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Publication numberUS20050288821 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/210,811
Publication date29 Dec 2005
Filing date25 Aug 2005
Priority date7 Nov 2000
Also published asCA2361096A1, CA2361096C, CA2727878A1, CA2727878C, US7489986
Publication number11210811, 210811, US 2005/0288821 A1, US 2005/288821 A1, US 20050288821 A1, US 20050288821A1, US 2005288821 A1, US 2005288821A1, US-A1-20050288821, US-A1-2005288821, US2005/0288821A1, US2005/288821A1, US20050288821 A1, US20050288821A1, US2005288821 A1, US2005288821A1
InventorsBenoit Laflamme, Michel Authier, Jean-Luc Trahan
Original AssigneeBenoit Laflamme, Michel Authier, Jean-Luc Trahan
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Spa controller computer interface for spas
US 20050288821 A1
Abstract
An apparatus adapted for implementing a user interface module for monitoring or programming a spa is provided. The apparatus includes a communication port adapted for establishing a communication link with the spa controller for receiving a signal conveying status information related to the spa from the spa controller. The apparatus also includes a display module and a processing unit operative for displaying on the display module a visual representation of the status information. A first control is also displayed for enabling user to modify operational settings of the spa. A second control is also displayed for allowing a user to cause the visual representation of the status information to be updated at least in part on the basis of the signal received at said communication port. Alternatively, the processing unit is adapted for generating a spa programming signal conveying spa operational setting and for transmitting the spa programming signal to the spa controller via the communication port.
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Claims(52)
1. An apparatus adapted for implementing a user interface module for monitoring a spa, the spa including a spa controller, said apparatus comprising:
a) a communication port adapted for establishing a communication link with the spa controller for receiving signals conveying status information related to the spa;
b) a display module;
c) a processing unit in communication with said communication port and said display module, said processing unit being operative for:
i. displaying on said display module a visual representation of status information related to the spa;
ii. displaying a first control element for enabling user to modify operational settings of the spa;
iii. displaying a second control element allowing a user to cause the visual representation of status information to be updated on the basis of signals received at said communication port.
2. An apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein said processing unit is responsive to the actuation of said first control element for:
a) generating a spa control signal for causing a modification of an operational setting of the spa;
b) releasing said spa control signal to said communication port for transmission to the spa controller.
3. An apparatus as defined in claim 2, wherein said processing unit is responsive to the actuation of said second control element for causing the visual representation of status information to be updated on the basis of signals received at said communication port.
4. An apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein said operational settings include at least one operational setting selected from the set consisting of a water temperature, a water pump setting and an air blower setting.
5. An apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein said communication link is a wire-line link.
6. An apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein said communication link is a wireless link.
7. An apparatus as defined in claim 6, wherein said wireless link in a RF link.
8. An apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein said communication port is an IR port.
9. An apparatus as defined in claim 1, wherein said apparatus is a portable computing device.
10. An apparatus as defined in claim 9, wherein said portable computing device is a PDA.
11. An apparatus as defined in claim 9, wherein said portable computing device is a cellular phone.
12. A computer readable storage medium storing a program element for monitoring a spa suitable for execution by a computing apparatus, said computing apparatus having a display module and a processor, when executing on said processor said program element implementing:
a) a port for receiving a signal conveying status information related to the spa;
b) a graphical user interface for display on the display module, said graphical user interface including:
i. first information element conveying status information related to a certain operational setting of the spa;
ii. first control element for enabling a user to modify the certain operational setting of the spa;
iii. second control element for enabling a user to cause the first information element to be updated at least in part on the basis of the signal received at said port.
13. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 12, wherein the first information element is displayed in text format.
14. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 12, wherein said first control element includes a selection menu.
15. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 12, wherein said first control element includes a text box editable by a user of the computing apparatus.
16. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 12, wherein the certain operational setting of the spa includes a water temperature of the spa.
17. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 16, wherein said graphical user interface includes a third control element for enabling a user to select a display mode from a set of display modes for displaying said first information element.
18. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 17, wherein said set of display modes includes temperature in Celsius degrees and temperature in Fahrenheit degrees.
19. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 12, wherein said user interface module is adapted for displaying a plurality of first control elements, each first control element of said plurality of first control elements enabling a user to modify a respective operational setting of the spa.
20. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 12, wherein said graphical user interface module is adapted for displaying a plurality of first information elements conveying status information related to respective operational settings of the spa.
21. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 20, wherein said operational settings include at least one operational setting selected from the set consisting of a water temperature, a water pump setting and an air blower setting.
22. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 12, wherein said program element further implements a processing unit responsive to the actuation of the first control for:
a) generating a spa control signal for causing a modification of an operational setting of the spa;
b) releasing said spa control signal to said port for transmission to the spa controller.
23. An apparatus adapted for implementing a user interface module for monitoring a spa said apparatus comprising:
a) a communication port adapted for establishing a communication link for receiving signals conveying error information related to the spa;
b) a display module;
c) a processing unit in communication with said communication port and said display module, said processing unit being operative for displaying on said display module a visual representation of the error information related to a spa.
24. An apparatus as defined in claim 23, wherein said processing unit is operative for:
a) displaying a first control for enabling user to reset the display module such as to remove from display currently displayed error information;
b) displaying a second control allowing a user to cause the visual representation of the error information to be updated at least in part on the basis of the signals received at said communication port.
25. An apparatus as defined in claim 24, wherein said processing unit being operative for:
a) processing the signals conveying error information related to the spa to identify an associated error type from a set of possible error types;
b) maintaining a count of occurrence of each error type in said set of possible error types;
c) displaying the count of occurrence of each error type on said display module.
26. An apparatus as defined in claim 25, wherein said set of possible error types includes a high limit error type.
27. An apparatus as defined in claim 25, wherein said set of possible error types includes at least one error type selected from the set consisting of a high limit error type, a flow open error type, an overheat error type, a freeze error type, a pressure switch stuck open error type, a pressure switch stuck closed error type and a temperature probe problem error type.
28. An apparatus as defined in claim 25, wherein said error information related to a spa includes information associated to an error type.
29. An apparatus as defined in claim 28, wherein said error information related to a spa includes error timing information.
30. An apparatus as defined in claim 24, wherein said communication port is adapted for receiving signals conveying software type information indicative of a software module installed on the spa, said processing unit being operative for displaying on said display module a visual representation of the software type information conveyed by the signals received at said communication port.
31. An apparatus as defined in claim 30, wherein said processing unit is operative for displaying a third control allowing a user to cause a software module update to be released at the communication port for transmission over the communication link.
32. An apparatus as defined in claim 24, wherein said apparatus is a portable computing device.
33. An apparatus as defined in claim 32, wherein said portable computing device is a PDA.
34. An apparatus as defined in claim 32, wherein said portable computing device is a cellular phone.
35. A computer readable storage medium storing a program element for monitoring a spa suitable for execution by a computing apparatus, said computing apparatus having a display module and a processor, when executing on said processor said program element implementing:
a) a port adapted for receiving signals conveying error information related to the spa;
b) a graphical user interface for display on the display module, said graphical user interface including first information element conveying error information related to the spa.
36. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 35, when executing on said processor said program element implementing a processing unit adapted for implementing:
i. first control element for enabling a user to reset the graphical user interface such as to remove currently displayed error information;
ii. second control for enabling a user to cause the visual representation of the error information to be updated at least in part on the basis of the signals received at said port.
37. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 36, when executing on said processor said program element implementing a processing unit adapted for:
a) processing the signals conveying error information related to the spa to identify an associated error type from a set of possible error types;
b) maintaining a count of occurrence of each error type in said set of possible error types;
c) said first information element including the count of occurrence of each error type.
38. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 37, wherein said set of possible error types includes a high limit error type.
39. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 37, wherein said set of possible error types includes at least one error type selected from the set consisting of a high limit error type, a flow error type, an overheat error type, a freeze error type, a pressure switch stuck open error type, a pressure switch stuck closed error type and a temperature probe problem error type.
40. An apparatus adapted for implementing a user interface module for programming a spa, the spa including a spa controller, said apparatus comprising:
a) a display module;
b) a processing unit in communication with said display module, said processing unit being operative for causing a plurality of control elements to be displayed on said display module, said plurality of control elements enabling a user to select a plurality of operational settings associated to the spa, said processing unit being responsive to the actuation of a control element of said plurality of control elements for:
i. generating a spa programming signal conveying a spa operational setting;
ii. releasing said spa programming signal;
c) a communication port adapted for establishing a communication link with the spa controller for transmitting said spa programming signal to the spa controller.
41. An apparatus as defined in claim 40, wherein at least one control element in said plurality of control elements includes a selection menu.
