|Publication number||US20060096303 A1|
|Application number||US 10/986,397|
|Publication date||11 May 2006|
|Filing date||10 Nov 2004|
|Priority date||10 Nov 2004|
|Publication number||10986397, 986397, US 2006/0096303 A1, US 2006/096303 A1, US 20060096303 A1, US 20060096303A1, US 2006096303 A1, US 2006096303A1, US-A1-20060096303, US-A1-2006096303, US2006/0096303A1, US2006/096303A1, US20060096303 A1, US20060096303A1, US2006096303 A1, US2006096303A1|
|Original Assignee||Kavounas Gregory T|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (7), Referenced by (52), Classifications (11)|
|External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet|
1. Field of the Invention
The present document is related to the field of home refrigerators, and more specifically to energy saving devices and methods for assisting in deciding which food to take by viewing the interior of the home refrigerator without opening the door.
2. Description of the Related Art
Home refrigerators, including freezers, are used for preserving foods by keeping them cool. A refrigerator includes a machine that cools the air in its interior. In general the machine works until the air in the interior is cooled down to a set low temperature. Then the machine stops, and the air temperature slowly rises again. When it has risen above a set temperature, the machine starts again.
The machine works by drawing electricity from a home wall outlet. Accordingly, its operation contributes to the energy cost that a consumer has to pay for.
Every time the refrigerator door is opened, cold air pours out, because it is heavier than the warmer air at the usual ambient temperature of a home. The cold air is replaced in the interior by the warmer air in the room. This increases the average air temperature inside the refrigerator enclosure, and the cooling machine has to work again to reduce it.
Opening the refrigerator door is necessary to move food in and out of the refrigerator, and therefore that loss is unavoidable. A larger problem, however, is that the refrigerator door is often kept open for longer times, and that is in mere contemplation of what food to remove. This unnecessarily increases the consumer's energy cost. The larger problem is now described in more detail.
While doors 105, 108 are closed, a user is prevented from seeing the interior. In a number of instances, a user might not even know what foods are in the interior, and thus be able to make a decision as to what food to remove.
The present document describes how some of the problems and limitations of the prior art can be overcome. In one embodiment, a home refrigerator system includes an enclosure that defines an interior for storing food, a machine for cooling the interior, a door usable for accessing the interior, and a camera for imaging the interior while the door is shut. The camera generates a signal encoding the image of the interior, and the signal is suitable for inputting in a screen.
This way, a person can view on a screen a generated image of the refrigerator interior, and make their decision, while the door remains closed. If they want nothing from the refrigerator, they need not open the door at all. If they want something, then they need to open the refrigerator door only for the short time it takes to remove the desired item.
An advantage is that no cold air pours out from the refrigerator, while the person is making their decision. This way, the cooling machine needs to operate for less time, which saves on the consumer's energy cost.
These and other features and advantages will become more readily apparent from the following Detailed Description, which proceeds with reference to the drawings, in which:
As has been mentioned, the present document describes home refrigerator systems that image their interior, and methods. As will be appreciated from the below, the teachings of this document may be practiced either by retrofitting a prior art refrigerator, or by manufacturing it anew according to this description. The description is now provided in more detail.
In the example of
The refrigerator system of
In the example of
The refrigerator system of
The refrigerator system of
Camera 252 is preferably aimed at interior compartment 203, and arranged to image as much as possible of it. In the embodiment of
The components of camera 252 may be configured in a number of ways. In one embodiment, camera 252 is disposed wholly in interior compartment 203. In other embodiments, some of its components are distributed, with at least one of them outside interior compartment 203.
Camera 252 is coupled with enclosure 202 in a number of ways. Coupling may be either fixed or removable. In one embodiment, at least one component of camera 252 is mounted on door 205, as also shown in
Camera 252 is made preferably as a digital camera, still or video. Being digital, it has an array of sensors at its focal plane for forming an electronic image of the interior. The sensors, if implemented using Charged Coupled Device (CCD) technology, usually work better when the ambient temperature is not too high. They are therefore bound to work well in interior compartment 203 that is cooled.
