US20130210297A1 - Submersible actuator apparatus - Google Patents

Submersible actuator apparatus Download PDF

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US20130210297A1
US20130210297A1 US13/747,375 US201313747375A US2013210297A1 US 20130210297 A1 US20130210297 A1 US 20130210297A1 US 201313747375 A US201313747375 A US 201313747375A US 2013210297 A1 US2013210297 A1 US 2013210297A1
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water
sensor
inflation
pressure
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US13/747,375
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Terry Lee Maas
David L. Buntin
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Terry Lee Maas
David L. Buntin
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    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B63SHIPS OR OTHER WATERBORNE VESSELS; RELATED EQUIPMENT
    • B63CLAUNCHING, HAULING-OUT, OR DRY-DOCKING OF VESSELS; LIFE-SAVING IN WATER; EQUIPMENT FOR DWELLING OR WORKING UNDER WATER; MEANS FOR SALVAGING OR SEARCHING FOR UNDERWATER OBJECTS
    • B63C9/00Life-saving in water
    • B63C9/08Life-buoys, e.g. rings; Life-belts, jackets, suits, or the like
    • B63C9/18Inflatable equipment characterised by the gas-generating or inflation device
    • B63C9/19Arrangements for puncturing gas-generating cartridges

Abstract

A user-programmable, submersible actuator apparatus that includes an inflator mechanism configured when operatively connected to an inflation source and to an inflatable device to provide command-activated release of fluid from the inflation source to the inflatable device and thereby provide a buoyant force. A controller causes the inflator mechanism to actuate inflation in the event of the first of a deep submersion condition or a heavy bobbing condition. The deep submersion condition may be determined when a specific (approximated) submersion depth has been detected. The heavy bobbing condition may be determined by a predetermined number of bobs of a specific (approximated) depth (less than the deep submersion depth) being detected or by a predetermined frequency of bobbing being detected. The water sensor mechanism may include a pair of sensor elements, having outer ends each recessed in 0.9 to 1.1 mm, or 1.0 mm.

Description

    CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
  • This application claims the benefit of co-pending U.S. Provisional Application No. 61/589,334, filed on Jan. 21, 2012, and whose entire contents are hereby incorporated by reference.
  • BACKGROUND
  • The present disclosure relates to automatically inflatable devices such as buoys, raft, and aquatic devices. More particularly, the disclosure pertains to life protecting apparatus and related personal flotation devices with programmable actuators for controlling inflation.
  • Various personal flotation devices (PFDs) have been developed through the years to provide a greater measure of safety to users during activities that may present a risk of drowning. Many activities conducted in proximity to water may benefit from proper use of PFDs. Fishing, hunting, water skiing, canoeing, kayaking, power cruising, sailing, swimming, snorkeling, and diving are considered appropriate for use of PFDs. In addition, a range of professional, government, military, and other specialized applications exists.
  • PFDs may be independent devices such as throwable ring buoys or buoyant cushions, or devices designed to be worn by users. Among wearable devices, traditional PFDs can incorporate buoyant material in a wearable arrangement that allows them an additional measure of safety when worn during activities that carry a risk of drowning. Familiar wearable PFDs include life jackets, life vests, life preservers, and other conventional arrangements. More advanced PFDs may incorporate a flexible bladder that a user can orally inflate in an emergency. The reduced bulk of the uninflated bladder can be a desirable feature for PFDs. Many PFDs provide inflation by a disposable carbon dioxide (CO2) cylinder that may be activated by a manual pull cord or lever.
  • Many types of inflators are designed to inflate articles such as personal floatation devices (life vests, rings and horseshoes), life rafts, buoys, and emergency signaling equipment. These inflators can include a body for receiving the neck of a cartridge of a compressed gas, such as CO2. A reciprocating firing pin can be disposed within the body for piercing a frangible seal of the cartridge to permit the compressed gas therein to flow into a manifold in the body and then into the device to be inflated. A manually movable firing lever can be operatively connected to the firing pin such that the firing pin pierces the frangible seal of the cartridge upon manual movement of the same.
  • In recent years, manual inflation has been augmented by PFDs designed to automatically inflate upon water contact. Dissolving tablets or other arrangements allow these automatic PFDs to inflate when a wearer falls into water. A CO2 cylinder can be pierced or a valve opened to release compressed gas to inflate a flexible bladder and provide desired flotation to the user. One type of water-activated automatic inflator includes a water-activated trigger assembly including a water-destructible or dissolvable element that retains a spring-loaded actuator pin in a cocked position aligned with the firing pin. Upon immersion in water, which causes the element to destruct or dissolve, the spring-loaded actuator pin is released to forcibly move from the cocked position to an actuated position to strike the firing pin, either directly or indirectly by means of an intermediate transfer pin. Upon striking the firing pin, the pin fractures the cartridge seal thereby allowing the gas contained therein to flow into the inflatable device to inflate it.
  • Another type of water-activated automatic inflator is a water-activated, squib-powered inflator. As the term is commonly used, a squib is a self-contained explosive charge. When actuated by electric current, the charge explodes to actuate the inflator.
  • Still another type of water-activated automatic inflator is a fusible link assembly that retains a spring-loaded actuator pin in a cocked position in alignment with the firing pin, either directly or indirectly by means of an intermediate transfer pin. Upon exposure to water, electrical current is supplied to a heater wire, wrapped around the fusible link. Upon melting of the fusible link, the actuator pin strikes the firing pin to fracture the seal of the cartridge thereby allowing the gas contained therein to flow into the inflatable device to inflate it.
  • SUMMARY
  • This section provides a general summary of the disclosure and one or more of its advantages, and is not a comprehensive disclosure of the full scope, of all of the features, of all of the alternatives or embodiments or of all of the advantages.
  • A number of known inflation devices are disclosed in the Background section above. The present disclosure includes adaptations of each of those devices to include one or more of the novel technologies disclosed herein and as would be apparent to those skilled in the art.
  • An exemplary apparatus herein includes a (user-programmable) submersible actuator apparatus for use in conjunction with inflatable devices, such as personal flotation devices (PFDs) or other inflatable flotation arrangements capable of supplying inflatable buoyant force in accordance with selected combinations of settings for duration of contact with water and extent of immersion under water. The apparatus can provide a modular and variably wearable configuration enabling a user to achieve a range of PFD configurations to accommodate a variety of activities or applications. The actuator apparatus can be worn as part of a PFD harness or other wearing arrangements, or can be located remote from the inflation bladder and connected with suitable hose or tubing. Different numbers and sizes of inflation supplies (compressed gas or other) can be interchanged as appropriate for particular applications. The submersible actuator apparatus can provide the ability to quickly and easily connect and disconnect to different inflatable bladder configurations and/or appropriate inflation sources, while enabling a user to conveniently select from a number of programmed modes for automatic inflation.
  • Particular arrangements can include a personal flotation device for providing buoyant force to a user under selected circumstances. The mechanical designs of inflator mechanisms, that being the structures for, or the opening a valve or puncturing a seal and releasing contents of a compressed gas cylinder, are numerous and well known to those skilled in the art.
  • According to an aspect of the disclosure provided herein is an actuator apparatus for controlling inflation of a flotation device in accordance with one or more user-programmed modes of selected inflation conditions characterized by values for timed interval with respect to depth of submersion detected. In this way, the actuator apparatus provides a user with the ability to quickly switch between programmed modes to adapt to changing activity requirements. As an interchangeable module, the actuator apparatus can provide flexible operating capabilities across a range of application needs.
  • According to yet another embodiment, a programmable submersible actuator apparatus configured to controllably release contents of an inflation source for inflating a bladder worn by a user to provide desired buoyant force is disclosed. The actuator apparatus provides inflation in response to detection of selected values of monitored variables reflecting environmental conditions. The actuator apparatus can include a computer to process information received from sensors in accordance with programmed logic instructions stored in memory. A water detection sensor enables actuation upon water contact. A pressure sensor enables actuation to be initiated at a programmed depth, and it can be used to start the recording of the time of submersion. Computer circuitry having associated timer functions enables actuation to be initiated at selected time intervals measured from water contact or other selected events.
  • An alternative to detecting depth by detecting pressure differential and which can be used with one or more of the novel aspects of this disclosure is to detect depth by absolute pressure.
  • In another embodiment, the disclosure relates to an actuator apparatus for combination with an inflatable flotation device and adapted for controllably releasing contents of an inflation source to deliver buoyant force to the inflatable device in accordance with selected combinations of values for immersion and/or submersion. A programmable submersible actuator apparatus is operably interposed between an inflation source and the inflation bladder device to control device inflation in accordance with programmed values. Compressed gas or solid propellant cool gas generator or other means can be used for inflation. The actuator apparatus further contemplates the use of one or more inflation sources sized to the application, either reusable or disposable in design.
