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Showerhead presence detection system

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US20090293190A1
US20090293190A1 US12127775 US12777508A US2009293190A1 US 20090293190 A1 US20090293190 A1 US 20090293190A1 US 12127775 US12127775 US 12127775 US 12777508 A US12777508 A US 12777508A US 2009293190 A1 US2009293190 A1 US 2009293190A1
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Prior art keywords
water
sensor
showerhead
showering
temperature
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Abandoned
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US12127775
Inventor
Richard P. Ringelstetter
Rudolph G. Hechfeilner
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Ringelstetter Richard P
Hechfeilner Rudolph G
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    • EFIXED CONSTRUCTIONS
    • E03WATER SUPPLY; SEWERAGE
    • E03CDOMESTIC PLUMBING INSTALLATIONS FOR FRESH WATER OR WASTE WATER; SINKS
    • E03C1/00Domestic plumbing installations for fresh water or waste water; Sinks
    • E03C1/02Plumbing installations for fresh water
    • E03C1/06Devices for suspending or supporting the supply pipe or supply hose of a shower-bath
    • EFIXED CONSTRUCTIONS
    • E03WATER SUPPLY; SEWERAGE
    • E03CDOMESTIC PLUMBING INSTALLATIONS FOR FRESH WATER OR WASTE WATER; SINKS
    • E03C1/00Domestic plumbing installations for fresh water or waste water; Sinks
    • E03C1/02Plumbing installations for fresh water
    • E03C1/04Water-basin installations specially adapted to wash-basins or baths
    • E03C1/0408Water installations especially for showers
    • EFIXED CONSTRUCTIONS
    • E03WATER SUPPLY; SEWERAGE
    • E03CDOMESTIC PLUMBING INSTALLATIONS FOR FRESH WATER OR WASTE WATER; SINKS
    • E03C1/00Domestic plumbing installations for fresh water or waste water; Sinks
    • E03C1/02Plumbing installations for fresh water
    • E03C1/05Arrangements of devices on wash-basins, baths, sinks, or the like for remote control of taps
    • E03C1/055Electrical control devices, e.g. with push buttons, control panels or the like
    • E03C1/057Electrical control devices, e.g. with push buttons, control panels or the like touchless, i.e. using sensors
    • EFIXED CONSTRUCTIONS
    • E03WATER SUPPLY; SEWERAGE
    • E03CDOMESTIC PLUMBING INSTALLATIONS FOR FRESH WATER OR WASTE WATER; SINKS
    • E03C1/00Domestic plumbing installations for fresh water or waste water; Sinks
    • E03C1/02Plumbing installations for fresh water
    • E03C1/06Devices for suspending or supporting the supply pipe or supply hose of a shower-bath
    • E03C1/066Devices for suspending or supporting the supply pipe or supply hose of a shower-bath allowing height adjustment of shower head

Abstract

A system for accurately detecting the presence of a person in a shower by combining presence detection technology, such as an infrared sensor in the showerhead, with a mechanical height adjustment of the showerhead, so that the optimal distance between the sensor and showering person can be maintained for persons of different heights. Alternative embodiments include an electronic control unit to provide power consumption management and safety features. When the electronic control unit is combined with presence detection to predict the identity of a showering person, personal services customized for the identified person are provided. An alternate embodiment teaches a process for intelligently conserving water by intelligently blocking water flow at appropriate times, based on predictable behavior of a contemplated showering person.

Description

    BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • [0001]
    This invention relates to water saving shower technology using presence detection.
  • [0002]
    The use of presence detection technology for shower related flow control is well known in that art. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 5,829,072 describes generally the use of a motion sensor near the faucet handles of a shower to automatically start and stop water flow based on the presence of a person in the shower. U.S. Pat. No. 4,998,673 (the '673 patent) describes a system for controlling the flow of water from a showerhead by placing a sensor directly within the showerhead. These early sensor schemes, particularly the scheme disclosed in the '673 patent, suffer from a limitation, namely, that because the sensors are particularly sensitive to the distance between the showering person and the showerhead, the detection scheme performs poorly for people not of the optimal height.
