WO2005069446A1 - Electrical connectivity system for use with a modular system in a vehicle - Google Patents

Electrical connectivity system for use with a modular system in a vehicle Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2005069446A1
WO2005069446A1 PCT/US2003/041293 US0341293W WO2005069446A1 WO 2005069446 A1 WO2005069446 A1 WO 2005069446A1 US 0341293 W US0341293 W US 0341293W WO 2005069446 A1 WO2005069446 A1 WO 2005069446A1
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WO
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Patent type
Prior art keywords
electrical
article
member
electrical connector
system
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/US2003/041293
Other languages
French (fr)
Inventor
Order Kim L. Van
Dale A. Gort
Gregory N. Brncick
Mary L. Schwartz
Original Assignee
Johnson Controls Technology Company
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
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Publication date

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Classifications

    • HELECTRICITY
    • H01BASIC ELECTRIC ELEMENTS
    • H01RLINE CONNECTORS; CURRENT COLLECTORS
    • H01R13/00Details of coupling devices of the kinds covered by groups H01R12/70 or H01R24/00-H01R33/00
    • H01R13/66Structural association with built-in electrical component
    • H01R13/70Structural association with built-in electrical component with built-in switch
    • H01R13/703Structural association with built-in electrical component with built-in switch operated by engagement or disengagement of coupling parts, e.g. dual-continuity coupling part
    • H01R13/7036Structural association with built-in electrical component with built-in switch operated by engagement or disengagement of coupling parts, e.g. dual-continuity coupling part the switch being in series with coupling part, e.g. dead coupling, explosion proof coupling
    • H01R13/7038Structural association with built-in electrical component with built-in switch operated by engagement or disengagement of coupling parts, e.g. dual-continuity coupling part the switch being in series with coupling part, e.g. dead coupling, explosion proof coupling making use of a remote controlled switch, e.g. relais, solid state switch activated by the engagement of the coupling parts
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H01BASIC ELECTRIC ELEMENTS
    • H01RLINE CONNECTORS; CURRENT COLLECTORS
    • H01R25/00Coupling parts adapted for simultaneous co-operation with two or more identical counterparts, e.g. for distributing energy to two or more circuits
    • H01R25/16Rails or bus-bars provided with a plurality of discrete connecting locations for counterparts
    • H01R25/168Rails or bus-bars provided with a plurality of discrete connecting locations for counterparts the connecting locations being situated away from the rail or bus-bar

Abstract

A system for controlling distribution of utilities provided to articles mounted to a modular system in a vehicle, the modular system having at least one member coupled to an interior portion of the vehicle, includes at least one electrical connector coupled to the modular system. An article is coupled to the at least one electrical connector and is mounted to the modular system. A control module is coupled to the at least one electrical connector and is configured to determine if the article is coupled to the electrical connector and to selectively activate the electrical connector. The electrical connector may be repositionable along, for example, the length of the member of the modular system. The electrical connector may include a plurality of electrical connections corresponding to each utility required by the article.

Description

,.!' Cn iι,„ιt „;;;!! „ ιr,„!K, ιι;:r„ -:;;» ,.:::! SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0004] In accordance with an embodiment, a system for controlling distribution of utilities provided to articles mounted to a modular system in a vehicle, the modular system having at least one member coupled to an interior portion of the vehicle includes at least one electrical connector coupled to the modular system, an article coupled to the at least one electrical connector and mounted to the modular system and a control module coupled to the at least one electrical connector and configured to determine if the article is coupled to the electrical connector and to selectively activate the electrical connector. The control module may receive data from the article including a code identifying an article type associated with the article. The control module may use the data to determine if a utility should be provided to the article. The utility may be one of power, data signals, audio signals, video signals, command signals and control signals.

[0005] In accordance with another embodiment, a system for providing a repositionable electrical connector for a modular system in a vehicle, the modular system having at least one member having an opening forming an elongated passage within the member includes a length of electrical conductor positioned inside the passage of the member and configured to move within the passage and at least on electrical connector coupled to the length of electrical conductor within the passage and configured to move within the passage. The position of the at least one electrical connector along the member is controlled by movement of the length of electrical conductor. The electrical conductor may be, for example, a round flexible wire or a flat flexible cable. The electrical connector may be an electrical contact. The system may further comprise a stop module mounted on the length of electrical conductor and configured to prevent the electrical connector from moving to a predetermined position along the member.

[0006] In accordance with another embodiment, an electrical connector for use in a vehicle to provide utilities to an electrical article mounted in the vehicle includes a housing and a plurality of electrical connections positioned within the housing and corresponding to each utility required by each electrical article to be mounted in the vehicle. The plurality of electrical connections may include, for example, a coaxial comiector, a fiber optic comiector, a plurality of connectors for data signals or a plurality of connectors with high current carrying capacity. ELECTRICAL CONNECTIVITY SYSTEM FOR USE WITH A MODULAR SYSTEM IN A VEHICLE

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0001] The present invention relates to electrical devices and a modular system for a vehicle and, in particular to an electrical connectivity system including electrical connectors for providing power, data, audio, video and command/control information to electrical devices and a modular system for a vehicle.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0002] Placement of modules on a modular (or rail) system for use in an overhead location or, other location of a vehicle are generally known and may include one or more modules such as storage compartments, bins, instrumentations, entertainment devices and the like. Such modules are typically attached to the modular system in a removable or interchangeable manner, such as to facilitate a customized package of module options available for consumers, promoting replacement or substitution of modules (e.g., by vehicle dealers or by consumers on an after-market basis etc.) and permitting certain modules to be removed by consumers for uses that are external to the vehicle. Electrical articles attached to the modular system typically require an electrical connection so that utilities (e.g., power, data, audio, video, control signals, etc.) may be distributed to the electrical devices. [0003] Accordingly, it would be advantageous to provide an electrical connectivity system to distribute or communicate utilities such as power, data, audio, video and/or command and control signals to and/or between electrical devices in a vehicle. It would also be advantageous to provide a system to control the distribution of utilities provided to various articles mounted to a modular system in a vehicle. It would also be advantageous to provide repositionable electrical connectors in a modular system that may be positioned to allow installation of articles at desired locations or to allow installation of certain classes of articles only at predetermined locations. It would further be advantageous to provide an electrical connector to provide utilities to an article mounted in the vehicle where the electrical connector includes a plurality of electrical connections corresponding to each utility required by any article mounted in the vehicle. BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0007] The invention will be more readily understood by reference to the following description taken with the accompanying drawings, in which:

[0008] FIG. 1 is an upward-looking perspective view of a modular system mounted on a vehicle interior in accordance with an embodiment.

