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Title:
Integrated helmet illumination system
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
An integrated helmet illumination system and process for forming thereof is described. The system comprises a protective helmet, a substrate affixed to the helmet, and an electroluminescent lamp positioned between the substrate and the protective helmet. The substrate is configured be affixed to an exterior surface of the helmet to define a helmet outer shell. Also, the substrate is fabricated with a light-transmissive viewing area through which the illumination of the electroluminescent lamp is viewed. Additionally, the substrate can be formed out of a transparent light reflective material to reflect light incident upon the helmet outer shell. The integrated helmet illumination system is formed by the following process steps: a substrate is formed to have a light transmissive viewing area; then, an electroluminescent lamp is affixed to a surface of the substrate over the light transmissive area; the substrate and electroluminescent lamp affixed thereto are then vacuum molded or formed, forming the substrate into the helmet outer shell; the helmet outer shell with electroluminescent lamp thereon is then attached to an exterior surface of a protective helmet such that the lamp is positioned between the outer shell and the protective helmet.


Inventors:
Murasko, Matthew (Manhattan Beach, CA, US)
Kinlen, Patrick J. (Fenton, MO, US)
Application Number:
10/104135
Publication Date:
10/31/2002
Filing Date:
03/22/2002
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A42B3/04; G09F21/02; (IPC1-7): A63B71/10
View Patent Images:
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Attorney, Agent or Firm:
LATHROP & GAGE LC (2345 GRAND AVENUE, KANSAS CITY, MO, 64108, US)
Claims:

What is claimed is:



1. An integrated helmet and illumination system, comprising: a protective helmet; a substrate affixed to an exterior surface of the protective helmet to define a helmet outer shell portion, the substrate having a light-transmissive viewing area; and an electroluminescent lamp positioned between the exterior surface of the protective helmet and the substrate and aligned with the substrate viewing area.

2. The system of claim 1, further including a power source electrically connected to the electroluminescent lamp to provide electrical energy to the electroluminescent lamp.

3. The system of claim 2, further including a control switch electrically connected to the power source for controlling discharge of electrical energy from the power source to the electroluminescent lamp at certain intervals to control illumination of the lamp.

4. The system of claim 2, wherein the power source is located within the protective helmet.

5. The system of claim 1, wherein the electroluminescent lamp is formed onto the viewing area of the substrate and comprises: a transparent front electrode formed on the substrate viewing area; a light emitting layer formed on the transparent front electrode; and a rear electrode formed on the light emitting layer.

6. The system of claim 5, wherein the transparent front electrode, the light emitting layer, and the rear electrode are printed onto the substrate.

7. The system of claim 5, wherein the electroluminescent lamp further includes: a front outlying electrode lead generally surrounding the perimeter of the transparent front electrode to bring electrical energy to the transparent front electrode; and a rear electrode lead to bring electrical energy to the rear electrode.

8. The system of claim 5, wherein the light emitting layer is a light emitting polymer layer.

9. An integrated helmet and illumination system, comprising: a protective helmet; a substrate having an outer surface and an inner surface, the inner surface affixed to an exterior surface of the protective helmet to define a helmet outer shell portion, the substrate having a reserved area; and an electroluminescent lamp affixed to the substrate outer surface over the reserved area.

10. The system of claim 9, wherein the electroluminescent lamp comprises: a rear electrode formed on the substrate outer surface; a light emitting layer formed on the rear electrode; and a transparent front electrode formed on the light emitting area;

11. The system of claim 9, wherein the rear electrode, the light emitting layer, and transparent front electrode are printed onto the substrate.

12. The system of claim 9, wherein the electroluminescent lamp further includes: a front outlying electrode lead generally surrounding the perimeter of the transparent front electrode and configured to supply electrical energy to the transparent front electrode; and a rear electrode lead configured to supply electrical energy to the rear electrode.

13. The system of claim 9, wherein the light emitting layer is a light emitting polymer layer.

14. A method for integrating an electroluminescent panel with a helmet, comprising: forming a substrate with a light-transmissive viewing area; affixing an electroluminescent lamp to a surface of the substrate over the light transmissive area; vacuum molding the substrate and electroluminescent lamp affixed thereto to form a helmet outer shell portion; and attaching the helmet outer shell portion to an exterior surface of a protective helmet such that the electroluminescent lamp is positioned between the helmet exterior surface and the substrate.

15. The method of claim 14, further comprising electrically connecting a power source to the electroluminescent lamp to provide electrical energy to the electroluminescent lamp.

