Title:
Dynamic ball joint handle system for towable item
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A towing handle assembly for a towable item includes a support configured to be coupled to the towable item, a ball pivot joint coupled to the support, and a towing handle mounted to the ball joint and defining a hand grip for towing by a user. The ball pivot joint floats relative to the support in horizontal and vertical directions for a limited range of motion, thereby naturally positioning the hand grip vertically and horizontally to accommodate changing positions of the users hand when towing the towable item.



Inventors:
Burgess, Andrew A. (St. Louis, MO, US)
Gifford, Jason (St. Louis, MO, US)
Application Number:
11/346705
Publication Date:
11/23/2006
Filing Date:
02/03/2006
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
16/113.1
International Classes:
A47B95/02; A45C13/30
View Patent Images:
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20020153216Business case with expandable internal compartment for overnight clothingOctober, 2002Krulik
20090026031Hand Luggage of the Pull-Along Type Equipped With a Damped Telescopic Hand GripJanuary, 2009Wilczak et al.
20080006548Bag with a resilient frameJanuary, 2008Shiao
20080251341Carry-On Wheeled Luggage for Photographic EquipmentOctober, 2008Murdoch et al.
20040045779Protection seam member for suitcaseMarch, 2004Chen
20070158156Travel case with desk topJuly, 2007Chen
20060201979Shopping bagSeptember, 2006Achilles
20060037987Notebook computer suitcase for a user using as a deskFebruary, 2006Lin



Primary Examiner:
MAI, TRI M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Patrick W. Rasche (Armstrong Teasdale LLP Suite 2600 One Metropolitan Square, St. Louis, MO, 63102, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A towing handle assembly for a towable item, the towing handle assembly comprising: a support configured to be coupled to the towable item; a ball pivot joint coupled to the support; and a towing handle mounted to the ball joint and defining a hand grip for towing by a user, wherein the ball pivot joint floats relative to the support in at lest one of a horizontal direction and a vertical direction, thereby naturally positioning the hand grip vertically and horizontally to accommodate changing positions of the users hand when towing the towable item.

2. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 1, further comprising a socket assembly coupled to the support and receiving the ball joint.

3. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 1, further comprising a socket assembly configured to limit movement of the ball pivot joint in at least one of the vertical and horizontal directions.

4. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 1, wherein the ball joint comprises at least one peg projecting from an outer surface thereof, the peg preventing float of the handle relative to the support beyond a predetermined amount.

5. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 1, further comprising a socket fixed to the support, the ball pivot joint received in the socket, and the socket comprising a shaped neck preventing float of the handle relative to the support beyond a predetermined amount.

6. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 1, further comprising a socket fixed to the support, the socket comprising an inner surface receiving the ball pivot joint, said inner surface comprising at least one recess engaging a portion of the ball pivot joint when the ball pivot joint floats in position beyond a predetermined amount, thereby preventing further float of the handle in at least one of the vertical and horizontal directions.

7. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 1, further comprising a socket fixed to the support and receiving the ball pivot joint, wherein one of the socket and the ball pivot joint includes a projection and the other of the socket and the ball pivot joint includes a recessed area receiving the projection, and wherein the projection and the recess cooperatively prevent float of the handle beyond a predetermined amount in at least one of the vertical and horizontal directions.

8. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 1, wherein the support is a telescoping support selectively positionable in an extended position and a retracted position.

9. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 1, wherein the support is curved along a longitudinal axis thereof.

10. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 1, further comprising a release button and a release element, wherein displacement of the button also displaces the release element, and wherein the release element extends through the ball pivot joint.

11. A towing handle assembly for a towable piece of luggage having a body adapted to roll along a surface, the towing handle assembly comprising: a telescoping support configured to be coupled to the body of the luggage, the support having a distal end operatively coupled to the body and a proximal end opposite the distal end, and the support being selectively postionable relative to the body between extended and retracted positions; a socket fixedly mounted to the distal end of the telescoping support; a ball pivot joint received in the socket and configured to float relative to the support about first and second mutually perpendicular axes; and a towing handle fixed to the ball pivot joint and defining a hand grip for towing the body along the surface via pulling of the towing handle by a user, wherein the ball pivot joint naturally adjusts the hand grip relative the users hand when pulling the towing handle despite varying towing maneuvers and towing conditions, wherein the ball pivot joint adjusts position of the hand grip without any actuation of the towing handle by the user other than pulling the towing handle.

12. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 11, wherein the socket and the ball pivot joint are configured to cooperatively limit floating of the handle about the first and second axes beyond a predetermined degree.

13. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 11, wherein the socket is formed in first and second mirror image parts.

14. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 11, wherein the ball joint comprises at least one peg projecting from an outer surface thereof, the peg preventing float of the ball pivot joint relative to the socket beyond a predetermined amount.

15. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 11, wherein the socket comprises a shaped neck preventing float of the handle relative to the support beyond a predetermined amount.

16. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 11, wherein the socket comprises an inner surface receiving the ball pivot joint, said inner surface comprising at least one recess engaging a portion of the ball pivot joint and preventing further float of the ball pivot joint when the ball pivot joint moves relative to the socket beyond a predetermined amount.

17. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 11, wherein one of the socket and the ball pivot joint includes a projection and the other of the socket and the ball pivot joint includes a recessed area receiving the projection, and wherein the projection and the recess -cooperatively prevent float of the handle about at least one of the first and second axes beyond a predetermined amount.

18. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 11, wherein the support includes an axial length extending between the proximal and distal ends, and the support is curved along its axial length.

19. A towing handle assembly in accordance with claim 11, further comprising a release button and a release element, wherein displacement of the button also displaces the release element, and wherein the release element extends through the ball pivot joint.

20. A towable piece of luggage comprising: a body defining a compartment to store personal effects of a traveler for transport, said body comprising a wheel for rolling the body along a surface without lifting of the body from the ground; a telescoping support coupled to the body, the support having a distal end operatively coupled to the body and a proximal end opposite the distal end, and the support being selectively postionable relative to the body between extended and retracted positions relative to the body; a socket fixedly mounted to the distal end of the telescoping support; a ball pivot joint received in the socket and configured to float relative to the support; and a towing handle fixed to the ball pivot joint and defining a hand grip for towing the body along the surface via pulling of the towing handle by a user, wherein the ball pivot joint naturally floats in position relative to the socket to avoid relative rotation of the handle with respect to the user's hand as the handle is being pulled and as the position of the user's hand is changed.

21. A towable piece of luggage in accordance with claim 20, wherein the socket and the ball pivot joint are configured to cooperatively limit floating of the handle beyond a predetermined degree.

22. A towable piece of luggage in accordance with claim 20, wherein the socket is formed in first and second mirror image parts.

23. A towable piece of luggage in accordance with claim 20, wherein the ball joint comprises at least one peg projecting from an outer surface thereof, the peg preventing float of the ball pivot joint relative to the socket beyond a predetermined amount.

24. A towable piece of luggage in accordance with claim 20, wherein the socket comprises a shaped neck preventing float of the handle relative to the socket beyond a predetermined amount.

25. A towable piece of luggage in accordance with claim 20, wherein the socket comprises an inner surface receiving the ball pivot joint, said inner surface comprising at least one recess engaging a portion of the ball pivot joint and preventing further float of the ball pivot joint when the ball pivot joint moves relative to the socket beyond a predetermined amount.

26. A towable piece of luggage in accordance with claim 20, wherein one of the socket and the ball pivot joint includes a projection and the other of the socket and the ball pivot joint includes a recessed area receiving the projection, and wherein the projection and the recess cooperatively prevent float of the handle.

27. A towable piece of luggage in accordance with claim 20, wherein the support includes an axial length extending between the proximal and distal ends, and the support is curved along its axial length.

28. A towable piece of luggage in accordance with claim 20, further comprising a release button and a release element coupled to the button, wherein displacement of the button also displaces the release element, and wherein the release element extends through the ball pivot joint.

29. A towable piece of luggage in accordance with claim 20 wherein the handle is asymmetric.

30. A towable piece of luggage in accordance with claim 20, wherein the ball pivot joint naturally floats about first and second mutually perpendicular axes.

31. A towable piece of luggage in accordance with claim 20 wherein the telescoping support comprises a single telescoping support.

32. A towable piece of luggage comprising: a body defining a compartment to store personal effects of a traveler for transport, said body comprising a wheel for rolling the body along a surface; a telescoping support coupled to the body, the support having a distal end operatively coupled to the body and a proximal end opposite the distal end, and the support being selectively positionable relative to the body between extended and retracted positions relative to the body; a socket fixedly mounted to the distal end of the telescoping support; a ball pivot joint received in the socket and configured to float relative to the socket; and a towing handle fixed to the ball pivot joint and defining a hand grip for towing the body along the surface via pulling of the towing handle by a user, wherein the ball pivot joint naturally floats in position relative to the socket to move the towing handle in horizontal and vertical directions, the ball pivot joint movable relative to the socket with sliding engagement for a limited range of motion in each of the horizontal and vertical directions without locking of the handle in any one position.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/659,972 filed Mar. 9, 2005, the disclosure of which is hereby incorporated by reference in its entirety.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates generally to handle systems for hand towable items having wheels attached thereto, and more particularly to dynamic towing handle assemblies selectively positionable in relation to telescoping supports of luggage.

Towing handles and systems are commonly fixed to telescoping supports of towable items such as, by way of example only, luggage and wheeled backpacks, that enable the user to stow the towing handle in a generally protected position within the outer confines of the towable item so that the luggage may be safely lifted, carried and moved, for example, by baggage handlers at an airport or by luggage owners loading and unloading the luggage to and from a vehicle. Alternatively, the towing handle may be to actuated to an extended position allowing the user to tow the luggage by hand behind the user on attached wheels as the user moves about.

