Title:
Personal protection device
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A personal protection device can be used to protect individuals from falls. The device can be linked to a mechanical or electrical device, which triggers deployment of the device when the individual accelerates vertically. In this manner, a falling individual's injuries such as hip fractures, upper extremity injuries, and head injuries are minimized by the mediated gradual deceleration of the wearer of the device. The device allows mobility of the individual, because it is worn in a non-deployed compact form within a wearable article of clothing or belt. The device may also be used to protect non-ambulatory individuals who sustain falls from a bed or chair.



Inventors:
Warden, Matthew Perry (Boston, MA, US)
Application Number:
11/368262
Publication Date:
12/28/2006
Filing Date:
03/03/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A41D13/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
PATEL, TAJASH D
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
GOODWIN PROCTER LLP (BOSTON, MA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A personal protection device comprising: an article adapted for wearing by an individual; an inflatable airbag at least partially disposed within the article; a deployment mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag for deploying the airbag in response to a signal generated based on a status of the individual; an inflation mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag for inflating the airbag, wherein the airbag protects the individual from injury; and a mechanism for automatically deflating the airbag after at least one of an impact, a predetermined time period, and a changed status of the individual.

2. The device of claim 1, wherein the article is selected from the group consisting of a belt, a vest, a jacket, a back pack, a harness, a jumpsuit, and a pair of pants.

3. The device of claim 1, wherein the article is disposed about a midsection of the individual.

4. The device of claim 1, wherein the signal is generated by an electro-mechanical sensor.

5. The device of claim 1, further comprising: a sensor; a microprocessor in electrical communication with the sensor; and a set of instructions stored within the microprocessor, wherein the sensor sends the signal to the processor in response to an event and the set of instructions determines a response based on the signal.

6. The device of claim 5, wherein the sensor is selected from the group consisting of an accelerometer, a heart monitor, a radio receiver, a radio transceiver, an attached activation switch, an inclinometer, and a laser measuring device.

7. The device of claim 5, wherein the response comprises triggering the deployment mechanism.

8. The device of claim 5, wherein the sensor monitors at least one vital sign of the individual.

9. The device of claim 1, further comprising a mechanism for transmitting status data for at least one of the individual and the airbag.

10. The device of claim 9, wherein the mechanism transmits the data to at least one of a 911 operator, a preselected recipient, a medical facility, a paramedic, an ambulance, and a data storage module.

11. The device of claim 9, wherein the data comprises at least one of heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, heart rhythm, blood sugar, pulse oximetry, medical history, time of event, and airbag condition.

12. The device of claim 9, wherein the data is transmitted wirelessly.

13. The device of claim 1, wherein the device is capable of receiving data and being operated remotely.

14. The device of claim 1, wherein the deployment mechanism is adapted to deploy the airbag in a predetermined configuration based on the signal, the airbag deployable in multiple configurations.

15. The device of claim 4, wherein the accelerometer determines the direction the user is falling and signals to differently placed fasteners on the article to deploy the airbag in the direction of the user's fall by first releasing fasteners in the direction of the fall.

16. The device of claim 1, wherein the airbag is deployed in a configuration to protect at least one of the individual's hips, back, face, upper extremities, lower extremities, abdomen, neck, and head.

17. The device of claim 1, further comprising a release mechanism for manually actuating at least one of the deployment mechanism and the inflation mechanism.

18. The device of claim 1, wherein the inflation mechanism comprises a gas release system capable of rapidly inflating the airbag; and a mechanism for initiating the gas release system.

19. The device of claim 1, further comprising a user interface.

20. The device of claim 19, wherein the user interface includes at least one of a readout, an alarm, and an input device for adjusting an operating parameter of the device.

21. A method of protecting an individual from injury, the method comprising the steps of: fitting the individual with an article adapted for wearing by the individual; the article comprising: an inflatable airbag at least partially disposed within the article; a deployment mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag for deploying the airbag; an inflation mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag for inflating the airbag; a mechanism for automatically deflating the airbag; and triggering the deployment and inflation mechanisms in response to a signal generated based on a status of the individual, wherein the airbag protects the individual from injury.