In an optional embodiment, the refrigerator system of
The signal may be transferred along conductor 282 according to the direction of an arrow 284. Conductor 282 may be coupled to a screen 286, located outside the interior. As will be also understood from the below, screen 286 may, but need not be a part of a refrigerator system according to the invention.
Upon receiving the signal, screen 286 is suitable for displaying the imaged interior. A user can thus view an image of items 223, 224, without opening door 205, and decide whether they want any of them.
Camera 252 is adapted to image food items 223, 224 in interior compartment 203. In one embodiment, camera 252 operates in the dark, with its sensors working in the infrared. This is not preferred, however, for at least two reasons. First, being from the infrared, any generated image will seem unnatural to the human eye. Second, since food items 223, 224 will probably be at about the same temperature, and since infrared imaging is temperature dependent, there may not be enough differentiation between food items 223 and 224 to form a useful image. If the image is not useful, then, when the door is opened, items 223, 224 would seem different, and the decision process may start again anew.
In the preferred embodiment, a light source 372 is provided according to the invention, such as a light bulb. Light source 372 illuminates interior compartment 203, while camera 252 images interior compartment 203.
In one optional embodiment, a light bulb already located inside interior compartment 203 according to the prior art is advantageously used to also assist in imaging. While that light bulb is turned on automatically upon opening door 205, light source 372 can then also be turned on when door 205 is shut, and imaging is performed.
Camera 252 may be arranged so that its field of view avoids a light source, if one is provided, such as light source 372. This way, such a light source is prevented from dominating the image and saturating the sensors of the focal plane array. One way of accomplishing that is to locate light source 372 behind camera 252. In one embodiment, light source 372 is provided along with camera 252. Additionally, if light source 372 is provided close to camera 252, shadows will further be minimized. In other embodiments, more than one light sources may be used to minimize shadows, but it will be harder to keep them all out of the field of view of camera 252.
By way of operation, light source 372 transmits a light beam 371 towards items 223, 224. Items 223, 224 thus reflect respective light beams 373, 374 towards camera 252. Camera 252 receives reflected light beams 373, 374, and thus generates a signal encoding an image of items 223, 224.
The generated signal propagates along conductor 282 towards screen 286. Screen 286 receives the signal, and displays the image. Not all actual components are shown here—for example screen 286 is preferably associated with a screen driver, and so on.
It should be noted that screen 286, along with a portion of conductor 282 may or may not be part of system 300. In some embodiments, all components are on board the refrigerator, while in others they are distributed. In yet others, the signal can produce an image on a selected one of different screens.
The invention further optionally includes an imaging switch 359. In some embodiments switch 359 is part of system 300, while in others it is not. Switch 359 may be advantageously implemented also in conjunction with other switches, mechanical, electrical or implemented in software, and also with a switch that controls light source 372 both when the door opens and also for imaging.
Switch 359 activates camera 252 for imaging, when the refrigerator door is shut. In some embodiments, actuating imaging switch 362 activates concurrently both camera 252 and light source 372, if the latter is provided. In some embodiments, activation continues for a period of time, such as a few seconds, after imaging switch 362 is no longer actuated.
In the embodiment of
In another optional embodiment, imaging switch 359 is adapted to be actuated by an electrical signal, wired or wireless. Such an actuating electrical signal may be received, for example, by a home computer network such as is described later in this document.
In addition, switch 359 may control receipt of electrical power by the components of system 300, and so on. It is most advantageous to supply electrical power to these components power from a wall outlet.
System 300 also preferably includes a controller 358, which may be implemented either by itself, or in conjunction with another controller of refrigerator 200. Controller 358 may be implemented as a microprocessor, or in conjunction with software, and controls operation of the components of system 300. Additional components may be included, such as a memory for storing a program to control controller 358, and to store data, such as acquired images.
In an optional embodiment, at least the last the generated image is stored in the memory. In a further optional embodiment, a SAME flag is set, upon storing the last image. The SAME flag refers to whether the image is likely to have changed, and may be stored in hardware or in software. The image is not likely to have changed if the door is not opened. Accordingly, the SAME flag may be unset if the door is subsequently opened. According to this embodiment, no new image is generated if the switch is actuated and the SAME flag is set. Indeed, the same image may be returned to the user who actuates switch 359, further conserving energy.