In certain types of conventional towing handle systems, the towing handle and associated handle grip is rigidly fixed in relation to a portion of the item being towed, such as towing handles rigidly mounted in a stationary manner to telescoping posts or supports affixed to a luggage item. With such towing handles, users tend to frequently adjust and re-adjust their grasp of the handle grip while maneuvering through crowded spaces, negotiating turns and obstacles, starting and stopping while towing the item, and towing the item at varying speeds. As experienced by the user, such rigid handles tend to rotate relative to the user's hand while maneuvering the towable item, and in response, users tend to adjust their wrist with a twisting or flexing motion to maintain a firm grip on the handle. Frequent adjustment of the user's grasp in towing operation may result in discomfort when towing the item for extended periods.

In other types of conventional handle systems, sometimes referred to herein as dynamic handle systems, the handle grip is movable to different positions relative to one or more portions of the towable item, such as telescoping supports of luggage, to provide more comfort to users towing the item via the handle with the handle located in different towable positions relative to the item being towed. Such handle assemblies, however, tend to include many moving parts and can be difficult to construct in a cost effective and reliable manner to ensure proper operation thereof over the lifetime of the towable item. Additionally, certain dynamic handle systems can be difficult for new or infrequent users to operate, and require mechanical locking and unlocking of the components that can be confusing to some users.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

In an exemplary embodiment, a towing handle assembly for a towable item is provided. The towing handle assembly comprises a support configured to be coupled to the towable item, a ball pivot joint coupled to the support, and a towing handle mounted to the ball joint and defining a hand grip for towing by a user. The ball pivot joint floats relative to the support in at least one of a horizontal direction and a vertical direction, thereby naturally positioning the hand grip vertically and horizontally to accommodate changing positions of the users hand when towing the towable item.

Optionally, a socket assembly may be provided, and the socket assembly may be configured to limit movement of the ball pivot joint in at least one of the vertical and horizontal directions. The socket may comprise a shaped neck preventing float of the handle relative to the support beyond a predetermined amount. One of the socket and the ball pivot joint may include a projection and the other of the socket and the ball pivot joint may include a recessed area receiving the projection, and the projection and the recess may cooperatively prevent float of the handle beyond a predetermined amount in at least one the vertical and horizontal directions. The support may be curved along a longitudinal axis thereof.

In another embodiment, a towing handle assembly for a towable piece of luggage having a body adapted to roll along a surface is provided. The towing handle assembly comprises a telescoping support configured to be coupled to the body of the luggage, the support having a distal end operatively coupled to the body and a proximal end opposite the distal end, and the support being selectively postionable relative to the body between extended and retracted positions. A socket is fixedly mounted to the distal end of the telescoping support, and a ball pivot joint is received in the socket and configured to float relative to the support about first and second mutually perpendicular axes. A towing handle is fixed to the ball pivot joint and defines a hand grip for towing the body along the surface via pulling of the towing handle by a user, wherein the ball pivot joint naturally adjusts the hand grip relative the users hand when pulling the towing handle despite varying towing maneuvers and towing conditions. The ball pivot joint adjusts position of the hand grip without any actuation of the towing handle by the user other than pulling the towing handle.

In another embodiment, a towable piece of luggage is provided. The luggage comprises a body defining a compartment to store personal effects of a traveler for transport, and the body comprises a wheel for rolling the body along a surface without lifting of the body from the ground. A telescoping support is coupled to the body, and the support has a distal end operatively coupled to the body and a proximal end opposite the distal end. The support is selectively postionable relative to the body between extended and retracted positions relative to the body, and a socket is fixedly mounted to the distal end of the telescoping support. A ball pivot joint is received in the socket and is configured to float relative to the support, and a towing handle is fixed to the ball pivot joint and defines a hand grip for towing the body along the surface via pulling of the towing handle by a user, wherein the ball pivot joint naturally floats in position relative to the socket to avoid relative rotation of the handle with respect to the user's hand as the handle is being pulled and as the position of the user's hand is changed.

In still another embodiment, a towable piece of luggage is provided. The luggage comprises a body defining a compartment to store personal effects of a traveler for transport, the body comprising a wheel for rolling the body along a surface. A telescoping support is coupled to the body, the support having a distal end operatively coupled to the body and a proximal end opposite the distal end, and the support being selectively positionable relative to the body between extended and retracted positions relative to the body. A socket is fixedly mounted to the distal end of the telescoping support, and a ball pivot joint is received in the socket and configured to float relative to the socket. A towing handle is fixed to the ball pivot joint and defines a hand grip for towing the body along the surface via pulling of the towing handle by a user, wherein the ball pivot joint naturally floats in position relative to the socket to move the handle in horizontal and vertical directions. The ball pivot joint is movable relative to the socket with sliding engagement for a limited range of motion in each of the horizontal and vertical directions without locking of the handle in any one position

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIGS. 1a and 1b illustrate a side elevational view of an exemplary towable item having a dynamic towing handle assembly according to the present invention, wherein FIG. 1a illustrates the towing handle assembly in a retracted position and wherein FIG. 1b illustrates the towing handle assembly in an extended position.

FIG. 2 is a side elevation view of the exemplary towable item in an upright position, and in an inclined towing position shown in phantom.

FIG. 3 is an elevational view of a portion of the towing handle assembly shown in FIGS. 1 and 2.

FIG. 4 illustrates another elevational view and a vertical float of the towing handle shown in FIGS. 1-3.

