Title:
Flexible panel
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The flexible panel is made of juxtaposed rectangular bars each having holes extending transversely therein and elastic cords threaded through these holes for keeping the bars closely positioned side-by-side. Adjacent bars have a shiplap joint there between comprising a first notch in the top surface and the first side surface of a first bar, and a second notch in the bottom surface and the second side surface of the second bar, wherein these notches have overlapping horizontal surfaces. In another aspect of the present invention, each hole along the shiplap joint is made of two separable cylindrical grooves facing each other and forming a closed cylindrical wall when the shiplap joint is integral and a separable segment when the shiplap joint is pulled apart.



Inventors:
Thorne, Michael B. (New Brunswick, CA)
Application Number:
10/941870
Publication Date:
03/24/2005
Filing Date:
09/16/2004
Assignee:
THORNE MICHAEL B.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A47K3/00; B65G69/28; E01C5/00; E01C9/08; E01D15/133; E01D15/20; (IPC1-7): E01C5/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
KATCHEVES, BASIL S
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MARIO D. THERIAULT (FREDERICTON, NB, CA)
Claims:
1. A flexible panel made of several juxtaposed rectangular bars wherein each of said bars has a hole extending transversely there through, and further comprising; an elastic cord threaded through said holes in said bars for keeping said bars closely positioned side-by-side; and each of a first and second of said bars in a pair of adjacent bars having a top surface, a bottom surface, first and second side surfaces and a shiplap joint there between, said shiplap joint comprising a first notch in a said top surface and said first side surface of said first bar, and a second notch in said bottom surface and said second side surface of said second bar; said first and second notches having overlapping horizontal surfaces.

2. The flexible panel as claimed in claim 1, wherein each of said bars has a same thickness and each of said notches has a depth dimension corresponding the one half of said thickness.

3. The flexible panel as claimed in claim 2, wherein each of said bars has a horizontal median plane and said hole has an axis extending along said horizontal median plane.

4. The flexible panel as claimed in claim 3, wherein said hole has a separable segment along said shiplap joint.

5. The flexible panel as claimed in claim 4, wherein said elastic cord has a diameter and said separable segment has a length which is about twice as long as said diameter.

6. A flexible panel made of several juxtaposed rectangular bars wherein each of said bars has a pair of holes extending transversely therein, and further comprising; a pair of elastic cords threaded through said holes in all said bars for keeping all said bars closely positioned side-by-side; and each pair of said bars adjacent each other having an overlapping shiplap joint there between; said shiplap joint being made of two longitudinal notches positioned on opposite corners of adjacent sides of said bars in said pair; said notches having respective horizontal surfaces overlapping each other, and each of said holes having an axis that is contiguous with said horizontal surfaces.

7. The flexible panel as claimed in claim 6, further having an end bar, and a cylindrical cavity in said end bar on an end of said hole, and said elastic cord has a knot thereon in said cavity.

8. The flexible panel as claimed in claim 7 further having a plug in said cavity.

9. The flexible panel as claimed in claim 6, wherein said hole comprises a separable segment along said shiplap joint.

10. The flexible panel as claimed in claim 6, wherein said bars are made of eastern white cedar.

11. The flexible panel as claimed in claim 9, wherein said elastic cord has a diameter and said separable segment is about twice as long as said diameter.

12. The flexible panel as claimed in claim 9, wherein said hole between said separable segments has a length that is about 43% of a total width of said bar.

13. The flexible panel as claimed in claim 7, further having a transverse hole in said end bar and a string attached to said end bar through said hole.

14. The flexible panel as claimed in claim 6, wherein said bars have shiplap notches on the ends thereof.

15. In combination, a flexible panel made of several juxtaposed rectangular bars each having a pair of holes extending transversely therein through, and further comprising; a pair of elastic cords threaded through said holes in said bars for keeping said bars closely positioned side-by-side; and each of a first and second of said bars in a pair of adjacent bars having a top surface, a bottom surface, first and second side surfaces and overlapping shiplap joint there between, said shiplap joint comprising a first notch in a said top surface and said first side surface of said first bar, and a second notch in said bottom surface and said second side surface of said second bar; said first and second notches having overlapping horizontal surfaces; wherein each of said bars having a same thickness and each of said notches having a depth dimension corresponding to about one half of said thickness; and a bag enclosing said flexible panel; said bag having a cylindrical shape and a bottom surface, wherein said flexible panel is bent in a cylindrical form.

