CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
- FIELD OF THE INVENTION
This application relates to and claims priority from U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/891,776, filed Feb. 27, 2007.
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates generally to dispensers and, more particularly, pertains to a programmable device that provides for controlled dispensing of a variety of items used to assist a person in managing his/her life.
Many people are challenged in managing certain areas of their lives such as health, personal finance and related activities that involve independent living. For example, individuals have problems remembering when to take their medicine on a daily or periodic basis, have difficulty controlling how much money they spend, or recollecting medical or other appointments.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
It is desirable to address these problems and provide a device that will help challenged individuals to live independently, and learn how to better manage their lives. In particular, it is desirable to assist individuals by providing a dispenser that automatically presents necessary items to them on a daily or other periodic basis. The items dispensed may include medicines, money, food and gas cards and reminders for appointments (e.g. with a doctor). It is believed that a regimented dispensing of such items will prevent a person from taking the wrong medicines, spending all their money at one time or utilizing items without concern for restraint.
The present invention relates to an item dispensing device used to assist in managing one's personal life. The device includes an enclosed housing having an access opening. A dispensing structure is movably mounted within the enclosed housing and provided with a series of dispensing compartments holding items of personal use. The dispensing compartments are selectively alignable with the access opening. A drive assembly is connected to the enclosed housing for driving the dispensing structure within the enclosed housing to move certain of the dispensing compartments into alignment with the access opening so as to enable dispensing of the items therethrough. A control arrangement is attached to the enclosed housing for periodically controlling the drive assembly to move certain of the dispensing compartments into alignment with the access opening to enable dispensing of the items.
The enclosed housing includes a movable gate for opening and closing the access opening. The gate includes an actuator assembly connected to the control arrangement. The enclosed housing includes a cover pivotally mounted thereto for movement between an open, unlocked position and a closed, locked position. The enclosed housing further includes an electromagnetic catch that receives a latch provided on the cover, and the control arrangement is connected to the electromagnetic catch. The enclosed housing is provided with a device connected to the control arrangement for monitoring items in the dispensing compartment aligned with the access opening. The enclosed housing also includes a support platform interposed between the dispensing structure and the drive assembly. The control arrangement acts to close the access opening after a predetermined amount of time following alignment of the dispensing compartment with the access opening.
In another aspect of the invention, a programmable item dispensing device is provided for use in managing one's personal life. The device includes an enclosed housing having a peripheral side wall structure joined to a support platform for defining an interior cavity opened and closed by a cover pivotally attached to the side wall structure. The enclosed housing has an access opening formed through the side wall structure, and a movable gate for opening and closing the access opening. A dispensing carousel is mounted for rotation within the enclosed housing, and is provided with a series of dispensing compartments holding a variety of items used in managing one's personal life. The dispensing compartments are selectively alignable with the access opening. A motor assembly is mounted within the enclosed housing for rotatably driving the dispensing carousel incrementally within the enclosed housing to move individual dispensing compartments into alignment with the access opening so as to enable dispensing of the items therethrough. A programmable control arrangement is attached to the enclosed housing for periodically controlling the motor assembly to move individual dispensing compartments into alignment with the access opening to permit access to the items. The control arrangement also controls movement of the gate.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
The side wall structure includes a pair of opposed side walls. The dispensing carousel is removably mounted in the housing. The dispensing carousel is mounted for rotation above the support platform, and the motor assembly is mounted beneath the support platform. The control arrangement is connected to a camera located in the enclosed housing for monitoring items in the dispensing compartment aligned with the access opening. The control arrangement is responsive to removal and non-removal of items from the dispensing compartment aligned with the access opening. The control arrangement provides an audible alarm signal to the user when the items are to be dispensed. The cover includes a latch, and the side wall structure includes an electromagnetic catch that receives the latch and is controlled by the control arrangement. The control arrangement includes a microprocessor controller that is responsive to various fault conditions during a dispensing operation. The controller has a keyboard that is continuously accessible exteriorly of the enclosed housing. The dispensing carousel includes a circular planar base having a cylindrical hub provided with a plurality of spaced apart radially projecting divider walls that define the dispensing compartments. The control arrangement transmits one set of signals to the user, and transmits another set of signals to a service entity remote from the user. The control arrangement also controls locking and unlocking of the cover relative to the side wall structure.
The drawings illustrate the best mode presently contemplated in carrying out the invention.
In the drawings:
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a programmable item dispensing device in a closed, operating position;
FIG. 2 is a perspective view of the device of FIG. 1 shown in an open, servicing position;
FIG. 3 is a sectional view on line 3-3 of FIG. 1;
FIG. 4 is an enlarged fragmentary view taken from beneath the device of FIG. 1;
FIG. 5 is an enlarged sectional view of a latch and catch arrangement taken on line 5-5 of FIG. 3;
FIG. 6 is an enlarged sectional view of a movable gate taken on line 6-6 of FIG. 3;
FIG. 7 is a front view of a programmable control panel for the device of FIG. 11;
FIG. 8 is a block diagram representing a service system linking multiple devices; and
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT
FIG. 9 is a block diagram representing a service system responsive to various conditions encountered during use of the device.