FIG. 5 is a top plan view of the handle assembly illustrating a horizontal float of the towing handle.

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of the exemplary towing handle assemblies shown in FIGS. 1-5.

FIG. 7 is a perspective view of the towing handle assembly shown in FIG. 6 with further parts removed.

FIG. 8 is a perspective view of the towing handle assembly shown in FIG. 7 with further parts removed.

FIG. 9 is a perspective view of a portion of the towing handle assembly shown in FIG. 8 with further parts removed.

FIG. 10 is a perspective view of a portion of the towing handle assembly shown in FIG. 6 with parts removed.

FIG. 11 is a perspective view of apportion of the towing handle assembly shown in FIG. 6 with parts removed.

FIG. 12 is a perspective view of the pivot joint assembly shown in FIG. 6 with parts removed.

FIG. 13 is a side elevation view of the towing handle.

FIG. 14 is an exploded view of the towing handle assembly shown in FIG. 6.

FIG. 15 is a first elevational view of the handle assembly schematically illustrating a button release mechanism.

FIG. 16 is a second elevational view of the handle assembly schematically illustrating operation of the button release mechanism.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

FIGS. 1a and 1b illustrate a side elevational view of an exemplary hand towable item 100 having a dynamic towing handle assembly 102 according to an exemplary embodiment of the present invention. As illustrated in the Figures, the towable item 100 is a piece of luggage having a body 104 defining a compartment 105 with one or more points of access for receiving personal effects and items of a traveler, such as clothes, shoes, toiletries, etc. that one may need for a trip away from home. The body 104 is sized and dimensioned appropriately for transport in an aircraft or vehicle, and includes one or more wheels 106 on a lower edge thereof that allow the body to be rolled along a surface when desired. While illustrated as a substantially rectangular luggage bag in the Figures, it is understood that the towable item 100 may assume various alternative shapes and styles of luggage items, including but not limited to backpacks, briefcases, duffel bags and the like. It is also understood that the towing handle assembly 102 described further below may be used on other types of hand towable items, aside from luggage items, for storing or transporter other items without limitation and while achieving substantially the same benefits described hereinbelow.

In an exemplary embodiment, the handle assembly 102 includes a base support 108 (shown in phantom in FIGS. 1a and 1b) mounted stationary to a lower end 110 of the body 104 interior to the body 104, and a telescoping support (FIG. 1b) that is extendable from the base support 108 and selectively positionable between a retracted position (FIG. 1a) and an extended position (FIG. 1b) relative to the base support 108 and an upper surface 114 of the body 104. In an illustrative embodiment, each of the supports 108 and 112 are generally hollow or tubular members having opposed ends. More specifically, the base support 108 may include a proximal end 116 that is fixed to the base 110 of the body 104, and an opposed distal end 118 extending upwardly from the proximal end 116 and located adjacent the upper surface 114 of the body 104. An axial length of the base support 108 extending between the opposite ends 116, 118 is curved or bowed. Likewise the telescoping support 112 may include a proximal end 120, and an opposed distal end 122 extending upwardly and away from the proximal end 120 and the telescoping support 112 is likewise curved or bowed along its axial length between the opposite ends 118 and 122. By virtue of the curvature of the supports 118 and 112, the distal end 122 of the telescoping support 112 is extended outwardly and away from the rear face 124 of the body 104 as well as outwardly and away from the upper outer surface 114 of the body 104 when in the extended position (FIG. 1b). It is understood, however, that the supports 108 and 112 need not be curved in other embodiments of the invention

When in the retracted position (FIG. 1a) the support 112 is received within the base support 108, and each of the supports 112 and 108 are generally concealed within the interior of the body 104. Such telescoping supports 112 are generally known in the art, and it is appreciated that each of the supports 108 and 112 illustrated in the Figures may comprise one or more tubular sections as desired or as appropriate. Various cross sectional shapes and configurations of the supports 108 and 112 may be provided, and in an exemplary embodiment, each of the supports 108 and 112 are generally non-circular in cross section to prevent relative twisting or movement of the supports 112 and 108 relative to one another in use. While telescoping supports are believed to be particularly advantageous for luggage items, in different embodiments for other applications and uses, non-telescoping supports may be used.

A towing handle 126 is mounted to the distal end 122 of the telescoping 112, and a ball pivot joint 128 (FIG. 1b) couples the towing handle 126 to the telescoping support 112 at the distal end 122. In the retracted position (FIG. 1a), the towing handle 126 is located and received in an open ended recess or receptacle defined by a bezel 127 integrated into the body 104, and the handle 126 is generally flush with the outer surface 114 of the body 104 and is generally protected by the outer surface of the bag from incidental contact when the body 104 is lifted from the ground and carried or handled by a person via carrying handles or straps (not shown) separately provided from the handle assembly 102. When desired, the handle 126 is generally accessible, however, from the outer surface of the body 104, and the user may easily position the handle 126 in the extended position shown in FIG. 1b in the manner explained below.