22. The method of claim 21 further comprising the step of triggering the mechanism for deflating the airbag after at least one of an impact, a predetermined time period, and a changed status of the individual.

23. A personal protection device comprising: an article adapted for wearing by an individual; an inflatable airbag at least partially disposed within the article; a deployment mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag for deploying the airbag in response to a signal generated based on a status of the individual; an inflation mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag for inflating the airbag, wherein the airbag protects the individual from injury; and electronic circuitry comprising: a sensor; a microprocessor in electrical communication with the sensor; and a set of instructions stored within the microprocessor, wherein the sensor sends the signal to the processor in response to an event and the set of instructions determines a response based on the signal.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

This application claims priority to, and the benefit of, U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/694,020, filed on Jun. 24, 2005, the entire disclosure of which is hereby incorporated by reference herein.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention relates to the field of personal protection devices and, in particular, to devices for protecting a user from injury due to falls.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The elderly have long sustained serious injuries from falls from a standing position. The elderly are at a particularly high risk for falling, because of deterioration in the quality of sight, balance, coordination, and proprioception or the sense of their body's position in 3-dimensional space. Additionally, high rates of osteoporosis in this population make falls particularly injurious with high fracture rates. Probably most surprising is the statistic that 50% of people over the age of 80 die within one year of sustaining a hip fracture. Other individuals, such as those with movement disorders, are also prone to injury due to frequent falls.

Patients who sustain falls may injure one or more body areas, including lower extremities, pelvis, upper extremities, back/neck, abdomen, chest, and or head. Lower extremity injury is one of the most serious in terms of limiting independent living functionality because of its obvious effect on walking. Furthermore, inability to walk in the elderly is associated with rapid physical reconditioning, increased incidence of venous thromboembolism (VTE)(blood clots in the deep leg veins (deep vein thrombosis -DVT) and in the lung (pulmonary embolism-PE)), and highly correlated with necessitating skilled nursing facilities. Skilled nursing facilities, in turn, have high rates of resistant bacteria leading to a predilection for transmission of infections that are resistant to antibiotics. Contrary to their name, skilled nursing facilities are not as effective at maintaining the physical and emotional health of their patients, as is achieved by individuals who live independently. Additionally, DVTs, which are highly prevalent in the inactive, tend to progress up the legs, eventually breaking-off and leading to a blood clot lodging in the lung, known as a pulmonary embolism. A recent study suggests approximately 600,000 patients annually in the United States develop VTE and about half (296,000) of them die.

Medical costs to society are secondary to quality of life issues, but remain a significant consideration. A recent study of people aged 72 and older found that the average health care cost of a fall injury was approximately $19,440 (including hospital, nursing home, emergency room, and home health care, but not physician services). Hip fractures are the second most common cause of nursing home admission. Approximately 25% of patients with hip fractures will remain institutionalized for approximately one year. In 1999, there were approximately 338,000 hip fractures in the United States. In 2000, direct medical costs from fatal hip fractures were about $179 million and nonfatal hip fractures were about $19 billion. More troubling are the demographic projections that indicate the population over 80 will double in the next 20 years, which will undoubtedly result in an increased incidence of hip fractures.

The socio-medical trends associated with lower extremity injuries make the avoidance of serious lower extremity injuries of paramount importance to maintaining an independent, physically active lifestyle in the elderly population. Furthermore, the potential societal cost savings would likely equal any other preventative medicine effort in the United States.

Airbags are known in the art of vehicle occupant injury prevention, but have not been used to protect individuals from falls from stationary or near stationary positions. Airbag inflation life preservers have been designed to be automatically inflated with exposure to water. The inflation of these devices is driven, like car airbags, by the expansion of a compressed gas. Airbags that surround the head have even been described for avalanche victims to buoy the head, provide head protection from falling debris by surrounding the head, and provide an oxygen source. Finally airbags have been used by fighter pilots to rapidly inflate during high G-force turns, maintaining pressure on the extremities and, thereby, keep adequate brain flow blood pressure to prevent loss of consciousness.

