US20090282859A1 - System for Remotely Controlling and Monitoring a Food Refrigerator and its Content - Google Patents

System for Remotely Controlling and Monitoring a Food Refrigerator and its Content Download PDF

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Publication number
US20090282859A1
US20090282859A1 US12296067 US29606707A US2009282859A1 US 20090282859 A1 US20090282859 A1 US 20090282859A1 US 12296067 US12296067 US 12296067 US 29606707 A US29606707 A US 29606707A US 2009282859 A1 US2009282859 A1 US 2009282859A1
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Prior art keywords
refrigerator
unit
food
remote
communication
Prior art date
Legal status (The legal status is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the status listed.)
Abandoned
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US12296067
Inventor
Luigi Glielmo
Davide Del Cogliano
Corrado De Santis
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Smartfreeze Srl
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Smartfreeze Srl
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    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q10/00Administration; Management
    • G06Q10/08Logistics, e.g. warehousing, loading, distribution or shipping; Inventory or stock management, e.g. order filling, procurement or balancing against orders
    • G06Q10/087Inventory or stock management, e.g. order filling, procurement, balancing against orders
    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F25REFRIGERATION OR COOLING; COMBINED HEATING AND REFRIGERATION SYSTEMS; HEAT PUMP SYSTEMS; MANUFACTURE OR STORAGE OF ICE; LIQUEFACTION SOLIDIFICATION OF GASES
    • F25DREFRIGERATORS; COLD ROOMS; ICE-BOXES; COOLING OR FREEZING APPARATUS NOT COVERED BY ANY OTHER SUBCLASS
    • F25D29/00Arrangement or mounting of control or safety devices
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q10/00Administration; Management
    • G06Q10/08Logistics, e.g. warehousing, loading, distribution or shipping; Inventory or stock management, e.g. order filling, procurement or balancing against orders
    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F25REFRIGERATION OR COOLING; COMBINED HEATING AND REFRIGERATION SYSTEMS; HEAT PUMP SYSTEMS; MANUFACTURE OR STORAGE OF ICE; LIQUEFACTION SOLIDIFICATION OF GASES
    • F25DREFRIGERATORS; COLD ROOMS; ICE-BOXES; COOLING OR FREEZING APPARATUS NOT COVERED BY ANY OTHER SUBCLASS
    • F25D2700/00Means for sensing or measuring; Sensors therefor
    • F25D2700/08Sensors using Radio Frequency Identification [RFID]

Abstract

System (20) for remotely controlling and monitoring a food refrigerator (1) of the type intended to be given in rental or in free loan from a manufacturer to a vendor of cold products, comprising a control unit (2) for checking and storing a plurality of functioning parameters of the food refrigerator (1), an RFID reader (3) intended to read data stored in a plurality of RFID tags attached to the cold products, a communication unit (4) for interconnecting an external device, the RFID reader (3) comprising means for retrieving the data from the RFID tags when the cold products are stocked inside the food refrigerator (1) and the communication unit (4) comprising localization means for transmitting information to the external device on a geographical localization of the food refrigerator (1).

Description

    FIELD OF APPLICATION
  • [0001]
    The present invention relates to a system for controlling and monitoring a food refrigerator and its content of the type intended to be given in rental or in free loan from a manufacturer to a vendor of cold products, the system comprising a control unit for checking and storing a plurality of functioning parameters of said food refrigerator and an RFID system to maintain a real-time inventory of the refrigerator content.
  • [0002]
    More particularly, the present invention relates to a system of the type described above comprising communication units for interconnecting external devices or to the Internet, in order to allow a technician to check and modify, locally or remotely, the functioning parameters of the food refrigerator and to allow the food manufacturer to be informed on the refrigerator content and incoming and outcoming flows of products.
  • PRIOR ART
  • [0003]
    As it is well known, food refrigerators for ice creams and cold products in general may be located in public places, for example in coffeehouses, in order to maintain a predetermined temperature of the cold products before a sale of the same.
  • [0004]
    More particularly, the food refrigerator may be equipped with a control unit for checking a plurality of functioning parameters, for example a temperature value inside the food refrigerator, its power on/power off status or the quantity of cold products still available.
  • [0005]
    The control unit may alert a user, for example when the food refrigerator is quite empty or when the temperature is too high, in order to prevent a waste of the products. In case of abnormal functioning, the control unit may for example emit an acoustic signal or switch on a light.
  • [0006]
    More particularly, some food refrigerators are provided with a control unit implementing an RFID system to detect the number and type of products stored inside. As schematically represented in FIG. 1, the RFID system includes a reader with an antenna and a plurality of tags provided with a coupler antenna. Each tag is attached to a corresponding cold product, for example it is attached to a case hosting or enveloping such product.
  • [0007]
    More in detail, a tag is usually a passive component, i.e. it is not equipped with a battery in order to be powered but activated by an electromagnetic field emitted by a reader; some special tags are active components because they include a battery based power supply. In both cases, the reader sends, through its antenna, a radio frequency signal that is captured by the coupler antenna embedded inside the tag so that a response signal, storing information associated to the cold product whereto the tag is attached, may be returned from the coupler antenna to the reader.
  • [0008]
    More particularly, electric circuitry inside passive tags are powered by the electromagnetic field generated by the reader, during the transmission of the radio frequency signal. Passive tags are used for their lower cost, especially for applications when the tag cannot be reused after the selling of the product to which it is attached.
  • [0009]
    Generally, the minimum informative content stored inside passive tags is an alphanumeric code, one by one associated to the cold product, more particularly, to the case wherein the food is stored. In this way two different tags never store a same alphanumeric code so that the tag not only identifies a certain product category but also the single specimen of the product.