  • In another embodiment the disclosure relates to an actuator apparatus for an inflatable flotation device, programmed to initiate inflation in accordance with at least one set of selected values for water detection (immersion), depth underwater and duration of time underwater (submersion).
  • In another embodiment the disclosure relates to an actuator apparatus for an inflatable flotation device, allowing a user to conveniently switch from one set (or mode) of selected values adapted for providing inflation in the event of immersion, to another set of selected values adapted for providing inflation in the event of undesirable degree of submersion. The actuator apparatus is adapted to provide convenient switching or changing of configurations from a mode for inflation upon immersion to a mode for inflation upon defined submersion. A user may select or change modes as desired to accommodate an activity or anticipated conditions.
  • In another embodiment the disclosure relates to an actuator apparatus for an inflatable flotation device allowing a user to select from a plurality of modes adapted to provide inflation of a bladder in response to selected values of monitored conditions or variables. Monitored conditions or variables can include one or more of water detection, time, atmospheric pressure, water pressure, depth, inflation source pressure, internal actuator pressure, or other variables.
  • In another embodiment the disclosure relates to an actuator apparatus for an inflatable flotation device allowing a user to select a mode of operation adaptable to a variety of activities and conditions. The actuator apparatus can be modularly constructed to allow operational connection with a variety of inflatable bladder arrangements designed for particular activities and objectives. The actuator apparatus can accommodate one or more inflation sources selected to provide the buoyant force or volume required for a selected inflatable bladder or activity.
  • In another embodiment the disclosure relates to an actuator apparatus for an inflatable flotation device that allows a user to quickly connect or disconnect the actuator apparatus from one inflatable bladder to another as desired to accommodate user activities or objectives. The actuator apparatus may be adapted to retain a variety of inflation sources. Inflation source needs may vary with inflatable bladder selection and anticipated use. Refillable or disposable compressed gas containers as well as cool gas generators can be used. Many types of systems exist that generate cool gases for pneumatic or pressurization systems, and for inflating inflatable objects. Hot gases can be generated by a solid propellant, and then flow through a dissociated bed of solid endothermic material that is decomposed to generate cool gases mixing with and cooling the hot gases. The cooled gases flow through an aspirator and into an inflatable device to be inflated.
  • In another embodiment the disclosure relates to an actuator apparatus for inflatable flotation devices providing a modular configuration in combination with selected inflatable bladders and having the capability for mounting or wearing in a desired location. The adapter apparatus can use inflation hose connections to operably communicate with bladder and inflation source to controllably release inflation source contents into the bladder.
  • In yet another embodiment the disclosure relates to a personal flotation device including an actuator apparatus that enables a user to selectably store one or more modes or sets of values for providing automatic inflation of the device under predetermined conditions. A mode selector can be configured external to the actuator apparatus for remote mounting by a user in a desired location. Further, the “black box” feature of the memory unit can allow for complete recordation of all events while submerged—every second the depth and temperature are recorded. This feature has the practical value, for example, of providing surfers with knowledge of submersion patterns while being held down in large waves, and alternatively to assist military personnel in determining the size of the inflation charge needed to return a heavily-laden soldier to the surface.
  • In a further embodiment, an actuator apparatus can incorporate methods for detecting and confirming immersion in water. Such methods can include the detection of the presence of water in prescribed combinations with detected water pressure above a prescribed threshold value over a prescribed period of time. Such methods can provide actuation of inflation only in response to the detection of water presence and prescribed combinations of frequency and amplitude of water pressure values over a prescribed time period, thereby preventing undesired inflation from false detection of immersion.
  • Also disclosed is an actuator apparatus for combination with a suitable inflatable flotation device configuration, adapted to recover oceanographic research instruments deployed at desired locations without buoys or other markers and easily programmed to return to the surface for retrieval after a selected time. Industry, research, and particularly military programs have occasion for use of programmed inflation that is dependent on selected time and depth values. Through similar adaptation, military Special Operations forces can conceal equipment and supplies underwater and return to retrieve them when they resurface such as at a programmed time. Oceanographic deep water sampling equipment can be deployed to a selected depth. The apparatus can enable oceanographers to collect the floating sample containers when they return to the surface through buoyant force. Winches, cables and large ships thereby may not be needed. The range of applications for the programmable submersible actuator apparatus disclosed herein is broad as those skilled in the art will appreciate.
  • Apparatuses of the disclosure can be configured to have one or more of following tactical advantages. (a) The actuator unit can be located in one pouch, located anywhere on the user's body for tactical advantage according to SOP, or user's personal preferences. (b) Modes can be changed on the fly to set auto-water inflate at first water contact and to turn the LEDs off for full black-out. (c) Operational LEDs can be covered by two black-out layers and can be turned off by the user on the fly even when the user is wearing heavy gloves. (d) The universal mounts can accommodate a variety of battle-vest or backpack configurations. (e) Reliable electronics similar to the CYPRES can allow users to rely on one activation unit that can be easily operated by either gloved hand in the dark.
  • Further, an inflatable PFD apparatus of the disclosure can be configured to have one or more of the following advantages. (a) The water sensor can use electronic sensors and intelligent programming to effectively differentiate immersion from waves or rain, instead of a dissolvable pill/pellet, which can cause unwanted inflation from large wave splashes or in heavy rain. (b) A pressure sensor can be electronic, calibrated, solid state, and reliable. These sensors can survive when returned to ground level after travel at aircraft altitudes. (c) The apparatus can be highly programmable, which enables rapid mission critical customization. For example, (i) Depth setting: changeable from depth setting of five feet for a river crossing, or fifteen feet for an over-water jump; and unwanted inflation is avoided. (ii) Time setting: different time requirements for escape from an overturned Zodiac or a sinking helicopter for a rescue swimmer; this can include a commando who has fallen into the water and who can quickly resurface so he may complete his mission unimpeded by a premature inflation of his PFD. (iv) An automatic surface mode for instant inflation for falling into the water, for example, while climbing up a ship's ladder or working on the bow of a ship in heavy weather.
  • An apparatus of the present disclosure can be mounted on the back of the user to keep the user's chest area unobstructed. It further can be programmable on the fly for generally any situation including: (i) an automatic mode where it inflates when immersed; (ii) a program mode where it inflates according to time and depth conditions selected; and (iii) a manual mode where it inflates when user pulls a cord (or the like).
  • That is, multiple modes of activation of the apparatus can be provided. The “automatic modes” can include: (i) an immersion mode where inflation is upon water contact; (ii) a deep submersion mode where inflation occurs when programmed depth is exceeded; (iii) a time submersion mode where inflation occurs when programmed time underwater is exceeded; (iv) a deep time submersion mode where inflation occurs when programmed time below depth is exceeded; and (v) a custom mode where it inflates when programmed custom conditions are met. An example of a custom condition/mode is computer code written for surfers whereby the cumulative submersion time of proximal multiple submersions over a threshold of one meter is tallied. The actuator will fire provided that the cumulative time exceeds the surfer's time trigger setting and there has not been an intervening surface interval of thirty seconds, for example. The “manual modes” can include a ripcord to initiate inflation and/or an oral inflation tube. A user can program the actuator using status LEDs (or an optional LCD display) to confirm settings, similar to a CYPRES parachute safety unit (no PC needed).
  • The actuator unit can be modular with the inflation vest. It can be combined with many bladder vests or can be integrated into a custom vest pack designed to the user's specifications. An example of an inflatable device is a horseshoe Molyweave Model bladder. Further, the actuator unit can be modular and can be attached where needed for the operator and the mission. By using differently sized single or dual CO2 cartridges, the rate of and amount of inflation can adjust the amount of lift.
  • An example of an inflatable device usable in embodiments herein is a two CO2 cylinder arrangement for redundancy as well as for rapid filling and increased flotation. Generally all sizes of CO2 cylinders can be accepted to allow for multiple lift and depth configurations providing up to one hundred sixty-four pounds lift, for example. Three examples for cylinder size in grams; surface flotation in pounds; and buoyant force at thirty feet in pounds are: (1) 38; 92; 48; (2) 38-68; 128; 67; and (3) 68; 164; 86.
  • The inflatable device (such as a pair of CO2 cylinders) can be recovered to cover the Special Operation Forces (SOF) operator in a face-up, chest-up, reclining position, which is excellent for in-water rescue. It can offer a rapid-dump ripcord to provide for fast deflation needed to escape a confined space or to allow unimpeded swimming for mission completion once the SOF commando has surfaced. Partial deflation can allow the SOF operator to adjust the lift to provide a stable water-borne attack platform, supporting gear and providing a stable aiming platform. A two-cylinder configuration of the disclosure advantageously allows for inflation to be symmetrical; in contrast units that inflate after each bead handle is pulled can cause the user to tip off balance when the first unilateral, asymmetrical “water wing” is activated.