42. An apparatus as defined in claim 40, wherein at least one control element in said plurality of control elements includes a text box editable by a user of the apparatus.
43. A apparatus as defined in claim 40, wherein at least one control element in said plurality of control elements allows the user to provide an electrical current measurement parameter associated to a component of the spa.
44. A computer readable storage medium storing a program element for monitoring a spa suitable for execution by a computing apparatus, said computing apparatus having a display module and a processor, when executing on said processor said program element implementing:
a) a graphical user interface for display on the display module, said graphical user interface including:
i. a plurality of control elements to be displayed on said display module, said plurality of control elements enabling a user to select a plurality of operational settings associated to the spa;
b) a processing unit responsive to the actuation of a control element of said plurality of control elements for:
i. generating a spa programming signal conveying a spa operational setting;
ii. releasing said spa programming signal for transmission to the spa.
45. A control system suitable for use in controlling a spa, said control system comprising:
a) a spa controller;
b) a remote computing device;
c) an interface signal converter adapted to be connected to said spa controller, when connected to said spa controller said interface signal converter establishing a first communication link with said spa controller, said interface signal converter being adapted to establish a second communication link with the remote computing device, said interface signal converter being adapted for receiving status information related to the spa over said first communication link and for transmitting signals conveying said status information over said second communication link;
d) said remote computing device comprising:
i. a communication port adapted for receiving signals conveying status information related to the spa from said interface signal converter over the second communication link;
ii. a display module;
iii. a processing unit in communication with said communication port and said display module, said processing unit being operative for:
1. displaying on said display module a visual representation of the status information;
2. displaying a first control for enabling user to modify operational settings of the spa;
3. displaying a second control allowing a user to cause the visual representation of the status information to be updated at least in part on the basis of the signal received at said communication port.
46. An apparatus adapted for implementing a user interface module for updating a program element in a spa controller, said apparatus comprising:
a) a display module;
b) a processing unit in communication with said display module, said processing unit being operative for:
i. displaying information on said display module conveying a current software program element installed in spa controller;
ii. displaying a user control;
iii. in response to actuation of the user control, releasing a spa programming signal including of a software update module associated with the current software program element;
c) a communication port adapted for establishing a communication link with the spa controller for transmitting said spa programming signal to the spa controller for causing the current software program element to be updated by said software update module.
47. An apparatus as defined in claim 46, wherein said apparatus is a portable computing device.
48. An apparatus as defined in claim 47, wherein said portable computing device is a PDA.
49. An apparatus as defined in claim 47, wherein said portable computing device is a cellular phone.
50. A computer readable storage medium storing at set of instructions for updating a program element in a spa controller suitable, said set of instructions being suitable for execution by a computing apparatus having a display module and a processor in communication with the display module, when executing on the processor said set of instructions being operative for:
i. causing information to be displayed on said display module, the information conveying a current software program element installed in the spa controller;
ii. causing a user control to be displayed on said display module;
iii. in response to actuation of the user control, releasing a spa programming signal including of a software update module associated with the current software program element;
iv. establishing a communication link with the spa controller for transmitting said spa programming signal to the spa controller for causing the current software program element to be updated by said software update module.
51. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 50, wherein said set of instructions being suitable for execution by a PDA.
52. A computer readable storage medium as defined in claim 50, wherein said set of instructions being suitable for execution by a cellular phone.
Description
    CROSS-REFERENCED TO RELATED APPLICATION
  • [0001]
    The present application is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/709,787 filed Nov. 7, 2000 and presently pending. The contents of the above applications are incorporated herein by reference.
  • FIELD OF THE INVENTION
  • [0002]
    The present invention relates to spas, and in particular to devices for controlling spas.
  • BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • [0003]
    A spa (also commonly known as a “hot tub”) is a therapeutic bath in which all or part of a person's body is exposed to hot water, usually with forceful whirling currents. When located indoors and equipped with fill and drain features like a bathtub, the spa is typically referred to as a “whirlpool bath”. Typically, the spa's hot water is generated when water contacts a heating element in a water circulating heating pipe system.
  • [0004]
    FIG. 1 shows prior art hot tub spa 1. Spa controller 52 is programmed to control the spa's components, such as the spa's water pumps 1P and 2P, air blower 3, ozonator 7, stereo 1A, and light 1L. In normal operation, water is pumped by water pump 1P through heater 5A where it is heated by heating element 5B. The heated water then leaves heater 5A and enters spa tub 2 through jets 11. Water leaves spa tub 2 through drains 13 and the cycle is repeated.