[0009] FIG. 2A is an upward looking perspective view of a modular system with end cover trim pieces in accordance with an embodiment.

[0010] FIG. 2B is an upward looking perspective view of a modular system with end cover trim pieces removed in accordance with an embodiment.

[0011] FIG. 3 is a downward looking perspective view of a modular system in accordance with an embodiment.

[0012] FIG. 4 is a side elevation of a modular system in accordance with an embodiment.

[0013] FIG. 5 is an upward looking bottom view of a modular system in accordance with an embodiment.

[0014] FIG. 6 is a cross sectional view of a modular system along line 6-6 of FIG. 3 in accordance with an embodiment.

[0015] FIG. 7A is a diagram of articles connected to a modular system in accordance with an embodiment.

[0016] FIG. 7B is an upward perspective view of a forward portion of a modular system in accordance with an embodiment.

[0017] FIG. 8 is a block diagram of an electrical connector in accordance with an embodiment.

[0018] FIG. 9 is a perspective view of a self-docking electrical connector in accordance with an embodiment.

[0019] FIG. 10 is a block diagram of a repositionable electrical connector system in accordance with an embodiment.

[0020] FIG. 11 is a cross-sectional view of a repositionable electrical connector in an accordance with an embodiment.

[0021] FIG. 12A is a perspective view of a member of a modular system with the cap removed in accordance with an embodiment.

[0022] FIG. 12B is a upward perspective view of an article mounted to a modular system in accordance with an embodiment. [0023] FIG. 12C is a cross sectional view of a modular system along line 12C-12C of

Figure 12B in accordance with an embodiment.

[0024] FIG. 12D is block diagram of a system for controlling electrical connections in a modular system in accordance with an embodiment.

[0025] FIG. 12E is a perspective view of a modular system including electrical contacts in accordance with an embodiment.

[0026] FIG. 13 is a perspective view of a modular system including electrical connector in accordance with an alternative embodiment.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED AND OTHER EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS

[0027] Vehicles typically include a plurality of electrical devices/articles such as a radio, a CD player, a DVD player, a clock, a compass, a navigation system, etc. These electrical devices may be located throughout the vehicle. For example, a radio may be installed at the front of the vehicle in a dashboard as a part of the radio head, a DVD player may be mounted to the roof or floor of a vehicle, a CD player may be installed in a trunk or glove compartment of the vehicle, or a compass may be located in a rear view mirror of a vehicle. In addition, a modular system, as described herein, may be provided in a vehicle for interchangeably mounting one or more selectively removable articles, including electrical articles in the vehicle. In order to operate the electrical devices in a vehicle, power must be provided to the electrical devices at various locations within the vehicle. In addition, data, audio, video and/or command and control signals may be distributed to and/or between electrical devices or articles in the vehicle. For example, audio signals from a CD player (e.g., located in a trunk or mounted to a modular system in the vehicle) may be communicated to an audio system in the vehicle so that the sound from the CD player may be heard over the vehicle speakers.

[0028] As mentioned above, a modular system may be provided in a vehicle so that additional articles, including electrical devices, may be installed in the vehicle. Referring to Figures 1 and 2, a modular system 10 for mounting one or more articles 20 is shown schematically (exemplary articles will be further described herein) along an interior panel 24 (e.g. door or side panel, cover, headliner, etc.) of a vehicle in accordance with an embodiment. System 10 may also be adapted for mounting articles 20 along the sides of the vehicle such as door or side panels, or within the interior space of the vehicle such as cargo areas, in a manner similar to the method described herein. System 10 includes two generally parallel mounting members 30 such as rails, tracks, channels, holders, bars, rods, poles, etc. that are oriented in any desired configuration within a vehicle along interior panel 24. Members 30 have a lateral spacing that is generally fixed for a particular vehicle style, but the spacing may vary between different vehicle styles and models and may have any lateral spacing suitable for mounting articles 20. One or more positioners 31 shown schematically in Figure 3 may be used to secure the lateral spacing of members 30 for receiving articles 20. For overhead applications, members 30 may be oriented longitudinally centered laterally within the vehicle, but may be located at any lateral position on the interior panel 24 to accommodate mounting of articles 20. In an alternative embodiment, members 30 may be separated into a forward segment and/or a rearward segment (not shown) for adapting to roof windows or other discontinuities in the roof structures. Members 30 may also be oriented laterally along interior panel 24 to increase the flexibility and utility of the system for interchangeably receiving the articles 20. In another alternative embodiment, a single member 30 may be used in conjunction with articles 20 that are adapted to selectively and interchangeably engage a single member 30. In a further alternative embodiment, members 30 may be mounted to pillars (not shown) or other generally vertical support columns within the interior space of a vehicle to provide a system for attaching articles 20. Such pillars may be secured by articles mounted to the members 30 for increased flexibility in attaching articles to the pillar-mounted members.

