CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION
- TECHNICAL FIELD
This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 61/510,355, filed Jul. 21, 2011, the contents of which are incorporated herein by reference.
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention is generally directed to dispensing systems. In particular, the present invention is directed to dispensers that are keyed to allow only authorized refill containers to be installed and used therein. More specifically, the present invention is directed to an optical keying system for a dispenser that uses an optical sensor to read microscopic indicia disposed on a refill container that is visually imperceptible to the human eye in order to authenticate the refill container.
Dispensers used to dispense various liquid materials, such as soap, antibacterial cleansers, powder, aerosols, disinfectants, lotions, and the like are used in various contexts, including restaurants, factories, hospitals, and bathrooms for example. In general, such dispensers are manually actuated when the user physically pushes or pulls a lever to dispense a quantity of material from a replaceable refill container carried therein. Alternatively, “hands-free” automatic dispensers are configured to dispense material therefrom when the presence of the user's hands is brought into the proximity of the detection sensor.
Furthermore, such dispensers are commonly mounted to a wall or other vertical surface, with the material being dispensed from an outlet or nozzle at the bottom of the dispenser. Alternatively, dispensers referred to as counter-mount dispensing systems may be integrated into a countertop near a sink basin, whereby certain components of the dispensing system are located beneath the countertop, while other components, including an outlet, are located above the countertop. Moreover, dispensers may also be provided in various other configurations, such as tabletop-style dispensers that rest on a horizontal surface, such as a counter or tabletop, or stand-mounted dispensing systems that attach to a mounting pole.
While dispensers may directly hold a quantity of material, such as soap, in a reservoir, such dispensers have been found to be both messy and difficult to service, while also presenting contamination and health concerns. As a result, replaceable refill containers, which hold a quantity of material and provide a pump and nozzle mechanism to dispense the material, have become increasingly popular, as they are easily installed and replaced, while being virtually mess-free.
Dispenser manufacturers have found it desirable to control the particular refill containers that are permitted or authorized to be used with particular dispensers. That is, in some circumstances dispenser manufacturers may be concerned with ensuring that the appropriate refill container (type of product, concentration, material form, etc.) is inserted in the correct dispenser housing, as the use of the incorrect material may be devastating to the health of the user and those who come in contact with the user. For example, it is imperative for hospital personnel to have antibacterial soap dispensed in a pre-surgical cleaning area, rather than another fluid, such as moisturizing lotion. Therefore, dispenser manufacturers often key the dispensers for use with only specific refill containers, such that only authorized refill containers can be installed and used in the corresponding dispenser. Dispenser manufacturers and associated refill-container distributors also rely upon such keying systems to ensure that the dispensers can be refilled only with the refill containers that they supply and not refill containers supplied by third-party manufacturers that may be of poor or inconsistent quality.
Although mechanical keying systems are currently used and are helpful to ensure that the proper refill container is installed into the correct dispenser, such keying systems have a number of disadvantages. For example, mechanical keys are often easily removed or altered, allowing unauthorized refill containers to be readily installed into a dispenser, while also causing the manufacturer/distributor to lose the ability to control the quality of the material used in the dispenser. Mechanical keying systems also require the manufacturer to design keys for multiple types of dispensers and refill containers, which requires significant tooling costs that are incurred by the manufacturer. In other words, each dispenser may be keyed for a particular refill container, a particular distributor, and a particular location. This results in significant inventory costs for maintaining refill containers with various keys and also generates lead times for manufacturing such refill containers, which may be substantially long. Finally, in the event that a particular keying device for a dispenser is lost or damaged, it may create difficult circumstances to determine which type of keying configuration is needed for the refill containers.
Moreover, current keying systems are configured with non-recyclable refill containers that once used are thrown away, thus contributing to waste in landfills and increased disposal costs.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Therefore, there is a need for an optical keying system for a dispenser and refill container that is simple to implement. In addition, there is a need for an optical keying system that is low cost. Furthermore, there is a need for an optical keying system that is durable and not prone to operating errors. Still yet, there is a need for an optical keying system that may be used with recyclable refill containers.
In light of the foregoing, it is a first aspect of the present invention to provide a dispenser with an optical keying system.
It is another aspect of the present invention to provide a dispenser with an optical keying system that can be recycled and used with recyclable refill containers.
It is still another aspect of the present invention to provide a dispenser with an optical keying system, as above, that includes an optical sensor in a housing to detect microscopic indicia disposed on at least a portion of the refill container.
It is yet another aspect of the present invention to provide a dispensing system, as above, that prevents the actuation of the system unless a refill container with an authorized authentication code is installed.