  • [0010]
    Another important issue for such food refrigerator is that they are sometimes given in rental or in free loan, from a manufacturer of cold products to a vendor of such cold products, for example to a coffeehouse. In this way the vendor is much prone to buy cold products, since he/she is not involved in buying or maintaining the food refrigerator.
  • [0011]
    Of course the manufacturer of cold products is interested in the correct functioning of his food refrigerator, especially to be sure that it is correctly working, it is not empty and to be aware that the food refrigerator is used by the specific vendor to which it was originally delivered. In other words, the manufacturer of cold products must be conscious about every action taken on his food refrigerator.
  • [0012]
    A prior art document, the United States patent application published under No US 2006/0006999 A1, discloses a system and a method for monitoring the temperature inside refrigerators, more particularly in hospital field. A specific RFID tag able to read temperature sends a value of temperature to an RFID reader. The system provides the storing and the managing of information inside an electronic log in order to check the temperature depending on time and, in the case of abnormal functioning, to send a message to a maintainer of the food refrigerator.
  • [0013]
    The system and the method of this prior art solution are specifically indicated for asset tracking and inventory maintenance, especially for hospitals, but no reference is made to the monitoring of the refrigerator location outside the hospital area wherein the refrigerator is usually hosted, for example a remote monitoring driven by a manufacturer of the refrigerator not residing inside the same hospital area. In other words, the system and the method do not provide data about the geographic localization of the refrigerator, since it is supposed that the refrigerator always resides in a delimited local area. Moreover, the RFID tag is responsible to take a measure of the temperature, not to track a product inventory inside the food refrigerator.
  • [0014]
    A second prior art document, the United States patent application published under No US 2002/0089434A1 relates to a tracking system comprising a GSM/GPS application but it is substantially based on a “gate access control” system for tracking people or vehicles in a GSM network of the type schematically shown in FIG. 2. In this case, no reference is made to the localization of refrigerators nor to the inventory of products.
  • [0015]
    A third solution is disclosed by the European patent application No EP1479988, relating to a wireless electronic control system for home appliances, more particularly for refrigerators, based on wireless transponder sensors for checking parameters of a device and with RFID tag attached to products.
  • [0016]
    The system uses a monitoring and a local control of parameters in order to check a correct functioning of the refrigerator and supports the check of the products inside it. A reading of functioning parameters is executed through a device external to the refrigerator, for improving the intervention of a technician. Anyway no reference is made to the remote control of such parameters, nor a localization of the food refrigerator through a remote control unit, in order to check remotely whether it is turned on and/or located near the vendor where it was delivered.
  • [0017]
    Another prior art document, an International patent application number published under No. WO03073201, discloses the control of products with RFID tag inside micro-warehouses, included in a refrigerator. An identification of products depends on their passages through a refrigerator door, entering and exiting the refrigerator, while no reference is made to the identification of products inside the refrigerator itself. In this specific application, the remote control of functioning parameter of the food refrigerator is not considered, nor the remote control of products stored in it.
  • [0018]
    Finally, the Japan application No JP2004062315 relates to a system and a method for monitoring devices for managing home appliances during their life cycle. A tag is a central instrument for monitoring the home appliance in this application, but it is not an instrument for remote control, nor for checking the number of products available inside the home appliance.
  • [0019]
    The problem at the basis of the present invention is that of providing a system for checking the geographic localization of food refrigerators, for example given in rental or in free loan from a cold products manufacturer to a cold products vendor, the system supporting an embedded control unit for checking functioning parameters of the food refrigerator as well as for inventorying the products stored inside, so that the manufacturer is aware of well-function or malfunction of the refrigerator and of all actions taken on his food refrigerator and so that he is also remotely aware of the content of the food refrigerator, without requiring a local action such as a movement of cold products inside the refrigerator, allowing an optimization of the profit of the rental or free loan of the food refrigerator.
  • SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • [0020]
    One embodiment of the present invention relates to a system for inventorying the content of a food refrigerator through an RFID system detecting tags attached or associated to cold products, independently of their movement, the system comprising a check of the geographic localization of the food refrigerator through GSM/GPRS means, hereinafter indicated as delocalization check.
  • [0021]
    A further embodiment of the invention relates to a system for remote control of a food refrigerator of the type intended to be given in rental or in free loan from a manufacturer to a vendor of cold products, comprising:
      • a control unit for checking and storing a plurality of functioning parameters of the food refrigerator,
      • an RFID reader intended to read data stored in a plurality of RFID tags attached to the cold products,
      • a communication unit for interconnecting an external device,
      • the RFID reader comprising means for retrieving the data from the RFID tags when the cold products are stocked inside the food refrigerator and the communication unit comprising localization means for transmitting information to the external device on a geographical localization of the food refrigerator.
  • [0026]
    The characteristics and the advantages of the system according to the present invention will be apparent from the following description of an embodiment thereof, made with reference to the annexed drawings, given for indicative and non-limiting purpose.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS
  • [0027]
    FIG. 1: schematically shows, in a diagram block, an RFID system according to the prior art.
  • [0028]
    FIG. 2: schematically shows some transmission cells of a GSM network, an information on the transmission cell whereto a mobile device is connected being retrievable via software, according to the prior art.
  • [0029]
    FIG. 3: schematically shows a block diagram of the system for remotely controlling and monitoring a content of a food refrigerator, according to the present invention.
  • [0030]
    FIG. 4: schematically shows a block diagram of the system of FIG. 3, according to another embodiment of the present invention.
  • [0031]
    FIG. 5: schematically shows, in an application layer structure, the system according to the present invention.
  • [0032]
    FIG. 6: schematically shows an hardware modules architecture of the system according to the present invention.