[0029] Referring to Figure 6, the structural shape of members 30 are shown according to a preferred embodiment. Members 30 have a generally hollow cross sectional shape as shown in Figure 6, and include a generally flat base 32 (e.g. back, contact surface, etc.) on the top of member 30 with several longitudinal ribs 34 projecting therefrom. Ribs 34 are provided at the outside edges to grip the surface of interior panel 24 and a pair of ribs 34 are located centrally for alignment with connectors 160 or 60 when members 30 are secured to the roof structure. Members 30 further include integral sides 36 having a recess 38 (e.g. notch, inset, slot, groove, channel, etc.) forming an outwardly projecting supporting ledge 40 (e.g. corner, shoulder, edge, etc.). Recesses 38 and ledges 40 provide an external structure for receiving and supporting the articles 20 (shown schematically) having corresponding structure adapted to mate with ledges 40. In a particularly preferred embodiment, ledge 40 is horizontal (as shown) and ledge 40 and recess 38 are formed having an angle of 90 degrees or less for providing a structure for receiving articles 20. In an alternative embodiment, member 30 may have a circular cross sectional shape (not shown) or any other shape where the exterior surface is configured to provide longitudinal recesses and ledges similar to recesses 38 and ledges 40 for receiving and supporting the articles 20. In another alternative embodiment, member 30 may have a second recess and ledge (not shown) for providing an alternative article mounting interface and providing structure adaptable for mounting interlocks that may prohibit or allow installation of certain articles along particular locations of members 30.

[0030] Beneath ledges 40, sides 36 include inwardly curved lower sections 42 that terminate into a return bend 44 providing internal corners 46 to create a longitudinal opening 48. Opening 48 creates a passage 50 (e.g. channel, path, conduit, tunnel, etc.) within members 30 for routing utility carriers such as wires, cables, fiber optics, etc. as shown schematically in Figures 5 and 6. A removable cap 52 is provided generally along the entire length of member 30 having a cover 54 to cover opening 48 and retain utility carriers, and may have a flush fit with member 30, or may have projecting contours, ribs, or other decorative or useful structure (not shown). Cap 52 includes two inwardly projecting legs 56 that fit within opening 48 and are removably retained in place by an interference type, snap- fit engagement with return bends 44. Opening 48 may be entirely or partially concealed by inserting one or more caps 52 having segments of various lengths tailored to create an access pattern within members 30. The access pattern may be created or modified at any time for selectively providing access to opening 48 along the length of member 30. Member 30 and cap 52 are preferably made of acrylonitrile butiadene styrene (ABS) plastic in an extrusion process, and may be provided in a wide variety of colors designed to accent an interior trim color scheme. Alternatively, members 30 and cap 52 may be made of aluminum or any other suitable material, wherein members 30 or cap 52 may also serve as a conductor for transmitting low voltage electrical power from a vehicle supply source to articles 20 mounted on members 30. The outer surface of the aluminum members is preferably anodized which provides an insulating layer on the exterior of the member, which may be selectively removed to provide a custom-tailored electrical conductivity access pattern. Portions of members 30 and cap 52 that are not otherwise enclosed by articles 20 may also have a separate insulating cover (not shown) that snap fits into recesses 38 and ledges 40 to electrically isolate members 30 from consumer contact or inadvertent contact with an electrical ground. Members 30 and cap 52 may also be made of any other material suitable for forming an elongated support member and receiving mounting structure from articles 20 to be supported therefrom. [0031] Referring to Figure 4, members 30 are secured to the vehicle according to a preferred embodiment. The ends of members 30 are rigidly attached to the forward and rearward edges of the roof frame (e.g. beams, headers, bows, cross-pieces, etc. -not shown) by welding, brazing or fastening with conventional fasteners (not shown). Members 30 may have ends attached directly to the frame, or members 30 may be attached to the roof frame via fixtures shown schematically as brackets 58. Brackets may also be provided to support the ends of member segments that abut a roof discontinuity such as a sunroof, etc. The forward and rearward end connections of members 30 are covered by suitable trim components shown schematically as a bezel or molding 12. Members 30 may have a side profile that is straight, or a side profile that is slightly curved or bowed (not shown) to correspond with the panel profile 14 (shown as a roof panel). In an alternative embodiment, members 30 may be secured to door panel structures (not shown) or to pillars or other support columns (not shown) within the interior of the vehicle. Such support columns may be permanently fixed to the interior vehicle structure or may be removably or retractably attached to vehicle structure such as the floor, roof or sides of the vehicle to create a modular system for attaching articles within any interior location of a vehicle.