In general, a dispenser provides a container to dispense material therefrom. The dispenser includes a housing configured to accept the refill container, an actuator configured to actuate a pump to dispense at least a portion of the material from the refill container, and an optical sensor configured to detect or read microscopic or visually-imperceptible indicia disposed on said refill container.
In accordance with at least one aspect of the present invention, a dispenser includes a housing having an actuator, an optical sensor, and a refill container that includes microscopic or visually-imperceptible indicia detectable by the optical sensor to determine if the refill container is authorized for use with the dispenser.
In accordance with at least one aspect of the present invention, a method of preventing use of unauthorized refill containers in a dispenser includes providing a dispenser housing having an actuator and an optical sensor and providing a refill container having microscopic or visually-imperceptible indicia, wherein said indicia is detectable by said optical sensor, and wherein when said indicia is not authorized, said dispenser is disabled to prevent dispensing of said material.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
It is another aspect of the present invention to provide a dispenser with an optical keying system comprising a replaceable refill container having microscopic indicia disposed thereon; a housing being configured to removably carry the refill container; a controller carried by said housing; a pump coupled to said controller and configured to be in fluid communication with the replaceable refill container; an actuator coupled to said controller, said actuator configured to actuate said pump to dispense the material from the replaceable refill container; and an optical sensor coupled to said controller, said optical sensor configured to read the microscopic indicia from the replaceable refill container to identify an authorization code, wherein said controller disables the dispenser if said authorization code is not authorized, and said controller enables the dispenser if said authorization code is authorized.
These and other features and advantages of the present invention will become better understood with regard to the following description, appended claims, and accompanying drawings wherein:
FIG. 1 is a front perspective view of a dispenser having an optical keying system in accordance with the concepts of the present invention;
FIG. 2 is a block diagram showing the components of the optical keying system for use with the dispenser in accordance with the concepts of the present invention;
FIG. 3 is a perspective view of a collar portion of the dispenser in accordance with the concepts of the present invention;
FIG. 4 is a side cross-section view of the portion of the dispenser shown in FIG. 3 in accordance with the concepts of the present invention;
FIG. 4A is a plan view of a label carrying microscopic or visually-imperceptible indicia thereon in accordance with the concepts of the present invention;
FIG. 5 is a front elevational view of the refill container of the dispenser when received within the dispenser in accordance with the concepts of the present invention;
FIG. 6 is a perspective view of an alternative embodiment of a dispenser having an optical keying system in accordance with the concepts of the present invention;
FIG. 7 is a rear elevational view of another alternative embodiment of a dispenser having an optical keying system according to the concepts of the present invention, the dispenser being configured to be mounted underneath a mounting base in accordance with the concepts of the present invention; and
FIG. 8 is a perspective view of the dispenser of FIG. 7 in accordance with the concepts of the present invention.
A dispenser having an optical keying system is generally referred to by the numeral 10, as shown in FIGS. 1-5 of the drawings. The dispenser 10 includes a housing 12, which includes a back plate 14 adapted to be secured to a vertical surface, and a cover 16 that is pivotable relative to the back plate 14. The cover 16 permits access to the internal components of the dispenser 10 and may include a window 18 so that the interior of the dispenser 10 can be viewed. As such, the cover 16 may be removed to install or remove a refill container 22 that contains a label 24 having indicia 26 disposed thereon, which defines various predetermined reference codes used in part to determine if the refill container 22 is authorized for use with the dispenser 10. It should be appreciated that the term “indicia” as used herein is defined as any microscopic mark, indentation, or the like, such as one or more microscopic printed dots, that cannot be viewed by the human eye, but is capable of being read by any suitable imaging device, such as that to be discussed. Moreover, it should be appreciated that the indicia 26 is shown in the Figs. as a combination of dots for illustrative purposes only, and during use, the indicia is visually imperceptible for viewing by the human eye. It should also be appreciated that the indicia 26 may be applied to the label 24 using any suitable means, including printing or any other mechanical and/or electrical process.
The dispenser 10 also includes a control circuit 30 that is configured to control the operation of a pump 36 provided thereby. Specifically, the pump 36 is coupled to a controller 38, shown in FIG. 2, which includes the necessary hardware and software to carry out the functions to be discussed. The pump 36 is configured to dispense liquid material from the refill container 22 that is in fluid connection therewith. Moreover, the pump 36 may comprise any suitable pump capable of dispensing an amount of fluid from the refill container 22, such as a plunger or piston pump, a diaphragm pump, a bellows pump, a peristaltic pump, or any other suitable positive-displacement pump. The control circuit 30 also includes an actuator 40 that is coupled to the controller 38 and that is configured to initiate the operation of the pump 36 when engaged or actuated by the user. In one aspect, the actuator 40 may comprise a button or switch that is manually actuated by the user, or the actuator 40 may comprise a proximity sensor or other sensor, such as a biometric sensor, that is configured to detect the presence of the user's hands, so as to initiate the operation of the pump 36 in a hands-free manner. An indicator 46 is also coupled to the controller 38 and is configured to illuminate in various manners (colors/sequence) to identify various status conditions associated with the operation of the dispenser 10, including but not limited to: whether the dispenser 10 is ON or OFF; whether service is required for the dispenser 10; or whether the refill container 22 requires replacement. The indicator 46 may comprise any suitable light source, such as a light emitting diode (LED) for example. To detect or otherwise image the indicia 26 disposed on the label 24, an optical sensor 50, such as a camera, scanner, or any other suitable imaging device, is coupled to the controller 38. The components of the control circuit 30 are powered by a power source 52, which may comprise any suitable source of power, including batteries, A.C. (alternating current) mains power supplied from a standard electrical outlet, photovoltaic cells, and the like.