In one embodiment, the supports 108 and 112 define a single post support structure for the handle 126, sometimes referred to as a monopole support structure. It is understood, however, that parallel post support structures known in the art could likewise be utilized in alternative embodiments as desired to support the handle 126. In a parallel post support structure embodiment, the handle 126 may be carried on a cross bar or other joining structure between the parallel posts. The supports 108 and 112 may be fabricated from known materials, such as aluminum, according to known techniques.

In the extended position, FIG. 1b, the ball pivot joint 128 permits a natural float in the relative position of the towing handle 126 and the support 112. That is, the towing handle 126 enjoys a limited freedom of movement relative to the support 112 and is generally self-adjusting in position to different towing conditions independent of any conscious action by the user. That is, the natural float of the handle 126 tends to present a relatively constant pulling orientation of the towing handle 126 with respect to the user's hand despite changing towing conditions and maneuvering of the bag that would otherwise cause the relative position of the handle 126 and the user's hand to change. Therefore, and unlike known dynamic handle assemblies, the float in positioning of the handle 126 by virtue of the ball pivot joint 128 eliminates the need and the tendency of users to adjust and readjust their grip on the handle 126 when towing the item 100. Accordingly, the float of the handle 126 avoids user discomfort associated with frequent hand grip adjustment inevitably incurred with conventional towing handle assemblies,

FIG. 2 is a side elevation view of the exemplary towable item 100 in an upright position and in an inclined towing position (shown in phantom). In the upright position, corresponding to the position just after the telescoping support 112 is extended from the retracted position, the handle 126 is located at a distance from the upper surface 114 of the body, and the wheels 106 are at rest upon a rolling surface 150, together with the remainder of the base portion 110 of the body 104. Additionally, the handle 126 extends in a generally parallel orientation with respect to the body upper surface 114 and the rolling surface 150.

In the towing position, however, the body 104 is inclined with respect to the rolling surface 150 and is freely movable in the direction of arrow A parallel to the plane of the rolling surface 150 where the wheels 106 engage the surface 150. The telescoping support 112 is located closer to the rolling surface 150 than in the upright position, and the handle 126 is located a much greater horizontal distance, measured parallel to the plane of the rolling surface 150 in the direction of arrow A, from the body 104 than when in the upright position. The greater horizontal distance and separation from the body 104 in the towing position provides for ease of towing the body 104 in the direction of arrow A along the surface 150 without significant risk of the body 104 interfering with the user's feet when walking in the direction of arrow A and towing the body 104 via the handle 126.

Further, in the towing position, the handle 126, via the ball pivot joint 128, is movable relative to the support 112 and the rolling surface 150 in the direction of arrow B at the distal end 122 of the support 112. That is, the handle 126 is movable in the direction of arrow B about an axis parallel to the axis of the wheels 106 or, alternatively in the direction of arrow B about an axis normal to the longitudinal axis 152 of the support 112. As depicted in FIG. 2, the handle 126 is movable relative to the support 112 in a vertical plane normal to the plane of the rolling surface 150 in the direction of arrow B to the towing position wherein the handle 126 extends in a relatively horizontal or parallel orientation with respect to the rolling surface 150 and in a generally oblique position with respect to the upper surface 114 of the body 104.

Additionally, and in the manner explained below, the ball pivot joint 128 permits the handle to be movable in the direction of arrow C about the longitudinal axis 152 of the telescoping support 112. That is, the handle 126 is pivotable about an axis parallel to, and in exemplary embodiment coincident with, the longitudinal axis 152 of the support 112 to position the handle 126 in a horizontal plane extending parallel to the plane of the rolling surface 150. Thus, the handle 126 is movable about two different and generally perpendicular axes of motion, as indicated by the arrows B and C, and may be moved simultaneously about each of the respective axes within a predetermined range of motion as the handle 126 is gripped and the body 104 is towed along the surface 150. Because the handle 126 floats with a limited degree of freedom about each of the two axes of movement indicated by the arrows B and C, the handle 126 may naturally float relative to the support 112 to an optimal position during towing operation and maintain a consistent orientation with respect to the user's hand, thereby avoiding discomfort and inconvenience associated with a user having to frequently adjust a position of the hand relative to the handle 126 when towing the body 104.

FIGS. 3-5 illustrate further details and relative positioning of the handle 126. As shown in FIG. 3, the handle 126 and ball pivot joint 128 may coupled to the distal end 122 via a socket 160. The socket 160 is fixedly mounted to the end 122 of the support 112, and the socket 160 receives the ball pivot joint 128 and permits floating movement of the ball pivot joint 128 with respect to the socket 160 as explained below.

In an exemplary embodiment, the handle 126 includes a stem 162 coupled in a stationary manner to the ball pivot joint 128, and an asymmetrical shaped handle grip 164 extending from the stem 162. The handle grip 164 generally includes a top surface 166 having generally flat end 168 and a rounded trailing end 170 each extending laterally outwardly from the stem 162. Curved finger grips 172, 174 extend opposite the flat end 168 of the top surface 166 and the trailing end 170 of the top surface 166. In use, a user may grasp the handle 126 with the palm of the hand facing the upper surface 166 and the thumb generally on the trailing end 170, with the user's fingers wrapped around the handle 126 and engaging the finger grips 172, 174. When gripped in such a manner, the asymmetric shaped of the handle 126 is believed to provide a natural and comfortable towing orientation.