16. The combination as claimed in claim 15, wherein bag is made of a flexible fabric material.

17. The combination as claimed in claim 15, wherein said bottom surface of said bag is an open-mesh-like material.

18. The combination as claimed in claim 15, wherein said flexible panel has side dimensions of about 16 inches.

19. The combination as claimed in claim 15, wherein said bag has an inside surface, an outside surface and pockets on said outside surface.

20. The combination as claimed in claim 15 further comprising aeration channels between said inside surface and said flexible panel.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention pertains to flexible panels made of juxtaposed rigid bars through which cables are threaded. More particularly, it relates to flexible panels in which the bars have shiplap edges and the cables are elastic cords.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Flexible walkways and roadways are generally made of parallel bars that are held side by side by flexible tie members. These pathways are used to cover soft grounds, for example, to prevent pedestrian or vehicle traffic from damaging the ground surfaces. In many applications, the pathways are made of rectangular or tubular bars that are held together by cables passing transversely through the bars. However, when a concentrated load is placed or moved on such a flexible pathway, the relative movements of adjacent bars tend to shear the cables holding the bars together. It is believed that these shear stresses on the cables eventually break the cables and cause the pathway to separate.

Examples of roadways made of juxtaposed bars held by cables passing though the bars are shown in the following documents:

  • U.S. Pat. No. 3,595,140 issued to C. F. Lundin on Jul. 27, 1971;
  • U.S. Pat. No. 6,652,184 issued to K. Knafelc et al. on Nov. 25, 2003.

The reduction of shear stresses in the cables of flexible pathways has been partly addressed in the past by threading the cables above or below the axes of the bars. The cables are then subjected to more tension and bending than shear forces and therefore, these designs are more durable than the first-mentioned pathways. Various methods for retaining juxtaposed bars in such a way are illustrated in the following documents:

  • U.S. Pat. No. 3,685,403 issued to A. Domnick on Aug. 22, 1972;
  • U.S. Pat. No. 3,912,408 issued to A. Domnick on Oct. 14, 1975;
  • U.S. Pat. No. 6,463,613 issued to L. M. Thompson on Oct. 15, 2002;
  • GB Patent Application 2,207,349 published on Feb. 1, 1989 by J. S. Webber.

Other flexible pathways have spacers between adjacent bars to reduce the direct shearing forces on the cables when adjacent bars are displaced relative to each other. The spacers allow the cables to flex and stretch and dissipate shear stresses thereon. In most applications these spacers are tubular in shape and have a diametrical dimension that is less than the thickness of the bars. Flexible pathways with spacers between the bars are illustrated in the following documents.

  • U.S. Pat. No. 5,118,542 issued to W. H. McLeod on Jun. 2, 1992;
  • U.S. Pat. No. 5,282,692 issued to W. H. McLeod on Feb. 1, 1994;
  • U.S. Pat. No. 6,575,660 issued to D. Davis et al. on Jun. 10, 2003;
  • US Patent Application 2004/0042851 published on Mar. 4, 2004 by D. Davis et al.

Another desirable feature in a flexible pathway is the ability to distribute a concentrated load to several adjacent bars without losing the flexibility of the pathway. This feature as such has not been found in the prior art.

Although the flexible pathways of the prior art deserve undeniable merits, it is believed that a need still exists for a flexible pathway that has in combination, means between the bars to protect the ropes from shear stresses, and bars that interlock with each other to better support concentrated loads.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In a broad form, the present invention consists of a panel made of several juxtaposed rigid bars, through which are threaded one or more elastic cords. Each panel is rigid along the bars and is flexible across the bars. The bars have shiplap edges such that the edge of one bar overlaps the edge of an adjacent bar to distribute a concentrated load to a number of bars. The bars in one panel are held together by the tension set in the elastic cords.

In a first aspect of the present invention, there is provided a flexible panel made of juxtaposed rectangular bars each having at least one hole extending transversely there through. An elastic cord is threaded through that hole in all the bars for keeping all the bars closely positioned side-by-side. Each pair of adjacent bars have a shiplap joint there between. This shiplap joint comprises a first notch in the top surface and the first side surface of the first bar, and a second notch in the bottom surface and the second side surface of the second bar. These notches have rectangular shapes and overlapping horizontal surfaces extending along the horizontal median planes of the bars.

The notches on a same bar are symmetrical to each other with a first notch in the top surface on one side of the bar, and a second notch in the bottom surface on the other side of the bar. Because of this symmetry, the bars are easily manufactured and the panel made with these bars is easily assembled without distinction as to the orientation of the top and bottom surfaces of the bars. In use, a load applied to one bar is distributed to the other bars in an upstair direction relative to the shiplap joints.