[0032] Referring further to Figures 4 and 6, a structural support system for the interior span of members 30 is shown according to a preferred embodiment. The interior span of members 30 are coupled to the roof structure of the vehicle using connectors 160 (e.g. Z-axis clips) having a spacer portion 162 with spring clip 164. Fastener 166 may be used to secure member 30 to spacer portion 162 and for securing spacer portion 162 to spring clip 164 to ensure the structural integrity of system 10. Spacer portion 162 may project through an aperture 70 in panel 24 to provide secure abutment with the back of member 30, and supports 168 may project outwardly from spacer portion 162 to provide support to panel 24 around aperture 70. Connectors 160 are attached to one or more lateral frame members 16 (e.g. beams, roof bows, door panels, floor panels, cross headers, etc.) at a lateral position along frame member 16 corresponding to the installation position of members 30. An alternative connector type may also be used such as that shown by connector 60 in FIGURE 6. Connectors 60 have a spacer portion 61 and a base portion 62 coupled to a platform 64 that is attached to frame member 16 by frnned-plugs 66 (e.g., "Christmas tree connectors") or by a structural adhesive (not shown) such as "BETAMATE 73705" which is a polyurethane adhesive manufactured by the Dow Chemical Corporation and available through Sound Alliance, LLC located in Auburn Hills, Michigan. In an alternative embodiment, connectors 60 may be attached to frame member 16 by a two-piece reclosable fastener system (not shown) such as "DUAL LOCK"® having mushroom-head shaped projections and manufactured by the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, or by a nylon "VELCRO"® hook and fastener structure available from Velcro USA Inc. located in Manchester, New Hampshire. The end of connector 60 opposite from base 62 has a pedestal section 68 that extends through aperture 70 in panel 24 to engage base 32 of members 30. The end of pedestal 68 is configured to abut ribs 34, and an annular projection 72 extending from the end of pedestal 68 is configured to be captured between longitudinal ribs 34 to improve lateral stability of members 30. Connectors 60 further include supports 74 (wings, braces, arms, etc.) to support the back surface of panel 24 in the proximity of aperture 70. In a preferred embodiment, comiectors 160 and 60 are made from ABS, polycarbonate or other suitable plastic and spring clip 164 is made from heat-treated spring steel or wire, however, connectors 160 and 60 may have any shape and material composition appropriate for transferring the load from system 10 through members 30 to frame member 16, and connector 60 may be attached to frame member 16 by any suitable means providing the appropriate tensile strength. Connectors 160 and 60 have a spacer length corresponding to the gap 76 between frame member 16 and panel 24. Following panel 24 installation over pedestal 68 of connectors 60 in the vehicle, members 30 may be positioned over panel 24 and aligned with connectors 160 or 60, whereby members 30 are secured by a threaded fastener or 166 or 76 through base 32 and into connector 160 or 60. In alternative embodiments, other connector structures may be used such as solid blocks (not shown), and panel 24 may be provided without apertures 70 whereby a fastener penetrates the base, panel and the connector. In another alternative embodiment, members 30 may be bowed into a shallow arch-like profile (not shown) and installed with a compression fit between the forward and rearward ends of the roof frame, or other vehicle structure such as floor and roof panels, thus obviating or minimizing the need for mid-span connectors. Further, members 30 may be mounted against panel 24, or alternatively panel segments may be positioned around members 30.

[0033] Referring further to Figure 1, a variety of articles 20 may be mounted to members 30 according to a preferred embodiment. Articles 20 may include storage compartments (with or without key-lock access control) tailored to hold tissues, sunglasses, remote control devices, wireless phones, pagers, personal data assistants (PDA), walkie-talkies, binoculars, cameras, first aid or road-side emergency kits, tools, baby-care products and supplies, arts and crafts supplies, toys, sporting goods, books, maps, hunting and fishing equipment, and many other articles for which readily accessible storage in a vehicle may be useful. Such storage compartments may either be fixed or designed for pull-down, drop-down or rotational access where the compartment is recessed during storage and extended for access during usage. Articles 20 may also include handles, brackets, fixtures (e.g. starter block) for mounting racks, cages, or support pillars for optionally receiving members 30 to mount additional articles 20 in a cargo area, lighting equipment, power adapters and outlets, lighters; visual display screens; audio equipment; media displays; digital video disc players; GPS receivers; cargo storage racks, straps or tie-downs; garment hangers, rods or racks; insulated hot or cold-storage containers, mobile office workstation components, portable air compressors or vacuum cleaners, cargo netting and holders; occupant safety features; specially-adapted consumer-use products such as travel tables, camping gear, pet barriers, luggage, etc.; brackets having rigid, swiveling or rotating couplers for removably receiving such consumer use products; storage racks having fixed or retractable support members for storing skis or other gear; and any other articles which may be useful in conjunction with traveling, working or other vehicle use.

[0034] Articles 20 are adapted to be selectively positionable along members 30, however, articles that may be deemed to create a distraction to the vehicle operator, such as video displays and the like, are provided with a mounting interlock feature which prevents their installation in certain prohibited positions along the members, for example, allowing video monitors to be installed only in a rearward portion of the vehicle. The interlock function may be accomplished by altering the cross sectional shape or profile of a portion of the members (not shown) or providing a second recess and ledge (not shown). Particular articles 20 may be provided with a mounting profile for engaging members 30 that includes a projection (not shown) that extends into passage 50 whereby installation of a blank (not shown) within a particular portion of passage 50 along member 30 will prevent mounting such articles in the selected locations. Alternatively installation of articles may be selectively restricted by otherwise altering the profile of the members to fit only selected article mounting profiles and may be accomplished by adding a shim (not shown) along one or more sides of member 30 or in connection with the passageway of the member.

[0035] Articles 20 suitable for suspension from a single member are configured for attachment to a single member 30 by having means for releasably connecting to the recess 38 and ledge 40 on each side of a member 30. Articles 20 that are more suitable for suspension from two members 30 are configured having a first means on one side of the article for attaching to the recess 38 and ledge 40 on one or both sides of the first member 30, and are configured having a second means on the opposite side of the article for attaching to the recess 38 and ledge 40 on one or both sides of the second member.

[0036] Various components or methods may be used for attaching articles 20 to members 30 as described in co-pending U.S. Patent Application Serial No. 09/846,811, entitled "Modular System For A Vehicle," filed May 1, 2001 and herein incorporated by reference.

[0037] As mentioned above, electrical articles installed in the vehicle, including those mounted to the modular system 10, are typically coupled to a power source as well as to other devices in the vehicle in order to transmit and/or receive data, audio, video and/or command and control signals. Modular system 10 may be configured to distribute power and data to/from the articles attached to members 30 of modular system 10. Referring to Figures 3 and 5, a utility interface 160 for system 10 is shown schematically according to a preferred embodiment. Interface 160 is included within the cover 12 for communicating with passageways through the roof structure (not shown) and interfacing with members 30. Interface 160 includes a series of ports 162 (e.g. connectors, receptacles, jacks, plugs, etc.) for facilitating the interconnection of conventional utility carriers 163 (e.g. wires, cables, conductors, harnesses, etc.) for delivering utilities (e.g. electrical power, voice and data communication signals, RF transmission signals, instrumentation signals, etc.) between a supply source (not shown) and articles 20 mounted to members 30. Utilities may be routed from the utility supply source (e.g. a battery, antenna, receiver, transmitter, etc. - not shown) through utility carriers 163 that interconnect the supply source and the ports 162 provided in interface 160. Utility interface 160 may be provided in either the forward or rearward portion of the vehicle.

