also illustrated, of use in clothes dryer controls, or for car engine controls.

Fig. 1 OA illustrates a temperature sensor according to the invention, in which light from input fiber 102 is conveyed back to a detector (not shown) via fiber 103 in proportion to temperature of the surrounding water (or other medium such as air in a clothes dryer or room). Response to temperature is provided by an elastic member 104, in this case bimetallic (to which the end of fiber 102 is attached) rigidly connected to housing 105, also supporting fiber 103. With increasing temperature the bimetal moves to cause a decrease in light, with complete shut off occuring as shown in dotted line position 11 2.

(Note that this too precludes scalding if light or detector power fails.) This sensor can be open to the water air, etc.) or sealed. In the latter case, also illustrated in Fig. 10B, note that a bimetallic circular membrane can be used whose center deflection depresses the fiber. Note too that a humidity sensor can easily be made by replacing bimetallic cantilever or membrane 104 with a similar element which deflects as a function of humidity, for example whalebone, hair, paper and other materials.

Also illustrated by Fig. 1 OA is construction of a mass flow sensor. In this case, we assume the sensor is open to the water, and placed in a pipe whose walls are shown by dotted lines 11 9. Water flow 120, pushes against the elastic element 104 (which actually can be a portion of the fiber itself rather than a separate member) and deflects it in the direction of flow in proportion. Naturally at maximum flow, as in the dotted lines 11 2 position, light is cut off, again, a failsafe feature. It is noted that integration of such flow data provides an ability to calculate, by the microprocessor, the eventual level in a basin whose capacity would be preprogrammed into the memory.

It is interesting that the member 104, if bimetallic, can be used to create a sensor proportional to both the flow rate and temperature, combined. Obviously if only the temperature were desired the element would have to be placed in the flow axially so that no deflection with flow occurs.

Fig. lOB illustrates a sensor utilized for measurement of pressure or for that matter any other force such as weight or acceleration which acts to deflect elastic member 1 50 attached to housing 151. In this case deflection of elastic membrane 1 50 under pressure of water 160 in basin 161, causes a graded color filter 1 65 to be moved in front of fiber 166. The colorsin white light 168 emanating from fiber 1 66 are absorbed in various degrees by the filter sections, dependent on the position of the membrane. Thus the color distribution of light transmitted through fiber 1 69 to color detector unit 1 70 is proportional to pressure.Interestingly it also can provide a visual pressure indicator if a bifurcated fiber 1 71 used to split off to a point 180 at the top of the basin. The color detector can be anything from a color TV camera (which also could scan the outputs of a multiplicity of sensors or control knobs of this type) to simple three detector units, rotary color wheels etc. The nice thing about monitoring color is that a single fiber can be used and yet the readout variable is not proportional to analog light intensity which can drift with dirt accumulation on optics, light power etc. Again the microcomputer is of use in decoding the red/green/blue color signals, and comparing them to the known distribution for the sensor in question relative to pressure.Clearly these concepts apply or whatever other physical variable or control position is measured, noting for example that the color filter could replace member 28 in Fig. 3 for example, or become a circular symetry filter in the Fig. 2 context.

It is noted that "fiber optic tube" in the context of this disclosure refers to all types of guided wave fiber optics, particularly clad and parabolic index wave guides of both glass and plastic.

Many of the sensing and control concepts disclosed here are also applicable in fields other than plumbing. For example, the sensing of automobile emission or other control variables and industrial controls of transfer lines etc.

Finally, it is thought that a large percentage of the fiber, sensor and control hardware disclosed herein will be made of plastic. Plastic is low material cost and, more importantly is easy to form into multipurpose module, with optically transparent portions, fibers, pipes, knobs and decorative portions, possibly all of one piece, low cost and easy to assemble and install construction. Suitable plastics can- easily stand the range of water temperatures of most, if not all, plumbing systems.

