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LUGGAGE LOCATOR SYSTEM
This application claims benefit to U.S. provisional application Ser. No. 60/077,507 filed Mar. 11, 1998.
FIELD OF INVENTION
This invention relates generally to a system for locating luggage or other missing items. More particularly, the invention relates to an apparatus and method for identifying the location of a missing piece of luggage including a transmit- 10 ter and receiver which employ electronic circuitry.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
This invention was conceived to solve a common problem experienced by travelers, namely, to have some means for identifying or locating their luggage in a baggage claim area of an airport, bus terminal or the like. Luggage is often confused with similar looking luggage or mistakenly removed from the baggage claim area and moved to another location. It is therefore typical in airports for travelers to 20 have difficulty identifying or finding their luggage.
It is well known to use a miniaturized signal transmitter to activate a battery powered receiver for the purpose of locating a wide range of objects such as automobiles, e.g., 2J U.S. Pat. No. 5,278,556 to Oh, television remote controls, U.S. Pat. No. 5,598,143 to Wentz, U.S. Pat. No. 5,638,050 to Sacca, and U.S. Pat. No. 5,686,891 to Sacca, eyeglasses, U.S. Pat. No. 5,629,677 to Staino, Jr., and other items which are commonly misplaced, U.S. Pat. No. 5,677,673 to Kipnis. 3Q Radio frequency transmitters and receivers which emit both light and sound are also commonly used for purposes of locating lost objects, e.g., U.S. Pat. No. 4,101,873 to Anderson, U.S. Pat. No. 4,476,469 to Lander, and U.S. Pat. No. 5,680,105 to Hedrick. 35
It is also known in the art to apply such radio transmitting technology to luggage. U.S. Pat. No. 5,126,719 to DeSorbo discloses a remotely armed suitcase alarm system. The system comprises a remote transmitter unit and a motion sensitive alarm which is attached to the suitcase and includes 40 a signal receiver unit. U.S. Pat. No. 5,043,702 to Kuo discloses an alarm/security device integrated in the luggage which can be remotely activated to produce a siren and an electric shock. U.S. Pat. No. 5,576,692 to Tompkins discloses an airport luggage tracking system which utilizes a 45 beeper paging device and requires a telephone call through a nationwide paging system to locate the luggage.
The prior art devices attempt to solve the same general problem of locating luggage by a signal-activated receiver or an alarm transmitter attached to the luggage. However, each 50 has a problem in utilization which makes it relatively unattractive to manufacture or use. Some devices incorporate costly timer shutoff or battery power saver circuitry in an attempt to conserve power usage and prolong the use time between battery changes. To attract the user's attention, 55 others require a loud alarm or distinctly audible type of sound, such as a loud continuous beeping, which may be annoying or disturbing to other people in the vicinity. Other devices employ complex triangulation locator circuitry in order to allow a person distant from the object to home in on 60 the object. Still others employ cumbersome encoding circuitry and activation elements to initialize individual devices for a plurality of objects that might be lost.
Accordingly, it is a broad object of this invention to provide an improved locator device for identifying and 65 locating an object which is inexpensive to produce and operates in a manner that allows the user to find the tagged
object easily. In particular, it is desired that costly timer shutoff or battery power saver circuitry, loud annoying sounds, triangulation locator circuitry, or cumbersome encoding elements are avoided.
It is a further object of this invention to provide a small transmitting device activated by the push of a button which signals a receiving device attached to or incorporated into a piece of luggage to send out an easily identifiable audible and/or visible signal.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
In the present invention, these purposes as well as others which will be apparent are achieved generally by providing an inexpensive and easy to use electronic system for locating an object, particularly a piece of luggage, from a remote location.