  • [0003]
    This limitation of the '673 patent has been addressed extensively in the art by providing more elaborate and more sophisticated sensing schemes to accommodate variations in height. Unfortunately, these improvements, although effective, are significantly more expensive.
  • [0004]
    What is needed is a way to improve the performance of cost-effective showerhead sensors without dramatically increasing the overall cost.
  • BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • [0005]
    The present invention overcomes the limitation of the prior art as represented by the '673 patent. Like the '673 patent, the preferred embodiment of the present invention teaches placing a sensor within the showerhead. Unlike the '673 patent, one embodiment of the present invention improves the detection of the sensor in the showerhead by combining it with a mechanical adjustment of the height of the showerhead. While mechanical adjustment of showerhead for comfort is not new, the combination of using height adjustment carefully implemented according to the teachings of the claimed invention to improve the accuracy of a showerhead sensor is novel and overcomes limitations and provides new and unobvious benefits over the prior art.
  • [0006]
    Other embodiments teach the deployment of an electronic control unit in conjunction with the showerhead to provide new benefits. In one embodiment, presence detection is used to measure the distance between the showerhead and the person showering to predict the identity of the showering person, and then to provide personal services, such as turning on a radio to pre-selected station to suit the preferences of the identified showering person. Another embodiment describes interfacing sensors capable of detecting an environmental condition of interest with the electronic control unit such that when a certain environment condition is detected, the electronic control unit can be put into a power saving mode to save battery life. For example, such a sensor might detect ambient light in the room, to conserve power when the room is dark. Yet another embodiment teaches the use of a temperature sensor in conjunction with an electronic control unit controlling a valve so that the water flow can be shutoff whenever the water temperature falls outside of a specified interval, as a safety feature to avoid exposing a showering person to freezing and scalding water temperatures.
  • [0007]
    Another embodiment teaches a method for conserving water usage teaching very specific steps and by deploying a water valve to stop the water flow, until certain activation conditions are met, then maintaining water flow only when a shower person is detected, and terminating water flow during specified terminating conditions such as a “short shower” timer expiring.
  • DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE INVENTION
  • [0008]
    FIG. 1 shows generally the preferred embodiment of the invention, a showerhead having an embedded presence detector and a height adjustor that can be used to maximize the accuracy of the presence detector.
  • [0009]
    FIG. 2 illustrates another embodiment of the invention where presence detection is used to identify a showering person and provide service customized for the identified person.
  • [0010]
    FIG. 3 illustrates a power-saving embodiment of the invention where room sensors are used to detect conditions that make it appropriate to put the electronic control unit into a low power mode.
  • [0011]
    FIG. 4 illustrates yet another embodiment where a sensor measures the water temperature, and this information is used to shut off the water flow to the showerhead under possibly unsafe conditions.
  • [0012]
    FIG. 5 illustrates a flowchart yet another embodiment where water is conserved by using sensors and buttons to detect appropriate conditions in which to start or stop the water flow.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
  • [0013]
    The present invention is useful in any showering environment. Showering environments are well known in the art, and the present invention is not limited to a specific showing environment. A typical showering environment might include a shower wall, a shower floor, a showerhead attached to the shower wall (or elsewhere), typically using some kind of support arm. A typical showering environment might also include a supply hose that delivers water to a showerhead and some kind of water controls to turn the showering water supply off and on and to manually set the water temperature by mixing incoming hot and cold water to achieve a desirable showering temperature.
