Title:
Illuminated solar umbrella
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A self-contained, maintenance free, rechargeable lighting system for use with a canopy to provide illumination in the absence of sunlight. By utilizing solar energy, the system is free of electrical cords, thereby making it usable in a variety of applications where electrical outlets are either not readily accessible or may present a safety concern.



Inventors:
Peterson, Richard (Taunton, MA, US)
Application Number:
10/439650
Publication Date:
11/18/2004
Filing Date:
05/16/2003
Assignee:
PETERSON RICHARD
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A45B3/04; A45B25/06; A45B25/18; (IPC1-7): A45B3/02
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
TRUONG, BAO Q
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Nields, Lemack & Frame, LLC (Westborough, MA, US)
Claims:

What is claimed is:



1. An umbrella, comprising: a canopy; a support member; a frame supporting said canopy, said frame being slidingly engaged on said support member to move said canopy between an open position and a closed position; a solar collector mounted on said umbrella; one or more lights mounted on said umbrella; an energy storage component in electrical communication with said solar collector and with said one or more lights, said energy collector storing energy collected by said solar collector and illuminating said one or more lights.

2. The umbrella of claim 1, further comprising a power manager in electrical communication with said solar collector and said storage component, said power manager controlling the flow of power to and from said energy storage component.

3. The umbrella of claim 1, wherein said support member comprises a conduit, and wherein electrical communication between said at least one light and said storage component is provided by wires positioned in said conduit.

4. The umbrella of claim 3, wherein said conduit is located within said support member.

5. The umbrella of claim 3, wherein said conduit is exterior of said support member.

6. The umbrella of claim 1, wherein said storage component comprises one or more batteries.

7. The umbrella of claim 1, wherein said one or more lights are light emitting diodes.

8. The umbrella of claim 1, wherein said canopy has a top side and an opposite underside, and wherein said solar collector is mounted to said top side of said canopy and said one or more lights is mounted to said underside of said canopy.

9. A method for illuminating an area under a canopy, comprising: a. Placing means for collecting solar energy atop said canopy; b. Routing energy produced by said solar collecting means to energy storing means; c. Affixing illumination means on the underside of said canopy; and d. Routing energy stored in said energy storing means to said illumination means.

10. The method of claim 9, wherein said illumination means comprises low power lighting.

11. The method of claim 9, wherein said collecting means comprises a solar collector.

12. The method of claim 9, further comprising a power manager, wherein said power manager routes energy from said collecting means to said energy storing means when said collecting means are generating energy.

13. The method of claim 9, wherein said power manager routes energy from said energy storing means to said illumination means.

14. The method of claim 9, wherein said energy storing means comprises a rechargeable battery.

15. A system for illuminating an area under a canopy comprising: a. Means for collecting solar energy mounted on said canopy; b. Means for illumination mounted on said canopy; c. Means for storing energy collected by said collecting means; and d. A power manager, in electrical connection with said collecting means, said illumination means and said energy storing means.

16. The system of claim 15, wherein said power manager routes energy from said collecting means to said energy storing means when said collecting means is generating energy.

17. The system of claim 15, wherein said power manager routes energy from said energy storing means to said illuminating means.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0001] Table umbrellas traditionally are used to provide relief from the sun's rays during the daytime hours. However, they can also be used to provide lighting in the evening. For example, artificial lights attached to the underside of the umbrella's canopy provide illumination of the table during dusk, nighttime hours, or during periods where there is insufficient sunlight. These lights typically attach to the underside of the umbrella and are powered by a standard electrical outlet, typically via an extension cord. The need for an external power source reduces the effectiveness of these lights under certain situations, such as in a crowded outdoor restaurant where multiple extension cords may be a safety hazard, or in secluded areas where access to an electrical outlet may be difficult or impossible.

[0002] In addition, when incandescent string lights are mounted on the ribs of the conventional models of illuminated umbrella canopies, the bulbs are trapped or pinched against the ribs and the hard surfaces of these ribs and the support mechanisms when closing or lowering the fabric canopy. This results in premature failure of the bulbs and the related wiring when closing the umbrella due to inclement weather or seasonal storage of the canopy.

