MODULAR SLIP-PREVENTION ASSEMBLY
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates generally to traction devices, and more particularly to a traction device that is configured to fit over a shoe.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Cable chains, and other forms of traction equipment, require labor-intensive, cost-prohibitive construction and assembly. Traction elements, usually coils or other annular elements, are often wound about or sleeved upon a supporting network core. That core may be steel cable wire, an elastomer, or some other suitably strong material. The prior art is crowded with innumerable inventions to assist with non-slip, winter-mobility applications. These inventions have - with few exceptions - been generally ineffective in the marketplace due to their limited use and lifespan, bulk, high cost of manufacture and poor quality. In addition, the devices of the prior art are typically user-unfriendly, often employing spikes. For example, devices that are used to enhance traction for shoes have required mounting upon footwear while outside in dangerous conditions, and removal while still outside a building so as to prevent damaging interior floor surfaces upon entry.
Other disadvantages found in the prior art of traction devices include practicality. Simplicity and economics must enter into the design of an invention if that invention is to be considered a structural safety device available to every consumer. One of the most sensible and cost-effective alternatives to the use of spikes for use as a traction device has been the adaptation of helical coils laid edgewise, utilized in a wide array of inventions contained within the prior art. Many of these designs reflect a
similarity of appearance; usually a coil structure sleeved upon a supporting core of inextensible material, such as cable wire or the like.
Among the notable examples in the prior art illustrative of this visual commonality and similarity, are the devices shown in U.S. Patent No. 1,350,484 (August 1920) to Bailey, U.S. Patent No. 1,932,576 (October, 1933) to Dodge, U.S. Patent No. 2,252,027 (August 1941) to Pasquarella, and U.S. Patent No. 3,359,659 (December, 1967) to Smolich. The traction devices in these references include a coil structure carapacing a rigid, non-extensible supporting core. Although there are numerous other references, particularly in the tire traction field of invention, none of these rigid, helical-coil-supporting structures allow for expansibility of the supporting core. What was needed to surmount this problem, yet still provide exceptional spikeless grip, is best reflected in U.S. Utility Patent No. 5,909,945 (June, 1999) to Noy. This structural traction augmentation device utilizes a complex helical coil arrangement that is loosely wrapped around an internal elastic network. The elastic network stretches over the sole of a shoe, or automobile tire in certain embodiments, providing a slip-prevention cover for the shoe or automobile tire. The edges of the helical coils are exposed, which provides the gripping surface for the structural traction augmentation device.
Despite the obvious advantage of the teachings of U.S. Patent No. 5,909,945 over prior traction devices, there are many fundamental problems inherent with the device disclosed in that patent. For example, in order to accommodate various sizes of footwear, different sized traction devices had to be made, and each size required different lengths of the coil elements. In addition, the process of loosely hand-winding and intertwining the complex arrangement of
opposed helical coils upon a supporting elastic core network is incredibly time-consuming and expensive. Further, in order to prevent the wound coil cut ends from deflecting or snagging, they must also be hand-crimped under and locked, preventing unraveling. This crimping process, if done carelessly, can tear the elastic network, causing failure of the supporting network. Due to this slow means of hand assembly and crimping, irregular appearances and latent defects in product can occur. In addition, the labor costs of hand assembly of this complex arrangement are significant, resulting in low product output and high consumer prices. For example, hand assembly by this method can take up to fifteen minutes per pair (for footwear) . Employing ten workers, daily yield approaches 400 pairs daily. Clearly, given the high demand for such a useful product, this production output is impractical, complicated, and prohibitively expensive.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION The present invention overcomes many of the deficiencies of the prior art by providing a modular slip- prevention assembly system that is simple, highly versatile, and cost-effective. The modular slip-prevention assembly includes a plurality of invertible, expansible, and instantly interchangeable elements that are easy to assemble and that aid in the prevention of falls on slippery surfaces, such as ice, compacted snow, boat decks and wet interior floors, and the like.