  • [0005]
    A user of the spa can control the spa's components by pressing keys on keypad 8. Also, when an error occurs (such as a failure of water pump 2P), the source of the error is displayed on monitor 9. Currently, the spa user can only operate the spa only from within the spa or next to the spa by manipulating keypad 8. Also, currently, if there is a problem with the spa, a service technician or repairman must go to the location of the spa in order to troubleshoot and conduct repairs. The service technician needs to physically inspect the spa and its components and monitor 9.
  • The Internet
  • [0006]
    The Internet is a large network of interconnected computers that is sometimes referred to as a Wide Area Network (WAN). Initially developed by the Unites States Defense Department, it has expanded worldwide to a great variety of uses. A significant percentage of the population in the United States and in many other countries currently has access to the Internet and its use is growing rapidly.
  • [0007]
    The Internet is used to advertise products. Many companies have WEB sites and encourage potential customers to “visit” these pages. Creation of WEB sites is a well-developed Internet business with a great many people and organizations offering to create WEB sites. In addition, many books are available at almost all large book stores providing instructions for individuals to create their own WEB sites. One such book is Build Your Own Web Site by Louis Kahn and Laura Logan, published by Microsoft Press with offices in Redmond, Wash. Most WEB sites are static, i.e. there is no interaction between the user and the WEB site. However, there are many well known techniques that permit the WEB site to be made active as discussed at page 144-153 of the Kahn and Logan reference. These techniques permit an Internet server to change WEB pages as often as desired and they permit users to communicate with a processor associated with the WEB site.
  • [0008]
    The technology also exists to establish a Local Area Network (LAN). A LAN is a network of interconnected workstations sharing the resources of a single processor or server within a relatively small geographic area. Typically, this might be within the area of a small office building. A suite of application programs can be kept on the LAN server. Users who frequently need an application can download it once and then run it from their local hard disk.
  • [0009]
    An Intranet is a network connecting an affiliated set of users (usually limited to a specific community of interest) using standard Internet protocols, esp. TCP/IP and HTTP. Intranets, also known as internal Webs, are only logically “internal” to an organization. Physically they can span the globe, as long as access is limited to the defined community of interest. To draw a comparison, the World Wide Web comprises all HTTP nodes on the public Internet. An internal web may comprise all HTTP nodes on a private network, such as an organization's LAN or WAN. If the organization is a corporation, the internal web is also a corporate web.
  • [0010]
    What is needed is a better device for controlling and monitoring spas.
  • SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • [0011]
    The present invention provides a remotely controlled and monitored spa. An interface signal converter is electrically connected to a spa controller. A remote computer can control the spa and monitor the status of the spa via a communications link between the remote computer and the signal converter. The signal converter converts communications signals transferred from the remote computer via the communications link and directs the converted signals to the spa controller. Also, the signal converter converts signals from the spa controller to be communicated to the remote computer via the communications link. In a preferred embodiment, the signal converter comprises an IR and an RS485 transceiver. In a preferred embodiment, the communications link is the Internet.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • [0012]
    FIG. 1 shows a prior art spa.
  • [0013]
    FIG. 2 shows a preferred embodiment of the present invention.
  • [0014]
    FIGS. 3A and 3B show other preferred embodiments of the present invention.
  • [0015]
    FIG. 4 shows a preferred signal converter.
  • [0016]
    FIG. 5A shows another preferred embodiment of the present invention.
  • [0017]
    FIG. 5B shows another preferred embodiment of the present invention.
  • [0018]
    FIG. 6 shows a preferred owner page.
  • [0019]
    FIG. 7 shows another preferred embodiment of the present invention.
  • [0020]
    FIG. 8 shows another preferred embodiment of the present invention.
  • [0021]
    FIGS. 9 and 10 show other preferred embodiments of the present invention.
  • [0022]
    FIG. 11 shows a preferred spa manufacturer page.
  • [0023]
    FIG. 12 shows a preferred spa controller manufacturer page.
  • [0024]
    FIG. 13 shows another preferred embodiment of the present invention.