  • [0014]
    FIG. 1 shows generally the preferred embodiment of the invention. FIG. 1 illustrates a showing environment having a shower floor 90, a vertical shower wall 70, a showerhead 10 that receives water from a supply line 80. FIG. 1 also shows the showerhead 10 having an embedded presence detector 20. In the embodiment of FIG. 1, the showerhead 10 is attached to a support arm 30 substantially perpendicular so that the showerhead is pointed down toward the floor. Also illustrated is a vertical support 40 attached to the shower wall 70 with supports 50 and 50′. A support arm 30 is attached to the vertical support 40 such that the support arm 30 and be adjusted to a higher or lower height to accommodate users of varying heights. Although this embodiment illustrates the use of a vertical pole to aid in the adjustment of the head, the invention is useful with other showerhead height adjustment mechanisms. In this embodiment, an adjustor 60 is generally illustrated to show generally a means to fix the height of the support arm 30 at a fixed position. The dotted lines illustrate a showerhead 10′ with the presence detector 20′, attached to the support arm 30′ having been lowered.
  • [0015]
    FIG. 2 illustrates another embodiment of the invention where presence detection is used to identify a showering person and provide service customized for the identified person. Referring to FIG. 2, an electronic control unit 110 is introduced, that is interfaced to the presence detector 20 and a personal service device such as a radio 130 with an interface 140. The term “personal service devices” is contemplated to be generally construed herein to include any consumer device capable of providing a customizable useful or entertaining purpose in a shower environment. Consumer electronic devices such as radios, televisions, and media players such as mp3 music players are particularly contemplated. The interface between the electronic control unit 110 and the device 130 could be hard-wired, but the preferred interface is a wireless communication means such as infrared or radio technologies. In this embodiment, the presence detector 20 is configured to detect not only the presence of a showering person, but also to detect the height of the showering person as represent by the “X” 120 of FIG. 2. The electronic control unit 110 has an associated table that maps height ranges to likely showering persons and identifies the showering person based on the detected height. After identifying the showering person, a pre-selected personal service customized for the identified person is deployed. In FIG. 2, upon the detection of a particular person, the electronic control unit 110 would turn on the “personal services” device, which is illustrated in FIG. 2 as a radio 130, and tune it to a station specifically customized for the identified showering person. The electronic control unit 110 needs to have some kind of control interface 140 with the personal services device such as the illustrated radio 130. The interface 140 could be implemented hardwired, or using a wireless technology.
  • [0016]
    In one embodiment, the presence detector is implemented using infrared or related technologies. Infrared and related technologies typically have an “optimal focal direction”, which herein means the direction and distance of the presence detector to its intended target that produces the most accurate detection results. A key benefit of this embodiment is that the “optimal focal direction” can be maintained by adjusting the sensor in the showerhead downward when a smaller person is showering. This differs from prior art systems having a fixed showerhead position, which would result in less accurate distance measurement for a smaller showering person because, for infrared, for example, the accuracy of the infrared would decrease as the distance between the fixed shower head and the head of the showering person increases.
  • [0017]
    This embodiment contemplates the introduction of a generic “distance estimator” that estimates the height of the showering person, and that height is used to predict the identity of the showering person so that personalized services can be provided based on the identity of the showering person. In the preferred embodiment, the “distance estimator” is implemented using the infrared based presence detector 20 coupled with the electronic control unit 110, but other distance estimator implementations are contemplated as well.
  • [0018]
    FIG. 2 shows a simplified example of one embodiment of the invention. Although the electronic control unit 110 is shown as a box above the shower head 10 in FIG. 2, the invention is not so limited. For example, the electronic control unit could be implemented as electronics within the showerhead, or alternatively, could be situated somewhere else within or without the showering environment. Likewise, the personal service device is illustrated as a radio 130 in FIG. 2, but the invention is not so limited. For example, the personal service device could be any appropriate consumer-friendly device including, but not limited devices playing music, video, or any kind of media presentation. The personal service device could also set the water temperature to a temperature preferred by the showering person.
