WO2014047634A1 - Modular multifunction system for installation or retrofit of controls, outlets, and sensors - Google Patents

Modular multifunction system for installation or retrofit of controls, outlets, and sensors Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2014047634A1
WO2014047634A1 PCT/US2013/061436 US2013061436W WO2014047634A1 WO 2014047634 A1 WO2014047634 A1 WO 2014047634A1 US 2013061436 W US2013061436 W US 2013061436W WO 2014047634 A1 WO2014047634 A1 WO 2014047634A1
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Prior art keywords
module
control
outlet
elements
electrical
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PCT/US2013/061436
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French (fr)
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WO2014047634A9 (en
Inventor
Richard Palmeri
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Richard Palmeri
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Priority to US201261704592P priority Critical
Priority to US61/704,592 priority
Application filed by Richard Palmeri filed Critical Richard Palmeri
Publication of WO2014047634A1 publication Critical patent/WO2014047634A1/en
Publication of WO2014047634A9 publication Critical patent/WO2014047634A9/en

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Classifications

    • HELECTRICITY
    • H01BASIC ELECTRIC ELEMENTS
    • H01RELECTRICALLY-CONDUCTIVE CONNECTIONS; STRUCTURAL ASSOCIATIONS OF A PLURALITY OF MUTUALLY-INSULATED ELECTRICAL CONNECTING ELEMENTS; COUPLING DEVICES; 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
    • H01R13/665Structural association with built-in electrical component with built-in electronic circuit
    • H01R13/6683Structural association with built-in electrical component with built-in electronic circuit with built-in sensor

Abstract

A control/outlet module including at least one retainer and a back body removably attachable to the at least one retainer, the back body including having central area having one or more anchors for receiving at least one of control elements, outlet elements, and sensor elements. The control/outlet module also includes a cover plate removably attachable to the back body and covering the back body, the cover plate including an opening for receiving the at least one of the control elements, outlet elements, or sensor elements. In the control/outlet module, the at least one retainer includes attachment features for securing the at least one retainer to an electrical gang box, and wherein the back body is configured to at least cover an opening associated with the electrical gang box.

Description

MODULAR MULTIFUNCTION SYSTEM FOR INSTALLATION OR RETROFIT OF CONTROLS, OUTLETS, AND SENSORS

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS This application claims priority to and the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent

Application No. 61 /704,592, entitled "MODULAR MULTIFUNCTION SWITCH" and filed September 24, 2012, the contents of which are herein incorporated by reference in their entirety. FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to installation or retrofitting of controls, outlets, and sensors, and more specifically to a control/outlet module, which can be used to retrofit existing outlet, control, or sensor points or provide new outlet, control, or sensor points without requiring the introduction of significant new wiring.

BACKGROUND

In general, electrical outlets and wall and counter switches for electrical controls, including on/off, dimming, or current limiting, has been accomplished through mounting of outlets, mechanical rocker switches, and rotary dimming devices in electrical gang boxes. In the case of a residence, electrical gang boxes and the associated wiring are typically integrated into the walls of a residence at the time of construction of the residence. Regardless of what is being controlled, the general concept is to place a device along an electrical line to provide a control mechanism based on simple current interruption or limiting technology. Similarly, wiring for outlets, including electrical, telephony, television, and networking is accomplished in a similar fashion, i.e., installation of an electrical gang box, the outlet, and associated wiring during

construction of the residence.

Because such wiring is performed at the time the residence is constructed, retrofitting the structure to accommodate additional outlets, switches and the like can be difficult and costly. For example, to add an additional switch to an existing location of an electrical gang box, the electrical gang box must be removed and replaced with an new electrical gang box sized to accommodate the existing switches or outlets of the old gang box and the new switch. In cases where the electrical gang box is integrated into the wall (e.g., within drywall), the opening in the wall may need to be enlarged and the wall refinished. Further, if the new switch is being added to control a new electrical device, wiring must be added from the new electrical device to the new switch. Such a retrofit process expensive and time-consuming, even for the most basic retrofit.

A solution for the foregoing issues has been the use of radio frequency control devices in connection with corresponding devices at the devices, appliances, and other electrical devices to be controlled. Another solution has been to allow for surface mounting of new electrical gang boxes and wiring conduits. However, for residential purposes, such solutions are not desirable. That is, these solutions typically require the installation of many additional and visible components. Further, radio frequency devices are generally constructed in an inconsistent and incompatible way. That is, many types of control devices are use-specific and thus their operation and form is configured for standalone operation. As a result, these retrofit methods are still designed to exist in addition to existing electrical gang arrangements and do not provide a way to integrate new controls and outlets with the existing arrangement of controls and outlets.

SUMMARY

Embodiments of the invention concern a new control/outlet module, which can be used to retrofit existing outlet, control, or sensor points or provide new outlet, control, or sensor points without requiring the introduction of significant new wiring.