16. The method of claim 15, further comprising controlling the transfer of electrical energy to the electroluminescent lamp from the power source through a control switch to control the transfer of electrical energy front the power supply to the electroluminescent lamp.

17. The method of claim 14, wherein the step of forming a substrate with a light-transmissive viewing area comprises printing a color graphic onto a light-transmissive substrate at certain locations to leave a light-transmissive viewing area.

18. The method of claim 14, wherein step of affixing an electroluminescent lamp to a surface of the substrate comprises forming the electroluminescent lamp onto the substrate surface, wherein the electroluminescent lamp comprising: a transparent front electrode formed on the substrate viewing area; a light emitting layer formed on the transparent front electrode; and a rear electrode formed on the light emitting layer.

19. The method of claim 18, further comprising: affixing a first electrical lead and a second electrical lead to the substrate; electrically connecting the first electrical lead to the transparent front electrode; and electrically connecting the second electrical lead to the rear electrode; and whereby the first and second electrical leads supply electrical energy to the transparent front electrode and to the rear electrode to illuminate the electroluminescent lamp.

20. The method of claim 18, wherein the transparent front electrode, the light emitting layer, and the rear electrode are printed onto the substrate.

21. The method of claim 18, wherein the light emitting layer is a light emitting polymer layer.

Description:

RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] This application is a nonprovisional to U.S. application serial No. 60/277,828, filed Mar. 22, 2001, entitled “INTEGRATED HELMET AND LUMINESCENT PANEL”, which is incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0002] This invention relates generally to applications for using illuminated displays, and more particularly, to an integrated helmet illumination system.

PROBLEM

[0003] Electroluminescent (EL) panels or lamps provide illumination for a wide array of objects such as watches, vehicle instrument panels, computer monitors, etc. These EL panels are typically formed by positioning an electroluminescent material, such as phosphor, between two electrodes, one of which is essentially transparent. The electric field created by applying an electric current to the electrodes causes excitation of the electroluminescent material and emission of light therefrom, which is viewed through the transparent electrode. Advancements in materials science have led to the formation of EL panels from thin, elongate, flexible strips of laminated material having a variety of shapes and sizes.

[0004] Safety helmets, such as bicycle helmets, constructions helmets, climbing helmets, and the like, are often provided with indicators to alert others as to the presence of a person wearing the helmet. For example, light reflective strips are often formed onto such helmets to make the helmet more easily seen when a light source is incident on the strips. For example, a bicycle helmet may have a number of reflective strips disposed across the helmet surface such that the lights of a vehicle incident on the helmet will be reflected back to the vehicle driver to alert the driver of the presence of a helmet-wearing bicyclist. Similarly, light sources, such as halogen bulbs, are often attached to the exterior of a safety helmet to alert others as to the presence of the person wearing the helmet. Unfortunately, these indicators suffer from major drawbacks; light reflective strips are only effective if light is incident on the strips, and if light reflected therefrom is easily seen; most light sources are bulky and the mounting of such light sources may compromise the integrity of the safety helmet.

SOLUTION

[0005] The present invention provides an integrated helmet illumination system and process for forming thereof. The system comprises a protective helmet, a substrate affixed to the helmet, and an electroluminescent lamp positioned between the substrate and the protective helmet. The substrate is affixed to an exterior surface of the helmet to define a helmet outer shell portion. Also, the substrate is fabricated with a light-transmissive viewing area through which the illumination of the electroluminescent lamp is viewed. Additionally, the substrate can be formed out of a transparent light reflective material to reflect light incident upon the helmet outer shell.

[0006] The integrated helmet illumination system is formed by the following process. First, a substrate is formed to have a light transmissive viewing area. Optionally, display designs or images can be formed onto the substrate. Then, an electroluminescent lamp is affixed to a surface of the substrate over the light transmissive area. For example, the component layers of the electroluminescent lamp may be printed onto the substrate viewing area. The substrate and electroluminescent lamp affixed thereto are then vacuum molded or formed. This step forms the substrate into the helmet outer shell. Finally, the helmet outer shell with electroluminescent lamp thereon is attached to an exterior surface of a protective helmet such that the lamp is positioned between the outer shell and the protective helmet.

[0007] By this process, a durable, low profile illumination solution is provided for a safety helmet. Optionally, the illumination system can be configured to reflect incident light as well as providing a light source. The substrate outer shell protects the electroluminescent lamp components from exposure to impact loads, as well as environmental conditions. Because various images or designs can be formed directly onto the substrate, the helmet illumination system of the present invention can serve as both a form of illuminated advertising (e.g. EL lamp illumination shaped as a logo or icon) and as a visual defense mechanism to alert others as to the presence of the helmet wearer.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0008] FIG. 1 is a side elevational view of the integrated helmet illumination system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.