  • [0033]
    FIG. 7: schematically shows a GPRS communication between a remote server and a refrigerator control unit, initiated by the control unit, according to the present invention.
  • [0034]
    FIG. 8: schematically shows a GPRS communication between a remote server and a refrigerator control unit, initiated by the remote server, according to the present invention.
  • [0035]
    FIG. 9: schematically shows a Local Area Network or a wireless network interconnecting food refrigerators, interconnected through a gateway to an external network, according to the present invention.
  • [0036]
    FIG. 10: schematically shows a communication initiated by a Local Area Network or the wireless network of FIG. 9 toward a remote server, according to the present invention.
  • [0037]
    FIG. 11: schematically shows a possible communication between a remote server and a Local Area Network of refrigerators, according to the present invention.
  • [0038]
    FIG. 12 and FIG. 13: schematically show in a state diagram, the possible states of the control unit of a system according to the present invention.
  • [0039]
    FIG. 14: schematically shows a communication between a refrigerator control unit and a remote server to initialize the control unit and assign it to the specific refrigerator.
  • [0040]
    FIG. 15: schematically represents, in a pseudo code, a data structure to be used for the delocalization check, according to the present invention.
  • [0041]
    FIG. 16: schematically shows, at any given time, a possible network configuration for a de-localization check, according to the present invention.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION
  • [0042]
    According to the present invention and with reference to the annexed drawings, a system for remotely controlling food refrigerators or refrigerated vending machines is schematically represented with the numeral reference 20.
  • [0043]
    The food refrigerator 1 is of the type intended to be given in rental or in free loan from a manufacturer of cold products to a vendor of such cold products, for example to a coffeehouse, not limiting the scope of the present invention. In fact, the food refrigerator 1 is also referred to as “frigobars” for rooms of hotel chains wherein it is important to know its precise content, in order to prepare a corresponding billing for a client or to supply an opportune re-supply after consumption.
  • [0044]
    More particularly, with reference to FIG. 3, the system 20 comprises a control unit 2 for checking a plurality of functioning parameters of the food refrigerator 1, for example related to a temperature value inside the food refrigerator 1, its power-on/power-off status or the quantity of cold products still available.
  • [0045]
    Such functioning parameters are monitored by the control unit 2 in order to detect an abnormal functioning of the food refrigerator 1 and to prevent a waste of the cold products.
  • [0046]
    The system 20 also comprises an RFID reader 3 intended to read a plurality of tags attached to a corresponding plurality of cold products to be tracked. The RFID reader 3 may for example be enclosed or embedded in an apposite protective case of the food refrigerator 1.
  • [0047]
    The system 20 further comprises a communication unit 4 for interconnecting the food refrigerator 1 and one or more external devices. For example, the communication unit 4 is a GSM/GPRS unit or a wireless unit intended to communicate with a second food refrigerator, provided with same GSM/GPRS unit or provided with a wireless unit 4, and connected to a LAN also connecting the food refrigerator 1.
  • [0048]
    The communication unit 4 is intended to connect via GSM/GPRS or via wireless communication a remote server 5, for example remotely located outside the LAN of the food refrigerator 1.
  • [0049]
    The communication unit 4 may be installed in a conventional refrigerator, for example in a refrigerator already provided with a specific control unit 2 for detecting abnormal functioning but not provided with communication means for communicating with a remote server 5. In other words, the communication unit 4 may be adapted to the hardware of a conventional refrigerator in order to provide its remote control, as will be clear from the following description.
  • [0050]
    With reference to FIG. 4 is schematically represented a conventional refrigerator already provided with a specific control unit for detecting abnormal functioning and with the communication unit 4 adapted to the hardware of the conventional refrigerator in order to provide the remote control.
  • [0051]
    More particularly, the remote server 5 can be reached, for example through the Internet network, by the management of the manufacturer of food products while the food refrigerator 1, including the communication unit 4, is located at the vendor of food products, the vendor and the manufacturer eventually being in different countries.
  • [0052]
    The system 20 according to the invention comprises a food refrigerator 1 monitoring and inventory hereinafter described: the cold products are arranged in a plurality of cases, for example, in disposable boxes whereon a tag is attached in non removable way, in order to advantageously provide a one by one association between a cold product and a corresponding case.
  • [0053]
    The term “case” according to the present invention may also be referred to a plastic wrap used to wrap around the cold product or a solid box wherein such product is placed.
  • [0054]
    According to the present invention, the RFID reader 3 detects a quantity of cold products inside the food refrigerator independently of a movement of such products.
  • [0055]
    In fact, the RFID reader 3 comprises means for a transmission of radio frequency signals at predetermined time intervals in order to activate said RFID tags to read said data.
  • [0056]
    For example every second or more frequently such means sends an electromagnetic signal and waits for a response by the cold products stored in the food refrigerator. This periodical scan can occur continuously or rather under certain conditions (so as to reduce the amount of data to be processed and the power consumption), e.g. when the doors of the refrigerators are opened.
  • [0057]
    The electromagnetic field generated by the RFID reader 3 powers on the tags at predetermined time intervals. Advantageously, the presence of a cold product can be detected independently of a movement of such products through a door of the food refrigerator 1 and, more generally, without the intervention of a human-driven movement or an electromechanical movement of the tagged products.
  • [0058]
    In other words, the RFID reader 3 scans the interior of the refrigerator enabling a real time inventory thus making an instantaneous “picture” of the content of the food refrigerator 1 and, on the basis of the signals received by the tagged products, can provide a complete inventory of the products inside the food refrigerator as well as a count of the incoming and out coming flows of products. The incoming and out coming flows of products can be easily determined by the control unit 2 examining the sequence of said “pictures”.