In a first embodiment, there is provided a control/outlet module including at least one retainer and a back body removably attachable to the at least one retainer, the back body including having central area having one or more anchors for receiving at least one of control elements, outlet elements, and sensor elements. The control/outlet module also includes a cover plate removably attachable to the back body and covering the back body, the cover plate including an opening for receiving the at least one of the control elements, outlet elements, or sensor elements. In the control/outlet module, the at least one retainer includes attachment features for securing the at least one retainer to an electrical gang box, and wherein the back body is configured to at least cover an opening associated with the electrical gang box.

The control/outlet module can further include electrical ports in the central area for electrically coupling the at least one of the control elements, outlet elements, or sensor elements. The electrical ports can be integrated into the anchors. The control/outlet module can further include an interface module electrically coupled to the electrical ports. The interface module can be configured to provide a communications network interface for signals on at least a portion of the electrical ports. Further, the communications network interface includes one of a power line

communications interface, a wired data network interface, or a wireless data network interface. Also, the interface module can be configured to provide a power signals on at least a portion of the electrical ports. Additionally, the interface module can be programmable and the signals on the portion of the electrical ports can be

programmable.

The control/outlet module can also include one or more photovoltaic cells disposed on at least one of the cover plate. The photovoltaic cells can be disposed on at least one of the cover plate or the central area, and wherein the photovoltaic cells are electrically coupled to the electrical ports.

In a second embodiment, a system is provided. The system includes a central computer and a plurality of control/outlet modules communicatively coupled to the central computer. In the system, each control/outlet module of of the plurality of control outlet modules includes at least one retainer, a back body removably attachable to the at least one retainer, the back body including having central area having one or more anchors for receiving at least one of control elements, outlet elements, and sensor elements and providing, and a cover plate removably attachable to the back body and covering the back body, the cover plate including an opening for receiving the at least one of the control elements, outlet elements, or sensor elements, where the at least one retainer includes attachment features for securing the at least one retainer to an electrical gang box, and wherein the back body is configured to at least cover an opening associated with the electrical gang box.

In the system, the control/outlet modules can further include electrical ports in the central area for electrically coupling the at least one of the control elements, outlet elements, or sensor elements. The electrical ports can be integrated into the anchors.

Further, the control/outlet modules of the system can further include an interface module electrically coupled to the electrical ports. The interface module can be configured to provide a communications network interface for signals on at least a portion of the electrical ports. Further, the communications network interface includes one of a power line communications interface, a wired data network interface, or a wireless data network interface. Also, the interface module can be configured to provide a power signals on at least a portion of the electrical ports. Additionally, the interface module can be programmable and the signals on the portion of the electrical ports can be programmable.

Additionally, the control/outlet modules can also include one or more

photovoltaic cells disposed on at least one of the cover plate. The photovoltaic cells can be disposed on at least one of the cover plate or the central area, and wherein the photovoltaic cells are electrically coupled to the electrical ports.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

For a fuller understanding of the invention, reference is found in the following description taken in connection with the accompanying drawings:

FIG. 1 is an exploded view of an outlet/control module in accordance with the various embodiments;

FIGs. 2A, 2B, and 2C are various views of alternate configurations of outlet/control modules in accordance with the various embodiments;

FIG. 3 shows additional views of alternate configurations of outlet/control module in accordance with the various embodiments;

FIG. 4 is shows an exemplary configuration of a home or residence incorporating various control/outlet modules in accordance with the various embodiments;

FIG. 5 is an exploded view of an outlet/control module, incorporating an interface module, in accordance with the various embodiments; and

FIGs. 6A, 6B, and 6C show various view of a bi-planar outlet/control module in accordance with the various embodiments;

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The present invention is described with reference to the attached figures, wherein like reference numerals are used throughout the figures to designate similar or equivalent elements. The figures are not drawn to scale and they are provided merely to illustrate the instant invention. Several aspects of the invention are described below with reference to example applications for illustration. It should be understood that numerous specific details, relationships, and methods are set forth to provide a full understanding of the invention. One having ordinary skill in the relevant art, however, will readily recognize that the invention can be practiced without one or more of the specific details or with other methods. In other instances, well-known structures or operations are not shown in detail to avoid obscuring the invention. The present invention is not limited by the illustrated ordering of acts or events, as some acts may occur in different orders and/or concurrently with other acts or events. Furthermore, not all illustrated acts or events are required to implement a methodology in accordance with the present invention.