The modular slip-prevention assembly preferably includes interchangeable traction elements. As an example, a rough, serrated traction element that is used for providing footing on icy surfaces may be removed, and replaced with a traction element having a less aggressive traction pattern, such as a lightly dimpled, rubber surface.
The less aggressive pattern may be used inside a home, or on a golf green, for example.
In accordance with one aspect of the present invention, the traction elements are of unitary, elongate construction, and are bent and connected at the ends to form a loop. The loop is held together by biasing forces that are applied by the support structure for the slip-prevention assembly. In one embodiment, the traction elements are generally lozenge- shaped and the four corners are tensioned by an elastomeric support structure.
The traction elements of the present invention require no costly and laborious hand-winding or sleeving over a supporting core network. Due to their inherent rigidity, the traction elements act as a flexibly resilient structure, thereby eliminating the need for the supporting core. By eliminating an internal support, which is prone to defect or failure, the usefulness and durability of the resultant product is significantly increased. In addition, costs of components are also greatly reduced, as is the end weight and thickness of the product. By eliminating labor costs of assembly, the ability to bring an inexpensive modular slip- prevention safety appliance to a broad commercial market is achieved, with increased productivity and performance. The slip-prevention assembly also makes structural provision for foolproof mounting upon a shoe. The slip- prevention assembly is invertible and reversible, permitting the assembly to be mounted on a base, such as a shoe, in a variety of different arrangements.
Other advantages will become apparent from the following detailed description when taken in conjunction with the drawings, in which:
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
FIGURE 1 is a top view of a modular slip-prevention assembly in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention; FIG. 2 is a side view of the slip-prevention assembly of FIG. 1, with the slip-prevention assembly mounted upon a shoe;
FIG. 3 is a bottom view of two identical slip- prevention assemblies, such as the of the slip-prevention assembly of FIG. 1, with an identical slip assembly mounted upon two different sizes of shoe soles;
FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a traction element for use in the slip-prevention assembly of FIG. 1;
FIG. 5 is a perspective view of another traction element for use in the slip-prevention assembly of FIG. 1;
FIG. 6 is a perspective view of yet another traction element for use in the slip-prevention assembly of FIG. 1; and
FIG. 7 is perspective view of the traction element of FIG. 4, with the traction element bent to a position so as to permit disassembly of the traction element.
Referring now to the drawing, in which like reference numerals represent like parts throughout the several views, an embodiment of a modular slip-prevention assembly 8 in accordance with the present invention is illustrated in FIG. 1. Briefly described, the slip-prevention assembly 8 shown in FIG. 1 is configured to slip over an ordinary shoe S, such as is shown in FIG. 2. As described below, the slip-prevention assembly 8 includes traction elements 10 that reduce slip-related injuries for the wearer of the slip-prevention assembly 8.
Although the embodiment of the slip-prevention assembly 8 shown in FIG. 2 is mounted on a shoe, the present invention is not limited to applications of footwear, and may be utilized in a variety of traction applications. The aspects of the present invention may be adapted, for example, for utilization in automotive devices (e.g., tire covers) , porch steps, runway mats, sidewalk runner treads, or multiple other applications where enhanced traction is desired. Further, the teachings of the present invention may be utilized in a variety of footwear applications, including snowshoes, mountaineering or ski boots, turf sports, and roof construction safety cleats, for example. The slip-prevention assembly 8 includes at least one, and preferably a plurality, of traction elements 10. The traction elements are mounted within an outer restraint means 16 (FIG. 1) . The outer restraint means 16 serves as a structure for holding the slip-prevention assembly 8 against, or on, an item for which the slip-prevention assembly 8 enhances traction (e.g., a shoe or automobile tire) . The traction elements provide the enhanced traction for the slip-prevention assembly 8, and are configured and arranged to engage the surface upon which enhanced traction
is needed. For example, for an embodiment adapted to be used on footwear, the outer restraint means 16 is configured to extend around a shoe, and the traction elements 10 are positioned relative to the outer restraint means 16 so that the traction elements align with the bottom of the shoe and are exposed (FIG. 3) . The traction elements 10 engage the ground when a person wearing the slip-prevention assembly 8 is standing.