  • According to an aspect of the disclosure a submersible life jacket, or a PFD, provides for a programmable delay in inflation following immersion due to either exceeding a user-set maximum time, a user-set maximum depth and/or a user-set combination thereof.
  • Pursuant to another embodiment a submersible actuator apparatus is disclosed, which includes: an inflator mechanism configured to be operatively connected to an inflation source and to an inflatable device; the inflator mechanism when operatively connected to the inflation source and the inflatable device provides command-activated release of gas stored in fluid form from the inflation source to the inflatable device and thereby provides a buoyant force; a water sensor mechanism; a water pressure sensor configured to permit measurement of external pressure reflecting depth underwater; and a controller in communication with the water sensor mechanism and the water pressure sensor to command actuation of the inflator mechanism upon detection of predetermined conditions.
  • Yet another submersible actuator apparatus disclosed herein includes an inflator mechanism configured when operatively connected to an inflation source and to an inflatable device to provide command-activated release of fluid from the inflation source to the inflatable device to thereby provide a buoyant force for the user. A controller communicates with a water sensor mechanism and a water pressure sensor (which measures external pressure reflecting depth underwater) to command actuation of the inflator mechanism upon detection of predetermined conditions. The conditions include a mode that includes (a) if not above water surface, determining “yes” or “no” whether a detected first pressure differential that is greater than a predetermined first pressure differential (e.g., 0.5 inch) is greater than a predetermined second pressure differential (e.g., six inches), and if “yes” actuating inflation of the inflatable device and if “no” actuating a timer (of the controller) for a first predetermined time period (e.g., three seconds); (b) if during the first predetermined time period a second pressure differential greater than the predetermined third pressure differential (e.g., 0.5 inch) is detected, actuating inflation; (c) if during the first predetermined time period with no inflation actuated, no second pressure differential that is greater than the third predetermined pressure differential is detected, returning to step (a).
  • A “bob” can be defined herein as a subtle change in depth as might be seen if the device/apparatus is slipped into a calm sea (which is very unusual), with the usual case being a person falling into the water in which case a six-inch delta threshold (mentioned numerous times in this disclosure) is easily met.
  • Yet another submersible actuator apparatus disclosed herein includes an inflator mechanism configured when operatively connected to an inflation source and to an inflatable device to provide command-activated release of fluid from the inflation source to the inflatable device to thereby provide a buoyant force for the user. A controller is in communication with a water sensor mechanism and a water pressure sensor (which measures external pressure reflecting depth underwater) to command actuation of the inflator mechanism upon detection of predetermined conditions. The conditions include a mode that includes (a) if water is detected, determining a pressure difference; (b) if the determined pressure difference is greater than a predetermined maximum pressure difference (e.g., six inches), actuating inflation; (c) if the determined pressure difference is not greater than the predetermined maximum pressure difference compare the present time TNOW with a previously calculated decrement time TDECREMENT (d) if TNOW is greater than TDECREMENT then decrementing a bob counter and re-calculating a new TDECREMENT (e) if the determined pressure difference is not greater than a predetermined bob pressure difference (e.g., 0.5 inch), returning to step (a); (d) if the determined pressure difference is greater than the predetermined bob pressure difference add a unit to a counter to create a new bob counter value; (e) if the new bob counter value is not greater than a predetermined bob counter value (e.g., two or three), returning to step (a); and (f) if the new counter value is greater than the predetermined bob counter value, actuating inflation.
  • Pursuant to another embodiment, a submersible actuator apparatus includes an inflation source, an inflatable device, and an inflator mechanism that provides command-activated release of fluid from the inflation source to the inflatable device and thereby provides a buoyant force. A controller of the apparatus is configured to cause inflation of the inflatable device to be actuated by the inflator mechanism when the first of a deep submersion condition and a heavy bobbing condition is detected. The deep submersion condition occurs when a first pressure differential is detected. And the heavy bobbing condition occurs when either (a) a first predetermined number of second pressure differentials is detected or (b) a second predetermined number of third pressure differentials within a preset time period is detected. The first pressure differential is greater than the second and third pressure differentials.
  • The sensor mechanism of apparatuses disclosed herein can include first and second sensor devices spaced apart, each having a sensor element recessed in from an adjacent outermost surface by 1.2 to 0.8 mm, 1.1 to 0.9 mm, or 1.0 mm.
  • The inflation bladder can be modular and can be attached with a Mulyweave into any vest or can be integrated into a special vest designed to house the inflation bladder.
  • The water sensor can be constructed so as to not cause the vest to inflate during large wave splashes or in heavy rains. Instead, an electronic sensor and software can be used to accurately discriminate immersion from waves and rain.
  • The pressure sensor can be an electronic sensor, which does not fail after travel at aircraft altitudes when they return to the surface.
  • These and other features, aspects and advantages of the present disclosures will become better understood with reference to the following description. There has been outlined, rather broadly, the more important features of the disclosure in order that the detailed description thereof may be better understood and in order that the present contribution to the art may be better appreciated. There are additional features will be described hereinafter.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • The drawings described herein are for illustrative purposes only of selected aspects of the present teachings and not all possible implementations, and are not intended to limit the scope of the present teachings.
  • FIG. 1 is a first perspective view of an apparatus of the present disclosure.
  • FIG. 2 is a second perspective view of the apparatus.
  • FIG. 3 is a perspective view of the apparatus with the cover removed.
  • FIG. 4 is a plan cross-sectional view of the apparatus.
  • FIG. 5 is an enlarged cross-sectional view of one of the sensors or probes of the apparatus illustrated in isolation.
  • FIG. 6 is a schematic view of a controller arrangement of the apparatus.
  • FIG. 7 is an electrical schematic of a water sensor of the apparatus.
  • FIG. 8 is a logic flow chart of the apparatus.
  • FIG. 9 is a logic flow chart showing a first variation of a portion of the flow chart of FIG. 8.
  • FIG. 10 is a logic flow chart showing a second variation of a portion of the flow chart of FIG. 8.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION
  • Corresponding reference numerals indicate corresponding parts throughout the several views of the drawings.
  • An exemplary apparatus herein is capable of alternative embodiments and of being practiced and applied in various ways. Also, it is to be understood that the phraseology and terminology employed herein are for the purpose of the description and should not be regarded as limiting.
  • Persons skilled in the art will recognize that the systems and methods disclosed herein may be practiced without one or more of the specific details, or with other methods, components, materials, etc. In some instances, well-known structures, materials, or operations are not shown or described in detail. The described features, structures, or characteristics may be combined in any suitable manner in one or more embodiments. It is also readily understood that components of the embodiments, as generally described and illustrated in the figures herein, can be arranged and designed in a wide variety of different configurations. For this application, the phrases “connected to” and “coupled to” and “adapted to” are used to refer to any form of interaction between two or more entities, including mechanical, magnetic, or other interaction. Two components may be coupled to each other even though they are not in direct contact with each other.
  • Apparatus and Housing Overview
  • Referring now to FIGS. 1 through 4, an embodiment of a programmable submersible actuator apparatus in accordance with the present disclosure is shown generally at 100. Apparatus 100 includes a housing 110, which provides a watertight electronics compartment for computer controller 120 (FIG. 6). Housing 110 can be constructed of polycarbonate and pressure tested to one hundred meters depth, enabling the apparatus to be used by divers, military, scientists and others. Quick-disconnect fitting 130 can enable flow of the released contents of inflation source shown generally at 140 to a chosen inflatable device, which is shown schematically at block 150 (FIG. 1) and an example of which can be a life vest. Inflation source 140 can be dual compressed gas cylinders, each held by respective receptacles 144 of the housing 110. Quick-disconnect fitting 130 can be adapted to connect directly to an inflatable device or to a suitable hose connected to an inflatable device. Quick-disconnect fitting 130 can be universal in order to be compatible with most life vests. An integrated Schrader valve can be used to prevent retrograde flow of water from the inflatable flotation device 150 flowing into inflator mechanism 160. The inflator mechanism 160, for example, can have a compression spring within a barrel to exert a linear force through mechanical linkage to a piercing ram assembly for releasing the contents of inflation source 140.
  • The housing 110 thus can contain computer controller components and associated circuitry, power supply, and autoinflator mechanisms for controllably releasing contents of the inflation source 140. User interface 170 can provide buttons or similar components for inputting and selecting values of depth, time, or depth and time to define one or more modes for initiating inflation.
  • The water sensor mechanism shown generally at 180 on housing 110 enables detection of water. Multiple sensor probes can be used to improve reliability of water detection.
  • Water Pressure Sensor
  • The water pressure sensor 190 measures external pressures reflecting depth. The pressure sensor 190, for example, can be an MS5535-BM—Pressure Sensor Module available from Intersema Sensoric SA of Bevaix, Switzerland and Hampton, Va. This sensor is an SMD-hybrid device and includes a piezo-resistive pressure sensor and an ADC-Interface IC. It provides a 16-Bit data word from a pressure and temperature dependent voltage. Additionally, the module contains six readable coefficients for a highly accurate software calibration of the sensor. This device is a low power, low voltage device with automatic power down (on/off) switching. A three-wire interface can be used for communications with a microcontroller.