In view of the shortcomings of conventional methods for retrofitting and extending existing control and outlet points in a structure, the various embodiments are directed to a new system for extending the capabilities at such existing control and outlet points with considerably less time and cost than conventional methods and that integrates with existing controls, outlets, and wiring. Although the various embodiments will be described primarily with respect to residential structures, the system of the various embodiments is useful in a variety of scenarios, including residential, industrial, commercial, aviation, marine, and transport scenarios, to facilitate retrofitting and repairs of existing control and outlet points. Further, the system of the various embodiments can also be utilized to provide additional control and outlet points without requiring wiring and that integrate with the aesthetics of existing control and output points.

In particular, the various embodiments provide a new system that includes a new control/outlet module that can be used to replace an control or outlet point associated with an electrical gang box to allow the direct retrofit thereof without the need for new wiring or refinishing of a wall associated with the electrical gang box, while maintaining the look and feel of a conventional control and outlet point. In the various

embodiments, a control/outlet module is provided which can support any number of control or outlet elements and utilize various types of communications technologies to support added functionality without the need for additional wiring. Thus, the

control/outlet module of the various embodiments allows any number and types of controls and outlet types to be installed at an existing electrical gang box. In the various embodiments, the control/outlet module is configured replaceable or

upgradable at any time and to use fastening methods compatible with existing electrical gang boxes and/or the existing wall. Further, the control/outlet module of the various embodiments can be configured to incorporate existing conventional controls and outlet elements along with the new control and outlet elements to be added.

Therefore, the system of the various embodiments allows the combination of components that are conventionally wired, components that make use of RF and other wireless technologies, components that can communicate using existing wiring, and components that are powered by the act of actuation (e.g., wireless kinetic switched) or using existing wiring, batteries, or other power sources. The various embodiments therefore provide a flexible platform for the retrofit and organization of control and outlet elements. As a result, not only is the control/outlet module suitable for retrofitting existing controls and outlets, but is also upgradeable and reconfigurable at any time without requiring the various steps of conventional retrofitting processes.

Reference is first made to FIG. 1 in which an exemplary control/outlet module, generally indicated as 100, arranged in accordance with an embodiment is shown. In this embodiment, the module 100 is arranged for attachment to an existing electrical gang box 1 02, mounted on or within a wall (not shown).

Module 1 00 includes one or more retainers 1 10. The retainers 1 10 can be configured for attachment to the existing electrical gang box 102, the existing wall, or both. In the configuration of FIG. 1 , the retainers 1 1 0 can be configured for attachment via existing mounting features of the electrical gang box. For example, an electrical gang box typically includes one or more threaded openings for attachment, via screws or bolts, of switches, outlets and the like. The retainers 1 00 can be configured so that screws or bolts (not shown) can be used to attach the retainers to the electrical gang box in substantially the same manner. However, the various embodiments are not limited in this regard and any other type of fastening system can be used to attach the retainers 1 10 to the electrical gang box 102.

The retainers 1 1 0, once they are mounted, serve to support and secure thereto a back plate 1 30 and to serve as a pass-through for wiring from the electrical gang box 102. In the configuration of FIG. 1 , the retainers 1 10 include male support tabs 1 12 that engage with corresponding female support sockets (not shown) of the back plate 130 to retain the back plate 130 against retainer 1 10. However, the various embodiments are not limited to tabs and sockets and any other type of fasteners can be used to attach back plate 1 30 to retainers 1 10. Back plate 130 includes a central area 134. In the various embodiments, the back plate 1 30 and the central area 134 can be configured to be of any size. In some embodiments, the size of back plate 130 can be selected so that back plate 130, when attached to retainers 1 10, covers the opening of the electrical gang box 102. That is, the back plate 130 is of a size that is the same or larger than that of the opening of electrical gang box 1 02.

In the central area 134, a series of element anchors 136 can be provided. In some embodiments, the element anchors 1 36 can be configured as a series female snap receptors for receiving male tabs. However, the various embodiments are not limited in this regard and element anchors can be formed to support any other type of connector or fastener arrangement, including combinations of different types of fastener arrangements.

In the various embodiments, an element assembly 1 20 can be provided that is attached to the central area 134 via the element anchors 136. For example, in embodiments where the element anchors 1 36 are female snap connections, the element assembly 120 can include corresponding male tabs. However, as noted above, the connecting or fastening to central area 136 can be accomplished via various types of connectors and fasteners, including combinations thereof.

In the exemplary configuration of FIG. 1 , element assembly 1 20 consists of a pair of switches 122, specifically wireless kinetic switches, and a cover/actuator element 124, both affixed to central area 134 via the element anchors 136.

Cover/actuator element 122 is configured to actuate the wireless kinetic switches. Male tabs on each of switches 122 and cover/actuator element 124 can act as connectors and can be sized to snap fit into the element anchors 136 so that switch assembly 1 20 is securely and removably mounted onto back body 130 using little or no tools. Further, this also results in the cover/actuator element 124 being mechanically and operatively coupled to the switches 1 14. Although the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 1 refers to wireless kinetic switches affixed to central area 134, the present disclosure

contemplates that other types of control elements, outlet elements, or sensor elements can also be affixed to central area 134, as will be discussed in greater detail below.