[0038] Utilities may be distributed from interfaces 160 via additional utility carriers 164 that interconnect between interfaces 160 and articles 20. The utility carriers 164 may be distributed throughout system 10 by routing the carriers 164 through passage 50 in members 30 where the carriers 164 are concealed behind cover 54 (shown in Figure 6) and articles 20. Articles 20 are mounted over members 30 and their covers segments 54, whereby one or more gaps or other openings corresponding to access and egress locations for utilities carriers 164, interfacing with articles 20 may be provided in cover 54, behind article 20, to create a utilities access pattern. The access pattern is adaptable to future changes or modifications in the article selection package by making suitable changes in the removable cover 54 of members 30. Articles 20 and utility carriers 164 may be provided with mating connectors 166 to facilitate ease of installation, replacement or reconfiguration of articles 20 within the system 10. Alternatively, articles 20 may be provided with a fixed length of utility carrier for routing through passage 50 to interface 160, where the carrier includes a terminal at the outward end configured for directly connecting with interface 160. To provide additional flexibility in distributing utilities to various articles, an article 20 may be configured to serve as a utility storage or junction box for housing additional utility distribution devices or components and for storing excess quantities of utility carrier that may be desirable for accommodating' future changes to the article selection package.

[0039] Referring to Figures 7A and 7B, utilities may be distributed between the utility interface and articles using a daisy chain connection in accordance with an alternative embodiment. A first article 712 is connected to a utility interface 708 via a connection such as a plug 706. A utility carrier 704 (e.g., a cable) is used to interconnect between plug 706 and the first article 712. Accordingly, the opposite end of utility carrier 704 includes an appropriate connector, e.g., a plug, to connect to first article 712. Alternatively, the utility carrier 704 may be fixedly coupled to the first article 712. An exemplary plug 706 arrangement is shown in Figure 7B. A utility carrier 704 (e.g., a jumper cable) is coupled to plug 706 and fed though member 710. The plug 706 connects to utility interface 708 which, as mentioned above, may be positioned within a cover 12. The opposite end of utility carrier 704 is connected to the first article 712 (shown in Figure 7A). First article 712 also includes a connection point which can be used to connect a second article 714 to the first article 712 as shown in Figure 7A. For example, a utility carrier 720 and plug combination can be used to plug the second article 714 into the first article 712 to establish an electrical connection by which the second article 714 may receive utilities. Each article mounted to the modular system may be provided with a receptacle to receive an electrical connection to another article in order to distribute utilities to each article. Accordingly, a third article 722 may be plugged into the second article 714 using a utility carrier 724 and plug combination, a fourth article (not shown) can be plugged into the third article 722, and so on. The last article installed, e.g., third article 722, may also be connected to a connection point 716 of a rearward portion 718 of the system. [0040] As mentioned, articles 20 and utility carriers 164 may be provided with mating electrical connectors 166 (shown in Figure 5) so that articles 20 mounted to members 30 may access utilities such as power, data, audio signals, voice signals, command signals, etc. Referring to Figure 8, an electrical connector for a member and an article is shown in accordance with an embodiment. It should be understood that while the following description discusses the electrical connector 800 in the context of coupling an article to a modular system, such connector may be used elsewhere in the vehicle to connect an article to utilities provided in the vehicle (e.g., from other electrical devices). Electrical connector 800 may be a self-aligning, blind mating connector provided on, for example, a member of the modular system, on the interior panel of the vehicle to which the modular system is mounted or, alternatively, at another location in the vehicle.. A corresponding mating connector is provided on an article to be mounted to the modular system. On the member, the connector 800 is coupled to at least one utility carrier. When an article is installed in a modular system, a connection is made between the electrical connector on the member of the modular system and the mating connector on the article. In an alternative embodiment, connector 800 may be used as the plug described above to connect articles in a daisy chain configuration. In another embodiment, connector 800 may be used as the terminal on a fixed length of utility carrier of an article that is directly connected with utility interface 160 (shown in Figure 5).

[0041] Electrical connector 800 includes connections for a plurality of utility types which may be required for the installation of various electrical articles. Preferably, in one embodiment, the connector 800 includes an appropriate connection for each possible type of utility required for articles mounted to the modular system. In the embodiment shown in Figure 8, connector 800 includes a fiber optic com ection 802, a coaxial cable connection 804, a plurality square male and/or female connections 806. for data and a plurality male and/or female blade connections 808 for high current carrying capacity. Fiber optic connection 802 may be used to provide utilities such as audio, video, other infotainment data, etc. Coaxial cable connector 804 may be used to provide utilities such as RF transmission signals, etc. The plurality of square male and/or female connections 806 may be used to provide utilities such as data in, data out, clean ground, audio (e.g., for headphone jacks), etc. The plurality of male and/or female blade connections 808 may be used to provide utilities such as power (e.g., +12 VDC), ground (e.g., -12 VDC), etc. Comiector 800 may also be configured to include a universal phone connector or an inverter. The connections may also be used to provide other utilities such as speaker signals, lights, command and control signals, speech (e.g., microphone) signals, ignition signals, climate control, occupant detection, signals regarding memory message for mirrors, pedals, steering column, etc., power point, entertainment for the rear seat, etc. It should be understood that in various embodiments, the connector 800 may include additional or fewer types of connection than that shown depending on the utility needs of the system.