  • Controller
  • Referring to FIG. 6, computer controller 120 can include a power supply 200, central processor unit (CPU) 210, memory 220, logic 230 (FIG. 8, for example), and clock 240. The clock 240 enables timing functions, allowing a user to input selected time values when defining modes of settings for activating inflator mechanism 160 to release contents of the inflation source 140 for inflating the inflatable device 150.
  • The display 250 provides information and status of apparatus 100 for viewing. Mode selector 260 allows a user to easily select a programmed mode for automatic inflation. Manual activation control 270 allows a user to manually initiate inflation. Manual activation may be a mechanical operation, such as a ripcord or lever or may be implemented electromechanically through a button or a switch.
  • The display 250 can provide visual information to a user. Display 250 may include LEDs for communicating apparatus status and modes, as well as LCD or similar displays for improved interface and programming. As an example, three LEDs can be provided, namely, Red to signal warning or error; Green to signal power on and status OK; and Blue to indicate an “immersion” mode (i.e., automatic inflation upon detection of water contact). Mode selector 260 allows a user to easily switch from one programmed mode to another, as desired. Programmed modes are combinations of values for depth and time (and/or other values), selected by a user in accordance with his needs for automatic inflation. In the event that a user requires automatic inflation under conditions that have not met the selected, programmed mode, manual activation control 110 allows a user to immediately activate inflation.
  • Further to the description above, FIG. 6 is a block diagram that depicts major operational components of computer controller 120. Controller 120 incorporates power supply 200 in operable connection with CPU 210 and memory 220. Memory 220 stores program instructions for executing logic 230 in cooperating with CPU 210, for providing instructions on activating inflator mechanism 160, in addition to storing values for time, depth, and other necessary data, and switching modes in accordance with user selection. Memory 220 can include providing “black box” immersion time, depth and temperature data storage functions in support of forensic analysis, performance review, and product improvement.
  • Water sensors 180, whose construction and operation will be described later in detail, detect the presence of water and thereby enable controller 120 to detect immersion. And the use of multiple water sensors may improve reliability of water detection. Immersion can be defined herein as an established degree of certainty of water contact.
  • Water pressure sensor 190 provides data on depth underwater and enables controller 120 to detect submersion. Submersion can be defined herein as a confirmed presence underwater.
  • Controller 120 can allow CPU 220 and memory 230 to execute instructions in accordance with timer functions of a clock 240 as would be understood by those skilled in the art from this disclosure. Buttons of interface 170 enable a user to input selected values for time and depth, in order to define modes that control the conditions for automatic inflation. Display elements provide information to a user, and LEDs and/or LCDs can be preferred. LEDs of multiple colors may communicate varying status conditions. For example, a green LED may indicate a “power on” condition, a blue LED may indicate an “immersion” mode (i.e., automatic inflation upon detection of water contact), and a red LED may indicate an error condition. Buttons (or other controls) of interface 170 can enable a user to enter selected values for depth and time, and to create multiple modes for automatic inflation. A user can input values, by way of interface 170, for selected depth and time values that define conditions for inflation. Different modes can be programmed for water detection (immersion), depth underwater and duration of time underwater (submersion). Users can choose depth and time values that correspond to the needs of their particular activity.
  • In one embodiment, LCD display 250 allows a user to visually confirm their inputted values in programming of modes for operation. Mode selector 260 enables a user to quickly and conveniently select or change programmed modes from an immersion mode 280 (FIG. 8) (for inflation upon water contact) to a submersion mode 290 (FIG. 8) (for inflation upon defined submersion). A user may select modes 300 as desired to accommodate an activity or anticipated conditions. Mode selector 260, alternatively, can be independent from housing 110 to enable mounting in a desired location by the user.
  • Flow Chart of FIG. 8
  • Referring now to FIG. 8, logic 230 is depicted in flow chart form for the computer controller 200 of FIG. 4, contained in the actuator apparatus 100. For a combination of apparatus 100 with a selected inflatable flotation device 150, a user sets a mode of operation with mode selector 300. Immersion mode 280 or submersion mode 290 may be selected. Actuator apparatus 100 allows a user to select from a plurality of modes adapted to provide inflation of a bladder in response to selected values of monitored conditions or variables. Monitored conditions or variables can include water detection, time, atmospheric pressure, water pressure, depth, inflation source pressure, internal actuator pressure, or other variables in accordance with available sensor data. One embodiment enables user programming of selected values for depth underwater and time underwater.
  • With immersion mode 280 selected, computer controller 120 executes programmed logic 230 to decide if predetermined conditions indicating immersion have been detected 320. Immersion can be defined as an established degree of certainty of water contact. Controller 120 monitors data from water sensors 180 to detect immersion 320. If immersion is not detected, the actuator apparatus remains on standby. When immersion is detected, computer controller 120 sends instructions to activate inflator mechanism 160 and initiates inflation 330. Inflator mechanism 160 causes gas to be released from inflation source 140 to inflatable flotation device 150, providing desired buoyant force.
  • By selecting immersion mode 280, activation of inflator mechanism 160 occurs when the established degree of certainty of water contact is detected 320. Immersion detection systems using multiple water sensors are often troubled by undesired inflation under conditions other than immersion. The method of immersion detection 320 of the disclosure eliminates undesired inflation, along with the need for periodic replacement of sensing-related detector components, while still providing reliable detection of immersion and resulting actuation of inflation 330.
  • With submersion mode 290 selected, computer controller 200 can execute programmed logic 230 to decide if conditions indicating initial submersion have been detected 340. Submersion according to a definition herein is a confirmed presence below a predetermined depth underwater. For one programmed mode, a user inputs selected values for time and depth 350 into actuator apparatus 100 through interface 170. The selected time is the “trigger time,” and the selected depth is the “trigger depth.” Unless computer controller 120 detects submersion (continuously) for the programmed trigger time, inflation will not occur, unless the trigger depth is detected. Computer controller 120 monitors data from water sensor 180, pressure sensor 190, and time values from CPU 210, to detect occurrence of submersion 340.
  • When submersion is detected, computer controller 120 can start measuring the period of submersion. When the period of submersion reaches the programmed trigger time 350, computer controller 120 can trigger time exceeded 360 and send instructions to activate inflator mechanism 160 and initiate inflation 330.
  • The computer controller 120 monitors submersion time as well as depth of submersion. When the depth of submersion reaches the programmed trigger depth 350, computer controller determines trigger depth exceeded 370 and sends instructions to activate inflator mechanism 160 and initiates inflation 330.
  • If neither the trigger depth nor the trigger time is detected, automatic inflation will not occur. A user may manually initiate inflation 380 through use of manual activation control 270, which activates inflator mechanism 120 to initiate inflation 330. Additional modes may be programmed for time and depth values selected by a user, and as will be discussed below with reference to FIGS. 9 and 10.
  • Flow Chart of FIG. 9
  • Referring to FIG. 9, a flow chart of the logic of an inflation process of the disclosure is illustrated generally at 400. The process starts and the presence of water is detected as depicted by block 410 or the negative thereof: whether above the surface of the water. This can be done by the water sensor mechanism 180. If not above the water surface (in other words, the presence of water is detected), then when a first pressure differential greater than a first predetermined pressure differential (such as 0.5 inch) (alternatively referred to as a bobbing differential pressure (ΔPBOB)) is detected 420, a determination is made at block 430 as to whether the first pressure differential is greater than a second predetermined pressure differential (such as six inches)(alternatively referred to as maximum pressure differential ΔPMAX)). If it is greater, then inflation is actuated 440. If it is not greater then a timer is started for a predetermined time period (such as three seconds) (block 450). If during the time period a subsequent test for the presence of water indicates no water present (block 455), then the process resets and continues to test for a subsequent presence of water (block 410). Otherwise, if water is detected (block 455), then the timer may be sampled and, if the time period is less than or equal to three seconds (block 460), then a second pressure differential detected and compared to a third predetermined pressure differential (such as 0.5 inch) (block 465). If greater than the third predetermined pressure differential, then inflation is actuated (block 440). However, if during the time period (block 460) no pressure differential greater than the third predetermined pressure (block 465) is detected, then return to the “water detected” block 455.
  • With continued reference to the flow chart (logic) of FIG. 9, upon returning to block 410 (from block 460), the process is repeated. It can be repeated with all of the same first, second and third predetermined pressure differentials and the same predetermined time period. Alternatively, one or more of these values can be different (changed).