In addition, the refill container 22 is configured to be removably retained in the housing 12 of the dispenser 10. In one aspect, the refill container 22 includes a reservoir 54, which may contain any suitable material, including but not limited to: soap, hand sanitizer, moisturizer, gels, foams, lotions, or the like. In some embodiments, the refill container 22 may include a collar 58 that may be positioned around the pump mechanism 36 that is carried by the refill container 22. The collar 58 is configured to be received in the housing 12 of the dispenser 10 to secure the refill container 22 therein. In the embodiment shown in the Figs., the collar 58 is generally cylindrical in shape; however it may be configured in any suitable shape and/or dimension to be received within housing 12.
The label 24 carries indicia 26 thereon for optical detection by the optical sensor 50 and subsequent processing by the controller 38. In one aspect, the label 24 may be configured with adhesive to facilitate its attachment to the refill container 22. The label 24 utilized by the system 11 may be applied to the collar 58 or to the reservoir 54 associated with each refill container 22, as long as it is substantially aligned with the optical field of view of the optical sensor 50. For example, as shown in FIGS. 3 and 4, the optical sensor 50 may be mounted to the backplate 14 of the dispenser 10 so that it is suitably aligned to view or image the indicia 26 disposed on the label 24 that is attached to the collar 58. However, as shown together in FIGS. 1 and 5, the optical sensor 50 may be mounted to the inside of the cover 16 of the dispenser 10, so as to be suitably aligned with the indicia 26 that is carried on the label 24 that is attached to the reservoir 54 of the refill container 22. In one aspect, the optical sensor 50 and the system for generating the microscopic indicia 26, which is visually imperceptible, may comprise a system offered for sale by Alpvision, S.A. for example.
The particular configuration of the indicia 26 defines the reference code, which includes various information or attributes, including but not limited to the type of material (soap, sanitizer, moisturizer) carried in the reservoir 54 of the refill container 22, the quantity of material in the reservoir 54 of the refill container 22, the date of manufacture of the refill container 22, and the like. The reference code may also include a predetermined authorization code that is configured to be processed by the controller 38 to determine if the refill container 22 is authorized for use with the dispenser 10. Thus, only predetermined refill containers 22 with an acceptable authorization code enable the operation of the dispenser 10.
During operation of the dispenser 10, the refill container 22 is inserted into the dispenser 10, and the optical sensor 50 images the indicia 26 disposed on the label 24. The controller 38 then identifies the reference code and processes the information contained in the code. In one aspect, the controller 38 acquires the reference code and determines whether the authorization code associated with the refill container 22 is authorized for use with the particular dispenser 10. If the authorization code associated with the refill container 22 is authorized by the controller 38, then the controller 38 enables the operation of the actuator 40 (or pump 36), so that material from the refill container 22 can be dispensed therefrom. Conversely, if the authorization code associated with the refill container 22 is not authorized or is not detectable by the optical sensor 50, then the controller 38 disables the actuator 40, thus preventing material from being dispensed from the dispenser 10. For example, the controller 38 may be preprogrammed so as to authorize one or more authorization codes provided by the indicia 26 using various authorization techniques. As such, the manufacturer of the dispenser 10 is able to maintain control over the particular refill container 22 that can be used by specific dispensers 10. It is also contemplated that different indicia 26 may be provided in different refill units to distinguish between various products and customers.