[0042] Referring to Figure 9, a perspective view of a self-docking electrical connector for an article is shown in accordance with an embodiment. An electrical connector 902 is provided on an article to be installed on members 912 of a modular system. A mating connector 904 is provided on an interior panel 914 of the vehicle to which the modular system is mounted. In an alternative embodiment, the mating connector 904 may be located on a member 912. The mating comiector 904 is coupled to at least one utility carrier (not shown) of the modular system or the vehicle. The mating connector 904 may, for example, be installed in the headliner 914 of the vehicle using a bezel 906 and retainer 910. Connector 902 of the article is configured to be self-docking and self-aligning with the mating connector 904, so that the article may be easily installed to the modular system. Comiector 902 and mating connector 904 may be any known self-docking connector. A self-docking connector 902 allows easy movement of an article to different positions in the vehicle or from one vehicle to another. Self-docking connector 902, 904 may also be mounted to allow movement (e.g., in any needed axis) so it may engage properly.

[0043] In an alternative embodiment, as mentioned above with respect to Figures 5 and 6, a low- voltage electrical power in the range of approximately 12 - 42 volts DC or other suitable voltage range for powering articles 20 may be routed to articles 20 via members 30, where members 30 are fabricated entirely or partially from aluminum or other electrically conductive material. Members 30 may also be fabricated from a non-conducting material such as plastic, where a conducting material such as copper or aluminum is integrally formed with member 30 in the shape of a longitudinal conducting strip, rail or bar (not shown) to provide a uniform electric current access path from interface 160 to articles 20. Such conducting material may be affixed to member 30 by ultrasonic welding, molding, interference-type snap insert, or vacuum metallization. Articles 20 are provided with an electrically conductive contactor (not shown) that projects outwardly from a surface of article

20 and is configured to contact member 30 or a conducting strip thereon (not shown) and remains concealed between member 30 and article 20 when article 20 is installed on member

30 to provide a conductive electrical path to article 20. The contactor may be spring-biased for urging the contactor into continuous contact with member 30 or a conducting strip when article 20 is mounted on members 30. In a preferred embodiment where a system with two parallel members are used, one member 30 would have a positive electrical polarity (i.e. battery potential) and the second member 30 would have a negative electrical polarity (i.e. ground). For embodiments using a single member, two longitudinal conducting strips (not shown) may be used on member 30 to provide positive and negative conductors, corresponding to appropriately positioned contactors on an article 20 configured to mount to a single member 30.

[0044] Returning to Figures 3 and 5, conducting strips may be used as an article positioning interlock along members 30 by altering the conducting strip longitudinal position along member 30 to provide a power interlock profile. The power interlock profile ensures that contactors for certain articles will properly interface with the conducting strips only when articles are installed at locations on members 30 corresponding to a mating conducting strip position. For example, video display articles may have contactors positioned to match a conducting strip position corresponding only to a location rearward of the front seats of the vehicle. Similarly, other consumer articles that may create a distraction to a vehicle operator may be electrically interlocked so that they are operable only when installed in positions that are pre-established by the power interlock profile. Insulating cover segments (not shown) may be provided that are adapted to cover portions of members 30 that remain exposed after installation of the article selection package to prevent consumer exposure or electrical shorts to ground with the energized portions of system 10.

[0045] Referring to Figure 10, a repositionable electrical connector system is shown in accordance with an embodiment. As mentioned previously, articles 20 are adapted to be selectively positionable along members 30 of a modular system. For an article that requires an electrical connection, it can be problematic if an electrical connection is not in the required or desired location for installation of the article. The system 1000 shown in Figure 10 provides an electrical connector 1006 that is repositionable along the length of member 1002 of a modular system. Electrical connector 1006 is mounted inside of member 1002, e.g., inside of a passage 50 (shown in Figure 6) of member 1002 and is configured so that electrical connector 1006 may slide along the length of member 1002, e.g., from a first position 1010 to a second position 1012. Electrical connector 1002 maybe, for example, a self-docking connector, an electrical contact (or electrically conductive contactor), a fiber optic connection, a pin connection, a blade connection, a square connection, a pneumatic connection, a coaxial cable connection, etc. An appropriate mating connector is provided on electrical articles to be mounted on the modular system. In the embodiment shown in Figure 10, electrical connector 1006 is mounted inside member 1002 using a flexible electrical conductor 1004, e.g., a flexible cable, that may carry various utilities. Connector 1006 may be coupled to the flexible cable by, for example, crimping, welding, or other suitable method for the type of conductor used. The electrical conductor 1004 may be, for example, a round flexible wire, a flat flexible cable, multiple round flexible wires bonded in parallel to each other, any combination thereof, or any other flexible electrical conductor. In an alternative embodiments, conductor 1004 may also be a fiber optic cable, an RF cable, a pneumatic conductor, or other appropriate conductor for the utilities being carried.

[0046] As shown in Figure 10, the electrical conductor 1004 is folded over itself to allow movement and compact storage. A plurality of connectors 1006 may be coupled to the flexible electrical conductor 1004 to provide multiple repositionable electrical connectors in a member 1002. When the electrical comiector 1006 is moved to a desired position (e.g., by moving conductor 1004), a removeable cover (not shown) of member 1002 may be adapted accordingly to provide an appropriate access pattern. For example, the cover may be cut to length or various sizes which may be positioned as needed. In another embodiment, a cover may not be used.