In accordance with the present invention, an object locator system comprises: a transmitter unit having a casing housing a transmitter circuit therein for outputting an RF signal, and a pushbutton operable externally of the casing and coupled to the transmitter circuit for sending the RF signal only when the pushbutton is pressed; and a receiver unit having a casing provided with attachment means for allowing it to be attached to or incorporated into an object, said casing housing a receiver circuit for receiving the RF signal transmitted by the transmitter unit and outputting an activation signal, and a light illumination element that is illuminated in response to the activation signal, wherein said receiver circuit is operative to output said activation signal only for so long as the RF signal is received from the transmitter unit.
In the preferred embodiment, the light illumination element is a light pipe mounted on the receiver casing and having a length running at least partially around a perimeter of the receiver casing. The casing is formed in two complementary halves, and the light pipe is retained in a recess in the walls of the casing halves. In another embodiment, two light pipes may be employed on opposing sides of the receiver unit.
The transmitter circuit includes a digital oscillator and a means for setting the transmitter circuit to send a unique coded signal, and the receiver circuit includes a digital decoder circuit and a means for setting the receiver circuit to detect the unique coded signal, whereby the receiver unit only responds to the transmitter unit sending the unique coded signal. The unique coded signal may be set in the transmitter and receiver circuits either by the user by means of a dip switch array, or the signal may be preset or electronically coded during manufacture, which enables a broader range of coded signals.
The receiver casing may be formed with an through-hole at a narrowed end, through which a fastener is inserted for attaching the receiver unit to a selected object. Alternatively, the light illumination element and attachment means may be combined in one element or the receiver casing may be incorporated directly into the selected object. The transmitter unit is formed as a small hand held unit about the size of a key ring. The receiver unit includes a sound generator for generating a sound output in response to the activation signal in cases where the object is out of the user's visual field or hidden from view. The invention also encompasses the related method of sending the RF signal and illuminating the light element only for so long as the RF signal is received from the transmitter unit, in order to provide the user direct visual feedback to the user's pushbutton presses that would make it easy to locate the object in a crowded visual field.
DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
FIGS. 1A, IB, and 1C are plan, side, and perspective views of a preferred embodiment of a receiver unit in accordance with the present invention.
FIGS. 2A and 2B illustrate another embodiment of the receiver unit.
FIGS. 3A, 3B and 3C illustrate a further embodiment of the receiver unit incorporated into a piece of luggage.
FIG. 4 illustrates an embodiment of a transmitter unit. 1°
FIG. 5 is a diagram of an example of a transmitter circuit for the transmitter in accordance with the invention.
FIGS. 6A and 6B are diagrams of an example of a receiver circuit for the receiver unit.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE
The object locator system of the present invention is comprised of two units, a transmitter unit that emits an 20 activation signal when a pushbutton is actuated, and a receiver unit that is attached to an object, such as by a chain or loop fastener to the handle of luggage, or incorporated directly into the luggage, which has a light pipe visual indicator that is illuminated in response to receipt of the 25 activation signal. The light pipe provides a flash of illumination each time the user actuates the transmitter, and therefore provides direct visual feedback with each button press by the user. This direct feedback ensures that the user can pick out the light flash in a crowd without the need for 30 a loud alarm or continuous annoying beeping or a triangulation locator device.
Preferably, the light pipe is provided with a length running at least partially around the perimeter of the receiver unit so that it is more visually prominent and can be seen at all 35 angles from the user. The light pipe's length and location may, of course, be altered to present a different market appearance or to allow for different engineering specifications. A digital oscillator circuit with dip switch settings may be used for setting a unique coded signal to be sent by the 40 transmitter, and the receiver circuit may be set in similar fashion with dip switch settings to detect the encoded signal. Alternatively, the transmitter and receiver may be pre-coded with unique signals during manufacture. In these manners, the receiver only responds to its associated transmitter, and 45 each transmitter/receiver pair can be initialized for any one of a plurality of different objects to be located.