  • [0025]
    FIG. 14 shows another preferred embodiment of the present invention.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
  • [0026]
    FIG. 2 shows a preferred embodiment of the present invention. Signal converter 50 is connected to spa controller 53. This allows commands and data to be sent to spa controller 50 from remote computer 200 and commands and data from spa controller 53 to be transferred to remote computer 200. Remote computer 200 may be connected to signal converter 50 via a wire or through wireless technology, (i.e., RF signal, IR signal or laser communication). Signal converter 50 converts the incoming signal to a protocol that is understood by the CPU of spa controller 53. In a preferred embodiment, the signal is converted to 12C. 12C is short for Inter-IC, a type of bus designed in the early 1980's, which is used to connect integrated circuits (ICs). 12C is a multi-master bus, which means that multiple chips can be connected to the same bus and each one can act as a master by initiating a data transfer.
  • Interface Signal Converter
  • [0027]
    As shown in FIG. 3B, signal converter 50 can be used to connect user computer 51 or portable user computer 52 to spa controller 53 so that spa components can be remotely monitored and controlled. In a preferred embodiment, user computer 52 is a laptop computer. In another preferred embodiment, user computer 52 is a personal digital assistant (PDA). PDA's are portable computers that are usually smaller in size and less expensive than a normal laptop computer. A preferred PDA is a Palm Pilot. In a preferred embodiment, signal converter 50 is sold as a separate item that can be inserted as needed into spa controller 53, as shown in FIG. 3A.
  • [0028]
    The basic function of signal converter 50 is to translate and route all signals from user computer 51 or portable user computer 52 to a signal that is usable with spa controller 53. In a preferred embodiment, an RS485 signal is transmitted from user computer 51 and an infrared (IR) signal is transmitted from portable user computer 52. Signal converter 50 is capable of converting both signals to 12C for utilization with spa controller 53. Likewise, in the preferred embodiment, 12C signals coming from spa controller 53 can be converted by signal converter 50 to an RS-485 signal that can be used by user computer 51 or an IR signal that can be used by portable user computer 52.
  • Infrared Interface
  • [0029]
    As shown in FIG. 4, signal converter 50 receives an IR signal at IR transceiver 60. Modulator 62 then demodulates the signal. The digital signal leaving modulator 62 is then routed to buffer/multiplexer 64, then to CPU 70, and then to spa controller 53 on the 12C link.
  • [0030]
    Likewise, in transmission a 12C signal is received at CPU 70 from spa controller 53. The digital signal is modulated at modulator 62. The modulated signal is then transmitted as IR light by IR transceiver 60.
  • RS485 Interface
  • [0031]
    The RS485 interface is used to serially transmit or receive signals through wire connectivity.
  • [0032]
    In a preferred embodiment, this interface is used with a personal computer, such as user computer 51 as shown in FIG. 3B. Since the RS485 signal from user computer 51 travels via wire, user computer 51 can be located much further away from signal converter 50 than can portable computer 52, which utilizes an IR interface.
  • [0033]
    An RS485 differential serial signal is received by RS-485 transceiver 72 and converted to digital. The signal is then routed to buffer/multiplexer 74, then to CPU 70.
  • [0034]
    In transmission, a digital signal leaves CPU 70 and is converted to a differential RS-485 serial signal by RS-485 transceiver 72. This signal can then be used over long distances depending on the quality of wire connecting to user computer 51.
  • Buffer/Multiplexer
  • [0035]
    Since the preferred CPU 70 has only one UART 76 (UART 76 is a serial transmitter/receiver), the received signals coming into UART 76 must be multiplexed to avoid data “collisions” from each source. This is achieved by buffer/multiplexers 64 and 74, which are under the control of CPU 70. The CPU decides which “channel” it wants to listen to by selecting the proper lines 74A or 64A off the buffers 74 and 64.
  • CPU
  • [0036]
    As stated above, CPU 70 controls what input source it listens to (RS-485 or IR) and it transmits the received data to spa controller 53 as a 12C signal over the 12C link. In a preferred embodiment CPU 70 is an 8 bits CMOS flash microcontroller, part no. PIC16F876 manufactured by Microchip Technology, Inc. with offices in Chandler, Ariz.
  • [0037]
    To decide which source to listen to (i.e., RS-485 or IR), CPU 70 disables both buffers 74 and 64. It then listens to serial lines 78 and 80 on ports R84 and R85. As soon as a signal is detected on one or the other of serial lines 78 or 80, CPU 70 transmits a corresponding signal 82 or 84 to enable either buffer 74 or buffer 64, respectively. Once the appropriate buffer has been enabled, the signal is then allowed to flow to UART 76.