Claims (41)

1. Apparatus for controlling the flow of water to or from a plumbing unit comprising, respectively, a water inlet or outlet comprising: conduit means comprising a conduit for conveying water to or from a plumbing unit; valve means for regulating the flow of water through said conduit; means responsive to a control signal for actuating said valve means; optical control means for generating a control signal comprising light source means, light detector means, fiber optic tube means for conveying light from said light source means to said light detector means, means for altering the light conveyed through said fiber optic tube, and means for generating a control signal responsive to the light conveyed to said light detector means through said fiber optic tube; and means for conveying said control signal to said valve actuation means to effect actuation of said valve in response to said control signal.
2. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said valve actuating means comprises electrical valve actuating means and wherein said valve means and said electrical valve actuating means are each located remote from said plumbing unit.
3. Apparatus according to claim 2 wherein said light altering means of said optical control means is located proximate to said plumbing unit.
4. Apparatus according to claim 3 wherein said plumbing unit comprises a water inlet, and wherein said conduit is connected thereto for conveying water through said water inlet.
5. Apparatus according to claim 3 wherein said valve means comprises a solenoid valve.
6. Apparatus according to claim 3 wherein said valve means comprises a motor-driven valve and wherein said valve actuation means comprises an electric motor.
7. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said conduit means comprises a further conduit for conveying hot water to said conduit; a still- further conduit for conveying cold water to said conduit; and wherein said valve means comprises means for regulating the flow of hot water through said further conduit and for regulating the flow of cold water through said still further conduit.
8. Apparatus according to claim 4 wherein said apparatus further comprises means for heating water flowing through said conduit, said heating means being located proximate to said water outlet.
9. Apparatus according to claim 8 wherein said heating means is responsive to the temperature of water flowing through said conduit.
10. Apparatus according to claim 4 wherein said plumbing unit comprises a faucet.
11. Apparatus according to claim 4 wherein said plumbing unit comprises a basin adapted to receive water flowing from said water inlet and wherein said fiber optic tube is positioned to direct light into said basin at a pre-determined level in said basin whereby the light conveyed to said light detector means through said fiber optic tube is altered in response to the presence or absence of water at said pre-determined level in said basin, and wherein said control signal generating means comprises means for generating a signal for actuating said valve means whereby the level of water in said basin can be established at said pre-determined level.
1 2. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said plumbing unit comprises a water inlet and wherein said apparatus further comprises means for pulsating the water flowing through said inlet.
1 3. Apparatus according to claim 1 2 wherein said plumbing unit comprises a plurality of said water inlets and a basin adapted to receive water flowing through said water inlets, and wherein said water inlets are positioned to direct a layer of water onto the basin walls to provide a cleansing action on the basin wall surface.
1 4. Apparatus according to claim 1 3 wherein said plumbing unit comprises a toilet.
1 5. Apparatus according to claim 1 3 wherein said plumbing unit comprises a bath tub.
16. Apparatus according to claim 12 wherein said plumbing unit comprises a shower head.
1 7. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said plumbing unit comprises means for watering plants and wherein said control means comprises a timer means for actuating said valve control means in response to said control signal at a pre-selected time.
1 8. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said plumbing unit comprises a basin and a water outlet, and wherein said valve means comprises a water outlet valve.
1 9. Apparatus according to claim 18 wherein said water outlet valve comprises a pump and wherein said valve actuating means comprises means for actuating said pump.
20. Apparatus according to claim 1 8 wherein said plumbing unit comprises holding tank means adapted to receive water drained from said basin and wherein said holding tank comprises said water outlet.
21. Apparatus according to claim 20 wherein said water outlet valve comprises a pump and wherein said valve actuating means comprises means for actuating said pump.
22. Apparatus according to claim 20 wherein said apparatus comprises a plurality of said plumbing units, said holding tank means being adapted to receive water drained from each of said plumbing units.
23. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said conduit has an internal diameter sized to effect a high velocity stream of water flow through said conduit.
24. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said plumbing unit comprises a faucet and wherein said faucet is plastic and readily removable from said conduit.
25. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said control means comprises a micro computer.
26. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said optical control means comprises means for generating a control signal in response to the temperature, rate of flow, or pressure of water flowing through said conduit for actuating said valve actuating means.
27. Apparatus according to claim 4 wherein said apparatus comprises a plurality of plumbing units and wherein said control means comprises means for generating a control signal in response to the temperature, pressure, or rate of flow of water flowing in said conduit of each respective plumbing unit for actuating said valve actuating means of each respective plumbing unit, and wherein said apparatus further comprises means for selecting, on a pre-determined priority basis, the sequence of actuation of said valve actuating means.
28. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said plumbing unit comprises a toilet and wherein said fiber optic tube is positioned to direct light through a portion of water present in the toilet bowl whereby the light conveyed through said fiber optic tube to said light detector is altered in response to the content of said toilet bowl, and wherein said apparatus comprises control means responsive to said control signal for controlling the amount of flushing water introduced into said toilet through said water inlet.
29. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said light altering means comprises means for varying the amount of light conveyed through said fiber optic tube.
30. Apparatus according to claim 29 wherein said fiber optic tube comprises a plurality of fiber optic fibers and wherein said light varying means comprises means for obturating the light conveyed through at least one of said fibers.
31. Apparatus according to claim 30 wherein said light varying means comprises means for selectively obturating the light conveyed through each of said fibers.
32. Apparatus according to claim 29 wherein said light varying means comprises means for attenuating the amount of light conveyed through said fiber optic tube.
33. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said apparatus further comprises control means responsive to a pre-determined control signal, for controlling said valve actuating means to effect a pre-determined setting of said valve.
34. Apparatus according to claim 33 wherein said apparatus further comprises means for re-setting said pre-determined valve setting.
35. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said light is visible light and wherein said altering means comprises means for redirecting light conveyed through said fiber optic tube and means responsive to said redirected light to provide a visible indication of actuation of said altering means.
36. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said plumbing unit comprises a clothes washing machine.
37. Apparatus according to claim 1 comprising a plurality of said plumbing units, each respective valve of each plumbing unit being under the control of said valve actuation means in response to a control signal generated in response to light conveyed to a light detector through a fiber optic tube of an optical control means operably associated with said respective plumbing unit.
38. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said apparatus further comprises means for purifying water flowing through said conduit.
39. Apparatus according to claim 1 wherein said optical control means includes means to sense a physical variable.
40. Apparatus according to claim 39 wherein said physical variable is selected from a group comprising temperature, pressure, flow and humidity.
41. - Apparatus as claimed in claim 1 and substantially as described with reference to or as shown by Fig. 1 or Fig. 2 or Fig. 3 or Fig.
4 or Fig. 5 or Fig. 6 or Fig. 7 or Fig. 8 or Fig.
9 or Fig. 1 OA or Fig. 1 OB of the Drawings.
GB8011784A 1979-04-13 1980-04-09 Optically controlled plumbing apparatus Withdrawn GB2048466A (en)