In the example of
Refrigerator system 400 also includes a screen 486, which is provided on a base 485. In the example of
Screen 486 is suited for viewing the imaged interior of refrigerator 400 from the outside. Screen 486 receives a signal with the image of the interior from a camera (not shown in
In an optional embodiment, base 485 and screen 486 are also adapted to display television images (“TV”). Indeed, a company by the name LG Electronics headquartered in Seoul, Korea manufactures and sells refrigerators with a flat screen on a door that is adapted to show TV. Such a screen could be adapted to also display an image of the interior of the refrigerator.
In addition, pushbutton 462, and controls 463, 464 are further provided on base 485 to control operation of screen 486 and the imaging process. If the invention is embodied with a screen that can also show TV, then pushbutton 462, and controls 463, 464 are used to control which image will be displayed by screen 486.
Pushbutton 462 and controls 463, 464 are preferably implemented to work with an imaging switch, such as was described with imaging switch 359 in
In general, when the doors of a refrigerator are closed, the user does not know what items are in it, except by memory. And memory is not accurate guide, when the refrigerator is accessed by more than one people in a household independently of each other. The invention, however, enables knowing without opening the door.
Pushbutton 462 is first pushed according to direction of arrow 419. This causes an image 418 of the interior of refrigerator 400 to appear on screen 486.
Image 418 is then viewed according to arrow 420, and contemplated according to a cloud 425. This takes place while a decision is being reached, without needing to open door 405.
Doors 505, 508 are shown opened. Refrigerator system 500 includes a camera 552 mounted on door 505, and a camera 553 mounted in interior compartment 503. Refrigerator system 500 also includes a camera 592 mounted on door 508, and a camera 593 mounted in interior compartment 504. Refrigerator system 500 further includes a light source 557 mounted in interior compartment 503, and a light source 597 mounted in interior compartment 504.
The multiple cameras 552, 553, 592, 593 may be operated by multiple controls, such as pushbutton 462 and controls 463, 464 shown in
The described home refrigerator systems may optionally have additional features. For example, imaging can be associated with controllable temporary locking. Activating the display can unlock the door after a while, such as a few seconds. This way, children may be trained to look first, without opening the door. Of course, the locking feature can be deactivated when not desired.
Another optional feature may have to do with recording images. The refrigerator may have a recording feature, which may be optionally activated and deactivated. Opening one of the doors can cause imaging, and also initiate recording of the generated images. This type of door-activated imaging need not cause displaying the interior, which can be viewed anyway since the door is open. Closing the door would discontinue imaging and recording.
The images can be stored in a memory, such as one associated with controller 358, and can even be password protected. A playback feature can be used to track recent activity. A clock can further be used to date stamp and time stamp images, and make playback more informative. For such increased functionalities, controls 463, 464 may also include a keypad.
In another embodiment, a home network connection can be additionally included, for guiding the image to a screen. This way the contents of the home refrigerator system may be checked remotely. The connection may include a wireless segment, as will be described in the example below.
Controller 658 can be coupled to network 670 by a connection 682. Network 670 can be coupled to a home desktop computer 685 by a connection 683. One or more of connections 682, 683 may be wireless. A connection is thus formed between controller 658 and computer 685, and is considered to have segments 682, 683.
Computer 685 includes an interface for generating a command signal 674 that encodes a viewing command. Signal 674 is transmitted along connection 683. Network 670 routes command signal 674 along connection 682 to controller 658. Controller 658 thus receives command signal 674 and generates a signal 684 encoding an image of the interior of the refrigerator. The image is generated by actuating one or more cameras, and also optionally a light source, as described above. Signal 684 is transmitted along connection 682. Network 670 routes signal 684 along connection 683 back to computer 685. Computer 685 then displays image 618 that is encoded in signal 684 on a screen 686.
In addition, network 670 may be coupled to a global network such as the internet, and also to any number of other devices, such as personal digital assistants (PDAs), and so on. This enables a shopper to make an updated check of the contents of the home refrigerator, while they are physically in a store shopping for food items.
In yet another optional embodiment, a home refrigerator system additionally includes a mirror to assist in the imaging. An example is described below.