In the embodiment of the slip-prevention assembly 8 shown in FIG. 1, two traction elements 10 are utilized.
However, the number of traction elements 10 utilized on a slip-prevention assembly designed to fit a shoe may incorporate any number of traction elements. In addition, the number of traction elements 10 that are included in a slip-prevention assembly 8 may be varied to suit an application. For example, a slip-prevention assembly 8 designed to fit over an automobile tire may have several traction elements 10.
In accordance with one aspect of the invention, each traction element 10 is provided as a continuous, elongate, unitary structure. The traction elements preferably include some type of gripping surface. For example, the traction element 10 shown in FIGS. 1 and 4 is ungule-shaped, meaning that the traction elements are hoof-shaped, serrated, or include irregular bottom surface. In addition, a traction device 22 may be somewhat flat with slightly raised dimples, such as is shown in FIG. 5. In yet another embodiment shown in FIG. 6, a traction element 24 is plaited. It can be understood that the traction element could take any number of different configuration so as to suit a particular application. For ease of reference, the description herein will be directed to the traction element 10 shown in FIG. 4.
The traction elements 10 are preferably formed of an adequate non-corrosive material to withstand pre-determined
high-impact and load-bearing forces for the application (e.g., when applied upon the soles of footwear, the traction elements would be sufficiently strong to maintain the stresses imposed by a person' s weight while walking or running) . The composition, shape, and surface configuration of the traction elements 10 is determined, in part, by the particular application to which the modular slip-prevention assembly is intended. For example, traction elements 10 that are designed to fit on shoes or automobile tires may be formed of steel or another semi-rigid metal. The elements may also be made of a number of other suitable materials selected for pre-determined use and durability, as nonlimiting examples, stamped metalform, molded plastic, rubber, composites, engineered plastics, helical coil, or combinations thereof.
The traction elements 10 are formed into the shape of a loop, and are sufficiently semi-rigid so as to be biased into the loop shape. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 1, the traction element 10 is bent into a lozenge (i.e., diamond) shape. However, as can be understood from the following description, the loop's shape may take many forms, and the traction element may be implemented without using a loop structure.
The traction elements 10 preferably include a connection ("connectent means 12") of some type, so that the loop that is formed by the traction elements may be closed. The connectent means 12 is releasably closable, facilitating rapid assembly and interchangeability of the traction elements 10. In the examples shown in FIGS. 4-6, the connection is provided by opposing hooks 12. Bending the middle of the traction elements against its natural shape (FIG. 7) allows the hooks to align properly so that they may be intertwined. Once the hooks are intertwined and the traction element is released so that it returns to its
natural shape, the hooks are locked and the loop is formed. The natural shape of the traction element 10 biases the hooks into engagement with one another, similar to a leaf- spring force. The outer restraint means 16 is preferably formed of a suitably durable material that allows expansion to fit onto the surface on which it will be attached. The restraint means 16 may be, for example, an elastic band, or semi-rigid harness configuration. In addition to expanding to fit onto a surface, the outer restraint means 16 preferably is designed to provide tensioning of the traction elements 10. To this end, the outer restraint means includes restraint loops 14 that receive three of the four corners 18 of the lozenge-shaped traction elements 10. The loop formed by the lozenge-shaped traction elements 10 is tensioned by the elastomeric nature of the outer restraint means 16 and the restraint loops 14. The tension supplied by the restraint loops 14 helps to maintain the hooks 12 together. Attached to both traction elements 10, at the connections of the hooks 14, is an elastic connector 20 of suitably durable material. The elastic connector 20 is threaded and linked through the opposed juncture of the hooks 12 for both of the traction elements. The elastic connector 20 is wedged under lateral tension while in use, and prevents the opposed element connectent means 12 from disengaging. For example, the connectent means 12 shown in FIG. 1 may be released when the slip-prevention assembly 8 is removed from a shoe, and the hooks 12 on one or both of the traction elements may be released (e.g., by bending the elements as shown in FIG. 7. Different traction elements (e.g., the traction elements 22, 24 may then be inserted into the outer restraint means by threading the traction elements through the loops 14 and the elastic connector 20.