  • [0019]
    FIG. 3 shows another embodiment where one or more room sensors 210, forming a sensor group, are deployed and interfaced to the electronic control unit 110. (The interface is not illustrated in FIG. 3). Sensor here is used in a general sense to include any sensor capable of detecting something of interest in the environment by performing a measurement and comparing that measurement to a pre-defined threshold. For example, a temperature sensor could measure the temperature of the room and measure the room temperature against a temperature set point, where the temperature set point would be serving as the threshold. The purpose of the sensors is to detect an environment condition of interest, and then to put the electronic control unit 110 into a low power mode when its higher powered functionality is likely not needed, thus saving battery life for systems powered by batteries. For example, the sensor 210 could be used to determined ambient light, and the electronic control unit 110 could then power down the presence detector when the room was dark under the theory that people do not generally shower in the dark. A different sensor 210 could be used to measure water temperature and/or water flow to signal the electronic control unit 110 to stay in low power mode until water is flowing and has reached a predetermined temperature.
  • [0020]
    Another variation of the sensor 210 is a button where a showering person, upon arrival, presses the button to bring the system out of low power mode. The system could return to low power mode under a number of possible circumstances, including a time delay, or detection of an appropriate environmental condition.
  • [0021]
    FIG. 4 illustrates a specific use of a temperature sensor 220. Here, the sensor is not used to signal power down mode, but rather is used for safety purposes to detect unsafe or unpleasant water temperatures, to allow the electronic control unit 110 to shut off the water supply whenever an inappropriate water temperature is detected.
  • [0022]
    FIG. 5 is a flowchart illustrating a method to deploy the claimed technology to conserve water in a showering environment. The method generally works as follows: First, the system begins in a “sleep” mode, and it remains there until is activated by an activation event. An activation event is contemplated to be anything measurable parameter that indicates that a person has arrived at the shower. For example, a button could be installed, and the showering user would push the button to alert the system of his or her presence. Alternatively the water temperature could be measured, and an activation event could be when the water temperature reaches a particular activation set point to reflect that a user has arrived and has manually turned on the water.
  • [0023]
    Once an activation event is detected, the system enters an “auto” mode, and turns on the water valve to enable water flow. The water flow typically stays on while the system waits for the water to warm up to a preset “warm enough” set point. The person then enters the shower and perhaps adjusts the height of the showerhead if such an adjustment is present. The system then uses presence detection—or a “person detector”—typically implemented with infrared sensing technology, to predict the presence of a person. Various schemes for predicting the person of a person can be deployed by making various adjustments to the sensitivity of the sensors. For example, it is often desirable to allow the detection of a hand to qualify as a person prediction, so that a showering person can start the flow and test the water temperature before stepping into the shower. Because of earlier steps, the water should be at least at the “warm enough” temperature threshold. The system conserves water by shutting off the water valve when the person detector predicts the absence of a showering person and resumes water flow when the presence of a showering person is predicted. Optionally, the shower could terminate due to the detection of a terminating event. A terminating event is contemplated to be anything that reasonable would provide a basis for terminating a shower. For example, providing a “long enough” timeout to encourage short showers (that could then be extended by pushing the button) is one example of a terminating event. Another category of terminating events might be safety considerations, for example, a terminating event could be the temperature of the shower approaching a scalding temperature, or perhaps a “too cold” temperature.
  • [0024]
    The main idea of this embodiment is to reduce the amount of wasted water by intelligently trying to determine situations where shower water is likely to be going straight down the drain, and not onto a showering person, and closing the water valve in those situations and resuming water flow, when a showering person is likely to be present. The sensing at the first provides for the case when water flow is enabled so that the water will warm up at which times the shower may be elsewhere waiting. The system intelligently will shut off the water when the “warm enough” temperature is reached.
  • [0025]
    The descriptions above and the associated drawing are provided for illustration, not limitation. As one skilled in the art will appreciate, there are other embodiments of the present invention not illustrated deploying slight modifications that nonetheless are consistent with claimed invention. Accordingly, the invention should only be limited by the claims as set forth below:

Claims (29)

1. A system for automatically controlling the water flow in a showerhead in a showering environment comprising:
a showerhead, the showerhead further includes a presence detector,
a showerhead height adjuster, wherein the showerhead height adjuster is capable of vertically adjusting the height of the showerhead,
wherein the accuracy of said presence detector is improved by using the showerhead height adjuster to adjust the height of the showerhead.