  • In other words, a method of the disclosure for determining when to actuate inflation follows. If the presence of water is detected (such as is described in detail elsewhere in this disclosure) 410 and a pressure differential greater than a first predetermined pressure differential is detected 420: (a) if the detected pressure differential is greater than a second predetermined pressure differential that is higher than the first predetermined pressure differential 420, actuating inflation 440 of the inflatable device to provide a buoyant force; (b) if the detected pressure is not greater than the higher second predetermined pressure differential, continuously measuring pressure differentials for a predetermined time period; (c) if during the predetermined time period water continues to be detected and a pressure differential greater than a third predetermined pressure differential that is less than the second predetermined pressure differential is detected, actuating inflation of the inflatable device to provide the buoyant force; and (d) if during the predetermined time period no pressure differential greater than the third predetermined pressure differential is detected, returning to step (a).
  • The first predetermined pressure differential can be 0.5 inch (or 0.48-0.52 inch), the second predetermined pressure differential can be six inches (or 5.8 to 6.2 inches), the third predetermined pressure differential can be 0.5 inch (or 0.48-0.52 inch), the predetermined time period can be three seconds (or 2.5 to 3.5 seconds) and the continuously measuring can be every second or every half second. The first and third predetermined pressure differentials can be the same or different.
  • In other words, there is a constantly moving window of time having a duration of the predetermined time period and if two pressure differentials greater than the first predetermined pressure differential are detected during the moving window of time, inflation is actuated. If the second pressure differential exceeding the first predetermined pressure differential is after the predetermined time period then the timer is restarted to look for another pressure differential greater that the first differential within the reset time period. That is, if two pressure differentials greater than the first predetermined pressure differential are detected within a time period not greater than the predetermined time period, inflation is actuated. And if a pressure differential that is greater than the second predetermined pressure differential is detected any time during the process, inflation is actuated.
  • A first variation of the logic 400 is to include detection of a fourth predetermined pressure differential within the time period where the fourth predetermined pressure differential is less than the third predetermined pressure differential and less than the second predetermined pressure differential. A second variation is to include two (or more) identical predetermined pressure differentials within the time period, where inflation is actuated when both of these pressure differential readings have been detected within the time period.
  • Flow Chart of FIG. 10
  • Referring to FIG. 10, a flow chart of the logic of an inflation process of the disclosure is illustrated generally at 500. Referring to the top thereof, the immersion mode is selected 510, which can be done by the user operating the control panel, such as by pushing a corresponding button or other control. Or it may be that the inflation immersion mode was preselected before the user put the apparatus on. Another alternative is that the apparatus only includes an immersion mode in which case it was “selected” by the manufacturer.
  • A decrement time value (TDECREMENT) is set to equal the current time (TNOW) plus a predetermined decay time (TDECAY) at block 515 to set up the process to decrement the later-described bob count (alternately referred to as a “bobbing counter” or “count”) after a predetermined time (TDECREMENT) The next step is whether the presence of water is detected as depicted by block 520. This can be done by the water sensor mechanism 180. If water is not detected (block 520), TDECREMENT is recalculated (block 515) and the presence of water is again detected. The detecting and recalculating loop may continue until water is detected. Once water is detected (block 520), the process may hold for a time period (TNOW) equal to the current time (TNOW) plus a predetermined delay time (ΔT) (block 525) before sampling a pressures (P(t) and P(t−w)) to compute a pressure differential (ΔP) (block 530). ΔT may be 0.125 seconds or any other desired time sample period. The computed sample pressure differential (ΔP) is then compared to a predetermined pressure differential representing the value at which inflation actuation occurs unconditionally (ΔPMAX) at block 540. The predetermined pressure differential (ΔPMAX) can be six inches, for example. If the measured/computed pressure differential is greater than the predetermined pressure differential (block 540) then the actuator is signaled to actuate inflation (block 550).
  • If it is not greater, it the current time (TNOW) is compared to the decrement time value (TDECREMENT) and, if the current time (TNOW) is greater than the decrement time value (TDECREMENT) (block 542), then a bobbing counter (B) is decremented (block 544), the decrement time value (TDECREMENT) recalculated (block 548) and the pressure differential (ΔP) compared to a bobbing pressure differential (ΔPBOB) (block 560), reflecting a depth corresponding to 0.5 inch. The bobbing pressure differential can be 0.5 inch, for example. If it is not greater than the bobbing pressure differential (ΔPBOB), then the process returns to the water detection block 520. On the other hand, if it is greater then the bobbing pressure differential, then add one to (or increment) a counter to a new bobbing counter value 570. If the new counter value is less than a predetermined number of bobs 580, then the process returns to the water detected block 520 (but the counter value has been increased by one). If the new counter value is greater than the predetermined number of bobs 580, then inflation is actuated 550. An exemplary predetermined number of bobs is two or three (or between two and three), and the number can be based on empirical testing. In one embodiment, the predetermined maximum pressure can be between 0.17 and 0.27 psi, for example 0.22 psi. And the predetermined bob pressure difference can be between 0.015 and 0.022 psi, for example 0.0185 psi. The predetermined delay time (ΔT) may be 0.125 seconds and predetermined decay time (TDECAY) three seconds. The predetermined number of bobs (BLIMIT) may be 2.
  • In other words, a method of the disclosure for determining when to actuate inflation follows. (a) If the presence of water is detected (such as is described in detail elsewhere in this disclosure) 520, waiting a predetermined sample period 525 and then determining a pressure difference 530; (b) if the determined pressure difference is greater than a predetermined maximum pressure difference 540, actuating inflation 550; (c) the current time TNOW is checked to determine if it exceeds a previously calculated TDECREMENT and, if TNOW exceeds TDECREMENT, then a bobbing counter is decremented 544 and a new TDECREMENT calculated 548; (d) if the determined pressure difference is not greater than the predetermined maximum pressure difference and is not greater than a predetermined bob pressure difference that is less than the predetermined maximum pressure difference 560, returning to step (a); (d) if the determined pressure difference is not greater than the predetermined maximum pressure and is greater than the predetermined bob pressure difference 560, adding a unit to a counter to create a new counter value 570; (e) if the new counter value is not greater than a predetermined maximum bob counter value (BLIMIT) 580, returning to step (a); and (f) if the new counter value is greater than the predetermined bob counter value 580, actuating inflation 550.
  • The determining the pressure difference 530 can include determining from a plurality of sampled pressure differences. The predetermined maximum pressure can be the equivalent of six inches of water, the predetermined bob pressure difference can be the equivalent of ½ inch of water, and the predetermined bob counter value can be between one and two or between two and three.
  • A decrementation process of the bob counter value can also be included in the steps of this mode, for the purpose of inadvertent inflation over time. This process can be provided to take into account that if bobs are very infrequent the user is not likely in distress. The decrementation steps are shown by boxes 542, 544 and 548 in FIG. 10 and the connecting lines. Referring again to FIG. 10, at box 520 TNOW is set at the time at that moment. When the pressure differential is determined to not be greater than the predetermined maximum pressure difference, present time (TNOW) is compared the previously calculated TDECREMENT 542, which for example can be 2-4 seconds. If it is not greater then the process continues to decision box 560. On the other hand, if it is greater then the counter value is decreased by a decremental amount, which can be 1-3, for example. TDECREMENT is recalculated (block 548) and the process continues to decision box 560.
  • Combined Flow Charts
  • It is also within the scope herein to combine the features and decisions of the two above-discussed flow charts to provide an apparatus and method as follows.
  • Pursuant to this embodiment, the submersible actuator apparatus includes an inflation source, an inflatable device, and an inflator mechanism that provides command-activated release of fluid from the inflation source to the inflatable device and thereby provides a buoyant force. A controller of the apparatus is configured to cause inflation of the inflatable device to be actuated by the inflator mechanism when the first of a deep submersion condition and a heavy bobbing condition is detected. The deep submersion condition can occur when a first pressure differential is detected. And the heavy bobbing condition can occur when either (a) a first predetermined number of second pressure differentials is detected (see FIG. 10) or (b) a second predetermined number of third pressure differentials within a preset time period is detected (see FIG. 9). The first pressure differential is greater than the second and third pressure differentials.
  • Water Sensor Mechanism
  • The sensor mechanism 180 can be configured and constructed, the inventors have discovered, such that they send a water immersion signal in the event of floating in a fresh water lake on the one hand, but on the other hand do not send a water immersion signal when not immersed in water but when the sensor devices or probes 600, 610 (FIGS. 3, 4 and 7) are bridged by a saltwater saturated fabric, such as a retaining pouch or the sleeve of a jacket. Further, the sensor mechanism 180 should not be susceptible to “bubble blocking” where one or more bubbles prevent or interfere with accurate water immersion measurement. Pursuant to the present disclosure a construction that meets these requirements has a pair of sensors 600, 610, each recessed a distance as shown by 620 in FIG. 5 of 0.9-1.1 mm (or 1.0 mm). More specifically, each sensor can include a sensor element 630 in a housing or sleeve 640 with the distal end 650 of the sensor element recessed a distance 620 into the end of the sleeve.