  • [0059]
    The inventory includes a plurality of inventory data, for example comprising the number of sold products during a period of time, their permanence inside the food refrigerator and their relevant dates, which might be a possible deadline or a delivering or sale date.
  • [0060]
    It should be emphasized that the system according to the present invention does not determine the quantity of products during their passage through the food refrigerator door, so that it is not possible to lose information for example because more than one cold products are inserted or extracted at a same time through the food refrigerator door, the reading of a first tag associated to a first product being impeded by the presence of a second tag attached to a second cold product.
  • [0061]
    On the contrary the system according to the present invention provides for a inventory of the already stored products thanks to periodical sending and reading of electromagnetic signals.
  • [0062]
    The control unit 2, at predetermined time intervals, for example once a day, takes the inventory data detected by the RFID reader 3 and transmits them to the remote server 5 via the communication unit 4. The control unit 2 sends to the remote server 5 also a plurality of function parameters indicating the state of the food refrigerator, for example samples of refrigerator or environment temperature and moisture during a day, the number of openings of the food refrigerator door, the number of switching on and off or the number of hours of activity of a compressor unit inside the food refrigerator or other subsystems, the power consumption.
  • [0063]
    The system 20 also comprises a localization/delocalization of the food refrigerator 1, providing the control unit 2 with the transmission to the remote server 5 of additional information, extracted from the communication unit 4, for example from the GSM/GPRS modem, which allow to remotely check that the food refrigerator, delivered to a specific vendor, is not moved and re-located to a non authorized location (delocalization check).
  • [0064]
    More particularly, a GSM/GPRS communication system is based on a partition of geographical areas into a plurality of transmission cells. When a GSM/GPRS communication between the remote server 5 (actually its front-end) and the food refrigerator 1 is required, the communication unit 4 executes a connection with a transmission cell dedicated to the area wherein the food refrigerator 1 resides.
  • [0065]
    The system 20 includes a software for retrieving, from the GSM/GPRS modem, the main cell and the neighboring cells around the refrigerator, as schematically represented in FIG. 16. This cell information, indicative of a relatively large area and not of a specific location, for instance at neighborhood level, can be used to detect whether the refrigerator has been moved from its supposed location.
  • [0066]
    More in detail if, after a power-off period, the communication unit 4 detects a transmission cell never referred to in previous communications, the control unit 2 can trigger a transmission of a de-localization message to the remote server 5, alerting that a theft or an undesired movement of the food refrigerator 1 may have occurred.
  • [0067]
    More than one alternative measure can be implemented to prevent false alarms or undetected alert conditions, considering too that the set of cells around a location can be dynamically changed by a provider according to its network configuration. For example, a set of secure transmission cells for a specific location of the food refrigerator 1 can be defined in order to prevent the sending of such de-localization message when the communication unit 4 contacts any transmission cell of said set.
  • [0068]
    More particularly, the remote server 5 is equipped with an adaptive georeferencing algorithm.
  • [0069]
    The communication unit 4 periodically reaches GSM/GPRS cells identifiers and sends such identifiers to the remote server 5, so that the remote server 5 may associate the identifiers with the known geographical positions of the communication unit 4.
  • [0070]
    Advantageously, according to the invention, a number of refrigerators 1 including respective communication units 4, located in a certain area, send to the remote server 5 the identifiers of GSM/GPRS cells.
  • [0071]
    The remote server 5, on the base of the identifiers received by the communication units 4, determines a georeferencing or geographical database, for example associating each neighborhood in the area with a cluster of cells.
  • [0072]
    Advantageously, the system 20 may determine a geographical database on the base of the identifiers of the communication units 4 and without asking it for fee to a GSM/GPRS provider
  • [0073]
    Moreover, the geographical database determined by the system 20 is adaptive since it is based on cells information received from different GSM/GPRS providers, whereto different communication units 4 are connected in a certain area, and not from a single GSM/GPRS provider.
  • [0074]
    Furthermore, the localization/delocalization according to the system 20 may retrieve information from other communication systems, for example from a CDMA (code division multiple access) cellular system, or the Global Positioning System (GPS) or the OmniTRACS satellite system generally used for transportation logistics.
  • [0075]
    The system 20 supports communications between the remote server 5 and the communication unit(s) 4 in synchronous or asynchronous and bi-directional way: the remote server 5, receiving functioning parameters and inventory data, can directly intervene on the control unit 2, for example remotely modifying the temperature settings of the food refrigerator 1 (of one particular refrigerator, or some refrigerators, e.g. in a certain geographical area).
  • [0076]
    As stated above, providing a conventional refrigerator with a communication unit 4 according to the system 20 of the present invention, the remote server 5 may directly intervene not only on the food refrigerator 1 including a control unit 2 specifically designed to communicate with the communication unit 4 but also on conventional refrigerators, including a conventional control unit. The communication unit 4 is adapted to communicate with a conventional control unit, for example through a software or hardware interface transmitting and receiving between the conventional control unit and the communication unit 4.
  • [0077]
    The intervention can be fully automatic or rather mediated by an operator through a decision support system.
  • [0078]
    With a capillary report of information periodically sent by the on-board control units, the remote server 5 knows the content of each food refrigerator 1, its locations, the delivery flow of cold products, its vending flows, the total amount of cold products delivered, the number of cold products delivered and already sold, the number of food refrigerators powered on or their status. In this way the manufacturer of cold products can schedule the production and the delivery of cold products and the maintenance of food refrigerators 1, optimizing all activities.