Refrigerator system 700 includes a camera 752 mounted on door 705, and a screen 768 for imaging what is viewed by camera 752. A pushbutton 762 activates imaging. A light source 757 is also turned on in interior compartment 703, to assist in imaging as described above.
A mirror 777 is additionally attached to an inside wall of interior compartment 703, such as the back wall opposite camera 752. Mirror 777 assists camera 752 in imaging food items 723, 724, such as by showing aspects outside the direct field of view of camera 752.
Mirror 777 may be a regular mirror, reflecting uniformly from its entire surface. In other embodiments, the surface of mirror 777 may have alternating areas of a first reflection characteristic and of a second reflection characteristic, as will be described in the example below.
The result is that objects viewed via mirror 777 will be marked by a superimposed image of the line grid of non-reflecting areas 814. This way, the user will be able to differentiate image portions received directly by the camera from those received by reflection from mirror 777.
For the prior art, the events of the significant time periods BEFORE, DECIDING, TAKING and AFTER are depicted by
While the door is open during time periods DECIDING and TAKING, cold air 126 and 136 respectively is pouring out, as seen above. Cold air 126 is shown as more than cold air 136, because time period DECIDING is generally longer than time period TAKING, as discussed above.
Using a home refrigerator system that images the interior, however, an image of the interior is displayed during the DECIDING time period. Such is shown, for example, in
Referring now to
According to a box 1010, actuation of a switch is perceived. The switch may be implemented as described in connection with imaging switch 359. For example, the switch may be actuated by pushing a button, or by receiving an electrical signal.
According to a next box 1020, at least a portion of an interior of the refrigerator is imaged. Imaging is performed by a camera aimed at the interior, while a door usable for accessing the interior remains shut.
According to an optional box 1030, the interior is illuminated while imaging. In one embodiment, illuminating is performed in response to perceiving the switch being actuated.
According to a next box 1040, a signal is generated that encodes the imaged interior. The signal is guided to a screen for displaying the image.
According to an optional next box 1050, the imaged interior is displayed on a screen located outside the refrigerator interior. Displaying is performed from the received signal. In one embodiment, displaying is performed in response to perceiving a switch being actuated.
Referring now to
According to an optional box 1110, the user actuates a switch. Actuating is performed while a door usable for accessing the refrigerator interior remains shut. The switch may be implemented as described in connection with imaging switch 359. For example, the switch may be actuated by pushing a button, or by transmitting an electrical signal. The switch and/or the button may be located on the refrigerator. Alternately, actuating may be performed remotely, as per the above.
According to an optional box 1120, actuating the switch causes the interior to be illuminated, while the door remains shut. This may be implemented by a light source, such as light source 372.
According to a next box 1130, the user views on a screen a displayed image of the interior of the refrigerator. In an optional but preferred embodiment, actuating the switch causes the screen to display the imaged interior, while the door remains shut.
The screen may be implemented in any convenient way for displaying an image, such as screens 286, 486 and 686 described above. Of those, at least screen 486 is located on the refrigerator, while screen 686 is not located on the refrigerator.
A person skilled in the art will be able to practice the present invention in view of the description present in this document, which is to be taken as a whole. Numerous details have been set forth in order to provide a more thorough understanding of the invention. In other instances, well-known features have not been described in detail in order not to obscure unnecessarily the invention.
While the invention has been disclosed in its preferred form, the specific embodiments as disclosed and illustrated herein are not to be considered in a limiting sense. Indeed, it should be readily apparent to those skilled in the art in view of the present description that the invention may be modified in numerous ways. The inventor regards the subject matter of the invention to include all combinations and subcombinations of the various elements, features, functions and/or properties disclosed herein.
The following claims define certain combinations and subcombinations, which are regarded as novel and non-obvious. Additional claims for other combinations and subcombinations of features, functions, elements and/or properties may be presented in this or a related document.
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|U.S. Classification||62/125, 62/331|
|International Classification||F25B49/00, F25D23/12, F25D17/04, F25D15/00|
|Cooperative Classification||F25D29/00, F25D2500/06, F25B2600/07, F25D2400/361|