In some embodiments, electrical ports can be integrated into anchors 136 and the anchors 136 are configured for coupling to electrical wiring or data communications lines. The switch assembly 120 can then be configured so that when the switch assembly is attached to the back body, the switch assembly 120 is also electrically coupled to the electrical ports. However, the various embodiments are not limited in this regard a set of electrical ports, separate from anchors 136, can be provided for electrically coupling switch assembly to electrical wiring or data communications lines.

The present disclosure contemplates that in the case of a retrofit, the central area 124 and the module 100 can be configured to receive and support any existing switches, outlets, or sensors originally associated with the electrical gang box.

However, the various embodiments are not limited in this regard and such switches, outlets, or sensors can be replaced with alternate configurations of said switches, outlets, or sensors. Such a configuration can be used when additional functionality is desired without a significant increase in the size of a wall plate originally associated with the electrical gang box. For example, a module used to retrofit an electrical gang box originally supporting two switches with additional switches can be configured to utilized smaller sizes of switches so that the module size is relatively the same as the size of the wall plate originally associated with the electrical gang box.

In the various embodiments, switches, outlets, sensors, or any other component in module 100 can be powered in a variety of ways, including a combination of methods for different one of the switches, outlets, and sensors. For example, power can be supplied from an existing electrical line, batteries, or other power sources. Other power sources and technologies for providing power include, but are not limited to,

photovoltaic cells, remote wireless power sources (e.g., remote inductive charging), or local kinetic sources (e.g., kinetic switches). Further, the components for such power sources can be integrated into any portion of the control/outlet modules of the various embodiments or into any control, outlet, or sensor elements being attached thereto.

In addition to components 1 1 0, 120, and 1 30, the module 100 can further include a cover plate 140, having a central opening 144 therein for receiving switch assembly 120 therein. In the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 1 , the cover plate 140 can also be affixed to back plate 130 via a set of connectors or fasteners. In one embodiment, the cover plate 140 can be configured be snap fit to back plate 1 30. However, the various embodiments are not limited in this regard and any other type of fastening system can be used in the various embodiments.

Although the description herein is primarily directed to a control/outlet module with a back body and a separate cover plate, the various embodiments are not limited in this regard. In some embodiments, the cover plate 140 and the back body 130 can be integrated into a single component.

As noted above, the module 1 00 of of FIG. 1 need not only support the use of switches. Rather, in the various embodiments, the module 100 can support various types of components and combinations thereof. A few configurations are illustrated in FIGs. 2A, 2B, and 2C. For ease of discussion, elements previously discussed with respect to FIG. 1 will not be discussed here.

For example, FIG. 2A shows a first alternate configuration of module 100' in accordance with an embodiment. In this configuration, a touch screen or panel 148 is provided in place of switch assembly 120. In such a configuration, the touch screen 148 can be powered via electrical power available at the electrical gang box, via batteries, or any other source of power. Additionally a combination of sources of power can be utilized as well. Such a configuration can be utilized in the case where advanced control of devices, appliances, or motors is required or where a customized interface is desired. In such a configuration, the touch screen can communicate via wired or wireless networks. Additionally, the touch screen can also be used to replace an existing mechanical switch that was originally at the location.

FIG. 2B shows a second alternate configuration of module 100" in accordance with an embodiment. In this configuration, an outlet 150 is provided in addition a reduced switch assembly 1 50 (i.e., smaller than switch assembly 120). In such a configuration, the outlet can be connected to the existing electrical line available at the electrical gang box. The switch assembly 1 50 can include multiple rocker switches 152, including wired and wireless switches. In the case of wired switches, these can be connected to the existing electrical line for a device, appliance, or motor. Such a configuration can be utilized, for example, in the case where the retrofit is directed to adding an additional switch to an gang box associated with an outlet and one switch or adding an outlet to an electrical gang box original associated with only switches.

FIG. 2C shows a third alternate embodiment configuration of module 1 00"' in accordance with an embodiment. In this configuration, a wireless switch assembly 1 54 and a wired switch assembly 156. In such a configuration, the wired switch assembly can be connected to the existing electrical line available at the electrical gang box. The switch assembly 1 50 can include multiple rocker switches, including wired and wireless switches. In the case of wired switches, these can be connected to the existing electrical line for a device, appliance, or motor. Such a configuration can be utilized to add additional switches to an electrical gang box.