[0003] It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide a self-contained, maintenance-free, rechargeable lighting system in combination with an umbrella, the lighting system supplying suitable lighting during periods of insufficient sunlight, without the necessity of external wires or cords. This invention finds application in a variety of locations, such as beaches, patios, decks, backyards, kiosks, outdoor dining areas, and queue lines.

[0004] It is a further object of the present invention to provide a lighted umbrella assembly, including a canopy, a support member supporting the canopy between an open position and a closed position, and a rechargeable lighting system including one or more solar collectors, an energy storage component associated with the one or more solar collectors, and one or more lights powered by the storage component.

[0005] It is still another object of the present invention to provide a lighted umbrella assembly within minimal or no wiring in the vicinity of the umbrella ribs, and that utilizes LED task lighting that is positioned a safe distance away from the hard surfaces of the umbrella canopy.

[0006] It is yet another object of the present invention to provide an umbrella kit including the aforementioned lighting components, with or without an umbrella and umbrella support, along with instructions for assembling the same or for retrofitting an existing umbrella with the lighting components.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0007] The problems of the prior art have been overcome by the present invention, which provides a self-contained lighting system in combination with an umbrella. The lighting system includes one or more light sources, which preferably are mounted on the underside of the umbrella canopy and are powered by an energy storage component such as one or more batteries. The energy storage component is preferably housed in close proximity to the umbrella stand, and is recharged by energy received from a solar collector preferably attached to the outer surface of the canopy. The system also comprises a power manager, which directs energy from the solar collector to the energy storage component during periods of sunlight, and draws energy from the energy storage component to power the lights during periods of insufficient sunlight, such as during evening hours. The power manager can also be used to automatically turn on and off the lights based on available sunlight.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0008] FIG. 1 is a side view of the present invention with the canopy in the open position;

[0009] FIG. 2 is a top view of the present invention with the canopy in the open position;

[0010] FIG. 3 is a side view of the present invention in greater detail;

[0011] FIG. 4 is a side view of the present invention with the canopy in the closed position;

[0012] FIG. 5 is an exemplary electrical schematic that can be used in accordance with the present invention;

[0013] FIG. 6 is a side view of the present invention with an alternate energy storage assembly location and a semi-permanent installation; and

[0014] FIG. 7 is a side view of the present invention with an external conduit and orientation key locations.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0015] Turning first to FIG. 1, there is shown generally at 10 a stand-alone, portable umbrella, preferably an umbrella for use with an outdoor table having a central aperture for receiving the umbrella support member. The umbrella is comprised of a canopy 11, which can be comprised of one or several pieces and is typically made of fabric or vinyl and is preferably water-resistant; a support member 12, typically made of wood, metal such as aluminum or stainless steel, fiberglass, carbon fiber or plastic; and an umbrella stand 13, typically constructed of a material of sufficient weight itself, or designed to be filled with a material of sufficient weight (e.g., water or stones) to serve as a counterweight and a secure holder for the canopy and pole. The size and shape of the canopy 11 is not particularly limited and depends in part of the particular application desired. The support member 12 is sized appropriately so that the canopy 11, in its opened condition, is of the desired height. For example, where the umbrella assembly is to be used in conjunction with a dinner or picnic table, the support member 12 must extend vertically from the ground (or other substrate) a sufficient distance to allow for one or more persons to be seated around the table and under the opened canopy 11. The support member 12 can be solid or hollow, provided it has the requisite rigidity to support the canopy 11 and withstand winds and other environmental elements typical of the application. Preferably it is hollow to accommodate wiring as discussed in greater detail below, however a solid support member is also within the scope of the present invention.

[0016] In accordance with the present invention, one or more solar collectors 14, capable of receiving energy from the sun and known to those skilled in the art, is mounted on the canopy 11 by any suitable means. Suitable solar collectors are commercially available The solar collector(s) 14 is oriented such that when the canopy 11 is in the open position as shown in FIG. 1, the solar collector 14 is thereby tilted toward the sun, for example at a 20°-30° angle from the horizon in the summer sun, enabling it to capture a sufficient and preferably optimal amount of solar energy. The present invention also comprises a power manager 15 and a storage assembly 16, such as one or more batteries, both preferably mounted on or near the umbrella stand 13 to minimize the intrusiveness and conspicuousness of these devices. These devices can be mounted on wheels, so as to facilitate movement of the assembly.