While one exemplary shape and configuration of the towing handle 126 has been described and illustrated, it is understood that various shapes and configurations of towing handles may likewise be used in alternative embodiments.

FIG. 4 illustrates a vertical float of the towing handle 126 in the direction of arrow B. The ball pivot joint 128 may float relative to the socket 160 between an initial position (shown in phantom in FIG. 4) and a towing position (shown in solid lines). Movement of the ball pivot joint 128 in the different positions alters the position of the handle stem 162 and grip 164 to adjust the handle position in a vertical plane (a plane parallel to the plane of the paper in FIG. 4). While two positions of the handle 126 are shown in FIG. 4, it is understood that by virtue of the floating movement of the ball pivot joint 128, numerous other positions of the handle 126 relative to the distal end 122 of the support 112 may likewise be realized.

FIG. 5 is a top plan view of the handle 126 illustrating a horizontal float of the towing handle 126 in the socket 162 by virtue of the ball pivot joint 128. The ball pivot joint 128 may float relative to the socket 160 between an initial position (shown in phantom in FIG. 5) and another position (shown with solid lines in FIG. 5), and movement of the ball pivot joint 128 alters the position of the stem 162 of the handle 126 to position the handle 126 accordingly in a horizontal plane (a plane parallel to the plane of the paper in FIG. 5, which in implementation is perpendicular to the plane of the paper in FIG. 4). While two positions of the handle 126 are shown in FIG. 5, it is understood that by virtue of the floating movement of the ball pivot joint 128, numerous other positions of the handle 126 relative to the distal end 122 of the support 112 may likewise be realized.

The horizontal and vertical float of the handle 126 shown in FIGS. 4 and 5 naturally accommodates changing towing conditions while presenting a substantially constant orientation of the handle 126 with respect to the user's hand. Alternatively, and because of the horizontal and vertical float of the handle 126, the handle 126 naturally confirms to a changing position of a user's hand as the body 104 (FIGS. 1 and 2) is being towed and maneuvered via the handle 126. That is, when the user does change hand position, the handle 126 also changes its position, and relative movement of the handle 126 relative to the user's hand is generally avoided. Because the float of the handle 126 in horizontal and vertical directions is reactive to and occurs naturally as a consequence of exerted forces applied to the handle 126 in use, whether such forces are consciously or intentionally exerted by the user or arise physically from a particular towing maneuver or condition.

Notably, the floating handle 126 does not require conscious actuation of locking or unlocking mechanisms by the user that some known dynamic towing handle assemblies require. In other words, the floating and positioning of the handle 126 relative to the support 112, and also with respect to the body 104 and the rolling surface 150 (FIG. 2) requires no action by the user other than pulling of the handle 126 in a given direction, and the floating ball pivot joint 128 causes the support 112 and the body 104 to follow the user's lead when pulling the handle. As a result, and because the handle 126 does not require locking and unlocking about horizontal and vertical axes for positioning of the handle 126, the handle assembly of the present invention is believed to be considerably easier to use, and the body 104 is believed to be considerably easier to maneuver with the floating handle assembly 126 than in relation to towable items having conventional handle assemblies.

As also shown in FIG. 5, the handle 126 may include a release button 180 that actuates a release mechanism explained below for unlocking of the supports 108 and 112 to permit the supports 108 and 112 to move between the retracted and extended positions shown in FIGS. 1a and 1b. In an exemplary embodiment, however, the button 180 is not involved in positioning of the handle 126 in the horizontal and vertical planes as described.

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of the exemplary towing handle assembly 190 including the towing handle 126, the ball pivot joint 128, and the socket 160. The socket 160 includes an upper ball portion 192 that captures the ball joint pivot 128, a lower support portion 194 sized, shaped and dimensioned for insertion into the distal end 122 of the support 112 (shown in FIGS. 1-4), and a transition portion 196 extending between the portions 194 and 196. When the support portion is inserted into the distal end 122 of the support 112, a rim 198 formed in the transition section 196 abuts the end edge of the support 112, and the support portion 194 may be captured or fixed relative to the support 112 with a known fastener or fasteners, such as screws in an exemplary embodiment.

In the illustrated embodiment, the support portion 194 is generally non-circular and complementary in shaped to the support 112, the ball portion 192 is generally spherical, and the transition portion 196 bridges the two very different shapes of the support portion 194 and the ball portion 192. It is understood, however, that the particular shapes of the different portions of the socket 160 described and illustrated herein are exemplary only, and other shapes may likewise be used in alternative embodiments.

FIG. 7 is a perspective view of the towing handle assembly removed from the socket 160, including the ball pivot joint 128, the handle grip 164, and the handle stem 162 extending therebetween.