It has been found, however, that there is a considerable need for the protection of individuals from falls from a stationary or near stationary position. There is, therefore, a need for a light, compact, easily worn personal protection device that automatically inflates when a sensor determines the wearer is falling toward the ground. In this way, an individual wearer may retain mobility and simultaneously be protected from serious injury from a fall from a standing position.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to injury prevention, for example hip fractures, in people prone to falls, because, for example, of advanced age or movement disorders. In one embodiment, the present invention is an inflatable airbag that is activated when a sensor detects that the wearer of the device is falling, but that is sufficiently light weight and easily worn to allow the wearer to have a normal degree of mobility and thereby not impede the wearer's normal activities. Additionally, the device can protect a wearer in a sitting or prone position, as encountered in a wheelchair or bed. One object of the invention is to deploy the airbag in the direction the user is falling by linking the direction of deployment to, for example, an accelerometer's measured direction of fall.

Generally, the present invention includes a belt, harness, or other article of clothing, an airbag enclosed within the article of clothing, a sensor, a manual release device, and a cartridge of a compressed substance that when released rapidly fills the airbag with a gas and causes deployment of the airbag, such that the wearer falls on the airbag instead of the ground. The airbag is packed within the belt or harness and fastened in place. The fastener is disengaged by activation of the device and airbag inflation, which allows airbag deployment. The device can also be designed to rapidly deflate once the wearer has been gradually decelerated during the fall.

The device may be activated manually or by the sensor's detection of a fall. Further, airbag deployment may be linked to a transmitter to notify an ambulance or the wearer's relatives of the fall. Additionally, a heart monitor may be attached to the device such that an abnormal heart rhythm may signal airbag deployment and or result in transmission of the heart rhythm to medical staff.

In one aspect, the invention relates to a personal protection device including an article adapted for wearing by an individual, an inflatable airbag at least partially disposed within the article, a deployment mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag, an inflation mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag for inflating the airbag, and a mechanism for automatically deflating the airbag. The deployment mechanism deploys the airbag in response to one or more signals generated based on a status of the individual and the airbag protects the individual from injury. The airbag can be automatically deflated after at least one of an impact, a predetermined time period, and/or a changed status of the individual, for example, when the individual becomes substantially motionless. The device can be manually activated by a wearer if they are about to fall and can include an on/off switch to arm/disarm the device as necessary.

In another aspect, the invention relates to a personal protection device including an article adapted for wearing by an individual, an inflatable airbag at least partially disposed within the article, a deployment mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag, and an inflation mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag for inflating the airbag. The deployment mechanism deploys the airbag in response to one or more signals generated based on a status of the individual and the airbag protects the individual from injury. In one embodiment, the signal(s) is generated by a three-axis accelerometer when the individual falls. Additionally or alternatively, the signal(s) can be generated by an inclinometer, an electro-mechanical sensor, an electromagnetic switch, or an infrared/laser measurement device.

In one example, the device may deploy the airbag in the direction the wearer is falling by linking the direction of deployment of the airbag to the accelerometer's measured direction of acceleration. In this example, a 3-axis accelerometer is utilized to measure the wearer's direction of acceleration. A microprocessor analyzes the accelerometer output and signals preferential release of the airbag in the direction of the wearer's fall.

In another aspect, the invention relates to a personal protection device including an article adapted for wearing by an individual, an inflatable airbag at least partially disposed within the article, a deployment mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag, an inflation mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag for inflating the airbag, and electronic circuitry. The deployment mechanism deploys the airbag in response to a signal generated based on a status of the individual and the airbag protects the individual from injury. The electronic circuitry includes a sensor, a microprocessor in electrical communication with the sensor, and a set of instructions (e.g., a software program) stored within the microprocessor. The sensor sends the signal to the processor in response to an event and the set of instructions determines a response based on the signal. In one embodiment, more than one sensor can be used to send signals to the microprocessor, and the instructions stored within the microprocessor can determine a response based on multiple signals. The set of instructions can determine when and in which direction to deploy the airbag.