In another aspect of the present invention, each hole has an axis that is contiguous with the overlapping horizontal surfaces of the notches. Each hole along the shiplap joint is made of two separable cylindrical grooves facing each other and forming a closed cylindrical wall when the shiplap joint is integral. These grooves jointly define a separable cylindrical segment when the shiplap joint is pulled apart. This separable segment provides the spacer means to allow the elastic cord to bend and stretch when the shiplap joint is separated to reduce the shear stress on the cord.

In yet another aspect of the present invention, there is provided a shower mat kit comprising in combination the flexible panel having shiplap joints between the bars thereof, and a bag having a mesh-like fabric on its bottom surface. The flexible panel is usable as a shower mat. In this aspect of the present invention, the bag contains the flexible panel in a rolled-up cylindrical shape. In this configuration, the bending of the shiplap joints causes one corner on every bar to project outwardly from the cylindrical shape, and causes the inside surface of the bag to stretch away from the outside surface of the bars, thereby creating aeration channels along the outside surfaces of the bars to facilitate the drying of the flexible panel when the panel is wet.

This brief summary has been provided so that the nature of the invention may be understood quickly. A more complete understanding of the invention can be obtained by reference to the following detailed description of the preferred embodiments thereof in connection with the attached drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Three embodiments of the present invention are illustrated in the accompanying drawings, in which like numerals denote like parts throughout the several views, and in which:

FIG. 1 is a perspective top view of a flexible panel according to the first preferred embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a partial cross-section view through an end of the first preferred flexible panel, showing the end segment of an elastic cord, as seen along line 2 in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a cross-section view through a single bar along the hole in which one of the elastic cords is threaded;

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of the basic elements comprised in the flexible panel according to the first preferred embodiment;

FIG. 5 is a perspective top view of a ground mat made of several juxtaposed flexible panels;

FIG. 6 is a perspective side and bottom view of a first preferred flexible panel in a curved configuration;

FIG. 7 is a perspective side view of an optional bar usable in the flexible panel when applied to ground mats as shown in FIG. 5;

FIG. 8 is a perspective side and top view of a flexible pathway according to a second preferred embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 9 is a partial cross-section view through a pair of juxtaposed bars in the article according to the first or second preferred embodiment, as seen along one of the elastic cords therein;

FIG. 10 is a partial side view of the article according to the first or second preferred embodiment, showing two adjacent bars in a section of the preferred panel or pathway when that section is bent to a maximum extent;

FIG. 11 is a perspective side view of a shower mat kit according to the third preferred embodiment of the present invention, comprising a flexible panel and a carrying bag;

FIG. 12 is a partial top view of the shower mat kit showing the aeration channels between the bars of the panel and the inside surface of the bag;

FIG. 13 is a perspective side view of the flexible panel according to the first preferred embodiment tied in a compact arrangement with a string affixed through one of the end bars thereof;

FIG. 14 is a partial view of two flexible panels laid end to end and showing one method of joining the two flexible panels using C-shaped pins extending into their end bars.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

While this invention is susceptible of embodiment in many different forms, there are shown in the drawings and will be described in details herein three specific embodiments, with the understanding that the present disclosure is to be considered as an example of the principles of the invention and is not intended to limit the invention to the embodiments illustrated and described.

In a first preferred embodiment of the present invention, there is provided a panel 20 made of juxtaposed rigid bars 22, as illustrated in FIG. 1, through which are threaded two elastic cords. These elastic cords 24 are better illustrated in FIGS. 2 and 4. Each panel 20 is rigid along the bars 22 and is flexible across the bars. The bars 22 have shiplap edges 26 as shown in FIGS. 2 and 4 such that the edge of one bar overlaps the edge of an adjacent bar to distribute a concentrated load to a number of bars. The bars 22 in the panel 20 are held together by the tension set in the elastic cords 24. A pair of opposite shiplap edges 26 constitute a shiplap joint 26′.

The bars 22 in the panel 20 according to the first preferred embodiment or any other embodiments described hereinafter are preferably made of eastern white cedar, or other cedar species. Cedar woods have natural oils and compounds that resist humidity-related decay, diseases and rotting. Cedar woods do not warp as much as other woods, and therefor do not deform when exposed to the sun and rain as much as other wood species. Therefore cedar wood constitutes an excellent choice for making ground cover panels as described herein.