2. The system of claim 1, wherein the showerhead height adjuster further comprises:
a support arm, the support arm is substantially horizontal, the support arm further includes a first end and a second end, the first end of the support arm is attached to the showerhead,
a vertical pole, the vertical pole is substantially perpendicular to the support arm, the second end of the support arm is slidably attached to the vertical pole,
wherein the height of said showerhead is adjusted by vertically sliding the support arm on the vertical pole.
3. The system of claim 2, the presence detector further includes an optimal focal direction, wherein said optimal focal direction is maintained when said showerhead is adjusted.
4. The system of claim 1, the presence detector further includes an optimal focal direction, wherein said optimal focal direction is maintained when said showerhead is adjusted.
5. A system for automatically controlling the water flow in a showering environment comprising:
a presence detector for detecting the presence of a person within the showering environment,
a showerhead,
a distance estimator for providing an estimate of the distance between the showerhead and a person within the showering environment,
wherein said estimate is used to predict the identity of a person within the showering environment,
wherein customized personal services based on the predicted identity are provided.
6. The system of claim 5, wherein the personal services provided are at least one of the following: setting preferred water temperature, setting a radio to a preferred station, playing pre-selected music, setting a television to a preferred station.
7. The system of claim 5, wherein the personal service provided is a hot water shutoff wherein when hot water temperature exceeds a predetermined customized temperature setting, the water flow is shut off.
8. A system for conserving power to a presence sensor in a showering environment comprising:
an electronic control unit, the electronic control unit is interfaced to the presence sensor, the electronic control unit is configured to be able to switch the power of the presence sensor off and on,
a sensor group comprising at least one environmental sensor, wherein each environmental sensor is capable of detecting the presence of an associated sensor-specific environmental condition of the showering environment,
wherein whenever at least one environmental sensor detects a presence of its sensor-specific environmental condition, the electronic control unit switches the power of the presence sensor on.
9. The system of claim 8, wherein the showering environment further includes a temperature of water flowing through the showerhead, wherein said sensor group includes a first sensor wherein the sensor-specific environmental condition of said first sensor is the temperature of water flowing through the showerhead exceeding a first threshold.
10. The system of claim 9, wherein the showering environment further includes ambient light, wherein said sensor group includes a second sensor wherein the sensor-specific environmental condition of said second sensor is the luminance of the ambient light exceeding a second threshold.
11. The system of claim 10, wherein the showering environment further includes water flowing through the showerhead, wherein said sensor group includes a third sensor wherein the sensor-specific environmental condition of said third sensor is the volume of the water flowing through the showerhead exceeding a third threshold.
12. The system of claim 9, wherein the showering environment further includes water flowing through the showerhead, wherein said sensor group includes a third sensor wherein the sensor-specific environmental condition of said third sensor is the volume of the water flowing through the showerhead exceeding a third threshold.
13. The system of claim 8, wherein the showering environment further includes ambient light, wherein said sensor group includes a second sensor wherein the sensor-specific environmental condition of said second sensor is the luminance of the ambient light exceeding a second threshold.
14. The system of claim 13, wherein the showering environment further includes water flowing through the showerhead, wherein said sensor group includes a third sensor wherein the sensor-specific environmental condition of said third sensor is the volume of the water flowing through the showerhead exceeding a third threshold.
15. The system of claim 8, wherein the showering environment further includes water flowing through the showerhead, wherein said sensor group includes a third sensor wherein the sensor-specific environmental condition of said third sensor is the volume of the water flowing through the showerhead exceeding a third threshold.
16. The system of claim 8, wherein the showering environment further includes a button having an on state and an off state, said button is interfaced to the electronic control unit, wherein said sensor group includes a fourth sensor wherein the sensor-specific environmental condition of said fourth sensor is said button being in the on state.