In another aspect, the invention relates to a method of protecting an individual from injury. The method includes the step of fitting the individual with an article adapted for wearing by the individual. The article includes an inflatable airbag at least partially disposed within the article, a deployment mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag for deploying the airbag, an inflation mechanism disposed on at least one of the article and the airbag for inflating the airbag, and a mechanism for automatically deflating the airbag. The method also includes the step of triggering the deployment and inflation mechanisms in response to one or more signals generated based on a status of the individual, wherein the airbag protects the individual from injury. In one embodiment, the method also includes the step of triggering the mechanism for deflating the airbag after at least one of an impact, a predetermined time period, and a changed status of the individual.

In various embodiments of the foregoing aspects of the invention, the article is selected from the group consisting of a belt, a vest, a jacket, a back pack, a harness, a jumpsuit, and a pair of pants. The article can be disposed about a midsection of the individual and/or can substantially encompass at least a portion of the individual when in a deployed state. The signal can be generated by an electro-mechanical sensor, for example, by an accelerometer when the individual begins falling or falls. In one embodiment, the electro-mechanical sensor can be a three-axis accelerometer, an inclinometer, and/or an infrared/laser measurement device. The sensor can also be a heart monitor, a radio receiver, a radio transceiver, an attached activation switch, and combinations thereof. The sensor can monitor at least one vital sign of the individual. In some embodiments, the device includes a sensor, a microprocessor in electrical communication with the sensor, and a set of instructions stored within the microprocessor. The sensor can send the signal to the microprocessor in response to an event and the set of instructions can determine a response(s) based on the signal. The response can include triggering the deployment mechanism and/or the inflation mechanism. The response can also include monitoring the vital signs of the individual.

Furthermore, the device can include a mechanism for transmitting status data for at least one of the individual and the airbag to, for example, a 911 operator, a preselected recipient, a medical facility, a paramedic, an ambulance, a data storage module, and combinations thereof. The data can include, for example, heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, heart rhythm, blood sugar, pulse oximetry, medical history, time of event, airbag condition, and combinations thereof. In one embodiment, the data can be transmitted wirelessly. The device is capable of receiving data and being operated remotely to, for example, arm or disarm the airbag.

In one embodiment, the deployment mechanism is adapted to deploy the airbag in a predetermined configuration based on the signal. The airbag can be deployed in multiple configurations, such as, for example, the area and direction of deployment and the shape of the airbag. In one embodiment, the airbag can have multiple chambers that can be inflated differentially and/or multiple airbags can be deployed sequentially. For example, the device could first trigger an airbag disposed about the wearer's midsection and subsequently trigger a second airbag disposed about the wearer's neck and shoulders. In one example, where the sensor is an accelerometer, the accelerometer determines the direction the user is falling and signals to differently placed fasteners on the article to deploy the airbag in the direction of the user's fall by first releasing fasteners in the direction of the fall. In various embodiments, the airbag is deployed outward toward the ground to break the fall of the individual. The airbag can be deployed in such a manner that it remains adjacent to the individual during a fall and serves to break the fall of the individual. Additionally or alternatively, the airbag breaks away from the article when deployed to receive the individual. The airbag can be deployed in a configuration to protect at least one of the individual's hips, back, face, abdomen, neck, upper extremities, lower extremities, head, and combinations thereof.

In further embodiments, the device includes a release mechanism for manually actuating the deployment mechanism and/or the inflation mechanism. The inflation mechanism can include a gas release system capable of rapidly inflating the airbag and a mechanism for initiating the gas release system. The gas release system can include a pressurized liquid and/or a solid within a cartridge that when released becomes a pressurized gas and serves to inflate the airbag. For example, release system causes a chemical reaction resulting in the release of a gas. The gas release system can use a non-accelerant and/or a non-flammable gas for inflating the airbag. In another embodiment, the gas release system can include a pressurized gas cartridge and/or expanding explosive chemical for inflating the airbag. The device can be reused after deployment and can include a user interface. The user interface can include a readout, an alarm, an input device for adjusting an operating parameter of the device, and combinations thereof.