As seen in FIG. 7, the ball pivot joint 128 comprises a generally spherically shaped ball 200, and the handle stem 162 extends upwardly from the ball in a cylindrical form. A protrusion 201 is formed on an outer surface of the ball and projects outwardly in the form of a peg or a post, and the protrusion 201 cooperates with the socket 160 in the manner explained below to limit float of the handle 126 to a predetermined range of motion. In one embodiment, another protrusion (not seen in FIG. 7) is formed on the ball 200 and is located 180° from the protrusion 201 seen in FIG. 7 for similar purposes. It is understood that other protrusions could likewise be provided if desired.

FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a portion of the towing handle assembly including the ball pivot joint 128 situated in a portion of the socket 160. In an exemplary embodiment the socket 160 is formed in two mirror image sections or halves 210, one of which is shown in FIG. 8. The support portion 194 of each socket section 210 is generally hollow and defines a bore 212 that communicates with a bore of the hollow support 112 (FIGS. 1-4) when the handle system is fully assembled to the towable item 100.

The ball portion 192 of each socket section 210 defines a generally spherically shaped recess or cavity 214 that receives the outer surface of the ball 200 of the ball joint pivot 128. The ball portion 192 of each socket section 210 also defines a shaped neck or collar portion 216 at an upper edge thereof that forms a stop surface for movement of the ball 200 beyond a predetermined amount dependent upon that shape of the neck 216.

A cylindrical neck 218 is formed integrally with the ball 200 at the upper portion thereof, and a connecting shaft 220 extends upwardly from the ball neck 218 for coupling of the handle stem 162 (FIG. 7) to the ball 200. The connecting shaft 220 has a non-circular cross section in an illustrative embodiment to prevent the handle stem 162 (FIG. 7) from twisting or rotating relative to the connecting shaft 220. The ball 200, including the protrusions 201 may be fabricated from, for example, a known plastic material, via known molding techniques in an exemplary embodiment. The ball neck 218 and the connecting shaft 220 may be integrally fabricated or molded with the ball 200, or may be separately fabricated from the same or different materials (e.g., known plastic, rubber, metal and composite materials) and assembled to one another in another embodiment.

FIG. 9 is a perspective view of one of the socket sections 210 with the ball 200 (FIG. 8) removed. An inner surface 230 of the socket ball portion 192 is spherically shaped and receives the outer surface of the ball 200, The inner surface 230 of the socket section 210 and the outer surface of the ball 200 are smooth to provide sliding surface engagement between the ball 200 and the socket section 210. A recess 232 is formed in the inner surface 230 that receives one of the protrusions 201 (FIGS. 7 and 8) formed on the ball 200. The recess 232 is oblong in an exemplary embodiment and is substantially larger in dimension that the protrusions 201 such that when one of the protrusions 201 is fitted into the recess 232, the protrusion 201 is free to move within the confines of the recess 232 as the ball 200 is moved in sliding engagement with respect to the inner surface 230 of the socket section 210. An outer edge or periphery 234 of the recess 232, however, defines a stop surface that restrains movement of the protrusion 201, and hence movement of the ball 200, beyond a predetermined amount.

Likewise, the socket neck 216 is shaped to define a stop surface that prohibits movement of the ball neck 218 (FIG. 8), and hence movement of the ball 200 relative to the socket beyond a predetermined amount. The socket section 610, including the protrusions recess 232 and the neck 216 may be fabricated from a known material, such as a known plastic material, via known molding techniques in an exemplary embodiment, although a variety of known materials and fabrication methods may alternatively be used.

FIG. 10 illustrates the handle 126 in relation to the socket section 210 with the ball 200 (FIGS. 7 and 8) removed wherein it is seen that the neck of the socket sections 210 effectively limits movement of the handle 126 about a vertical axis in the direction of arrow B, while the periphery 234 of the socket recess 232 in the inner surface 230 that receives the ball 200 effectively limits movement of the handle 126 in a horizontal plane about the axis 152 that extends parallel to the support 112 as seen in FIG. 2. Thus, the socket neck 216 and outer periphery 234 of the recess 232 define the vertical and horizontal float, respectively, of the handle 126 in use. The handle 126 is freely movable in between the ranges of motion defined by the neck 216 and the recess 232 but is restrained from movement between the predetermined ranges of motion provided by the neck 216 and the recess 232. While the handle 126 is restrained or stopped from movement beyond a predetermined amount or degree, in an exemplary embodiment the handle 126 is never locked in any one position relative to the socket section 210, and accordingly locking and unlocking mechanisms to move the handle 126 relative to the socket section 210 are not present and need not be actuated to position the handle 126 in a comfortable towing position. It is understood, however, that such locking and unlocking mechanisms could be provided while achieving at least some of the advantages of the ball and socket type joint coupling the handle 126 to the support 112.

FIG. 11 illustrates the ball joint pivot 128 captured between two socket sections 210. The socket sections 210 collectively define the socket 160 and are fastened to one another prior to securing the socket 160 to the support 112 via the support portion 194. The connecting shaft 220 extending from the ball neck 218 is exposed for coupling to the handle 126. In this arrangement, the ball joint pivot 128 is movable within the limits of the socket neck and the ball protrusions engaging the socket recesses as discussed above in relation to FIGS. 9 and 10, and as the ball slides or floats within the socket sections 210, the relative position of the ball neck 218 and the connecting shaft 220 with respect to the socket sections 210 is changed, allowing the handle to be adjusted horizontally and vertically as described above.