[0047] In an alternative embodiment, sliding electrical contacts (shown in Figure 11) may be used inside member 1002 or within a given connector placed on member 1002. Alternatively, the electrical contacts maybe placed along the backside of an electrical connector onto conductor bars. The electrical contacts may be coupled to a flexible electrical conductor 1004. Figure 11 is a cross sectional view of a repositionable electrical connector in accordance with an alternative embodiment. A sliding connector 1112 is positioned in a member 1106 (e.g., inside of a passage 50, shown in Figure 6). Sliding connector 1112 includes conductive terminals 1114 which are configured to contact conductors 1102 (e.g., a utility carrier) positioned in member 1106. For example, a buss bar holder 1104 may be used to hold conductors 1102 in member 1106. Terminals 1114 of the sliding connector 1112 make contact with conductors 1102 to provide a conductive electrical path. Connector 1112 is also configured to move inside member 1106 to different positions along the length of member 1106 (e.g., by sliding withnrmember 1106). Article 1120 includes a conductive contactor 1108 (i.e., a connector) that projects outwardly from a surface of the article and is configured to contact terminals 1114 of sliding comiector 1112. Accordingly, a conductive electrical path is provided between conductors 1102 and connector 1108 of the article via the terminals 1114 of connector 1112.

[0048] Returning to Figure 10, system 1000 may also be configured to prevent the movement or positioning of the electrical connector in certain portions along member 1002 to prevent the installation of certain articles (or any articles) in certain restricted locations. For example, an article that may be deemed a distraction to the vehicle operator, such as a video monitor, may only be allowed to be installed in a rearward portion of the vehicle. Accordingly, electrical conductor 1006 may be prevented from being positioned in a location forward of the front seats in the vehicle, h one embodiment, the movement of the electrical comiector 1006 maybe managed using stops 1008 placed along the electrical conductor 1004. Alternatively, the length of the flexible electrical conductor 1004 may be limited or the routing of the flexible electrical conductor inside member 1002 maybe configured to prevent movement of the electrical conductor 1006 to certain locations along member 1002.

[0049] Referring to Figures 12A-12E, a system for controlling electrical connections in a modular system is shown in accordance with an embodiment. As discussed above, utilities such as power may be distributed to articles 1220 (shown in Figure 12B) mounted to a modular system. For example, power may be routed to an article by utility carriers 1204 (shown in Figures 12A and 12C) routed through passages 50 (shown in Figure 6) of members ,1202, 1222 along the length of the member. Alternatively, power may be routed via members 1202, 1222 or caps 52 (shown in Figure 6) of members which are fabricated entirely or partially from aluminum or other electrically conductive material or members 1202 may include longitudinal conducting strips, rails, etc. An electrical connector 1230 (shown in Figure 12C) may be provided to connect to utility carriers 1204 or, electrical contacts maybe provided along member 1202 or cap 54 as shown in Figure 12E. Figure 13 shows an exemplary connector 1308 (e.g., a plug) in member 1302 that may be used to provided a connection between article 1320 and utility carriers 1312. Referring to Figure 12C, an article 1220 may include a mating connector 1232 that may be coupled to a connector 1230 in member 1222. It may be desirable to control the distribution of utilities, such as power, to articles mounted to the modular system to, for example, prevent the installation of articles at certain locations, to prevent installation of unauthorized articles or to control electrical short circuits and exposed active circuits. Accordingly, the electrical connections provided along a member 1202 may be segmented into multiple conductors and the utilities provided to each segment are selectively activated and deactivated (i.e., the utility or utilities provided to specific portions of the member is controlled).

[0050] Figure 12D is a block diagram of a system for controlling electrical connections in a modular system in accordance with an embodiment. A control module 1240 is coupled to each electrical segment (e.g., an electrical connector, electrical contact, a portion of a conducting strip, a portion of a conductive member etc.) along the member. Control module 1240 may be provided, for example, in the utility interface 160 (shown in Figure 5) of the modular system, in other locations on the modular system, in an article mounted to the modular system, in other locations in the vehicle, etc. Control module 1240 may include various types of control circuitry, digital and/or analog, and may include a microprocessor, microcontroller, application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC), or other circuitry configured to perform various input/output, control, analysis, and other functions to be described herein. Control module 1240 is configured to selectively activate and deactivate each electrical segment, e.g., electrical connector or contacts 1242. When control module 1240 identifies that an article 1244 has been connected to an electrical connector or contact 1242, it may activate (e.g., provide power or other utility) only the electrical segment(s) to which the article 1244 is connected. In another embodiment, a code or encoded message may be provided by an article 1244 to the control module 1240. The code may be used by the control module 1240 to determine whether the particular article 1244 may be installed at the particular location on the member. For example, as discussed previously, certain articles may be prohibited from being installed in certain locations along members of the modular system, e.g., a video monitor, such as for a DVD player, may only be allowed to be installed in a rearward portion of the vehicle. The code may also be used to prevent the installation of unauthorized articles on the modular system.

[0051] As mentioned previously, in one exemplary embodiment, electrical contacts 1250 (shown in Figure 12E) may be provided along member 1202 and be coupled to the control module 1240 (shown in Figure 12D). In this embodiment, an article mounted to a member (or members) includes electrically conductive contacts (not shown) to contact the electrical contacts 1250 in a member and to provide a conductive path between the member and article. When the article's electrical contacts and the member's electrical contacts come into contact, the control module 1240 identifies that an article has been connected to the modular system at a particular location. The article provides a code to the control module 1240 that identifies the article and may be used to determine if the article is, for example, permitted to be installed at the particular location or is an authorized article. If the control module 1240 determines that that the article may be connected to the modular system and/or to the particular location of the modular system, power and/or another utility is selectively provided to the article via the member's electrical contacts that are in contact with the article's electrical contacts. Electrical contacts on the member that are not in contact with an article are not activated. When an article is removed from the modular system, the control module 1240 may then switch off the power to the member's electrical contacts at the particular location.

[0052] It is important to note that the construction and arrangement of the electrical connectivity system and modular system and devices as shown in the preferred and other exemplary embodiments are illustrative only. Although only a few embodiments of the present invention have been described in detail in this disclosure, those skilled in the art who review this disclosure will readily appreciate that many modifications are possible (e.g., variations in sizes, dimensions, structures, shapes and proportions of the various elements, values of parameters, mounting arrangements, materials, colors, orientations, etc.) without materially departing from the novel teachings and advantages of the subject matter recited herein. Accordingly, all such modifications are intended to be included within the scope of the present invention as described herein.