These and other objects, along with advantages and features of the present invention herein disclosed, will become apparent through reference to the following description, the accompanying drawings, and the claims. Furthermore, it is to be understood that the features of the various embodiments described herein are not mutually exclusive and can exist in various combinations and permutations.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

In the drawings, like reference characters generally refer to the same parts throughout the different views. Also, the drawings are not necessarily to scale, emphasis instead generally being placed upon illustrating the principles of the invention. In the following description, various embodiments of the present invention are described with reference to the following drawings, in which:

FIG. 1 is a flow chart representing the operation of a personal protection device in accordance with one embodiment of the invention;

FIGS. 2A-2H are pictorial representations of alternative embodiments of a personal protection device in different states of operation in accordance with the invention;

FIG. 3 is a schematic perspective view of a personal protection device in accordance with one embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 4 is a schematic perspective view of a personal protection device in accordance with another embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 5 is a schematic perspective view of the personal protection device of FIG. 4 in a deployed state;

FIG. 6 is a schematic perspective view of the personal protection device of FIG. 4, as worn by a user in a deployed state;

FIG. 7 is a schematic perspective view of a personal protection device in accordance with another embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 8 is a schematic perspective view of the personal protection device of FIG. 7, as worn by a user in a deployed state;

FIG. 9 is a schematic perspective view of a personal protection device, as worn by a user, in accordance with one embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 10 is a schematic perspective view of a personal protection device in accordance with another embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 11 is a schematic perspective view of a personal protection device, as worn by a user, in accordance with one embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 12 is a schematic perspective view of a personal protection device, as worn by a user in a deployed state, in accordance with one embodiment of the invention; and

FIG. 13 is a schematic perspective view of a personal protection device, as worn by a user in a deployed state, in accordance with another embodiment of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

In the following, embodiments of the personal protection device in accordance with the invention are typically described with reference to a belt; however, it is to be understood that the present invention can also be used in other types of articles of clothing or equipment as necessary, in particular clothing or equipment typically associated with individuals at risk of falling. For example, the device may be embodied in a vest, jacket, short sleeve shirt, hood, neck strap, pants, shorts, or harness and may be used to protect any combination of the hips, back, chest, head, neck, upper extremities, and lower extremities. In addition, any suitable size, shape, or type of element or material could be used to suit a particular application. For example, the size and shape of the device will vary based on the area to be protected and the wearer's relative size. Suitable materials include textiles, either woven or non-woven, having natural or synthetic fibers, extruded polymers, or combinations thereof.

Referring to FIG. 1, a flow chart depicts some of the possible components of the personal protection device 100. The device 100 includes an airbag 121 disposed within an article of clothing or equipment 102 worn by a user. The activation to deploy the airbag is mediated by an airbag deployment device 103, which may use one of several mechanisms, such as the release of compressed gas to transmit a deployment force 104, to cause inflation of the airbag 121. One or more sensors 105, for example an accelerometer and/or a heart monitor, collects and transmits data to a microprocessor 106 that serves to rapidly recognize when the wearer is falling. The microprocessor 106 may utilize one or more algorithms 108 to process the input data from the sensor 105 to make this determination. Once the microprocessor 106 determines a fall is in progress, it automatically activates the airbag deployment device 103, which results in inflation of the airbag 121 from within article of clothing 102 using the transmitted deployment force 104. A transmitting antenna 107 attached to the microprocessor 106 may be utilized to transmit information, such as airbag deployment and/or heart rhythm disturbance to one or more individuals, including relatives and/or emergency services.