  • [0079]
    A transmission of inventory data or functioning parameters to the remote server 5 can also be directly triggered by a fault, detected by the control unit 2. For example, an incorrect value of temperature, the absence of cold products or a breakdown of the compressor can be detected and trigger an immediate transmission of inventory data or functioning parameter to the remote server 5. In this way, a corresponding action can be immediately taken from the cold product manufacturer or the maintenance team. The on-board unit is equipped with a back-up battery so that storage of data and their transmission is possible also during a power-off situation. In this way, the remote server 5 can be informed also on the power-off status.
  • [0080]
    With reference to FIG. 6, hardware modules included in the system 20, subsystems 2 and 4, are schematically represented: a microcontroller 10 a, a power module 10 b, an input/output electronic unit 10 c, a GSM/GPRS modem 10 d, an RS-485 interface toward an RFID module.
  • [0081]
    More particularly, the communication unit 4 comprises a quadri-band wireless GPRS modem, operating at 850, 900, 1800, 1900 Mhz frequencies. A communication between the communication unit 4 and the remote server 5 can be based on a HTTP Protocol and a PPP/IP network stack.
  • [0082]
    The communication via GPRS can be initiated by the on-board unit as schematically represented in FIG. 7 or by the remote server 5, as schematically represented in FIG. 8.
  • [0083]
    The communication unit 4 provides network local adapters (for example a LAN Ethernet adapter or a local wireless adapter, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) in order to connect a local area network to a remote network.
  • [0084]
    Such adapters are used to share, among more than one communication units 4 associated to corresponding food refrigerators 1, a single remote communication toward a remote network or a remote server 5, reducing costs and optimizing a communication link.
  • [0085]
    FIG. 9 schematically shows a system 20 wherein a plurality of food refrigerators 1 are interconnected in a local area network through respective network adapters and interfaced to a remote network or to a remote server 5, for example through an Internet gateway implementing a GPRS connection.
  • [0086]
    Each food refrigerator 1 comprises a client unit, also indicated as smart-up client, accessible only inside the local area network, for example implementing software for responding to requests based on the HTTP protocol.
  • [0087]
    More particularly, one of said client units is also set as a network server towards a remote network, for example to the Internet so that one or more clients can redirect HTTP request to such network server.
  • [0088]
    The network server, acting as a conventional Internet gateway, forwards the data from the client units to the remote server 5. Any communication coming from a remote network or from a remote server 5 is received by the network server and dispatched to the corresponding client inside the local area network.
  • [0089]
    In FIG. 10 a protocol for initiating a communication from a client unit in the local area network to a remote server 5 is schematically represented. In FIG. 11 is schematically represented a communication between the remote server 5 and a client unit in the local area network of refrigerators.
  • [0090]
    According to the present invention, the control unit 2 on board the refrigerator 1 is programmed on the base of a State Diagram, as schematically represented in FIG. 12 and FIG. 13. When the system 20 is activated, a complete hardware self check is performed in state S1. More particularly, if an hardware fault is detected the control unit 2 enters state S2 and it tries to recover the fault. If no fault is detected, an initialization procedure is executed, entering state S3. In state S3 an alarm led is lighted on the control unit 2 so that an operator or user can understand if the control unit 2 is not yet working. The led is switched off during the permanence in state S5, S6, S7 and S8.
  • [0091]
    In state S1 a set of state variables are checked in a serial flash storage memory, for determining a successive state to be entered. The storage memory is for example included in the control unit 2.
  • [0092]
    If state S3 is entered, the communication unit 4 waits for an SMS from an installer. Such SMS stores information validated by the remote server 5 with a GPRS handshake, comprising a serial number of the food refrigerator 1 and a customer code to which it is associated.
  • [0093]
    More particularly, if the SMS is validated by the remote server 5, the communication unit 4 asks to the remote server 5 a plurality of functioning parameters. During the validation handshake the communication unit 4 sends the IMEI code of an installed modem.
  • [0094]
    The remote server 5 may command a re-initialization, sending a corresponding parameter to the communication unit 4 for a system software reset. In this case state S3 is executed.
  • [0095]
    State S5 is entered from state S3 if the communication unit 4 receives valid parameters from the remote server 5.
  • [0096]
    In state S5 one or more hardware devices are used to read “i” working parameters of the refrigerator 1. More particularly, a device check is performed for each of said hardware device in a sub-state of state S5, identified in FIG. 13 as state S5-1-i.
  • [0097]
    Also in state S5 a fault may occur. More particularly, if no fault is detected state S5-2-i is entered and the “i-th” working parameter is read and stored in a non-volatile memory. On the contrary, if a fault is detected, a fault recovery procedure is attempted in state S5-2-i and, if the fault cannot be recovered, no attempt to use the corresponding device is made.
  • [0098]
    For working parameter, a couple of values “sample value, sample time” is recorded. In the following table a possible list of sampled variables and sampling parameters is reported.
  • [0000]
    Sampling Historical memory
    Name Type time on the control unit
    Temperature Analogic 4 min 3 days
    Adsorbed Analogic 1.5 s 3 hours
    compressor
    current
    Compressor Digital Event 3 days
    activation based
    Localization Structured 30 min 3 days
  • [0099]
    For conventional refrigerators adapted to include a communication unit 4 the set of parameters which can be read/written from/to the control unit 2 depends on the control unit 2 itself.
  • [0100]
    More particularly, the localization signal comprises a structured information of the type represented in the pseudo code of FIG. 15.
  • [0101]
    In order to retrieve a localization signal, a loop on the communication unit 4 is executed.
  • [0102]
    The loop is for instance executed for detecting the identification of a main cell, identification of neighboring cells and an operator code. More particularly, the information on localization or a check for delocalization may be executed by:
      • verifying that, after a power fault, the cells received by the GSM/GPRS providers are the same used before the fault or
      • the number of new cells received by the GSM/GPRS providers is not greater than a specified threshold.