17. A system for maintaining the temperature of water from a hot water supply and a cold water supply flowing to a showerhead in a showering environment within a specified range comprising:
a temperature sensor for detecting the temperature of water flowing from the showerhead,
an electronic control unit,
wherein the temperature sensor is interfaced to the electronic control unit, the electronic control unit is configured to be able to switch the hot water supply to the showerhead off and on, the electronic control unit is configured to be able to switch the cold water supply to the showerhead off and on,
wherein whenever said temperature sensor detects a temperature above a third predetermined temperature set point, the electronic control unit switches the hot water supply off.
wherein whenever said temperature sensor detects a temperature below a fourth predetermined temperature set point, the electronic control unit switches the cold water supply off.
18. A method for conserving water in a showering environment having a water supply, a showerhead, an activation detector, a water valve capable of being opened and closed wherein, when the water valve is opened, water flow between the water supply and the showerhead is permitted, otherwise, waterflow to the showerhead is blocked, a temperature sensor capable of detecting when the temperature of water between the water supply and the showerhead reaches or exceeds a given threshold, a person detector capable of predicting when person is correctly positioned in said showering environment comprising the steps of:
step 1. if the water valve is opened, close the water valve,
step 2. if the activation detector fails to detect an activation event, repeat this step until the activation detector detects an activation event,
step 3. open the water valve,
step 4. if said temperature sensor detects that the water flow between the water supply and the showerhead has exceeded a first threshold, proceed to next step, otherwise, repeat this step,
step 5. if the person detector predicts a person is correctly positioned in the showering environment, open the water valve, otherwise close the water valve,
step 6. proceed to step 5.
19. The method of claim 18, further including a step 5b, inserted between steps 5 and 6, that reads as follows:
5b. if a terminating event is detected, then close the water valve if not already closed, and proceed to step 1.
20. The method of claim 19, wherein step 4 further enhanced to read as follows:
step 4. if said temperature sensor detects that the water flow between the water supply and the showerhead has exceeded said first threshold, proceed to next step, otherwise, measure the time that has elapsed since step 4 was initially executed, and if the elapsed time exceeds a second threshold, proceed to step 1, otherwise. repeat this step.
21. The method of claim 20, wherein the activating event is at least one of the following events: (water temperature exceeding a third threshold, a button being pushed).
22. The method of claim 21, wherein the terminating event is at least one of the following events: (water temperature falling outside a specifed range, the time the water valve is opened exceeding a fourth threshold, the time that water valve is closed exceeding a fifth threshold).
23. The method of claim 20, wherein the terminating event is at least one of the following events: (water temperature falling outside a specifed range, the time the water valve is opened exceeding a fourth threshold, the time that water valve is closed exceeding a fifth threshold).
24. The method of claim 19, wherein the activating event is at least one of the following events: (water temperature exceeding a third threshold, a button being pushed).
25. The method of claim 24, wherein the terminating event is at least one of the following events: (water temperature falling outside a specifed range, the time the water valve is opened exceeding a fourth threshold, the time that water valve is closed exceeding a fifth threshold).
26. The method of claim 19, wherein the terminating event is at least one of the following events: (water temperature falling outside a specifed range, the time the water valve is opened exceeding a fourth threshold, the time that water valve is closed exceeding a fifth threshold).
27. The method of claim 18, wherein step 4 further enhanced to read as follows:
step 4. if said temperature sensor detects that the water flow between the water supply and the showerhead has exceeded said first threshold, proceed to next step, otherwise, measure the time that has elapsed since step 4 was initially executed, and if the elapsed time exceeds a second threshold, proceed to step 1, otherwise. repeat this step.
28. The method of claim 27, wherein the activating event is at least one of the following events: (water temperature exceeding a third threshold, a button being pushed).
29. The method of claim 18, wherein the activating event is at least one of the following events: (water temperature exceeding a third threshold, a button being pushed).
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