Additional configurations are illustrated in FIG. 3. In (a), a legend is provided to indicate some of the control and outlet elements that can be integrated in a module in accordance with the various embodiments. These include switches (including wired or wireless, rocker and push-button, or any other types), outlets (power or

communications), rotary dimmer switches and controls, environmental sensors (e.g., smoke, temperature, motion, infra-red, carbon dioxide and/or monoxide), and optical sensor (e.g., photocells and cameras). The present disclosure contemplates that the sensors need not be separate components and can be integrated into other outlet or control elements. For example, sensors can be integrated into a touch screen panel.

As noted above, power for these elements can be provided from an existing electrical line or batteries. In some embodiments, as shown in (b), a photovoltaic (i.e., solar-power) cells can be integrated into the unused surfaces associated with the elements. For example, referring back to FIG. 1 , the exposed surfaces of the central area 124 can be fitted with photovoltaic cells. Alternatively, the cover plate 140 can be fitted with photovoltaic cells and the cover pate 140 and the frame 130 can be fitted with connectors to transfer electrical power. Further, the photovoltaic cells can be mounted on the control or outlet elements. In some embodiments, a combination of methods can be used.

In (b), the photovoltaic cells can provide power for the switches, the optical sensors, or the environmental sensors integrated into (b). A similar configuration is illustrated in (c), where the photovoltaic cells are utilized to provide power for any of the push-button switches, the optical sensors, or the environmental sensors. In (d), a touchscreen is combined with environmental and optical sensors. In (e), a touchscreen is combined with rocker switches and sensors. In (f), a touch screen, a rocker switch, an outlet, and sensors are combined. In (g) a rocker switch, an optical sensor, and a rotary switch/dimmer are combined. Finally, in (h), a rocker switch, a power outlet, and an optical sensor are combined.

In view of the foregoing, it can be seen the present disclosure contemplates that the operational components, such as switches, actuators, outlets, or the like can be modular in nature and may be mixed and matched in the above described structure or other structures in accordance with the various embodiments. Accordingly, it is well within the scope of the various embodiments to use the structure above to add any type of control element or outlet element, wired or wireless, at an existing gang box.

Further, it is well within the scope of the various embodiments to substitute some or all of the existing control elements with a touch screen or more compact control structures. Also it can be readily appreciated from the description above that the relative

orientation of male and female snap fit structures may be reversed, rotated, provided in different.

As noted above, the control/outlet module of the various embodiments can be configured not only to support any existing outlet elements and control elements current associated with an electrical gang box, but also permits these elements to be combined with additional control elements and outlet elements. However, by providing a back plate adapted to receive a variety of additional control and outlet elements and by allowing the retainer 1 10 to support various sizes of back plates on various sizes, the system becomes modular in that it can support a variety of different configurations of control elements and outlet elements. Therefore, the configuration of the various embodiments makes it possible to adjust the arrangement and number of control elements and outlet elements over time to address changes in needs for control elements and outlet elements.

Although the various embodiments described herein primarily with respect to the replacement and retrofit of control and outlet elements at existing electrical gang boxes, the various embodiments are not limited in this regard. In some embodiments, a module in accordance with the various embodiments can be utilized to add control or outlet elements to other locations not associated with an electrical gang box. These can include external locations or other locations where the addition of wiring would be practically or economically unfeasible. In such cases, these modules can be configured to utilize batteries, solar power, or other sources of power, if needed, to provide power for the control and outlet elements.

The various embodiments of the invention also permit the integration of home networking and home automation systems without the need to introduce dedicated wiring to support such systems. An exemplary system is illustrated in FIG. 4.

FIG. 4 schematically illustrates how a home security or automation system would be implemented using modules in accordance with the various embodiments. As shown in FIG. 4, a home 400 is provided that includes various modules 402a, 402b, and 402c (collectively "402") positioned at different locations within home 400. These include internal locations (402a), external locations (402b), and remote locations (402c) on or near the property associated with home 400. Each of these modules can be configured as previously described, to replace or supplement existing capabilities at an electrical gang box. In some embodiments, the module can be mounted at locations not previously associated with an electrical gang box. However, the various

embodiments are not limited to the configuration of FIG. 4 and additional modules can be provided in accordance with the number and type of control needed for home 400.

The modules 402 can be in communication with home devices and appliances 404a, 404b, 404c, and 404d (collectively "404"). For example, as shown in FIG. 4, the home devices and appliances 404 can include attic fans and vents (404a), lights (404b), air conditioning systems (404c), and basement pumps or emergency gas valves (404d). However, the various embodiments are not limited in this regard and any other types and numbers of devices and appliances can be placed into communication with modules 402.

In some embodiments, each of modules 402 can be configured to communicate directly with each of devices and appliances 404 to be controlled by a one or more of modules 402. In the various embodiments, each of the control and outlet elements at each of modules 402 can communicate with a corresponding one of devices and appliances 404 using wired or wireless communications. In some embodiments, as noted above, each of the control and outlet elements in a one of modules 402 can communicate using different communications means. Further, each of these control and outlet elements may also be powered differently.