FIG. 12 illustrates the handle stem 162 coupled to the ball neck 218, and the ball 200 received in one of the socket sections 210. FIG. 13 illustrates the handle 126 removed from the remainder of the assembly. The handle 126 may be fabricated from a known plastic material, for example, and portions of the handle 126 may be covered with resilient padding material (e.g., rubber materials), particularly with respect to some or all of the hand grip 164, including the flat end 168, the trailing end 170, and the finger grip portions 172 and 174 to further enhance towing comfort for the user.

FIG. 14 is an exploded view of the towing handle assembly illustrating assembly of the components. The ball joint pivot 128 may be captured by and between the opposing socket sections 210, and a socket ring 250 may be provided to secure the socket sections 210 to one another and/or to retain the ball joint pivot 128 in a predetermined position with respect to the socket sections 210. The socket ring 250 may engage the socket sections 210 with snap-fit engagement, or alternatively the socket ring may otherwise be secured with external fasteners.

Once the socket sections 210, the ball joint pivot 128, and the socket ring 250 are assembled. The support portions 194 of the socket sections 210 may be received in and joined to the distal end 122 of the support 112. The exposed handle stem 162 may then be joined or secured to the handle grip 164. A handle cover 252 may be separately fabricated and coupled to the handle grip 164, and the handle cover may define the flat end 168 and the trailing end 170 of the handle upper surface 166. The release button 180 is received in an opening 254 in the trailing end of the cover 270.

FIGS. 15 and 16 are side elevational views of the handle assembly schematically illustrating operation of the button 180 and associated release mechanism 260. A pin 272 is slidably received in a receptacle formed in the handle grip 164, and when the button 180 is depressed in the direction of arrow D, the pin 272 is moved linearly within the hand grip 164 in the direction of arrow D. A release element 274 is coupled to the pin 272 and extends through the handle stem 162, the ball neck 218, the ball 200 (shown in phantom in FIG. 15), the support portion 194 of the socket 160 and into the support arm 112. An opposite end of the release element 274, which may be a wire element known in the art, is coupled to a release mechanism for the supports 108, 112, which may be a spring loaded pin (not shown) located within the telescoping support 112 and extendable through locking apertures (not shown) in the supports 108, 112 as is known in the art.

When the pin 272 is moved in the direction of arrow D as shown in FIG. 16, displacement of the pin 272 pulls the release element 274 upward in the direction of arrow E through the support 112. to unlock the telescoping support 112 from the stationary support 108 and permit telescoping of the supports 112 and 108 between the retracted and extended positions shown in FIG. 1a and 1b. A bias element 276, such as helical coil spring, for example, surrounds the pin 272 and is loaded when the pin 272 is depressed in the direction of arrow D. In response thereto, the bias element 276 exerts a force in a direction of arrow F, opposite in direction to the direction of arrow D in which the button 180 has been depressed, to return the button 180 to its original position shown in FIG. 15.

The above described ball and socket type joint coupling the handle 126 to the telescoping support 112 allows the handle 126 to be adjusted to comfortable towing positions for user's of varying height, and provides flexibility in the position of the user's hand while towing the wheeled device. The handle 126 may be gripped in a left or right-handed mode of use, and the amount of float in the handle position may be damped and limited for an optimum range of uses. The float allows for the handle 126 to rotate back, toward the user, so that the handle 126 in parallel to the ground when the wheeled item is being towed, facilitating an in line palm facing body hand position when in use. This offers significant ergonomic benefits, as well as greatly improved control, to the user. The ball and socket type joint system simplifies the construction and function of the handle, and allows for a greater level of flexibility and comfort than known dynamic towing handle systems.

The shape of the socket section of the joint, as well as the shape of the ball section of the joint may be designed in such a way as to limit the rotation in all directions to an optimum range for the specific application. The limiting effect of the joint can be modified to allow for more or less float and rotation, depending on the particular application. The limiting shape of the socket is designed to prevent unwanted rotation or to limit unnecessary float in the system. It is recognized that varying proportions of the ball outer surface and socket inner surface could be utilized with similar effect to provide float in the handle assembly. That is, only a portion of the ball joint pivot need have a generally spherical or ball-shaped outer surface that slidably engages a portion of the socket inner surface to provide the float and limited freedom of movement discussed above, as opposed to the illustrative embodiment wherein substantially an entire ball is utilized to effect the desired motion and achieve the advantages of the invention.

The grip assembly structure may incorporate, but is not limited by, the following features and aspects: (1) a push-button mechanism to lock and unlock the pull telescoping supports, (2) resistance elements and mechanisms (not shown) to dampen the rotation of the top section and enhance the users ability to regulate motion, (3) a wider flanged area on the top section to reduce the possibility of the users hand sliding off of the grip in the event of obstacle or disruption, and (4) stops engineering into the swivel mechanism (i.e., the ball joint pivot and socket) to limit the range of rotation of the handle.

While the invention has been described in terms of various specific embodiments, those skilled in the art will recognize that the invention can be practiced with modification within the spirit and scope of the claims.