  • [0105]
    As described in the following description, in state S8-2 a parameters request may be executed; such parameters may be written into the control unit 2 of the conventional refrigerator, entering state S5 from state S8-2.
  • [0106]
    A state S6 may be entered from state S5 to check the read variables toward certain thresholds, for detecting refrigerator anomalous conditions. If any anomalous condition is found, state S7 is entered for alerting the remote server 5 via a GSM/GPRS handshake.
  • [0107]
    State S8 is entered to upload data to the remote server 5 via a GSM/GPRS connection. More particularly, in state S8-1 data are sent to the remote server 5; in state S8-2, a parameter request to remote server 5 is executed; after the parameter request execution, the control unit 2 receives the parameters requested to check if the remote server 5 has commanded a re-initialization procedure.
  • [0108]
    In this case the control unit 2 substantially executes a software-reset and a restart procedure. After the restart procedure, the control unit 2 enter state S4, as described above.
  • [0109]
    The delocalization check is computed on the remote server 5 and it is based on the assumption that the refrigerator is delocalized only if it is detached from the power supply network. Hence the delocalization check is performed only at the end of a power-off power-on events sequence.
  • [0110]
    More particularly, the delocalization check comprises a long-range delocalization check for detecting if the refrigerator has been moved in a range greater than an average GSM cell range and a short range delocalization check for detecting if the refrigerator has been moved inside a retailer shop area from its previously assigned position.
  • [0111]
    A conventional GSM cell range is 200 m in urban areas and up to 35 km areas with low density of population.
  • [0112]
    A delocalization check algorithm is schematically described hereinafter as an example and without limiting the scope of the present invention.
  • [0113]
    A remote server 5 is alerted remotely of a power-off event and, in order to execute the delocalization check, it executes three steps.
  • [0114]
    1) Filter step for filtering false positive events. This step test returns a positive value if the time interval between a power off event and a power on event of said control unit 2 is greater than a user defined threshold.
  • [0115]
    The filter step substantially filters all power-off/power-on sequences related to normal energy supply operations or refrigerator maintenance operations, avoiding to consider such normal operations as a delocalization of the refrigerator.
  • [0116]
    2) Comparison or algorithmic step. An algorithm of the type described hereafter is executed: at any given time, the possible network configuration, detected through the GSM/GPRS modem, is reported in FIG. 14 and given by the set:
  • [0000]
    Nk={Mck,Nck,j}, which includes a main cell Mck and a number of up to 6 neighboring cells Nck,j, where k is the sample time and j=1 . . . Ncmax, Ncmax=1 . . . 6 (the number of neighboring cells), according to the network configuration. Hence the cardinality of the set Nk is 1≦|Nk|≦7 (in other words, up to 7 cells are detected by the modem at each time).
  • [0117]
    A de-localization of the communication unit 4 is detected after a power-off and the successive power-on by checking whether the cells utilized by the GSM/GPRS systems have changed with respect to the situation before the power-off. More particularly, the GSM/GPRS cells connected to the communication unit 4 before a power off of the control unit 2 are compared with the GSM/GPRS cells connected to the communication unit (4) after a power on of such control unit 2.
  • [0118]
    In particular, denoting by k the time after the power fault and with k-1 the time before the power fault, if the cells at time k are exactly the same as at time k-1, or if number of overlapping cells before and after the fault is greater than a prescribed threshold TH (depending on the number of cells connected at time k-1) a delocalization is not flagged; otherwise a delocalization warning is produced. The algorithm can be described as follows:
  • [0000]
    UnitDelocalized = { PowerOn , I k TH ( N k - 1 ) ,
  • [0000]
    where Ik is the set of overlapping cells, i.e. cells which were connected at time k-1 before the power-off and are again connected at time k after the power-on, i.e.
  • [0000]

    I k =N k ∩N k-1
  • [0000]
    and the following table gives possible thresholds corresponding to the number of cells connected before the power-off:
  • [0000]
    |Nk−1| TH(|Nk−1|)
    7 3
    6 3
    5 3
    4 2
    3 2
    2 1
    1 0
  • [0119]
    Thus if, for example, 5 cells were detected at time k-1, a warning is issued if only 3 of them (or less) are detected again after the power-on.
  • [0120]
    Substantially, on the base of the number of cells detected, the comparison or algorithmic step may return a positive or a negative value. For example, a positive value is returned the number of cells detected before the power off is substantially different from the number of cells detected after the power off.
  • [0121]
    If the filter step and the comparison or algorithmic step return positive values, a verify step is executed.
  • [0122]
    The verify step returns a positive if at least one GSM/GPRS cell is reached which, according to the database on the remote server 5, has never been associated to the communication unit 4 in a current geographical position of the refrigerator. In other words, the verify step checks if at least one GSM/GPRS cell is connected for a first time to the communication unit 4.
  • [0123]
    If the three steps described above are positive, the delocalization check executed by the remote server 5 substantially determines that the refrigerator has been delocalized.
  • [0124]
    Of course other and further checks can be realized on the remote server 5 (rather than on the local on-board control unit 2) on the base of a much wider collection of historical data and more powerful computational capabilities so as to avoid false alarms.
  • [0125]
    As an example of implementation for the short-range delocalization check, a special refrigerator power plug equipped with a short-range RFID reader may be used. The RFID reader is provided to detect a special marker, for example laid in the wall socket proximity. As instance the RFID reader may be a low cost reader operating at 125 kHz, since the tag may be placed at a close distance from the reader, for example at 1 or 2 inches.
  • [0126]
    A conventional RFID reader operating at 125 Khz comprises a small integrated circuit whose reduced dimension allows to embody the reader inside a smart power plug.