[0017] The power manager 15 preferably is a solid-state device with no mechanical relays. It can be utilized whenever an umbrella is set up in a remote location or where an application requires minimal operator tasks. Only two steps need to be performed for stand-alone illumination after the initial power up:

[0018] The selection of how many hours of illumination are desired, if any; and

[0019] Periodic maintenance of the solar collector.

[0020] The selection of hours can be set so that the hours of automatic illumination can occur at dusk and continue for a predetermined time, such as 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 hours of continuous operation. Alternatively, the controller can be set up to turn on illumination at dusk and operate the task lighting for a predetermined time, such as 3 hours, turn off and turn on again at a predetermined time prior to sunrise, such as 1 hour prior to sunrise. This setting provides illumination for peak operating timeframes with minimal drain on the battery-supplied power. The manager also can include a setting to prevent the task lighting from turning on at all. Preferably included in the electrical wiring is a manual switch to turn on the task lighting “at will” for troubleshooting purposes and other maintenance functions.

[0021] The controller uses the sun's energy generated during periods of daylight hours to detect light and darkness. No voltage (or insufficient voltage) is present from the solar collector in darkness or periods of low light. In this condition, the task lighting is turned on. Conversely, when voltage is present from the solar collectors as in daylight hours, the task lighting is turned off.

[0022] The solar collector must be kept free of any items that may reduce the available sunlight rays from reaching the photovoltaic wafers (or other devices operable to collect solar power) contained in the solar collector. Direct sunlight, when available, must be utilized efficiently for the power manager to operate as stated. Accordingly, preferably a “slot and key” arrangement is utilized in the support member to keep the canopy from spinning or turning away from the optimal predetermined setting of the solar collector upon installation.

[0023] In the event that it is desired to minimize the operational aspects of the power manager controller, the manual on/off switch may be utilized to activate the task lighting. In this mode of operation, the battery may have to be replaced periodically at a greater frequency and the manual operator tasks increase. In this mode, the task lighting may be reduced to sporadic operation, based on the battery's available power. When the battery uses all of its available power, the lighting and the power manager will be turned off. When voltage is restored to the battery, such as by energy received from the solar collector, the power manager will reset.

[0024] FIG. 6 illustrates a side view of the present invention with the power manager box 15 and the energy storage assembly 16 in an alternative location. Rather than resting on the counterweight, as in FIG. 1, these devices are affixed to the support member 12, preferably at a height lower than that of a conventional table. This location may also allow easier access for maintenance of the energy storage assembly and the power manager. In this embodiment, the umbrella stand 13 can be fastened to the horizontal substrate beneath it, such as a wood deck, with one or more lag bolts 29, eliminating the need for a counterweight in the stand.

[0025] FIG. 2 illustrates a top view of the present invention. The canopy 11 is supported by a support frame comprising a plurality of preferably interconnecting support ribs 17 positioned on the underside of the canopy, or in the interior of a dual layered canopy. Typically eight support ribs are used as in a conventional umbrella, although the exact number is not critical to the present invention. In this example, the canopy 11 is comprised of 2 parts: a main canopy 18 and a vent flap 19. One or more solar collectors 14 is mounted on the main canopy 18, preferably in a location where its weight is primarily supported by at least one support rib 17. In the embodiment shown, the wires exiting the solar collector 14 pass between the main canopy 18 and the vent flap 19 and emerge on the underside of the canopy. In the case of a single piece canopy, the wires from the solar collector can be guided to the outer edge of the canopy and thereafter to the underside. Mounted to the underside of the canopy is one or more task lighting devices 20, preferably low power devices, most preferably devices employing light emitting diode (LED) technology. The amount of task lighting required is dependent upon the umbrella size, shape and the desired use. In the exemplary figure, the lighting devices are LED ribbon cables, each containing a plurality of LEDs 21, and these are arranged on the underside of the canopy, preferably between the support ribs so as not to impede the closing of the canopy 11. The lighting devices can be arranged in any pattern, such as the symmetrical illumination pattern shown, and can be any color, such as “cool white”, or a multiplicity of colors. The LEDs provide sufficient lighting for reading, due to the concentrated focal point of the light as it is cast upon the table and over the shoulder of the reader sitting under the umbrella. Further, the mounted angle of the ribbon cable to the bottom side of the umbrella canopy minimizes the light available to shine in the eyes of a person seated directly across from each strip of task lighting. Power to the lighting devices 20 is provided via wires, preferably traversing the outer circumference of the canopy at intervals dictated by the diameter of the canopy, and is preferably enclosed in a fabric seam wireway 22. Preferably this cable assembly is a wiring harness fabricated for the particular diameter or dimensions of the circumference of the canopy and all required connections are of the male-female solder type.