  • Test
  • Four water samples were tested, and a separate row is provided for each of them in the Table below. The samples were: (a) water obtained from reverse osmosis; (b) tap water; (c) fabric soaked in salt water; and (d) salt water. Each reading was made until a steady number resulted, which took several seconds. More specifically, it took a second or two before a reading was made and then several seconds to stabilize. Referring to the numbers in the Table below, the current is in tens of microAmps (e.g., 220 is 2200 uA or 2.2 mA). (However, it was still possible to place the probe slowly and trap air into the countersinks, thereby preventing accurate readings.)
  • TABLE Depth of Probe in Housing +3 mm −1 mm −2.5 mm High Low Steady High Low Steady High Low Steady 9 12 9  3 5 3 2 3 2 15 20 20 10 13 11  5 6 6 6 15 13  3 5 5 0 0 0 29 35 35 16 23 23  13 23 13
  • The most extreme variables likely to be encountered for an apparatus of the type of the present disclosure are between floating in a lake (tap water) and being splashed by a saltwater wave that saturates the retaining pouch (fabric soaked in salt water and an example of the fabric is canvas). An analysis of the results in the Table above shows the two key numbers being underlined, and they are key because one is twice the other making them easy to discriminate. Thereby a depth of −1.0 mm (or more generally 0.9-1.1 mm) offers the best results.
  • At 1.0 mm, the highest saturated fabric reading obtained was five (50 micro amps), whereas in tap water, the lowest reading was ten (100 micro amps), which provides a 50% margin, which means accurate discrimination between actual immersion in clear water versus contact with highly-conductive fabric soaked in salt water is easy. A 1.0 mm depth prevents fabric bridging, while at the same time is not so deep as to cause bubble blocking. However, even with a −1.0 mm (countersunk) depth the risk of bubble blocking can be further reduced by providing four star-shaped (cut) slots centered on the top of the screw head (the distal end of the sensor element), instead of the slot as depicted.
  • The results of the Test above demonstrate the ability to discriminate between damp fabric (such as a saltwater-soaked jacket sleeve of the user/wearer) extending between the two probes and actual immersion under water. The readings for the fresh water immersion are twice those obtained from a wet saltwater-soaked cloth extending between and pressed against the sensors, and thus it is easy to distinguish between them. In another test, immersion was confirmed by the pressure sensor when there was a one delta of pressure difference greater than six inches or two deltas of ½ inch occurring within a three-second window. Absolute pressures were not used due to changes in atmospheric pressure that might occur from the initial reading when the unit is turned on and when absolute reference is set.
  • The water sensor mechanism 180 can include first and second sensor devices or probes, as shown in FIGS. 1 and 3, for example, at 600, 610. They can have the same or similar constructions. A cross-sectional view of one of them 600 is set forth in FIG. 5 for illustrative purposes. Referring thereto the sensor device 600 includes a sensor element or member 630 held in an insulated, non-conductive cylindrical housing or sleeve 640. The cylindrical housing 640 can include: a cylindrical body portion 650 having a threaded through-hole 660 and a threaded exterior surface 670; a forward ring portion 680 whose through-hole 690 is wider than through-hole 660; and a neck ring 700 between the ring portion and the body portion. The sensor element 630 can have a screw configuration with a head 650 at one end, an elongate threaded portion 710 at the opposite end and a cylindrical connector portion 720. The threaded portion 710 is threaded into the through-hole 660 and fixed at the desired location by a nut, as depicted at the bottom of FIG. 5 at 730. The sleeve or holder 640 can be fixed in the housing by being threaded therein via threads 670 into a corresponding threaded opening in the housing. Waterproof connections are provided by an outer o'ring 740 between the neck ring 700 and the housing and an inner o'ring 760 between the neck ring and the connector portion 720.
  • As will be described below, the distance 620 between the top of the head of the screw 650 and the top of the ring portion 680 can affect performance of the water sensor and therefor users may want to set it at a specific distance. They may also want to adjust/change the distance. This can be easily done by screwing the screw 650 into and out of the housing and into the “nut” 730 fixed in the body. The sleeve 640 can be removed from the housing 110 if needed to replace the outer o'ring 740, for example. And similarly, the screw 630 can be removed from the sleeve 640 to replace the inner o'ring 760. The screws of the probes 600, 610 can be spaced apart, center-to-center, a distance of between twenty and twenty-two mm. The screws can have heads 650 with diameters of seven mm and lengths of fourteen mm. The sleeves 640 can extend between three and three and a half mm out from the housing. The screws 630 can be made of stainless steel, and the sleeves 640 made of polycarbonate. The resistance between these two probes for saltwater soaked clothing can be five micro amps. The distal ends of the sensor elements can be recessed in from an adjacent outermost surface of the respective sensor device by 0.9 to 1.1 mm, and the distal ends can be spaced a distance apart, center to center by between eighteen and twenty-two mm, for example twenty mm.
  • A simplified electrical circuit for the water probes 600, 610 is depicted generally at 800 in FIG. 7 with the spaced probes connected to ground 810 with a battery voltage 820 illustrated at the top. Microprocessor, differential amp and current sensor resister are depicted by reference numerals 830, 840, 850, respectively. The transistor is depicted as an on/off switch 860 to more simply illustrate its function. Briefly, the voltage drop is measured across the current sense resistor 850 to calculate the current, which the microprocessor 830 calculates to get the current.
  • Inflation Scenarios
  • Submersions may be intentional or accidental. In either case, the user can set his maximum time and depth in accordance with the mission and his physiological limits.
  • Examples of accidental submersion where a time and/or depth trigger will provide for improved outcomes include: (a) An aircraft crew or passenger who has landed in the water needs time to exit the submerging aircraft before the PFD inflates. An untimely inflation of the PFD may trap the user inside the aircraft, or pin him to the surface of the sinking aircraft. (b) A heavily equipment-laden commando, while crossing a river is swept away and is taken deeper than his trigger depth or is held down longer than his trigger time. In either scenario, the PFD will inflate bringing him to the surface. (c) A swimmer or snorkeler, or diver becomes unconscious and exceeds their self-set trigger times and is prevented from drowning. (d) A soldier or a sailor who briefly falls into the water and desires to quickly exit the water without having his PFD inflate. (e) When a heavily weighted commando becomes fatigued and is no longer able to remain at the surface, or is incapable of a manual inflation, PFD will inflate after the pre-designated time or depth. (f) Sailors who are sucked down by a whirlpool by the sinking of a large ship in close proximity will be quickly transported to the surface if they exceed their self-set trigger depth and/or time. (g) Sailors who are trapped within a sinking or overturned ship will need time to exit or swim from within the confines of the craft. To avoid the consequences of a bulky, inflated vest preventing them from exiting a confined space and/or from becoming pinned to the underside of the overturned vessel by a premature inflation of their PFD, this disclosure allows them the time they need to escape.
  • Examples of intentional submersions where immediate inflation is undesirable or unwanted include: (a) A commando crossing a river does not want his PFD to inflate while partially immersed. (b) A commando may want to submerge to surprise the enemy. Inflation could occur at the same time for a group of soldiers to overwhelm the enemy. Alternatively, inflation may be timed to occur only after the commando had safely swam underwater past the danger. (c) Snorkelers and free divers venture under the water for various times and at various depths. Depending on their unique physiology and needs, they will set their triggers accordingly. (d) A rescue swimmer will want time to make a quick submersion to rescue a victim; however, if the victim holds him under water for too long, or they sink too deep, the PFD will inflate rescuing them both. (e) Teaching diving or swimming in open water entails the risk of losing a student who sinks from sight for too long or who sinks too deep. (f) A rescue swimmer approaches a teammate who is sinking. With the time delay and pressure limit, the rescuer may make multiple brief dive excursions to locate the sinking victim without worrying about premature inflation of his PFD, as long as it does not exceed the preset time and depth. (g) Surfers frequently spend some time submerged; however, if they are swept under by consecutive waves, or are driven exceptionally deep, or they injure themselves and become incapacitated after contact with the bottom (for example, becoming unconscious or injuring a limb) the proposed time sensitive and/or depth sensitive device will cause them to surface when the cumulative hold-down time trigger is exceeded.
  • Examples of people who may find apparatuses herein useful include: special operation forces and commandos; open-water swimming students and instructors; over-water fixed wing and helicopter crew and passengers; surfers; Navy and Coast Guard rescue swimmers and lifeguards; sailors; and breath-hold divers and snorkelers.
  • According to an aspect of the disclosure rapid mission-critical customization can be done, and examples thereof follow. The depth setting can be set the depth at five feet for a river crossing and fifteen feet for an over-water jump. The time settings can be set for requirements for escape from an overturned Zodiac or a sinking helicopter, or for a rescue simmer. This can include the commando who has fallen into the water and who can quickly resurface so he may complete his mission unimpeded by a premature inflation of his PFD. And an automatic surface mode for instant inflation upon falling into the water; for example, while climbing up a ship's ladder or working on the bow of a ship in heavy weather.