In FIGS. 1A, IB, and 1C, the receiver unit 10 is shown having a casing 11 with complementary halves 11a, lib enclosing a circuit board 12 mounting the circuitry for the 50 receiver functions, a battery 13, battery connectors 13a, a light emitting diode (LED) 14 and head reflector 14a, an antenna 15, and a speaker 16 behind a grill 16a. The two halves of the casing are attached by a latch or hold down 17 on one end, and a screw fastener 18 on its opposite end. The 55 screw fastener 18 can be removed to allow access into the casing for setting dip switch settings therein, such as for setting the receiver to detect an encoded signal or to select a sound output type (described further herein). The casing can be made of a hard plastic material, such as LEXAN (TM), 60 and molded with a clamshell or ovoid shape to provide a narrowed end by which it is attached to an object such as the handle of luggage. The casing is formed with an throughhole or aperture 19 at its narrowed end, through which a chain, plastic loop, or other type of secure fastener is 65 inserted for attaching the receiver unit to a piece of luggage or other object.
As a principal feature of the invention, a light illumination element 20 is mounted to or on an external surface of the casing so that it is visible to the user. Preferably, the element is a light pipe which has a length running at least partially around the perimeter of the receiver unit, and most preferably running along three sides of the receiver unit. The light pipe is fabricated as a tubular length of light transmissive plastic having an internal index of refraction which results in light rays at low angles of incidence being reflected down the pipe and light at high angles of incidence being transmitted through the pipe walls as external illumination. The light pipe may have tiny reflective particles or a dispersion of bubbles or other reflective elements embedded therein to promote the even dispersion of light along the length of the pipe. The light pipe 20 is retained in a recess 20a formed by an indentation in the facing walls of the casing halves 11a, lib. A head end 20b of the light pipe 20 is fixed inside the casing 11 facing the LED 14 and reflector 14a, so that light from the LED 14 is directed into and transmitted down the light pipe. Preferred LEDs have a rated life expectancy of approximately 50 hours and a power rating of 3.6-4.0 VDC. To provide greater illumination, multiple LEDS may be used to direct light into the light pipe.
In FIGS. 2A and 2B, another version of the receiver unit has a casing 21 enclosing similar elements as described above for the first embodiment. In this version, the receiver is attached directly to a handle post 22 of a piece of luggage 23 by a threaded post 29 made of light transmissive plastic material as in the light pipe of the first embodiment. The plastic post 29 is insertable through a hole in one flange 24a of the casing 21 and secured by threading into a fastener hole in another flange 24b of the casing. In the secured position, the end of the post 29 is positioned adjacent an LED inside the casing, as described above, for directing light into the post. Thus, the illumination element and fastener to the object are combined in one element.
In FIGS. 3A, 3B and 3C, a further version of the receiver unit has a casing 40 enclosing similar elements as described above for the first embodiment. In this version, the receiver is incorporated directly into a side panel 42 of a piece of luggage 44 during manufacture of the luggage, preferably near the handle 45 of the luggage. The casing 40 is mounted between an inner supporting wall 46 and an outer covering 48 of the top side panel 42 and secured by inserting screws, rivets or the like through the outer covering and into the holes 47 provided in the casing. In this manner, the receiver unit may be incorporated into both hard and soft cover luggage. The casing 40 includes two flanges 52a, 52fc which extend out of opposing sides of the casing and have portions 50a, 50fc made of light transmissive plastic material as in the light pipe of the first embodiment. The flanges 52a, 52fc are adjustable to extend the width of the luggage, such that each light pipe is visible on opposing sides of the luggage. Alternatively, the light pipes 50a, 50fc may be located on a top surface of each flange 52a, 52fc and may extend through apertures cut into the outer covering 48. Each flange 52a, 52fc is positioned adjacent an LED inside the casing, as described above, for directing light into the flange and toward the light pipes 50a, 50fc. Thus, this embodiment may utilize two LEDs. A sound producing device is also mounted in the casing behind a grill 54.
As shown in FIG. 4, the transmitter is a small hand held unit 30 about the size of a key ring which can be easily carried by the owner and/or unobtrusively attached to a variety of objects such as a key ring. The transmitter casing encloses transmitter circuitry, a battery power source, and an antenna, in a similar manner as described for the receiver