  • [0127]
    More particularly, the short-range delocalization check may be implemented with:
      • a 125 kHz RFID reader with a respective antenna embodied into a refrigerator plug;
      • a 125 kHz RFID tag laid in the close proximities of the wall socket to which the refrigerator is supposed to be installed;
      • a poles wire from the wall socket plug to the refrigerator and to the system 20.
  • [0131]
    The pole wire is for example a 7 pole wire comprising:
      • a. 3 wires for the refrigerator power supply;
      • b. 2 wires for a low voltage power supply for the 125 Khz RFID reader;
      • c. 2 wires as data channel for the communication between the 125 Khz RFID reader and the system 20.
  • [0135]
    A 125 kHz RFID tag compliant with the RFID reader is laid in the close proximity of a wall socket.
  • [0136]
    When the refrigerator is plugged, the reader is able to detect the tag; on the contrary, when the refrigerator is not plugged or it is plugged elsewhere the tag is not detected by the reader and a short delocalization check is detected.
  • [0137]
    The system 20 also provides for an information management, on the remote server 5, comprising one or more memory devices for storing informative data, divided in a plurality of logical modules hereinafter described with reference to FIG. 5:
      • Application or user level, comprising:
        control access: a module responsible for the authentication of a users, for example the authentication of a user accessing the remote control unit 5. This module is also used to profile a user, associating a corresponding access level;
        geographic analysis: a module responsible for the presentation of inventory data, depending on the localization parameters, time parameters, type of product;
        sales analysis: a module responsible for the presentation of data about sales, depending on localization parameters, time parameters, type of product;
        data transfer: a module responsible for data transfer towards data mining systems;
        messages management: a module responsible for the management of massage sending, for example alerts, interrupts, SMSs, e-mails.
      • Business logic, comprising:
        connectivity module: a set of components responsible for the connection of the remote server 5 with an on-board unit to be controlled, comprising the implementation of a specific communication protocol;
        scheduler module: a set of components responsible for the management of the activation of communication channels;
        normalizer module: a set of components responsible for a normalization of data depending on functioning parameters coming from different connections. Normalized data can be processed from the informative data unit, for example in order to create reports;
        signal management module: a set of components responsible for the managing of information of signal used by modules for presentation of messages.
      • Data management, comprising:
        data access control module: a set of components responsible for a driven writing of information inside the informative data unit.
        database: the core of the informative data unit.
  • [0141]
    The present invention also relates to a method for remote control of a food refrigerator 1 of the type intended to be given in rental or in free loan from a manufacturer to a vendor of cold products.
  • [0142]
    More particularly, the method comprises:
      • a phase of checking, through a control unit 2, a plurality of functioning parameters of the food refrigerator 1;
      • a phase of reading, through an RFID reader 3, data stored inside a plurality of RFID tags attached to the cold products;
      • a phase of interconnecting, through a communication unit 4, an external device, informing it on a geographical localization of the food refrigerator 1.
  • [0146]
    According to the method of the invention, the reading phase is executed when the cold products are stocked inside the food refrigerator.
  • [0147]
    Data are grouped in an inventory data file for example comprising a number of sold cold products, their permanence inside the food refrigerator 1 and their production date.
  • [0148]
    The inventory data file is transmitted at predetermined time intervals from the communication unit 4 to said remote control unit 5; also the functioning parameters are sent from the communication unit 4 to the remote control unit 5.
  • [0149]
    More particularly, the functioning parameters include geographic location information, derived by an analysis of a connection between the communication unit 4 and a GPRS/GSM transmission cell accepting the connection.
  • [0150]
    The remote control unit 5 stores a log, comprising said functioning parameters of the food refrigerator 1, relative to corresponding functioning periods.
  • [0151]
    A transmission of said inventory data or functioning parameters to said remote control unit 5 may be triggered by a fault (for example, interior temperature out of the range, compressor malfunction, de-localization, connection error, unplugging—power off, detected by the control unit 2, or scheduled at predefined time intervals, or simply on demand sending a call to the phone number of the communication unit 4.
  • [0152]
    The system and the method according to the present invention achieve a plurality of benefits in the maintenance and use of food refrigerators 1, hereinafter briefly resumed:
      • checking, through a remote server 5, each single refrigerator 1 given in rental or in free loan from a manufacturer of cold product to a vendor of such cold product; thus giving the possibility of a real time asset inventory so as to prevent misposting in the balance sheet;
      • according to the information about the working hours of the single refrigerator, a fine tuning in the depreciation policy could be done by the refrigerator owner;
      • remote modification of function parameters associated to each single refrigerators 1, for example a temperature value setting. The remote modification allows a setting of the control unit 2 located inside the refrigerator 1, through a remote communication;
      • preventive maintenance of a refrigerator 1 on the base of statistic data retrieved by similar refrigerators 1, for example indicating the life time of single components or the so called MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures);
      • “ad hoc” maintenance triggered by the control unit 2 to the remote server 5 on the base of a detection of an abnormal function parameter;
      • geographic localization/delocalization-check of refrigerator 1;
      • remote inventory of refrigerator 1 giving the possibility to obtain periodic reports of incoming and out-coming flows of products to the refrigerator and its instant by instant content.

Claims (29)

  1. 1. A system for remotely controlling and monitoring a food refrigerator of the type intended to be given in rental or in free loan from a manufacturer to a vendor of cold products, the system comprising:
    a control unit a for checking and storing a plurality of functioning parameters of said food refrigerator;
    an RFID reader intended to read data stored in a plurality of RFID tags attached to said cold products;
    a communication unit structured to be installed in said food refrigerator and bi-directionally communicating with a remote server;
    said RFID reader comprising means for retrieving said data from said RFID tags when said cold products are stocked inside said food refrigerator and said communication unit comprising a GSM/GPRS unit for transmitting information to said remote server including identifiers of GSM/GPRS cells indicative of a geographical delocalization of said food refrigerator.