[0009] FIG. 2 is an exploded side view of the integrated helmet illumination system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.

[0010] FIG. 3 is a rear elevational view of the integrated helmet illumination system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.

[0011] FIG. 4 is a flowchart illustrating an exemplary process for forming the integrated helmet illumination system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0012] The present invention provides a process for integrating a protective helmet and electroluminescent lamp to form a helmet illumination system. In addition, certain components of the illumination system may be formed together as disclosed in U.S. Pat. Ser. No. 6,203,391 of Murasko, the teachings of which are incorporated by reference herewith. The '391 patent discloses processes for forming electroluminescent signs by combining electroluminescent lamp components with a sign substrate. Further, the materials used for the EL lamp components may also include those disclosed in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/815,078, filed Mar. 22, 2001, for an “Electroluminescent Multiple Segment Display Device”, the teachings of which are incorporated by reference herewith.

[0013] The helmet illumination system 100 of the present invention is shown in FIGS. 1-3. According to one embodiment, system 100 comprises a protective helmet 102 (e.g. a helmet “biscuit”), a substrate 104 affixed to protective helmet 102, and an electroluminescent lamp 106 positioned between the substrate 104 and protective helmet 102. Substrate 104 defines at least a portion of a helmet outer shell 108 such that substrate 104 and protective helmet 102 may form a complete helmet assembly 110 encasing EL lamp 106 therein. However, it is only necessary to configure substrate 104 to cover areas of helmet 102 that are desired to be illuminated by EL lamp 106, such that another substrate section not having illuminated areas may combined with substrate 104 to form a complete helmet outer shell 108.

[0014] Protective helmet 102 may be of any type of helmet, such as a bicycle helmet, construction helmet, climbing helmet, general safety helmet, and the like, and may be made of materials such as styrofoam and other impact absorbing materials. In the exemplary embodiment shown in FIGS. 1-3, the helmet is a bicycle helmet. Protective helmet 102 has an interior surface (not shown) that is configured to generally rest upon a head of a helmet wearer, and an exterior surface 112 to which substrate 104 is affixed. A power source 114, such as a battery, is preferably disposed within a recessed portion 116 of protective helmet 102 at a rearward section 118 of the helmet to supply electrical energy to electroluminescent lamp 106 for illumination. A battery compartment 120 having an access door 122 may be positioned in recessed portion 116 to house the battery. Additionally, a control switch 124 may be mounted on the battery compartment 120 to control electrical energy discharge from power source 114 to EL lamp 106. Switch 124 may be an on/off switch, a timer switch with a strobe feature to turn the EL lamp illumination on and off every few seconds. Optionally, a controller (not pictured), such as a microprocessor and memory, may be electrically connected to power source 114 to vary the illumination pattern of EL lamp 106 by, for example, illuminating certain regions of EL lamp 106 at specific time intervals (i.e. successively illuminating the letters “B-I-K-E-R” formed on the lamp), or by varying the intensity of illumination, and may be configured to create a moving light image.

[0015] Substrate 104 is typically a thin, planar structure, and forms the base layer upon which electroluminescent lamp component layers are formed, and also serves as at least a portion of the helmet outer shell 108 to protect EL lamp 106 from exposure to environmental conditions. Substrate 104 has an outer surface 126 and an inner surface 128 which faces and overlies helmet exterior surface 112. Light-transmissive materials (i.e. transparent or translucent materials), preferably heat stable yet deformable polycarbonate-type plastic, make up at least a portion of substrate 104 through which the illumination of EL lamp 106 is to be viewed. The materials chosen for the substrate should allow the substrate 104 to be formed to overlie helmet exterior surface 112, and be sufficiently durable (i.e. impact and scratch resistant, chemically stable, etc.) as to protect EL lamp 106 from exposure to environmental conditions. The light-transmissive properties of the substrate 104 allow the viewing of the illumination of EL lamp 106 through substrate 104. The thickness of substrate 104 should range from about 7 microns to about 15 microns (1 micron=1×10−6 meters). Substrate 104 may have background layer formed thereon as a display or image (e.g., wording, logos, icons, etc.) by, for example, colored printable inks. The background layer may be either light-transmissive or optically opaque so long as a light-transmissive viewing area 130 remains on substrate 104 such that the illumination of EL lamp 106 can be viewed therethrough.