[0053] The order or sequence of any process or method steps may be varied or re- sequenced according to alternative embodiments. In the claims, any means-plus-function clause is intended to cover the structures described herein as performing the recited function and not only structural equivalents but also equivalent structures. Other substitutions, modifications, changes and omissions may be made in the design, operating configuration and arrangement of the preferred and other exemplary embodiments without departing from the spirit of the present inventions as expressed in the appended claims.

Claims

What is claimed is: 1. A system for controlling distribution of utilities provided to articles mounted to a modular system in a vehicle, the modular system having at least one member coupled to an interior portion of the vehicle, the system comprising: a least one electrical connector coupled to the modular system; an article coupled to the at least one electrical connector and mounted to the modular system; and a control module coupled to the at least one electrical connector and configured to determine if the article is coupled to the electrical connector and to selectively activate the electrical connector.
2. A system according to claim 1, wherein determining if the article if coupled to the electrical connector includes receiving data from the article, the data including a code identifying an article type associated with the article.
3. A system according to claim 2, wherein the control module uses the data received from the article to determine whether a utility should be provided to the article.
4. A system according to claim 3, wherein the utility is one of power, data signals, audio signals, video signals, command signals and control signals.
5. A system according to claim 2, wherein the control module uses the data received from the article to detennine whether to activate the electrical connector.
6. A system according to claim 1, wherein the at least one electrical connector is an electrical contact and the article includes at least one electrical contact.
7. A system according to claim 1, wherein the at least one electrical connector is a portion of a conducting strip coupled to the at least one member of the modular system.
8. A system according to claim 1, wherein the at least one member is fabricated from a conducting material and the at least one electrical connector is a segment of the at least one member.
9. A system according to claim 1, wherein the at least one electrical connector is coupled to the at least one member and is repositionable along the length of the at least one member.
10. A system according to claim 1, wherein the control modular is further configured to determine whether the placement of the article at a location on the at least one member is prohibited.
11. A system according to claim 1, wherein the article includes a mating comiector.
12. A system for providing a repositionable electrical connector for a modular system in a vehicle, the modular system having at least one member having an opening forming an elongated passage within the member, the system comprising: a length of electrical conductor positioned inside the passage of the member and configured to move within the passage; and at least on electrical connector coupled to the length of electrical conductor within the passage and configured to move within the passage; wherein the position of the at least one electrical connector along the member is controlled by movement of the length of electrical conductor.
13. A system according to claim 12, wherein the electrical conductor is a round flexible wire.
14. A system according to claim 12, wherein the electrical conductor is a flat flexible cable.
15. A system according to claim 12, wherein the electrical connector is an electrical contact.
16. A system according to claim 15, wherein the electric contact includes at least one conductive terminal coupled to the electrical conductor.
17. A system according to claim 12, further comprising a stop module mounted on the length of electrical conductor and configured to prevent the electrical connector from moving to a predetermined position along the member.
18. An electrical connector for use in a vehicle to provide utilities to an electrical article mounted in the vehicle, the electrical connector comprising: a housing; and a plurality of electrical connections positioned within the housing and corresponding to each utility required by each electrical article mounted in the vehicle.
19. An electrical connector according to claim 18, wherein the plurality of electrical connections includes a coaxial connector.
20. An electrical connector according to claim 18, wherein the plurality of electrical connections includes a fiber optic connector.
21. An electrical comiector according to claim 18, wherein the plurality of electrical connections includes a plurality of connectors for data signals.
22. An electrical connector according to claim 18, wherein the plurality of electrical connections includes a plurality of connectors with high current carrying capacity.
PCT/US2003/041293 2003-12-29 2003-12-29 Electrical connectivity system for use with a modular system in a vehicle WO2005069446A1 (en)

Priority Applications (1)

Application Number Priority Date Filing Date Title
PCT/US2003/041293 WO2005069446A1 (en) 2003-12-29 2003-12-29 Electrical connectivity system for use with a modular system in a vehicle

Applications Claiming Priority (1)

Application Number Priority Date Filing Date Title
PCT/US2003/041293 WO2005069446A1 (en) 2003-12-29 2003-12-29 Electrical connectivity system for use with a modular system in a vehicle

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Citations (5)

* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
US5595495A (en) * 1994-05-19 1997-01-21 Haworth, Inc. Electrified interior space-dividing members with low-voltage switching system
DE19838492A1 (en) * 1998-08-25 2000-03-09 Stahl R Schaltgeraete Gmbh Explosion-proof connector assembly
US20020016086A1 (en) * 2000-01-13 2002-02-07 Kinsey Gregory W. Integrated communications and connection system for truck tractors
US20020163219A1 (en) * 2001-05-01 2002-11-07 Clark Kenneth M. Modular system for a vehicle
US6486571B1 (en) * 2002-03-01 2002-11-26 Ford Global Technologies, Inc. Power delivery and connection circuit for an automotive vehicle

Patent Citations (5)

* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
US5595495A (en) * 1994-05-19 1997-01-21 Haworth, Inc. Electrified interior space-dividing members with low-voltage switching system
DE19838492A1 (en) * 1998-08-25 2000-03-09 Stahl R Schaltgeraete Gmbh Explosion-proof connector assembly
US20020016086A1 (en) * 2000-01-13 2002-02-07 Kinsey Gregory W. Integrated communications and connection system for truck tractors
US20020163219A1 (en) * 2001-05-01 2002-11-07 Clark Kenneth M. Modular system for a vehicle
US6486571B1 (en) * 2002-03-01 2002-11-26 Ford Global Technologies, Inc. Power delivery and connection circuit for an automotive vehicle

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