To support wireless communications, the modules 402 and the devices and appliances 404 can include matched or corresponding sets of transmitters, receivers, or transceivers. Thus, when a signal is generated at one of modules 402, only the one of devices or appliances 400 associated with the signal generated responds to the signal.

To support wired communications, the modules 402 and the devices and appliances 404 can be connected via a wired, addressed network or be associated with a different communications frequency. Thus, each of modules 402 and each of devices and appliances 404 is associated with an address or communications frequency on the wired network. Therefore, when a signal for an address is generated at one of modules 402, only the one or more devices or appliances 400 associated with the address or frequency responds to the signal.

In the various embodiments, an addressed network can be provided in a different number of ways. In some embodiments, existing wiring for data

communications accessible at the electrical gang box can be utilized to link the modules 402 and the devices and appliances 404 together. Further, a central computer or router 406 can be configured to manage the network and the addresses. In other embodiments, the modules 402 and the devices and appliances 404 can be linked together by "piggybacking" on existing wiring in the home 400. For example, the modules 402 and devices and appliances 404 can be configured to utilized power line communications technology or similar technologies, to link modules 402 and devices and appliances 404 over existing electrical lines in home 400. Similarly, existing telephone wiring and television wiring can be utilized to provide such networking capabilities in a similar fashion.

To support such communications means, the modules 402 can be configured to including an interface module, integrated into each of the control and outlet elements or integrated into the module itself to support an manage communications for some or all of the control and outlet elements. This is illustrated with respect to FIG. 5

FIG. 5 illustrates a module 500 (in partially exploded view) in accordance with the various embodiments, similar to that described above with respect to FIG. 1 . The module 500, includes a retainer/frame assembly 530 (including the retainer and back body/frame described above with respect to FIG. 1 ) adapted to be mounted to a wall or other supporting surface. As described above, control or outlet elements 520 can be affixed to retainer/frame assembly 530. In FIG. 5, a touchscreen is provided for as a control element 520. Finally, a cover plate 540 is mounted to the sub frame assembly 530 covering back body 530 and allowing access to the touchscreen. The arrangement of these components can be similar to that described above with respect to FIG. 1 .

In addition to these components, module 500 can also include an interface module 550 coupled to the retainer/frame assembly 530. In the various embodiments, the interface module 550 can be utilized to provide several capabilities. First, the interface module 550 can be configured to operate as a networking adapter. For example, the interface module can operate as a networking adapter for power line communications, wireless communications, or any other type of network being used. The control or utility elements 540 can then be connected to the interface module 550 to carry out any communications needed. This configuration has the added advantage that by removing the communications capabilities from the control or outlet elements, it is possible to further modularize the system by allowing the control or outlet elements to be replaced as needed with a minimal amount of reconfiguration of the module 500.

Second, the interface module 550 can be configured to operate as a power or networking pass-through. As noted above, in some embodiments, the module is utilized to add additional capabilities to an existing gang box. In such configurations, the interface module 550 can be coupled to the existing wiring to allow the signals necessary for the operation of the existing control and outlet elements to continue as before. Moreover, the retainer/frame subassembly 530 can be configured such that replacement of an existing control or outlet element can be accomplished without removal of the module. Further, to simplify future repairs and retrofits, the

retainer/frame assembly 530 can be configured to allow replacement of control and outlet elements with little or no tools by providing a set of connectors coupled to the interface module. For example, such connectors can be a series of female connectors and the control or outlet elements can include corresponding male tabs to allow "snap fit" of control and outlet elements, as previously described. However, the various embodiments are not limited in this regard and other types of connector arrangements can be used.

Third, the interface element 550 can operate as a power supply for control and outlet elements at the module 500. That is, the interface module can tap into an existing electrical line (or other line, depending on the power requirements) and provide power for the control or outlet elements being added at a location. However, the various embodiments are not limited in this regard. That is, power from the interface module can be used separate or in combination with power supplied by batteries or photovoltaic cells.

Fourth, the interface module 550 can be configured to allow certain types of outlets to be added at locations. For example, while electrical outlets are generally plentiful throughout a home, the number and locations of other types of outlets, such as telephony, data, and television outlets are typically more limited. Thus, the interface module can be configured provide the necessary networking for extending the coverage of such outlets. That is, a first transceiver can be provided at the location where the telephony, data, or television network is to be accessed and the interface element 550 can provide a corresponding transceiver that can be coupled to outlet element for the type of network.

Finally, the interface module 550 can be configured to allow customization of the module 500. That is, the interface module 550, alone or in combination with

retainer/frame assembly can be configured to provide a programmable module. In some configurations, the module 500 can include a display or control to enable such reprogramming. In other configurations, the interface module can include a transceiver to allow it to communicate wired or wireless with a computing device to provide an interface for such programming. Thus, as control and outlet elements are added or removed, a user can reprogram the module 500 to support different capabilities at the module 500. In some configurations, the module 500 can support a "plug and play" configuration in which as control or outlet elements are added or removed, the interface module 550 automatically reconfigures the module 500.