[0016] The component layers of electroluminescent lamp 106 are preferably formed in a reverse build on substrate inner surface 128 in a manner similar to that taught in the '391 patent. In this arrangement, EL lamp 106 comprises a transparent front electrode formed on substrate inner surface 128, a light emitting layer formed on the transparent front electrode, if an electroluminescent phosphor is used for the light emitting layer, a dielectric layer formed on the light emitting layer, and a rear electrode formed on the light emitting layer, or if the optional dielectric layer is provided, the rear electrode is formed on such dielectric layer. Each of the components of EL lamp 106 may be successively applied onto substrate 104 by a variety of means, including stenciling, flat coating, brushing, rolling, and spraying, but preferably are printed onto the substrate by screen or ink jet printing. The EL lamp components may be made from the following materials: the transparent front electrode may be fabricated from organics, such as polyaniline, polypyrrole, poly-phenyleneamine-imine, and polyethylene-dioxithiophene, or inorganics, such as indium-tin-oxide; the light emitting layer may be fabricated from organics, such as light-emitting polymers/organic light emitting diodes, or non-organics, such as phosphor layer of electroluminescent particles, e.g., zinc sulfide doped with copper or manganese which are dispersed in a polymeric binder; the dielectric layer of high dielectric constant material such as barium titanate; and the rear electrode may be fabricated from organics, such as polyaniline, polypyrrole, poly-phenyleneamine-imine, and polyethylene-dioxithiophene, which is available under the trade name “Orgacon” from Agfa Corp. of Ridgefield Park, N.J., or inorganics, such as silver or carbon particles dispersed in a polymeric ink. Preferably, to minimize the drain of electrical energy from power source 114 while maintaining adequate illumination levels for the EL lamp 106, the light emitting layer is made of a light emitting polymer that requires low voltage for operation, typically about 10 volts or less. Optionally, the background layer formed as a display or image may be formed onto substrate inner surface 128 prior to EL lamp 106 being formed thereon. Additionally, illuminated images can be formed by positioning the light emitting layer of EL lamp 106 in the form of such images.

[0017] In an alternative embodiment, electroluminescent lamp 106 could be formed on outer surface 126 of substrate 104 such that illumination emanating from EL lamp 106 would not have to travel through substrate 104 to be viewed. Thus, substrate 104 would not have to be light-transmissive, but would be formed with a reserved area. The reserved area is generally a location on substrate 104 which is image-free, or where it is unnecessary to view a display or image on substrate 104 that may be blocked by placement of EL lamp 106 thereon. In this way, EL lamp 106 is formed in a forward build on substrate 104 in a manner similar to that taught in the '391 patent. EL lamp 106 comprises a rear electrode formed onto substrate outer surface 126, if an electroluminescent phosphor is used for the light emitting layer, a dielectric layer formed on to the rear electrode, a light emitting layer formed on the rear electrode, or if the dielectric layer is included, the light emitting layer is formed on such dielectric layer, and a transparent front electrode layer formed on the light emitting layer. Preferably, these EL lamp components are printed onto substrate 104. A light-transmissive electrically insulative material, such as an ultraviolet coating, may be positioned to overlie EL lamp 106 to reduce the risk of electric shock by contacting electrically conductive parts of the lamp, and to prevent short circuits due to exposure to environmental conditions.

[0018] If the light emitting layer of EL lamp 106 is an electroluminescent phosphor, and power source 114 is a DC (direct current) power source, such as a battery, then power source 114 is connected to an inverter which converts DC to AC (alternating current) power while boosting the voltage and frequency rating. The AC power is then brought to the front and rear electrode of EL lamp for illumination of the light emitting layer.

[0019] According to one embodiment, a transparent light reflective layer is formed over substrate outer surface 126 of EL lamp 106 as taught in U.S. Pat. Ser. No. 5,552,679 of Murasko, the teachings of which are incorporated by reference herewith. The light reflective layer reflects light incident on substrate 104 from sources such as car headlights, etc., while allowing the illumination of EL lamp 106 to be viewed therethrough by an observer. The light reflective layer may be attached substrate outer surface 126 by various methods such as heat bonding or by the use of transparent adhesives.

[0020] A set of leads 132 are formed on substrate inner surface 128 to electrically connect power source 114 to EL lamp 106 to bring electrical energy to the lamp for illumination. These leads 132 connect to the front and rear electrodes of EL lamp 106. Preferably, leads 132 comprise a front outlying electrode lead configured to substantially surround and electrically contact the transparent front electrode of EL lamp 106, and a rear electrode lead configured to electrically contact the rear electrode of EL lamp 106. Also, leads 132 are positioned to extend off of substrate 104 forming a portion of the helmet outer shell 108 to form lead tails 134 that extend to the location of the power source 114 on helmet 102 (e.g., to battery compartment 120 of helmet rearward section 118).