[0026] Referring to FIG. 3, a closer side view of the umbrella pole and support ribs is shown. The wires exiting the solar collector 14 travel between the main canopy 18 and the vent flap 19, preferably located at the apex of the canopy, and enter a conduit inside or external to the support member 12, preferably near the top of the member. In the preferred embodiment, the support member is made of a solid material such as metal or most preferably wood, with a hollow conduit 23 integral therewith and through which the wires traverse the length of the support pole. The conduit is located so that it does not interfere with the opening/raising or closing/lowering of the canopy, yet provides protection for the cables that carry the required voltage. The wires carrying the collected solar energy extend to the power manager 15 and energy storage component 16, and provide electrical communication between the power manager, the energy storage component, and the solar collector. Preferably all of the connections that originate or terminate at the power manager are secured by clamp type screw terminals and is a weather tight assembly that is self-contained and sealed from the elements. The wires needed to power the lighting devices extend from the storage component 16, into the counterweight 14 and up through the same conduit to the canopy 11, and provide electrical communication between the one or more lights and the energy storage component 16. Alternatively, the wires could extend along the outside of the support member 12, although this is not as attractive and does not as effectively shield the wires from the weather. As is typical with an umbrella, the support ribs are interconnecting through a central rib base 24, which encircles the support member 12 and freely slides along the member 12 between a fixed canopy open position and a canopy closed position. Movement of the rib base in the upward direction causes the support ribs to pull the canopy in, thereby closing the umbrella. Movement of the rib base in the downward direction causes the support ribs to push the canopy out, thereby opening the umbrella. Preferably a locking mechanism is utilized to fix the canopy in the open position.

[0027] Alternatively, as shown in FIG. 7, the wires could be enclosed in an external conduit 28 along the outside of the support member 12. In this embodiment, wires exiting the solar collector 14 enter the conduit 28 preferably near the top of the support pole 12. A clearance hole 30 is created in the central rib base 24 to facilitate the sliding upward and downward action of the rib base so as to allow the canopy to open and close. The external conduit 28 can be fastened to the support pole 12 in a number of ways, including glue, fasteners or preferably strap clamps 31. An orientation key 32 is preferably provided at the bottom of the support pole to facilitate interlocking with the counterweight. This key 32 insures that the support member 12 does not rotate, as a result of wind or human interaction. This is beneficial to ensure that the solar collectors 14 remain oriented in the optimal direction to receive the sun's rays.

[0028] FIG. 4 shows the umbrella in the closed position, such as in inclement weather or high winds. In this position, the lighting devices are contained under the canopy and are shielded from the weather, while the solar collector remains on the outside of the canopy. Although the angle of the solar collector in this position is roughly perpendicular to the horizon, the collector is still able to collect solar energy, albeit less efficiently than when in the open position.

[0029] FIG. 5 shows an exemplary electrical schematic of the circuitry involved in the present invention. The one or more solar collectors 14 collects energy from the sun and passes this energy through wires 25 to the power manager 15. The power manager routes this energy to the energy storage component 16, preferably one or a multiplicity of batteries, most preferably a wet-type cell, through wires 26. In this way, energy captured when sunlight is available is stored for use at a later time. In the preferred embodiment, four hours of sunlight provides sufficient power to replenish the energy used by the lighting during the previous evening. A third set of wires 27 provides electrical communication between the power manager and the lighting devices 20. Referring back to FIGS. 3 and 7, wire sets 25 and 27 preferably traverse the support pole inside a conduit.

[0030] The present invention also can be provided in kit form, wherein the lighting system, including one or more lights, one or more solar collectors, the energy storage component, the power manager, and suitable wiring are provided for either retrofitting with an existing umbrella, or are included with an umbrella. Instructions for assembly of the solar powered, illuminated, stand-alone umbrella are included in the kit.





 
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