The present disclosure contemplates that the interface module 550 can include more or less capabilities than those discussed above. That is, the interface module 550 can be selected and configured for a control/outlet module according to the capabilities desired or predicted to be used at the location of the control/outlet module.

The present disclosure also contemplates that at the device or appliance to be controlled, a corresponding transceiver can be provided in a variety of ways. In some configurations, a plug-in module can be provided at the outlet so that when a signal is received, the corresponding device or appliance is shut off. However, to improve the aesthetics of the installation the present disclosure also contemplates that the existing outlet can also be retrofitted with a module in accordance with the various

embodiments, including its own interface module 550. Thus, the addition of the outlet or control thereof can be hidden from view.

Referring back to FIG. 4, the various embodiments are not limited to a configuration in which the modules 402 communicate directly with devices and appliances 404. In some embodiments, a local computer 406 can be used to manage all of modules 402 and devices and appliances 404. In such a configuration, signals generated at modules 402 are first routed to the local computer 406. The local computer 406 can then transmit a signal to the appropriate one of devices and appliances 404. Such a configuration is advantageous to allow greater control of devices and appliance 406. For example, the local computer 406 can be configured to allow activation/deactivation of certain ones of devices and appliances 406 only during certain times of the day, in response to a password, or any other access criteria.

Additionally, if the local computer is coupled to a data network, a user 408 can remotely access the local computer and activate/deactivate any of devices and appliances 406. Further, for home security and automation purposes, the local computer 406 can provide a point of access for controlling and monitoring the home 400.

A further advantage of such a configuration is that the operation and

communications between modules 402 can be, in some cases, customized and coordinated from a central location. As discussed above, the interface module of FIG. 5 can be programmed in some embodiments to add or remove functionality. Thus, for modules 402 having control or outlet elements coupled to devices and appliances 404 via local computer 406, the local computer 406 can be used to individual or collectively configure the system in home 400 as needed.

While various embodiments of the present invention have been described above, it should be understood that they have been presented by way of example only, and not limitation. Numerous changes to the disclosed embodiments can be made in accordance with the disclosure herein without departing from the spirit or scope of the invention. Thus, the breadth and scope of the present invention should not be limited by any of the above described embodiments. Rather, the scope of the invention should be defined in accordance with the following claims and their equivalents.

Although the invention has been illustrated and described with respect to one or more implementations, equivalent alterations and modifications will occur to others skilled in the art upon the reading and understanding of this specification and the annexed drawings.

For example, a module in accordance with the various embodiments need not be mounted solely on one side of a wall. Rather, a bi-panel module can be provided that can be mounted on or through both sides of a wall, door, or other two- sided structure. This is illustrated by the module 600 in FIGs. 6A, 6B, and 6C. FIG. 6A shows an exterior panel view of module 600. FIG. 6B shows an interior panel view of module 600. FIG. 6C shows a cross-section view of a door 602 having module 600 installed therein. As shown in FIG. 6A, module 600 can include an exterior screen 604, a biometric sensor or key 606, and a camera 608. As shown in FIG. 6B, the module can include a screen 610 and other controls 612. In some embodiments, the screen 610 can be a touchscreen with controls. In the various embodiments, the biometric key 606 can be used to announce and identify a person at the door 602 to persons inside. In some embodiments, the biometric key 606 can be used to unlock the door as well. The screen 61 0 can be used to display images from the camera 608, as well as information regarding the person at the door. The screen 604 can be used to provide information to the person at the door 602.

In addition, while a particular feature of the invention may have been disclosed with respect to only one of several implementations, such feature may be combined with one or more other features of the other implementations as may be desired and advantageous for any given or particular application.

The terminology used herein is for the purpose of describing particular embodiments only and is not intended to be limiting of the invention. As used herein, the singular forms "a", "an" and "the" are intended to include the plural forms as well, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise. Furthermore, to the extent that the terms "including", "includes", "having", "has", "with", or variants thereof are used in either the detailed description and/or the claims, such terms are intended to be inclusive in a manner similar to the term "comprising."

Unless otherwise defined, all terms (including technical and scientific terms) used herein have the same meaning as commonly understood by one of ordinary skill in the art to which this invention belongs. It will be further understood that terms, such as those defined in commonly used dictionaries, should be interpreted as having a meaning that is consistent with their meaning in the context of the relevant art and will not be interpreted in an idealized or overly formal sense unless expressly so defined herein.