  • [0038]
    Once the signal is received at CPU 70, CPU 70 translates it to 12C and sends it over the 12C link in spa controller 53. Whatever command that was coded into the original message can then be carried out by spa controller 53. For example, a command might be to start a water pump or increase the temperature of the spa
  • [0039]
    In a similar fashion, CPU 70 can receive serial data from spa controller 53 and transmit it over the serial IR or RS485 links. In this case, serial data is routed to both IR transceiver 60 and RS-485 transceiver 72, but only one will actually transmit, depending on the states of the RS-485 enabling line 86 and IR enabling line 88. RS485 enabling line 86 and IR enabling line 88 allow the user to choose whether data is transmitted over IR or RS-485.
  • Programmability of Remote Computer
  • [0040]
    As shown in FIG. 2, in a preferred embodiment remote computer 200 is capable of being programmed to meet the needs of the entity that is operating remote computer 200. In the case of the present invention, some of the different entities that could potentially operate remote computer 200 are the spa owner, the dealer that sold the spa, a service technician servicing the spa, the spa manufacturer, and the manufacturer of the spa controller for the spa.
  • Spa Owner
  • [0041]
    A preferred method by which a spa owner can utilize the present invention is illustrated by FIG. 5A. the spa owner can connect his personal home computer (first owner computer 101) to signal converter 50 via an RS485 wire connection. He can then control the spa remotely from first owner computer 101. In the preferred embodiment, first owner computer 101 is programmed to include an owner page (which appears on the screen of first owner computer 101) that enables the spa owner to interpret data transmitted to it from spa controller 53 via the RS-485 line and transmit commands back to spa controller 53.
  • [0042]
    A preferred owner page is shown in FIG. 6. For example, some of the commands illustrated by FIG. 2 show that the owner has indicated that he wants water pump 1P (FIG. 1) to be “on” at high speed. He wants water pump 2 to be “off”. He wants air blower 3 “on” at medium speed. He wants the spa temperature to be 102 F. He wants water pumps and air blower 3 to run for slightly over 40 minutes before they automatically turn off. Data indications displayed on the owner page indicate that the current spa tub temperature is 98 F. Heating element 5 is off. The error on display is that the pressure switch is open. There is a low danger of plumbing freeze. The information is updated by clicking on update info button 110.
  • [0043]
    The owner page shown in FIG. 6 is just one preferred embodiment. Those of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that it is possible to reprogram the owner page to transmit a variety of different commands as well as monitor a variety of different spa conditions.
  • Spa Owner Controlling the Spa from a Remote Location via the Internet
  • [0044]
    FIG. 5A shows a preferred embodiment in which the spa owner can log on to the Internet via first owner computer 101. He can then travel to another location and log onto the Internet via second owner computer 102. As with first owner computer 101, second owner computer 102 is also programmed to receive spa data and transmit commands for spa controller 53.
  • [0045]
    As an example of a practical application of this embodiment can be found by the scenario in which the spa owner is heading home from his office that is approximately a 30 minute drive away. Before he leaves the office, the spa owner can log onto the Internet and go to the web site stored at server computer 201. He will then see an owner page similar to the one shown in FIG. 6. He will then upload his commands to server computer 201 to start the water pumps 1P and 2P, air blower 3 and heat the spa to 102 F. His commands will then be downloaded from server computer 201 via the Internet to first owner computer 101. Then, they will travel from first owner computer 101 to signal converter 50 via the RS485 line. Inside signal converter 50, the commands will be converted to a 12C protocol for spa controller 53 usage.
  • Spa Dealer
  • [0046]
    A spa dealer is the entity that sells the spa to the spa owner. Utilizing the present invention, the spa dealer can continue to monitor the condition of the spa and provide technical support for the spa after the spa is sold to the spa owner.
  • [0047]
    A preferred embodiment is shown in FIG. 7. In FIG. 7, a first dealer has sold a spa to an owner who has owner computer C1 and has sold a spa to an owner who has owner computer C2. A second dealer has sold a spa to an owner who has owner computer C3. After the spa owners have purchased their spas, they configure their computers so that they can remotely monitor and control their spas, as explained above under the heading “Spa Owner”.
  • [0048]
    In the preferred embodiment, owner computers C1-C3 are programmed to transmit data via the Internet. First dealer computer D1 is programmed to receive data from the spas that the first dealer sold. Therefore, owner computer C1 and owner computer C2 will transmit spa data that will be monitored by first dealer computer D1. Likewise owner computer C3 will transmit spa data that will be monitored by second dealer computer D2.