  • Exemplary Advantages
  • Automatic inflation under inappropriate conditions can interfere with or otherwise hinder the user in the event of an emergency, impeding their ability to maneuver in close quarters such as while attempting to escape from an overturned or sinking boat.
  • Such risks are not limited to boating activities. Rollover drownings can occur when military of other utility vehicles overturn into water and occupants are trapped inside and underwater. In fact, about two-thirds of all fatal land transport military vehicle incidents in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom involved vehicles that either overturned or ran off the road. As the actual cause of death, drowning was the leading factor
  • The problem of premature and unintentional actuation is increased by the gradual deterioration of the water-responsive element of the automatic inflator. This risk is so acute that it is not uncommon for a weakened water destructible or dissolvable element to be periodically replaced with a new element pursuant to a regularly scheduled maintenance plan.
  • Despite these advances in automatic inflation, there remain significant problems with premature or undesired automatic inflation. Even for airplanes and helicopters flights over water, in the unlikely event of water landing, aircraft passengers need time to exit the aircraft before they are able to benefit from an inflated PFD. In such emergencies, it may be difficult for passengers to remain calm and follow instructions. Inopportune inflation may impede movement or delay exiting the aircraft along with increased risk of injury or death as the aircraft sinks. To be effective in such conditions, inflation should not occur (or even be permitted) until sufficient time has passed to allow safe exit.
  • Inflation upon water contact may be useful when canoeing on a lake, but undesirable when whitewater river rafting where it is not uncommon to be splashed repeatedly with water. Kayakers also face additional challenges, as they may want to be able to roll over and right themselves without causing PFD inflation. Previous PFDs with automatic inflation have employed dissolving tables, pockets, or other coverings of the water-detecting inflator in efforts to minimize unwanted inflation. Despite these numerous efforts this problem remains and, as a result, different PFDs have been developed for the needs of different activities. The fundamental problem remains unresolved.
  • U.S. Coast Guard or other rescue swimmers, maritime law enforcement, and even military combat troops have diverse flotation needs across a variety of missions and deployment scenarios. Rescue swimmers may need automatic or manually inflated buoyancy for their own safety in certain extreme circumstances of prolonged submersion at undesired depth, but not want to experience unintentional inflation resulting from nonthreatening immersion that is routinely encountered. For example, a rescue swimmer may need to jump into the water from a helicopter and would not want a PFD to inflate merely because jumping into the water resulted in a brief plunge to some depth. However, in the event of more prolonged submersion, for example, being dragged underwater by a struggling victim, automatic PFD inflation would be desired.
  • A heavily laden commando faces the risk of drowning on missions near water. While fording rivers or conducting small boat operations, intermittent immersion and splashing may be conditions incompatible with automatic inflation, but in the event of being swept away downriver or sinking in deep water, a PFD should be able to provide emergency inflation when needed.
  • The diverse needs of these and other applications are not met by previous PFDs. Previous PFDs define the conditions for providing buoyancy and are not adaptable to differing needs of a range of activities. Thus, the market is populated with different PFDs for different activities.
  • Apparatuses of the present disclosure can accommodate a diverse range of activities, as discussed above, while providing inflation only in those circumstances selected by a user. The present disclosure provides a new programmable submersible actuator apparatus that can be used in a variety of PFD applications.
  • CONCLUDING REMARKS
  • Although the present inventions have been described in terms of preferred and alternative embodiments above, numerous modifications and/or additions to the above-described embodiments would be readily apparent to one skilled in the art. The embodiments can be defined as methods carried out by any one, any subset of or all of the components and/or users; as servers/clients/computing devices adapted to or programmed to carry out certain functions/methods/steps; as a system of one or more components in a certain structural and/or functional relationship. As another example, the inventions can include subassemblies or sub-methods. However, it is intended that the scope of the present inventions extend to all such modifications and/or additions and that the scope of the present inventions is limited solely by the claims set forth herein.
  • The foregoing description of exemplary aspects of the present teachings has been provided for purposes of illustration and description. Individual elements or features of a particular aspect of the present teachings are generally not limited to that particular aspect, but, where applicable, are interchangeable and can be used in other aspects, even if not specifically shown or described. The same may also be varied in many ways. Such variations are not to be regarded as a departure from the present teachings, and all such modifications are intended to be included within the scope of the present teachings. The present disclosure further includes sub-assemblies, as well as methods of using and/or making the apparatus and/or components thereof.
  • The terminology used herein is for the purpose of describing particular example embodiments only and is not intended to be limiting. As used herein, the singular forms “a,” “an” and “the” may be intended to include the plural forms as well, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise. The terms “comprises,” “comprising,” “including” and “having” are inclusive and therefore specify the presence of stated features, integers, steps, operations, elements and/or components, but do not preclude the presence or addition of one or more other features, integers, steps, operations, elements, components and/or groups thereof. The method steps, processes and operations described herein are not to be construed as necessarily requiring their performance in the particular order discussed or illustrated, unless specifically identified as an order of performance. It is also to be understood that additional or alternative steps may be employed.
  • When an element or layer is referred to as being “on,” “engaged to,” “connected to” or “coupled to” another element or layer, it may be directly on, engaged, connected or coupled to the other element or layer, or intervening elements or layers may be present. In contrast, when an element is referred to as being “directly on,” “directly engaged to,” “directly connected to” or “directly coupled to” another element or layer, there may be no intervening elements or layers present. Other words used to describe the relationship between elements should be interpreted in a like fashion (such as “between” versus “directly between,” and “adjacent” versus “directly adjacent”). As used herein, the term “and/or” includes any and all combinations of one or more of the associated listed items.
  • Although the terms first, second, third and so forth may be used herein to describe various elements, components, regions, layers and/or sections, these elements, components, regions, layers and/or sections should not be limited by these terms. These terms may be only used to distinguish one element, component, region, layer or section from another region, layer or section. Terms such as “first,” “second” and other numerical terms when used herein do not imply a sequence or order unless clearly indicated by the context. Thus, a first element, component, region, layer or section discussed below could be termed a second element, component, region, layer or section without departing from the aspects of the present teachings.
  • Spatially relative terms, such as “inner,” “outer,” “beneath,” “below,” “lower,” “above” and “upper,” may be used herein for ease of description to describe one element's or feature's relationship to another, but the application is intended to encompass different orientations of the device in use or operation in addition to the orientation depicted in the figures. For example, if the device in the figures is turned over, elements described as “below” or “beneath” other elements or features would then be oriented “above” the other elements or features. Thus, the example term “below” can encompass both an orientation of above and below. The device may be otherwise oriented (rotated ninety degrees or at other orientations) and the spatially relative descriptors used herein interpreted accordingly.

Claims (43)

What is claimed is:
1. A submersible actuator apparatus, comprising:
an inflator mechanism configured when operatively connected to an inflation source and to an inflatable device to provide command-activated release of fluid from the inflation source to the inflatable device to thereby provide a buoyant force;
a water sensor mechanism;
a water pressure sensor configured to measure external pressure reflecting depth underwater; and
a controller in communication with the water sensor mechanism and the water pressure sensor to command actuation of the inflator mechanism upon detection of predetermined conditions; and
the sensor mechanism including first and second sensor devices, each having a sensor element, distal ends of the sensor elements being recessed in from adjacent outermost surface of the respective sensor devices by 0.9 to 1.1 mm, and the distal ends being spaced a distance apart.
2. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the first and second sensor devices include respective first and second housings, each defining the respective outermost surfaces.
3. The apparatus of claim 2 wherein the first and second housings are spaced between 20 and 22 mm apart.
4. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein at least one of the sensor elements has a slot extending across the distal end thereof.
5. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein at least one of the sensor elements has a star-shaped recess on the distal end thereof.
6. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the controller is configured for commanding actuation in accordance with at least one mode of operation, and the at least one mode includes sensing a predetermined amount of water presence by the water sensor mechanism.
7. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the inflation source includes at least one compressed gas cylinder and the inflator mechanism includes at least one structure configured to open a valve or puncture a seal to thereby release fluid contents of the at least one compressed gas cylinder.
8. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the distal ends of the first and second sensor elements are recessed in from adjacent outermost surfaces of the respective sensor devices by 1.0 mm.
9. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein the distal ends each have a diameter of approximately 7 mm.