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GB (1) GB2048466A (en)

Cited By (22)

* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
DE3311664A1 (en) * 1982-04-02 1983-10-06 Toko Inc Automatic acceleration and deceleration control device
GB2126038A (en) * 1982-03-29 1984-03-14 Olten Ag Elektro Apparatebau A switching device
GB2133137A (en) * 1983-01-07 1984-07-18 Plessey Co Plc Fibre optic light switch
GB2134141A (en) * 1983-01-24 1984-08-08 Bosch Siemens Hausgeraete Control signal transmission between control devices in washing or rinsing apparatus
GB2140999A (en) * 1983-06-01 1984-12-05 Timothy Keep Transmission of information to and/or from a hazardous area
GB2147980A (en) * 1982-02-10 1985-05-22 Redring Electric Ltd Water heaters
GB2159650A (en) * 1984-05-29 1985-12-04 Peter Cecil Joseph Parsonage Electronic switch
GB2161338A (en) * 1984-07-06 1986-01-08 Honda Motor Co Ltd Optical switch device
EP0195271A2 (en) * 1985-03-12 1986-09-24 CARADON MIRA LIMITED (formerly Walker Crosweller &amp; Company Limited) Water supply installation for ablutionary purposes
GB2200439A (en) * 1987-01-21 1988-08-03 Caradon Mira Ltd Instantaneous water heaters for showers
GB2200733A (en) * 1987-01-21 1988-08-10 Caradon Mira Ltd Instantaneous water heaters for showers
EP0300639A1 (en) * 1987-07-07 1989-01-25 Inax Corporation Shower system
WO1989009311A1 (en) * 1988-03-30 1989-10-05 Meltronic B.V. Water outlet control system
US5175892A (en) * 1988-06-27 1993-01-05 Bauer Industries, Inc. Fresh water control system and method
EP0348886B1 (en) * 1988-06-27 1993-01-20 Bauer Industries Inc. Fresh water control system and method
GB2298031A (en) * 1995-02-17 1996-08-21 Guang Dong Zhongnan Kosing Ele Gas-fired water heater with remote adjustment
GB2298480A (en) * 1995-02-11 1996-09-04 Neville Ian Benson Shower using stored hot water and instantaneous heating
GB2310032A (en) * 1996-02-08 1997-08-13 Guang Dong Zhongnan Kosing Ele Gas-fired water heater with remote radio-controlled adjustment
GB2321098A (en) * 1997-01-14 1998-07-15 Saxelby Roberts Eric Shower using main and supplementary electric heaters
EP0940135A1 (en) * 1998-03-02 1999-09-08 Friedrich Dipl.-Ing. Niederndorfer Control and/or display unit for areas with relatively high temperature and/or humidity
WO2001071443A1 (en) * 2000-03-20 2001-09-27 Merloni Termosanitari S.P.A. A remote temperature monitoring and adjustment system for water used for sanitary purposes in the domestic environment
EP1569544A2 (en) * 2002-11-25 2005-09-07 Kohler Co. High flow rate water supply assembly