  2. 2. The system according to claim 1, wherein said RFID reader comprises means for a transmission of radio frequency signals at predetermined time intervals in order to activate said RFID tags to read said data.
  3. 3. The system according to claim 2, wherein said control unit is included inside said food refrigerator.
  4. 4. The system according to claim 3, wherein said communication unit is included inside said food refrigerator for sending and receiving said plurality of functioning parameters to/from said control unit.
  5. 5. The system according to claim 3, wherein;
    said food refrigerator is a conventional food refrigerator;
    said communication unit is connected to said conventional food refrigerator and
    said communication unit comprises an interface for sending and receiving said plurality of functioning parameters to/from said control unit.
  6. 6. The system according to claim 4, wherein an additional food refrigerator comprising a respective communication unit and control unit is connected to the communication unit of said food refrigerator.
  7. 7. The system according to claim 6, wherein the communication units of said food refrigerator and said additional food refrigerator are connected in a same local area network (LAN).
  8. 8. The system according to claim 1, characterized by comprising a plurality of box-cases for housing said cold products.
  9. 9. The system according to claim 8, wherein said box cases are disposable boxes or plastic wrap.
  10. 10. The system according to claim 1, wherein said GSM/GPRS unit provides a detection of delocalization data from a connection between said communication unit and a set of transmission cells of a GSM/GPRS network.
  11. 11. The system according to claim 1, wherein said communication unit and said remote server are connected through a wireless interface.
  12. 12. The system according to claim 1, wherein said communication unit and said remote server are connected through a wire line interface.
  13. 13. A method for remote control of a food refrigerator of the type intended to be given in rental or in free loan from a manufacturer to a vendor of cold products, comprising
    a phase of checking, through a control unit, a plurality of functioning parameters of said food refrigerator;
    a phase of reading, through an RFID reader, data stored inside a plurality of RFID tags attached to said cold products;
    a phase of installing in said food refrigerator a communication unit bi-directionally communicating with a remote server, said communication unit including a GSM/GPRS unit interconnected to the remote server;
    said reading phase being executed when said cold products are stocked inside said food refrigerator and said communication unit communicating to said remote server information including identifiers of GSM/GPRS cells indicative of a geographical delocalization of said food refrigerator.
  14. 14. The method according to claim 13, wherein said data are grouped in an inventory data file of said remote server, comprising a number of cold products sold and/or their permanence inside the food refrigerator and/or their production date and/or their sale date.
  15. 15. The method according to claim 14, wherein said inventory data file is transmitted at predetermined time intervals from said communication unit to said remote server.
  16. 16. The method according to claim 15, wherein said functioning parameters are sent at predetermined time intervals from said communication unit to said remote server.
  17. 17. The method according to claim 16, wherein said communication unit communicates to said remote server the identifiers of GSM/GPRS cells whereto said communication unit is connected inside a geo-referencing database of said remote server.
  18. 18. The method according to claim 17, wherein the interconnection between the GSM/GPRS unit and the remote server comprises an execution of a delocalization check in order to verify if the refrigerator has been moved and re-located to a non authorized location.
  19. 19. The method according to claim 18, wherein said delocalization check comprises a long-range delocalization check for detecting if said food refrigerator has been moved in a range greater than an average GSM/GPRS cell range.
  20. 20. The method according to claim 18, wherein said delocalization check comprises a short range delocalization check for detecting if the refrigerator has been moved inside a retailer shop area.
  21. 21. The method according to claim 19, wherein said delocalization check comprises a filter step for checking if a time interval between a power off and a power on of said control unit is grater than a predetermined threshold value.
  22. 22. The method according to claim 21, wherein said delocalization check comprises a comparison step for comparing the identifiers of GSM/GPRS cells connected to the communication unit before a power off of the control unit and the identifiers of GSM/GPRS cells connected to the communication unit after a power on of such control unit, a list of the identifier being stored in said geo-referencing database.
  23. 23. The method according to claim 22, wherein said delocalization check comprises a verify step for checking, in said georeferencing database, if at least one GSM/GPRS cell is connected for a first time to said communication unit.
  24. 24. The method according to claim 23, wherein said short-range delocalization check comprises:
    associating a short-range RFID reader to said food refrigerator,
    coupling a special marker in proximity of said RFID reader, intended to be detected by said RFID reader.
  25. 25. The method according to claim 18, wherein said remote server stores a log file, comprising said functioning parameters of said food refrigerator, relative to corresponding functioning periods.
  26. 26. The method according to claim 25, wherein a transmission of said inventory data or functioning parameters to said remote server is triggered by a fault detected by said control unit.
  27. 27. The method according to claim 26, further comprising transmitting a delocalization message, from said communication unit to said remote server, when a change of transmission cells of a GSM/GPRS network is detected by said communication unit after a power fault.
  28. 28. The method according to claim 27, wherein a transmission of said inventory data or functioning parameters to said remote server is triggered by sending a phone call to said control unit.
  29. 29-30. (canceled)
US12296067 2006-04-05 2007-04-05 System for Remotely Controlling and Monitoring a Food Refrigerator and its Content Abandoned US20090282859A1 (en)

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US11466625 US7658334B2 (en) 2006-04-05 2006-08-23 System for the real time inventory and localization of refrigerating containers and related method
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US12296067 US20090282859A1 (en) 2006-04-05 2007-04-05 System for Remotely Controlling and Monitoring a Food Refrigerator and its Content

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US7975931B2 (en) 2011-07-12 grant
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US20070236357A1 (en) 2007-10-11 application

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