The substitute traction elements are then connected at their ends (e.g., by hooks such as the hooks 12), and the connectent means slides over the juncture of the connectent means . When the traction element 10 is threaded through, then clipped into the loop configuration at its apex bight (i.e., at the connectent means, it becomes firmly wedged within the tightly pinched corner, yet can easily be released for interchanging of separate modular elements. This wedging action eliminates the tendency of prior art coils that are loosely-wound upon an elastic supporting core network from extending, straightening out, corkscrewing and bunching up. Further, because the traction element 10 is detained laterally with the bent corner apex, it can be hinged 180 degrees; allowing for reversibility. This also eliminates the need for manual, crimped closure of coil wireform ends. The threaded traction element 10, whether coil, cleat, or plastic, when connected and locked at its hooked ends, becomes a highly stabile lozenge-shaped form. Because no internal support core is required for the traction elements 10, the elements can be of a tighter diameter (i.e., of thinner cross-section). This feature reduces weight, increases stiffness, and ergonomic comfort underfoot. In addition, this feature permits the traction element to be designed so that it may have more contact coil or cleat edges than are available in coiled substrate structures, greatly enhancing traction performance.
The present invention is not restricted to winter applications, but can encompass an array of element designs and applications conducive to low costs, all-season versatility, high product output, and global consumer availability, particularly in price-sensitive markets. For example, slip-prevention assembly 8 having a rubber- tensioning element with slightly aggressive dimples may be
added slipped over a typical walking shoe and may provide the functions and traction of a golf shoe. The interchangeable traction elements 10 may be adapted to suit any number of applications, whether outdoors on ice and snow, or while driving a car in winter conditions, or on a golf course green, or indoors on wet or greasy floors, or for ergonomic cushioning comfort on hard surfaces like concrete floors, without danger of entanglement or causing damage to the surfaces in which it comes in contact. A further benefit of the invention goes to increased stability while in use. The traction elements 10, being coextensive and connected, can flex and slightly elongate under tension, without diminishing surefootedness and performance. In accordance with one aspect of the present invention, assembly and interchangeability of components using the elements of the present invention reduces the assembly cycle time to approximately fifteen seconds per pair. Employing ten workers to semi-automatically assemble this modular invention yields approximately 16,000 pairs daily, versus 400 pairs using some prior art methods. The cost savings and greatly increased productivity are self-evident, particularly in more complex embodiments such as tire traction assists or runway mats. The slip-prevention assembly 8 is readily convertible, and still flexibly expansible, allowing for greater sizing versatility. One size fits all becomes a practical but unexpected result. This feature is shown in FIG. 3, wherein two traction elements of the same size are incorporated in two slip-prevention assemblies having substantially different sizes. In addition, the slip-prevention assembly 8 is reversible, meaning that the slip-prevention assembly 8 may be placed on a shoe with either side of the traction elements 10 facing downward. This feature makes foolproof
the mounting of the slip-prevention assembly 8 upon a shoe. Further, the reversibility doubles the lifespan and usefulness of the particular application of the slip- prevention assembly 8. A further advantage of the present invention is that, because of its modular interchangeability, greatly increased durability, versatility, and high-impact load-bearing capacity, markets unattainable by earlier single-use devices are opened. These markets could include applications in the recreational fly-fishing market, for example, where solid grip on slippery streambeds is required.
If desired, the invention is simple to enhance cosmetically with highly visible colors, or the insertion of reflective strips within coils, for example, for additional safety.
Other alternatives are within the spirit of the present invention. Thus, while the invention is susceptible to various modifications and alternative constructions, a certain illustrated embodiment thereof is shown in the drawings and has been described above in detail. It should be understood, however, that there is no intention to limit the invention to the specific form or forms disclosed, but on the contrary, the intention is to cover all modifications, alternative constructions, and equivalents falling within the spirit and scope of the invention, as defined in the appended claims.