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Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
US4692951A (en) * 1984-10-31 1987-09-15 Toto Ltd. Sanitary facility room for clean room
US8863324B2 (en) 2008-03-31 2014-10-21 Kohler Co. Bathtub rim assembly

Cited By (27)

* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
GB2147980A (en) * 1982-02-10 1985-05-22 Redring Electric Ltd Water heaters
GB2126038A (en) * 1982-03-29 1984-03-14 Olten Ag Elektro Apparatebau A switching device
DE3311664A1 (en) * 1982-04-02 1983-10-06 Toko Inc Automatic acceleration and deceleration control device
GB2133137A (en) * 1983-01-07 1984-07-18 Plessey Co Plc Fibre optic light switch
GB2134141A (en) * 1983-01-24 1984-08-08 Bosch Siemens Hausgeraete Control signal transmission between control devices in washing or rinsing apparatus
GB2140999A (en) * 1983-06-01 1984-12-05 Timothy Keep Transmission of information to and/or from a hazardous area
GB2159650A (en) * 1984-05-29 1985-12-04 Peter Cecil Joseph Parsonage Electronic switch
GB2161338A (en) * 1984-07-06 1986-01-08 Honda Motor Co Ltd Optical switch device
EP0195271A2 (en) * 1985-03-12 1986-09-24 CARADON MIRA LIMITED (formerly Walker Crosweller &amp; Company Limited) Water supply installation for ablutionary purposes
EP0195271A3 (en) * 1985-03-12 1987-04-15 CARADON MIRA LIMITED (formerly Walker Crosweller &amp; Company Limited) Water supply installation for ablutionary purposes
GB2200733B (en) * 1987-01-21 1990-11-14 Caradon Mira Ltd Improvements in or relating to showers
GB2200733A (en) * 1987-01-21 1988-08-10 Caradon Mira Ltd Instantaneous water heaters for showers
GB2200439A (en) * 1987-01-21 1988-08-03 Caradon Mira Ltd Instantaneous water heaters for showers
GB2200439B (en) * 1987-01-21 1991-01-02 Caradon Mira Ltd Improvements in or relating to showers
EP0300639A1 (en) * 1987-07-07 1989-01-25 Inax Corporation Shower system
US4869427A (en) * 1987-07-07 1989-09-26 Inax Corporation Shower system
WO1989009311A1 (en) * 1988-03-30 1989-10-05 Meltronic B.V. Water outlet control system
US5175892A (en) * 1988-06-27 1993-01-05 Bauer Industries, Inc. Fresh water control system and method
EP0348886B1 (en) * 1988-06-27 1993-01-20 Bauer Industries Inc. Fresh water control system and method
GB2298480A (en) * 1995-02-11 1996-09-04 Neville Ian Benson Shower using stored hot water and instantaneous heating
GB2298031A (en) * 1995-02-17 1996-08-21 Guang Dong Zhongnan Kosing Ele Gas-fired water heater with remote adjustment
GB2310032A (en) * 1996-02-08 1997-08-13 Guang Dong Zhongnan Kosing Ele Gas-fired water heater with remote radio-controlled adjustment
GB2321098A (en) * 1997-01-14 1998-07-15 Saxelby Roberts Eric Shower using main and supplementary electric heaters
EP0940135A1 (en) * 1998-03-02 1999-09-08 Friedrich Dipl.-Ing. Niederndorfer Control and/or display unit for areas with relatively high temperature and/or humidity
WO2001071443A1 (en) * 2000-03-20 2001-09-27 Merloni Termosanitari S.P.A. A remote temperature monitoring and adjustment system for water used for sanitary purposes in the domestic environment
EP1569544A2 (en) * 2002-11-25 2005-09-07 Kohler Co. High flow rate water supply assembly
EP1569544A4 (en) * 2002-11-25 2008-03-19 Kohler Co High flow rate water supply assembly

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Publication number Publication date
JPS55142179A (en) 1980-11-06
DE3014089A1 (en) 1980-10-30

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