[0021] FIG. 4 is a flow chart showing an exemplary sequence of steps for fabricating the helmet illumination system 100 of the present invention. At step 401, an optional background layer of a display or image may be formed onto substrate 104. For example, the background layer may comprise colored inks that are printed onto substrate 104 in a desired pattern. Such inks may be light-transmissive or optically opaque so long as a light-transmissive viewing area 130 remains on substrate 104 such that the illumination of electroluminescent lamp 106 can be viewed therethrough. According to one embodiment, viewing area 130 is an area of substrate 104 that is free of a background layer display or image.

[0022] At step 402, electroluminescent lamp 106 is formed onto viewing area 130 of substrate inner surface 128. Preferably, the EL lamp components are successively screen printed onto viewing area 130 in the following order: the transparent front electrode on substrate inner surface 128; the light emitting layer on the transparent front electrode; if an electroluminescent phosphor is used for the light emitting layer, the dielectric layer on the light emitting layer; and the rear electrode on the light emitting layer, or if the optional dielectric layer is provided, the rear electrode is on such dielectric layer.

[0023] At step 403, leads 132 (i.e., rear electrode lead and front outlying electrode lead) are affixed to the substrate inner surface 128 with EL lamp 106 and positioned such that when substrate 104 is formed to helmet exterior surface 112 in a later step, leads 132 extend to rearward section 118 of helmet 102 to form lead tails 134.

[0024] Substrate 104 and EL lamp 106 formed thereon are now ready to form at least a portion of helmet outer shell 108 to be affixed to helmet exterior surface 112. At step 404, EL lamp 106 and substrate are typically a flat, sheet-like structure that need to be molded into a three-dimensional shape that mates with helmet exterior surface 112. Substrate 104 and EL lamp 106 are then placed in the frame of a vacuum form type machine, such as a Qvac model PC 2430PD of Santa Fe Springs, Calif. A mandrel mold is fabricated with peaks and valleys and includes draw depths between about 0 inches and about 24 inches. Substrate 104 is inserted into the vacuum form machine such that the substrate outer surface 126 (i.e. the surface viewable upon forming the helmet outer shell 108 integral with helmet exterior surface 112) is in a forward viewing position and EL lamp 106 formed on substrate inner surface 128 is facing down or towards a mandrel table. A mandrel form of helmet 102 is place on the vacuum table and the temperature of the oven is set in a range of at about 500 degrees to 650 degrees Fahrenheit and the dwell vacuum time is set. Preferably, the dwell time is a heat dwell ranging from about 10 to 20 seconds for a substrate of thickness of about 7 to 150 microns. However, such dwell time will vary based on the thickness of substrate 104.

[0025] At step 405, the vacuum form machine is turned on and a cycle is run. A frame containing substrate 104 is placed over the heater and the plastic slightly deforms or sags downward and thereafter tightens up in about a 10 to 20 seconds time period. Once substrate 104 is heated for the proper length of time, substrate 104 is mechanically pulled down onto the mandrel mold which applies a vacuum pull in two places, a bottom of the vacuum form face, and through openings in the mandrel mold that allow for even pressure pull to substrate 104. Substrate 104 is then formed into the desired shape of a helmet outer shell 108 (i.e. the shape of the mandrel mold). Air pressure is then reversed through the openings utilized to create the vacuum which releases helmet outer shell 108 from the mold. Outer shell 108 is then removed and the ventilation holes for the helmet are trimmed out. The finished outer shell 108 and integral EL lamp 106 are then ready to be electrically connected to power source 114 with leads 132 and the assembly installed onto the helmet exterior surface 112.

[0026] At step 406, the helmet outer shell assembly with EL lamp 106 formed thereon may be attached to the protective helmet 102 by any means, such as by fasteners, adhesives, or similar means, such that EL lamp 106 is positioned between substrate 104 and helmet 102.

[0027] Thus, the helmet illumination system 100 of the present invention results in a more integrated, lower profile, and more durable illumination solution for a helmet. System 100 may be configured to reflect light incident on the helmet outer shell 108 while also illuminating in specific area. The illumination can be configured to be in varying colors and designs (wording, logos, icon) depending on the design of the light emitting layer of EL lamp 106 and the background layer formed on substrate 104. The process for fabricating the helmet illumination system 100 has the advantage of not requiring any independent wiring, because EL lamp 106 and leads 132 have been formed below the helmet outer shell 108.