Claims

THE CLAIMS What is claimed is:
1 . A control/outlet module comprising:
at least one retainer;
a back body removably attachable to the at least one retainer, the back body comprising having central area having one or more anchors for receiving at least one of control elements, outlet elements, and sensor elements;
a cover plate removably attachable to the back body and covering the back body, the cover plate comprising an opening for receiving the at least one of the control elements, outlet elements, or sensor elements,
wherein the at least one retainer comprises attachment features for securing the at least one retainer to at an electrical gang box, and wherein the back body is configured to at least cover an opening associated with the electrical gang box.
2. The module of claim 1 , further comprising electrical ports in the central area for electrically coupling the at least one of the control elements, outlet elements, or sensor elements.
3. The module of claim 2, further comprising an interface module electrically coupled to the electrical ports.
4. The module of claim 3, wherein the interface module is configured to provide a communications network interface for signals on at least a portion of the electrical ports.
5. The module of claim 4, wherein the communications network interface comprises one of a power line communications interface, a wired data network interface, or a wireless data network interface.
6. The module of claim 3, wherein the interface module is configured to provide a power signals on at least a portion of the electrical ports.
7. The module of claim 3, wherein the interface module is programmable.
8. The module of claim 7, wherein the signals on the portion of the electrical ports are programmable.
9. The module of claim 2, further comprising one or more photovoltaic cells disposed on at least one of the cover plate.
10. The module of claim 9, wherein the photovoltaic cells are disposed on at least one of the cover plate or the central area, and wherein the photovoltaic cells are electrically coupled to the electrical ports.
1 1 . The module of claim 2, wherein the electrical ports are integrated into the anchors.
12. A system comprising:
a central computer;
a plurality of control/outlet modules communicatively coupled to the central computer, each of the plurality of control outlet modules comprising:
at least one retainer;
a back body removably attachable to the at least one retainer, the back body comprising having central area having one or more anchors for receiving at least one of control elements, outlet elements, and sensor elements;
a cover plate removably attachable to the back body and covering the back body, the cover plate comprising an opening for receiving the at least one of the control elements, outlet elements, or sensor elements,
wherein the at least one retainer comprises attachment features for securing the at least one retainer to an electrical gang box, and wherein the back body is configured to at least cover an opening associated with the electrical gang box.
13. The system of claim 12, wherein at least one control/outlet module of the plurality of control/outlet modules further comprises electrical ports in the central area for electrically coupling the at least one of the control elements, outlet elements, or sensor elements.
14. The system of claim 13, wherein at least one control/outlet module further comprises an interface module electrically coupled to the electrical ports.
15. The system of claim 14, wherein the interface module is configured to provide a communications network interface for at least signals to and from the central computer on at least a portion of the electrical ports.
16. The system of claim 15, wherein the communications network interface comprises one of a power line communications interface, a wired data network interface, or a wireless data network interface.
17. The system of claim 14, wherein the interface module is configured to provide a power signals on at least a portion of the electrical ports.
18. The system of claim 14, wherein the interface module is configured to be programmed and monitored using at least the central computer.
19. The system of claim 18, wherein the signals on the portion of the electrical ports are programmable.
20. The system of claim 13, wherein at least one control/outlet module further comprises comprising one or more photovoltaic cells disposed on at least one of the cover plate.
21 . The system of claim 20, wherein the photovoltaic cells are disposed on at least one of the cover plate or the central area, and wherein the photovoltaic cells are electrically coupled to the electrical ports.
22. The system of claim 13, wherein the electrical ports are integrated into the anchors.
PCT/US2013/061436 2012-09-24 2013-09-24 Modular multifunction system for installation or retrofit of controls, outlets, and sensors WO2014047634A1 (en)

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US61/704,592 2012-09-24

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US10139790B2 (en) 2015-06-10 2018-11-27 Vivint, Inc. Powered faceplate integration
US10349502B2 (en) 2013-10-30 2019-07-09 Cantigny Lighting Control, Llc Timer and a method of implementing a timer
US10418813B1 (en) 2017-04-01 2019-09-17 Smart Power Partners LLC Modular power adapters and methods of implementing modular power adapters

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US6993289B2 (en) * 2000-08-02 2006-01-31 Simple Devices System including a wall switch device and a system including a power outlet device and methods for using the same
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US20050180561A1 (en) * 2004-02-16 2005-08-18 Serconet Ltd. Outlet add-on module
KR20110095024A (en) * 2010-02-18 2011-08-24 김민기 Potable receptacle for family use

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US10349502B2 (en) 2013-10-30 2019-07-09 Cantigny Lighting Control, Llc Timer and a method of implementing a timer
US10139790B2 (en) 2015-06-10 2018-11-27 Vivint, Inc. Powered faceplate integration
US10418813B1 (en) 2017-04-01 2019-09-17 Smart Power Partners LLC Modular power adapters and methods of implementing modular power adapters

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