In all the embodiments of the present invention, the shiplap edges 26 on each bar 22 extend along the bar as illustrated in FIGS. 2 and 4. Therefore, a load ‘W’ on one bar 22 is transmitted and distributed to several adjacent bars 22 in the upstair direction relative to the shiplap joints, as illustrated by arrow 28. Because of this feature, the panel 20 for example, is useful for supporting concentrated loads such as a chair or a table having pointed legs for example, on a soft ground.

In another aspect of the invention, it will be appreciated that when the wheel of a vehicle, such as a wheelchair, a stroller or a bicycle rolls on the panel in the direction of arrow 28, the panel does not tend to buckle up in front of the wheel, such as in the case of a similar panel made of straight-sided bars.

Each elastic cord 24 is threaded through a respective hole 30 extending across each bar. The end bar 32 on each panel 20 has a countersunk cavity 34 centred on each hole 30. This cavity provides space for concealing a knot 36 on the end of the elastic cord 24. In use, each cavity 34 is covered by a plug 38. In the panels used for general purposes, the elastic cords 24 have a diameter of about ¼ inch.

Referring now to FIG. 3, the structure of each bar will be described in greater details. Each bar 22 has rounded or bevelled outside corners 40 to enhance the appearance of the panel. Each shiplap edge 26 has bevelled inside corners 42 to prevent the bar from splitting under load.

Each bar 22 has a rectangular overall cross-section, a total width ‘A’ of about 1¾ inches and a total thickness ‘B’ of about ¾ inch. Each bar 22 has two rectangular notches therein. Each notch has a side dimension ‘C’ of ½ inch and a depth dimension ‘D’ of ⅜ inch. These notches extend longitudinally on diagonally opposite edges of the bar, with overlapping surfaces 44 extending contiguous with a horizontal median plane 46 of the bar.

Each hole 30 has an axis extending along the median plane 46 of the bar and being contiguous with the overlapping surfaces 44 along both sides of the bar. Portions of the hole 30 across the overlapping surfaces 44 have a trough-like shape referred to herein as a cylindrical groove 30′. These cylindrical grooves 30′ and the overlapping surfaces 44 defining the shiplap joint 26′ are illustrated in FIG. 4. It will be appreciated that the central portion of each hole 30 having a full wall around its circumference is limited to about 43% of the total width ‘A’ of each bar. When two bars are laid side by side in a shiplap-mode, the cylindrical grooves 30′ in the two bars complement each other for defining a closed wall around the axis of the hole along the shiplap joint 26′, as an extension of the central hole 30. This extension of the central hole is referred to herein as the separable segment. This structural feature provides several advantages that will be described later.

In its broadest form, the flexible panel 20 is square, as shown in FIG. 1, with side dimensions varying between 12 inches to about 24 inches depending upon its application. A number of flexible panels 20 are used to make a portable patio 50 for example, as illustrated in FIG. 5 This type of portable patio is flexible and therefore it can take the shape of the ground surface at a camping site for example, to provide an instant neat frontage for a camping vehicle.

Referring to FIG. 6, the panel 20 according to the first preferred embodiment of the present invention is flexible across the bars 22, in both directions perpendicular to the plane of the panel.

An optional bar 52 which can be used to make the flexible panel 20 is illustrated in FIG. 7. This bar 52 has a shiplap shape 54 on both ends thereof in addition to the shiplap edges 26 along its longitudinal sides. Panels made with these bars 54 are thereby joinable end to end with adjacent panels to better distribute loads. Panels made with these bars 52 are preferably used to make portable patios as illustrated in FIG. 5.

The flexibility of the shiplap joint 26′ is particularly appreciable for making an elongated pathway 60, according to a second preferred embodiment of the present invention, such as illustrated in FIG. 8. In this second preferred embodiment, the tension in the elastic cords 24 is preferably set to allow the rolling up of the pathway 60 in a tightly wound form 62 such as illustrated in FIG. 8, for handling and storing the pathway with ease. Two or more pathway 60 may be laid side by side to make a portable patio that is easily deployed and stowed away between uses.

Another advantage of the panel 20 or of the pathway 60 according to one of the preferred embodiments of the present invention is illustrated in FIG. 9. It will be appreciated from this illustration that a displacement between two adjacent bars 22 does not apply a shearing force on the elastic cord 24. The shiplap joint 26′ provides spacer means for bending the cord along a relatively large radius. As mentioned before, each hole 30 extending through a pair of juxtaposed bars 22 has a separable segment 66 that is made of two cylindrical grooves 30′. When two adjacent bars 22 are separated vertically, this separable segment 66 opens and exposes the cord 24 over a distance of about ½ inch. In a common panel, this distance is almost twice as much as the diameter of the cord 24 such that the cord can bend and stretch to reduce any concentrated shear stresses thereon caused by the relative displacements of the bars.