Referring now to the drawings, thereshown is a programmable item dispensing device 10 for providing controlled dispensing of items used to assist a person in managing his/her life on a daily basis.
The device 10 is generally comprised of an enclosed housing 12, a dispensing carousel 14, a drive assembly 16 and a programmable control arrangement 18.
As seen in FIGS. 1-4, the enclosing housing 12 preferably has a generally cubic configuration and can be constructed from any suitable material including metal, plastic and wood. The housing 12 includes pairs of opposed side walls 20, 22, 24, 26 provided with upper moldings 28, lower moldings 30 and corner moldings 32. The side walls 20, 22, 24, 26 are joined to an elevated support platform 34 which extends in a horizontal plane between upper and lower ends of the side walls 20, 22, 24, 26, and serves as a mounting surface for the dispensing carousel 14 and the drive assembly 16. The side walls 20, 22, 24, 26 and support platform 34 define an interior cavity 36 which is opened and closed by a cover 38 pivotally attached to the upper end of side wall 24 by a hinge 40. The cover 38 is equipped with an L-shaped latch 42 (FIG. 5) used in the opening and closing of the housing 12. Latch 42 is secured by a fastener 43 to an underside of cover 38. The housing 12 may include an enclosing bottom wall.
Side wall 20 is formed on its upper end with an access opening 44 from which a user can dispense a daily item or items. As best illustrated in FIG. 6, an inner surface of side wall 20 is provided with a movable gate 46 that slides up and down in a guide 48 to open and close the access opening 44. In the embodiment shown, the gate 46 has a lower end attached to a rod 50 that extends out of and retracts into an actuator 52 secured at its bottom to the inner surface of side wall 20. The gate 46 may be moved up and down manually or automatically as will be described below.
Side wall 22 is constructed on an upper end with a recess for receiving a conventional programmable microprocessor controller 54 of the controller arrangement 18. The controller 54 includes a control panel or keyboard 56 (FIG. 7) that is continuously accessible from the exterior of the side wall 22. As is well known, the keyboard 56 is provided with an LED screen 58 for displaying various information, and a plurality of input buttons 64 for programming the controller 54 as desired.
Side wall 24 has an inner surface that is provided with a mounting strip 62 (FIG. 4) located beneath the support platform 34. Control devices 64 and 66 are affixed to mounting strip 62 and are electrically connected by a wire 68. Control unit 64 is electrically connected by cable 70 to controller 54, and is also electrically connected to the drive assembly 16 by cable 72.
Side wall 26 has an uppermost, inner surface that is provided with a catch 74 (FIG. 5) secured by a fastener 76. The catch 74 has a slot 78 and a detent 80 normally biased outwardly by a spring 82 to lockingly engage with the walls of an aperture 84 in the latch 42 when the latch 42 is received in the slot 78 upon closure of the cover 38. In the preferred embodiment, the detent 80 is selectively retracted by an electromagnetic device 86 connected to the control arrangement 18. The detent 80 acts to normally keep the latch 42 engaged so that the cover 38 is held in the closed position of FIG. 1 during operation of device 10. The device 86 can be actuated to retract detent 80 so that the latch 42 can be released and the cover 38 can be pivoted upwardly when desired in the direction of arrow A.
Referring to FIGS. 2, 3 and 6, the dispensing carousel 14 is mounted for rotation about a vertical axis in the housing 12. The carousel 14 includes a circular planar base 88 having a central cylindrical hub 90 provided with a plurality of spaced apart, vertically extending and radially projecting divider walls 92 that extend upwardly from the base 88. The walls 92 have feet 94 that are attached to the base 88 and outer edges 96 that extend perpendicularly to the wall 92. The spaced apart walls 92 define a series of dispensing compartments 98 for holding items used in managing one's personal life. Such items typically include, but are not limited to, medications, money, food and gas cards and reminders for medical and other appointments and events.
The carousel 14 may be constructed with any size and number of dispensing compartments 98 as desired. The dispensing compartments 98 may carry a single item or a combination of items. It is preferable that the medications be enclosed in some type of container so that they are not contaminated. The dispensing carousel 14 is desired to be incrementally rotated by the drive assembly 16 and the control arrangement 18 so as to move the individual dispensing compartments 98 into alignment with the access opening 44 in housing side wall 20. As shown in FIG. 2, the dispensing carousel 14 is designed to be removable from the housing 12 after cover 38 has been opened by a responsible person to refill the dispensing compartments 98. Upon removal of the dispensing carousel 14, a filled replacement carousel 14′, shown in phantom lines, can be immediately installed in the housing 12 to provide continued service to the user of the device 10. It is contemplated that the carousel 14 can be restocked or refilled offsite from the location of the device 10, and returned to the site of the device 10 by a pharmacy, parent or other service.