  • [0049]
    In a preferred embodiment, owner computers C1-C3 are always logged onto the Internet, via either a cable modem or a DSL connection. Automatically per a given time period (for example, once every hour) owner computers C1-C3 are programmed to retrieve from their spa controllers data reporting the status of the spa. Then, this data is automatically transmitted via the Internet to the dealer that sold the spa owner his spa. In this fashion, the dealer is able to continuously monitor the condition of the spa.
  • [0050]
    A preferred dealer screen is shown in FIG. 8. In block 150, the dealer can monitor the number of times an error has occurred. In block 151, the dealer can monitor when an error has occurred. The dealer can reset the error log by clicking on button 156. In block 152, the dealer can monitor the current software installed in spa controller 53. If there is a software update, the dealer can download this info by clicking on button 153. The dealer can also monitor the number of times the spa has been reset in box 154 and the number of hours since the spa's last service in box 155.
  • [0051]
    By monitoring the condition of the spa and the number of times an error may have occurred, the dealer can alert the owner to a problem even before the owner knows about it. Or, if the owner contacts the dealer with a problem, the dealer has access to valuable data that he could use to troubleshoot the problem. Utilizing this embodiment, the dealer may be able to tell the owner how to correct a problem without having to send a service technician to the owner's location.
  • [0052]
    The dealer page shown in FIG. 3 is just one embodiment. Those of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that it is possible to reprogram the dealer page to transmit a variety of different commands as well as monitor a variety of different spa conditions.
  • Service Technician
  • [0053]
    In another preferred embodiment, a service technician can utilize the present invention to more effectively troubleshoot and repair a spa. This preferred embodiment is described by reference to FIGS. 3A and 3B. In this preferred embodiment, the spa owner has purchased a spa with spa controller 53; however, he opted to not purchase signal converter 50. To help troubleshoot and repair the spa, a service technician can bring with him portable user computer 52 with IR transceiver 52A and signal converter 50. As shown in FIG. 3A, the service technician first inserts signal converter 50 into spa controller 53. In a preferred embodiment, interface signal converter 50 fits snugly into an easily accessible cavity in spa controller 53. Then, utilizing IR transceiver 52A with portable user computer 52, the service technician is able to download from spa controller 53 to portable user computer 52 data that includes a record of errors that may have occurred during the operational life of the spa, as shown in FIG. 3B. Portable user computer 52 is programmed to display this data in a format useful to the service technician. A preferred display is similar to the dealer display discussed above and shown in FIG. 8. By analysis of this data, the service technician will be able to more effectively determine the required solution to repair the spa.
  • The Spa Manufacturer
  • [0054]
    In another preferred embodiment of the present invention, the spa manufacturer can utilize the present invention to configure the spa controller and the spa's components prior to the spa being transferred to the dealer. The user may later change some of these parameters, if he so desires. As shown in FIG. 9, spa manufacturer computer 160 is connected via the RS-485 line to signal converter 50, which is connected to spa controller 53. In the preferred embodiment, the spa components are installed and connected to spa controller 53. Spa manufacturer component 160 is programmed to be able to transmit commands to and receive data from spa controller 53. A preferred spa manufacturer screen is shown in FIG. 11. For example, as shown in FIG. 11, the spa manufacturer has configured water pump 1P to operate at “2-Speed” and has set it to operate at 6 amps for low speed and 11 amps for high speed. The spa manufacturer has configured air blower 3 (FIG. 1) to operate at “3-Speed” and at 6 amps. The heater element is set at 23 amps.
  • [0055]
    The spa manufacturer page shown in FIG. 11 is just one embodiment. Those of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that it is possible to reprogram the spa manufacturer page to transmit a variety of different commands as well as monitor a variety of different spa conditions.
  • The Manufacturer of the Spa Controller
  • [0056]
    The spa controller is a very important part of the spa. Its CPU is used to control the other components of the spa, such as the water pumps, the air blower and the heater. For safety considerations, the manufacturer of the spa controller may want to set parameters in spa controller 53 that cannot be modified by the other entities interfacing with the spa (i.e., spa manufacturer, spa dealer, service technician and spa owner).