As shown in FIG. 10, the panel 20 or pathway 60 according to any one of the preferred embodiments is bendable tightly and in both directions perpendicular to its plane such that it can be packaged and stored in a tight roll form or in a compact flat form.

The flexible panel and the flexible pathway of the first and second preferred embodiments have been described as ground covers to protect the soil or to increase the load supporting ability of a soil. It will be appreciated that other applications are also possible and in particular, the preferred flexible panel can also be used for examples as a door mat or a kneeling pad. Similarly, the pathway according to the second preferred embodiment can also be used for examples as a beach mat; an ice-rescue crawl track, and even as a mattress stiffener.

Referring now to FIGS. 11 and 12, the shower mat kit 70 according to the third preferred embodiment of the present invention will be described. This shower mat kit comprises in combination, a flexible panel 20 as described in the first preferred embodiment, and a bag 72 for carrying the flexible panel 20 in a rolled-up form. The kit is usable as a shower mat kit for campers. The flexible panel 20 is usable as a personal shower mat, and the bag is used as a carrying device to carry the flexible panel, a towel, a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo for examples.

It is known that the public shower rooms at campgrounds, gymnasiums or sport clubs are used by people of all conditions, and in particular by people that may have skin and foot diseases. Therefore, it is desirable to use a personal floor cover when using a public shower facility.

The flexible panel 20 comprised in this kit preferably has an inscription (not shown) printed on it to designate a top side and a bottom side thereof. The flexible panel preferably has a square shape with a side dimension of about 16 inches, such that. it covers a comfortable surface inside a standard shower stall.

The bag 72 is preferably made of flexible fabric material such as Nylon™ or canvas, and has a cylindrical shape when deployed. The bag 72 has dimensions to received the flexible panel 20 in a rolled-up form defining a single-layered cylindrical shape, as illustrated. The bag preferably has pockets 74 on its outside surface to carry personal care articles. When the flexible panel 20 is rolled up and inserted inside the bag 70, the central space in the bag is usable to carry a towel and a change of clothes for examples. The bottom portion of the bag is preferably made of a plastic-based mesh-like material 76 such that air can circulate inside the bag and water may drip there through.

It will be appreciated from the illustration in FIG. 12, that the bending of the flexible panel 20 in a cylindrical shape as illustrated causes the inside corners 78 of every bar to touch each other and to pry open all the separable segments 66 as illustrated. The opening of the shiplap joints causes the outside corners 80 of every bar to project outwardly from the cylindrical shape for keeping the inside surface of the bag away from the outside surfaces 82 of the bars. The voids created thereby between the outside surface of the bars and the inside surface of the bag 72 are illustrated with cross-hatching. These voids provide aeration channels 84 between the bag and the bars to dry the panel 20 quickly after every use and to prevent the accumulation of mildew on the bars of the panel.

Also because of the opening of the shiplap joint when the flexible panel is rolled up inside the bag, and especially because the holes 30 have separable segments 66, the elastic cords 24 also have a large portion of their surfaces exposed inside the aeration channels 84, such that they are also dried quickly after use.

Referring now to FIG. 13, it will be appreciated that the aeration of the bars and of the elastic cords in a flexible panel 20 that needs to be dried is also greatly enhanced in a rolled up panel 20 which is tied only with a string 90. In this alternate method of tying a flexible panel, the string 90 is preferably permanently attached through a transverse hole 92 in one of the end bar 32. This alternate method of tying a flexible panel can also be used in another version of a shower mat kit.

A preferred method for tying two flexible panels 20 end to end is illustrated in FIG. 14. In the illustrated arrangement, each of the end bars 32 on a panel has a longitudinal hole 94 through its end surface. A pair of C-shaped pins 96 are inserted through these holes to retain the two panels together.

As to other manner of usage and operation of the present invention, the same should be apparent from the above description and accompanying drawings, and accordingly further discussion relative to the manner of usage and operation of the invention would be considered repetitious and is not provided.

While three embodiments of the present invention have been illustrated and described herein above, it will be appreciated by those skilled in the art that various modifications, alternate constructions and equivalents may be employed without departing from the true spirit and scope of the invention. Therefore, the above description and the illustrations should not be construed as limiting the scope of the invention which is defined by the appended claims.