10. A submersible actuator apparatus, comprising:
an inflator mechanism configured when operatively connected to an inflation source and to an inflatable device to provide command-activated release of fluid from the inflation source to the inflatable device to thereby provide a buoyant force;
a water sensor mechanism;
a water pressure sensor configured to measure external pressure reflecting depth underwater; and
a controller in communication with the water sensor mechanism and the water pressure sensor to command actuation of the inflator mechanism upon detection of predetermined conditions including an immersion mode that includes (a) if water is detected, determining a pressure difference; (b) if the determined pressure difference is greater than a predetermined maximum pressure difference, actuating inflation; (c) if the determined pressure difference is not greater than the predetermined maximum pressure difference and is not greater than a predetermined bob pressure difference that is less than the predetermined maximum pressure difference, returning to step (a); (d) if the determined pressure difference is not greater than the predetermined maximum pressure and is greater than the predetermined bob pressure difference add a unit to a counter to create a new counter value; (e) if the new counter value is not greater than a predetermined bob counter value, returning to step (a); and (f) if the new counter value is greater than the predetermined bob counter value, actuating inflation.
11. The apparatus of claim 10 wherein the determining the pressure difference includes determining from a plurality of sampled pressure differences.
12. The apparatus of claim 10 wherein the predetermined maximum pressure is between 0.17 and 0.27 psi.
13. The apparatus of claim 10 wherein the predetermined bob pressure difference is between 0.015 and 0.022 psi.
14. The apparatus of claim 10 wherein the predetermined bob counter value is between one and three, or between eight and twelve.
15. The apparatus of claim 10 wherein the controller includes: a power supply; a clock configured to enable timing functions; memory configured to store logic instructions of the first immersion mode; and a central processing unit (CPU) configured to execute the logic instructions with two input buttons.
16. The apparatus of claim 10 wherein the inflation source includes a compressed gas cylinder and the inflator mechanism includes at least one structure configured to open a valve or puncture a seal to thereby release fluid contents of the compressed gas cylinder.
17. The apparatus of claim 10 wherein the sensor mechanism includes first and second sensor devices, each having a sensor element, a distal end of each of the sensor elements being recessed in from an adjacent outermost surface of the respective sensor device by 0.9 to 1.1 mm, and the distal ends being spaced a distance apart, center to center by 18 to 22 mm.
18. The apparatus of claim 10 wherein the presence of water is detected by measuring current flowing between two probes where the current exceeds an amount corresponding to a saltwater-soaked fabric extending between the probes.
19. A submersible actuator apparatus, comprising:
an inflator mechanism configured when operatively connected to an inflation source and to an inflatable device to provide command-activated release of fluid from the inflation source to the inflatable device to thereby provide a buoyant force;
a water sensor mechanism;
a water pressure sensor configured to measure external pressure reflecting depth underwater; and
a controller in communication with the water sensor mechanism and the water pressure sensor to command actuation of the inflator mechanism upon detection of predetermined conditions including a mode that includes (a) if not above water surface, determining yes or no whether a detected first pressure differential that is greater than a predetermined first pressure differential is greater than a predetermined second pressure differential, and if yes actuating inflation and if no actuating a timer for a first predetermined time period and setting T equal to zero; (b) if during the first predetermined time period a second pressure differential greater than a predetermined third pressure differential is detected, actuating inflation; and (c) if during the first predetermined time period with no inflation actuated, no second pressure differential that is greater than the third predetermined pressure differential is detected, returning to step (a).
20. The apparatus of claim 19 wherein the first and the third predetermined pressure differentials are the same.
21. The apparatus of claim 19 wherein the first and third predetermined pressure differentials correspond to a water depth of 0.4-0.6 inch, the second predetermined pressure differential correspond to a water depth of 5.7-6.3 inches, and the first predetermined time period is 2.5-3.5 seconds.
22. The apparatus of claim 19 wherein the mode further comprising upon returning to step (a), at least one of the first predetermined pressure differential, second predetermined pressure differential, third predetermined pressure differential, and first predetermined time period is or was changed to a different value.
23. The apparatus of claim 19 wherein the controller includes: a power supply; a clock configured to enable timing functions for the first predetermined time period; memory configured to store logic instructions of the mode; and a central processing unit (CPU) to execute the logic instructions.
24. The apparatus of claim 19 wherein the inflation source includes a compressed gas cylinder and the inflator mechanism includes at least one structure configured to open a valve or puncture a seal to thereby release fluid contents of the compressed gas cylinder.
25. The apparatus of claim 19 further comprising programming input controls configured to set mode and depth and time triggers and connected to the housing.
26. The apparatus of claim 19 wherein the sensor mechanism includes first and second sensor devices, each having a sensor element, distal ends of each of the sensor elements are recessed in from an adjacent outermost surface of the respective sensor device by 0.9 to 1.1 mm, and the distal ends are spaced a distance apart.
27. An inflation actuation method, comprising:
(a) detecting the presence of water;
(b) if the water pressure differential is greater than a predetermined trigger pressure differential, actuating inflation of an inflatable device to provide a buoyant force;
(c) if the water pressure differential is less than the predetermined trigger pressure differential and less than a predetermined bob pressure differential, which is less than the trigger pressure differential, returning to step (a);
(d) if the water pressure differential is less than the trigger pressure differential and more than the bob pressure differential, adding a unit to a bobbing counter value;
(e) if the counter value now is greater than a predetermined counter value, actuating inflation of the inflatable device; and
(f) if the counter value now is less than the predetermined counter value, returning to step (a).
28. The method of claim 27 wherein step (a) is started only if a immersion mode is selected.
29. The method of claim 27 further comprising: (g) before step (c), if the water pressure differential is less than the predetermined trigger pressure differential determining whether the current time (TNOW) is greater than a predetermined decrement time value (TDECREMENT), and (h) if TNOW is greater than the TDECREMENT, recalculating TDECREMENT and decrementing the bobbing counter value by a predetermined decrementation amount.
30. The method of claim 29 wherein the decrementation amount is between 1 and 3.
31. The method of claim 28 wherein the predetermined water presence corresponds to a level of current between water probes of an apparatus of the method are greater than the current that would flow if the water probes were connected by a salt-water soaked fabric.
32. The method of claim 27 wherein the trigger pressure differential is approximately six inches, the bob pressure differential is approximately 0.5 inch and the predetermined number of counter values is 2 or 3.
33. A submersible actuator apparatus, comprising:
an inflation source;
an inflatable device;
an inflator mechanism configured to provide command-activated release of fluid from the inflation source to the inflatable device and thereby provide a buoyant force; and
a controller configured to cause inflation of the inflatable device to be actuated by the inflator mechanism when the first of a deep submersion condition and a heavy bobbing condition is detected;
wherein the deep submersion condition occurs when a first pressure differential is detected;
wherein a heavy bobbing condition occurs when either (a) a first predetermined number of second pressure differentials is detected or (b) a second predetermined number of third pressure differentials within a preset time period is detected; and
wherein the first pressure differential is greater than the second and third pressure differentials.
34. The apparatus of claim 33 wherein the second predetermined number is two.
35. The apparatus of claim 33 further comprising a water sensor mechanism configured to detect the level of water presence and the water sensor mechanism includes first and second spaced probes.
36. The apparatus of claim 35 wherein the predetermined level of water presence corresponds to a predetermined current flowing between the two probes at a given voltage where the two probes are electrically connected by a resistance corresponding to a salt-water soaked fabric.
37. The apparatus of claim 36 wherein the resistance is approximately five micro amps.
38. The apparatus of claim 33 wherein operative ends of the probes are recessed in a distance from their surrounding structure.
39. The apparatus of claim 38 wherein the distance is between 0.9 and 1.1 mm.
40. The apparatus of claim 33 further comprising a water pressure sensor configured to detect each of the pressure differentials.
41. The apparatus of claim 33 wherein the sensor mechanism includes first and second sensor devices, each having a sensor element, distal ends of each of the sensor elements are recessed in from an adjacent outermost surface of the respective sensor device by 0.9 to 1.1 mm, and the distal ends are spaced a distance apart.
42. The apparatus of claim 33 wherein the controller includes: a power supply; a clock configured to enable timing functions; memory configured to store logic instructions; and a central processing unit (CPU) configured to execute the logic instructions.
43. The apparatus of claim 33 wherein the inflation source includes a compressed gas cylinder and the inflator mechanism includes one or more structures configured to open a valve or puncture a seal to thereby release fluid contents of the compressed gas cylinder.
US13/747,375 2012-01-21 2013-01-22 Submersible actuator apparatus Abandoned US20130210297A1 (en)

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US20150360759A1 (en) * 2010-09-16 2015-12-17 Zactill Intellectual Property Pty Ltd Safety Device and Inflating Apparatus Therefor
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US10734731B2 (en) 2013-03-11 2020-08-04 Suunto Oy Antenna assembly for customizable devices
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WO2020037355A1 (en) * 2018-08-24 2020-02-27 Adivo Pty Ltd Device and improved inflation apparatus
US10539700B1 (en) 2019-03-14 2020-01-21 Suunto Oy Diving computer with coupled antenna and water contact assembly

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