  • [0057]
    FIG. 10 shows an embodiment wherein manufacturer of spa controller computer 165 is connected utilizing the present invention to spa controller 53. FIG. 12 shows a preferred spa controller manufacturer page. Here the spa controller manufacturer has set the minimum temperature inside the spa tub at 59 F. Any temperature lower than this could result in damage to spa's plumbing as a result of freezing because a temperature of lower than 59 F. at temperature sensor 12 (FIG. 2) is a strong indication that the water in the spa's plumbing is near the freezing point. He has set the maximum temperature inside the spa at 104 F. in accordance with industry regulations. Also, he has set the regulation temperature threshold at 112 F. Also, the manufacturer of the spa controller has indicated which keys on the keypad and IR remote are to control each spa component. For example, key #1 is set to control water pump 1P.
  • [0058]
    The manufacturer of the spa controller page shown in FIG. 12 is just one embodiment. Those of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that it is possible to reprogram the manufacturer of the spa controller page to transmit a variety of different commands as well as monitor a variety of different spa conditions.
  • [0059]
    Although the above-preferred embodiments have been described with specificity, persons skilled in this art will recognize that many changes to the specific embodiments disclosed above could be made without departing from the spirit of the invention. Although the above preferred embodiments are discussed utilizing an RS-485 interface signal converter for communicating between spa controller 53 and remote computers, one of ordinary skill in the art would recognize that other electronic data interface signal converters could be used (such a, RS-232, RS-422 and RS-423, X10, Echelon, CEBus, Bluetooth and other protocol RF). Also, although the above embodiments discussed signal converter 50 used in conjunction with IR signals, it could be configured to work with other means of wireless communication signals, such as RF and laser. Also, one of ordinary skill in the art would recognize that it would be possible to configure signal converter 50 to convert three or more signals. For example, signal converter 50 could be configured to convert RS-485, IR and RF to 12C for utilization by spa controller 53. Also, although the above preferred embodiments showed signal converter 50 as a separate attachment to spa controller 53, it would be possible to sell spa controller 53 with signal converter 50 rigidly attached to it as one unit. Although preferred embodiments discussed utilizing the present invention in conjunction with the Internet, it would also be possible to utilize the present invention in conjunction with another computer network, such as a LAN or an Intranet. Although the above embodiments were discussed showing spa controller 53 utilizing a 12C link, the present invention would work with other types of spa controllers configured to operate utilizing links other than 12C links. Some other possible links are SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface) and UART or parallel interface links. In these embodiments the signal converter would need to be able to transfer communication signals from the remote computer to a signal utilized by the spa controller's link and the signals utilized by the spa controller's link to communication signals directed towards the remote computer. Also, although FIG. 5A shows second owner computer 102 connected to a first owner compute 101 via the Internet, it would also be possible to configure interface signal converter 50 to be able to receive communication signals directly from remote owner computer 103 via the Internet, as shown in FIG. 5B. One of ordinary skill in the art would recognize that it is possible to configure the spa so that dedicated remote spa computer 300 (FIG. 13) is located adjacent to the spa. In a preferred embodiment, spa computer 300 would be located underneath the spa skirt. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 13, spa computer 300 is connected to owner computer 301 via a LAN. Owner computer 301 is then connected to the Internet. FIG. 14 shows another preferred embodiment in which spa computer 300 is connected directly to the Internet. In addition to sending commands and receiving data from spa controller 53, spa computer 300 could be used to log onto the Internet, send email, and supply audio and video functionality.
  • [0060]
    Also one of ordinary skill in the art would recognize that there are other types of portable remote computers that could be used with the present invention other than laptop computers and PDA's. For example, a cellular phone could be used as the remote computer to send commands and receive data from spa controller 53. Therefore, the attached claims and their legal equivalents should determine the scope of the invention.
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Classifications
U.S. Classification700/275
International ClassificationG01M3/00, G05B19/18, G05D9/00, A61H33/00, G05B15/00, G05D11/00, G06F19/00, G01M1/38, G05D7/00, G05B15/02
Cooperative ClassificationA61H33/005, A61H2201/501, A61H33/0087, G05B15/02, A61H2201/5012, A61H2201/5015, A61H2033/0079
European ClassificationA61H33/00N, G05B15/02
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
22 Feb 2007ASAssignment
Owner name: GECKO ALLIANCE GROUP INC., CANADA
Free format text: MERGER;ASSIGNORS:GECKO ELECTRONIQUE INC.;9092-4523 QUEBEC INC.;9092-4135 QUEBEC INC.;AND OTHERS;REEL/FRAME:018951/0164
Effective date: 20061221