As best appreciated in FIG. 4, the drive assembly 16 is used to drivingly rotate the dispensing carousel 14 to bring certain of the dispensing compartments 98 into alignment with the access opening 44. The drive assembly 16 is positioned below support platform 34 and includes an electric motor 100 mounted to a support member 102. Support member 102 extends across housing 12 and is spaced from side wall 22 by a pair of corner support members (one being seen at 104) attached thereto. The electric motor 100 may have a suitable driving interface between the motor 100 and the dispensing carousel 14 such as a gear reducer 106. The motor 100 has a rotatable member engaged with a drive chain 108 that is entrained with teeth 110 of a gear wheel 112. The gear wheel 112 is mounted for rotation on a shaft 114 that extends through a center of support platform 34 and terminates in a rotatable spindle 116. The spindle 116 has drive elements 118 that are removably keyed to mating structure in a bottom wall of hub 90 on dispensing carousel 14. Electric power for the motor 100, as well as controller 54 and control devices 64, 66, is normally supplied from an external AC source. A back up battery 120 is mounted to the support member 102, and is suitably connected to the controller 54, control devices 64, 66 and motor 100 to provide an alternate source of electrical power if the AC source becomes unavailable.
Control arrangement 18 is selectively formed by controller 54 and the control devices 64, 66. The controller 54 is typically programmed via key pad 56 by a responsible person to operate daily to rotate the dispensing carousel 14 incrementally to move a dispensing compartment 98 into alignment with the access window 44. As a result, items may be manually dispensed through the access window 44 to a user in a regimented manner that will assist the user in managing his/her daily life. The controller 54 may be programmed to dispense single or multiple items for various time periods such as a week or a month, or as otherwise desired. The controller 54 typically includes an audible alarm to signal the user when items are to be dispensed.
Referring to FIG. 3, the control arrangement 18 is connected by a line 122 to the actuator 52 so as to enable automatic control for opening and closing of the gate 46 relative to the access opening 44. Control arrangement 18 is connected by a line 124 to the electromagnetic catch 74 in order to control locking and unlocking of the latch 42 of cover 38. The controller 54 may include another audible alarm to signal when cover 38 has been locked. Control arrangement 18 is also connected by a line 126 to a camera or other visual sensor 128 that may be mounted, for example, on the underside of cover 38 in alignment with a dispensing compartment 98 which is presented to the access opening 44. The camera 128 acts to confirm the removal or ascertain the non-removal of items from the dispensing compartment 98. Alternately, the camera 128 could be mounted in support platform 34 and used with carousel 14 having a transparent base 88.
In use, the cover 38 is opened as shown in FIG. 2 so that a responsible person can remove the dispensing carousel 14 and have the carousel filled with the items to be dispensed such as medications, money, food and gas cards, reminders for appointments, etc. The filled carousel 14 is then installed for rotation in the housing 12, and the responsible person closes and locks cover 38 using the key pad 56 on controller 54 once an access code has been input thereto. The items stored in the carousel 14 are now protected against tampering or theft during dispensing.
In a typical application, the controller 54, when programmed, will periodically signal the user during the day with an audible alarm, and rotate the filled carousel 14 an incremental amount so that a desired compartment 98 holding an item or items to be dispensed is aligned with the access opening 44. Upon hearing the alarm, the user moves the gate 46 open and removes the contents in the dispensing compartment 98 via the access opening 44. The carousel 14 may be designed with dispensing compartments that provide a slider or chute to ease in dispensing of items through opening 44.
If the user does not open the gate 46 to remove the contents of the dispensing compartment 98 within a predetermined time period, the gate 46 will automatically close, and a signal will be sent to a service representative who will analyze the situation. The service representative may view an image sent by the camera 128 to determine that the user has removed some or none of the items, and may take whatever steps are necessary to address the dispensing of items. Program dispensing continues in the same manner until the carousel 14 is empty, at which point a signal will be sent to a service representative to remove the empty carousel 14 and replace it with a restocked one.
As depicted in FIG. 8, the invention contemplates linking multiple units or devices 10 together, and tying their control arrangements 18 to a main computer monitored by a reputable service entity 130. Also, the key pad 56 may be mounted in the interior cavity 36, in which case locking control of the cover 38 may be effected by a key or other means. Further, the key pad 56 may be placed at a remote location for off-site programmable control.
FIG. 9 shows a block diagram representing a system in which the controller 54 is responsive to various faults, namely, battery failure at 132, no gate movement at 134, no carousel rotation at 136 and no camera image at 138. Any such fault will transmit a signal via a phone unit 140 to a service center 142 to correct any problem in using the device 10.
In the preferred embodiment shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, the device 10 is designed as a large, heavy unit supported on a floor or similar support surface 144 to inhibit tampering or theft. It should be understood, however, that the device 10 could be incorporated into a standard piece of furniture such as a bed stand, a bedroom dresser, a kitchen or bathroom cabinet or any other environment. The device can be sized as desired and configured for dispensing different time periods such as for a week or month. A smaller device may be built for a child as a tool to manage money (e.g. a weekly allowance) by dispensing a predetermined amount of money on a daily basis. Device 10 has widespread use in residential homes, as well as nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, hospices, hospitals, medical centers, assisted living facilities, and group homes.
Various alternatives and embodiments are contemplated as being within the scope of the following claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter regarded as the invention.