Referring now to FIG. 6, an alternative dispenser is shown and is indicated generally by the numeral 60. The dispenser 60 is structurally and operationally equivalent to the dispenser 10 and utilizes the control circuit 30 discussed above, with the exception that pump 36 is configured as a peristaltic pump, referred to by reference numeral 62, and the refill container 22 is replaced by an alternative refill container 63. As such, the dispenser 60 includes the peristaltic pump 62 that includes a plurality of rotating engagement members 64 that are carried by a rotating drive plate 66 that is driven by a motor drive (not shown) operatively coupled thereto. The refill container 63 includes a flexible outlet tube 68 that is fluidly coupled at one end to a refill container 63 via an attachment adapter 72. In certain embodiments, the other end of the outlet tube 68 may be coupled to a foaming chip nozzle 74. The outlet tube 68 is compressively retained against the rotating engagement members 64 by a guide 76 that is pivotably and removably attached to the dispenser 10. Thus, as the engagement members 64 rotate and compress the outlet tube 68 against the guide 76, liquid material, such as soap, carried by the refill container 63 is drawn or otherwise pumped into the outlet tube 68 and forced under pressure into the foaming chip nozzle 74, where air is introduced into the pressurized liquid material, aerating it into a foam that is dispensed therefrom.
The dispenser 60 includes a housing 80 and a pivoting door 82 attached thereto that can be moved between open and closed positions. A frame section 84 is disposed within the housing 70, which provides a retention bin 86 to house and support the refill container 63 placed therein. The dispenser 60 utilizes the control circuit 30, as previously discussed above, whereby the housing 80 is configured to include the optical sensor 50, which is configured to image the indicia 26 that is disposed on the label 24 attached to the refill container 63. However, it is contemplated that the indicia 26 may be disposed on any portion of the refill container 57 and that the optical sensor 50 is positioned at a location on the housing 80, such as on the door 82, adjacent to the location of the indicia 26 to allow the optical sensor 50 to image the indicia 26.
Referring now to FIGS. 7 and 8, a further alternative embodiment of a dispenser is generally referred to by the numeral 100. The dispenser 100 utilizes the control circuit 30 previously discussed and is configured to be mounted to a mounting base 102. For example, the mounting base 102 may comprise a countertop surface, such as that used to support a lavatory sink used to wash one's hands in a restroom. The mounting base 102 includes an upper surface 104 and opposed lower surface 106 and may comprise any structure suitable for mounting the dispenser 100 formed from any suitable material, such as wood, plastic, or ceramic for example.
The dispenser 100 includes a nozzle 110 that is in fluid communication with a refill container 112 via an outlet tube 114. Liquid material, such as liquid soap, sanitizer, moisturizer, or the like that is carried by the refill container 112 is pumped therefrom via the outlet tube 114 by a pump 116 that is in operative communication with the outlet tube 114. In the embodiment depicted, the pump 116 comprises a peristaltic pump and is coupled to the controller 30, but may comprise any suitable pump configuration. As the liquid material passes through the outlet tube 114, it may be converted from liquid to foam by a foaming chip (not shown) retained within the nozzle 110, which is in fluid communication with the outlet tube 114. In addition, the peristaltic pump 116, the refill container 112, and various other components of the dispenser 100 are suspended off of the floor, such that they are suspended underneath the mounting base 102 by a support bracket 120 attached to the lower surface 106 of the mounting base 102. As such, the components of the dispenser 100 are able to be concealed underneath the mounting base 102 and hidden from the view of the user, without taking up floor space beneath the mounting base. Specifically, the refill container 112 is supported by a carrier 121 that is removably attached to the support bracket 120.
The optical sensor 50 is carried on the inside of the carrier 121 to detect or image the indicia 26 disposed on the label 24 carried on the refill container 112 that is inserted into he carrier 121, as shown in FIG. 7. However, it is contemplated that the label 24 carrying the indicia 26 may be provided on any portion of the refill container 112, while the optical sensor 50 may be positioned at a location adjacent to the location of the indicia 26 containing portion of the refill container 112. Alternatively, the optical sensor 50 may be secured to the support bracket 120 or carrier 121 of dispenser 100 when the label 24 is attached to a collar 122 provided by the refill container 112, as shown in FIG. 8. As previously discussed, the operation of the actuator 40 is prevented unless the controller 38 detects an authorized authorization code after processing the indicia 26 to indicate that the refill container 112 is compatible for use with the dispenser 100.
Therefore, one advantage of the present invention is that an optical keying system is low cost and easy to implement. Another advantage of the present invention is that the optical sensor of the optical keying system is durable and is not prone to errors. Sill another advantage of the optical keying system of the present invention is that microscopic indicia that is visually-imperceptible to a human is capable of being disposed on refill containers, such as recyclable refill containers. Yet another advantage of the preset invention is that the microscopic, visually-imperceptible indicia of the optical keying system requires only a minimal amount of space on the surface of the refill container, allowing the indicia to be discretely placed thereon.
Thus, it can be seen that the objects of the present invention have been satisfied by the structure and its method for use presented above. While in accordance with the Patent Statutes, only the best mode and preferred embodiments have been presented and described in detail, it being understood that the invention is not limited thereto and thereby. Accordingly, for an appreciation of the true scope and breadth of the invention, reference should be made to the following claims.