The personal protection devices of the present invention may be designed to be worn on and protect various parts of the wearer's body. The various designs may deploy circumferentially around an appropriate part of the body or longitudinally or laterally adjacent the appropriate part of the body. FIGS. 2A, 2C, 2E, and 2G depict some examples of personal protection devices 100 and the areas the devices protect in their deployed form (FIG. 2B, 2D, 2F, and 2H). FIGS. 2A and 2B depict the device 100 in the form of a harness 110 disposed around the midsection of the wearer. In its deployed state (FIG. 2B), the airbag 109 would protect the hip, lower back, and upper thigh of the wearer. A similar version of the device could be embodied in a pair of shorts or pants or a belt. FIGS. 2C and 2D depict the device 100 in the form of a vest 111 disposed around the torso of the wearer. In its deployed state (FIG. 2D), the airbag 109 would protect the chest/back, shoulder, hip, and lower back of the wearer. FIGS. 2E and 2F depict the device 100 in the form of a harness, vest, or shirt 112 disposed around the upper torso of the wearer. In its deployed state (FIG. 2F), the airbag 109 would protect the face, head, neck, shoulder, and upper back of the wearer. The harness/vest embodiments could include individual arm and/or leg sleeves that are deployed for additional protection. FIGS. 2G and 2H depict the device in the form of a jumpsuit 113 covering a substantial portion of the wearer. In its deployed state (FIG. 2H), the airbag 109 would protect substantially the wearer's entire body.

FIG. 3 depicts an embodiment of the device 100 embodied in a belt 10, with an attached sensor, accelerometer 20. The belt 10 of FIG. 3 is attached to the accelerometer 20 at attachment point 30, which may include stitching, bonding, or other known mechanical fastening means. Although the present invention will be described with reference to the accelerometer 20 shown in the drawings, it should be understood that the present invention can include other types of sensors, for example, an inclinometer, an electro-mechanical sensor, an electromagnetic switch, and/or an infrared/laser measurement device. FIG. 3 also depicts a deflated expandable airbag 8 removably disposed in a compartment within the belt 10. Alternatively or additionally, the device 100 could include multiple airbags disposed in a single or multiple compartments. The multiple airbags could be deployed preferentially, for example serially or in parallel. An insulated electrical wire 21 runs from the accelerometer 20 across the belt 10 and attaches to a deployment mechanism, canister 40, at point 45. The canister 40 is attached to the belt 10 at two attachment points 41, 42, which can include any of the attachment/fastening means disclosed herein. One end of the canister 40 has a release valve 46 that releases a compressed gas/liquid/solid into gaseous form or channel expanding gas from a controlled explosion within the canister 40 into the deflated airbag 8 via a connecting tube 9. In a particular embodiment, a non-flammable gas would be used. A manual release valve could also be included.

The embodiment depicted in FIG. 3 can also include an optional user interface 11 that can include an on/off switch for arming/disarming the device, indicators for displaying the status of the device and/or the wearer, and/or input devices for altering an operating parameter of the device. The device 100 can include a power source, for example a battery, for supplying power to the various components of the device 100, as needed. The battery 177 can be located within the interface 11 or disposed elsewhere on the device 100. Alternatively, the device could be hard wired or connected to a conventional AC outlet, where the wearer is bed-ridden or otherwise has a limited range of travel. Furthermore, in various embodiments, the belt 10 can be adjustable to accommodate a plurality of different wearers. The exact location of the sensor and the deployment mechanism will vary depending on the size and type of article of clothing the device 100 is embodied in. In a further embodiment, the device 100 includes means 77 for rapidly deflating the airbag after the wearer has landed safely. The means 77 can include opening a valve in fluid communication with the airbag and the deployment mechanism, such that any fluid within the airbag is allowed to escape. In one embodiment, the fluid within the airbag 8 is forced out gradually by the weight of the wearer on the airbag 8.

FIG. 4 depicts an alternative embodiment of the belt 10 with a central opening 5 that runs circuitously around belt 10 and has a plurality of fastening points 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38 disposed there about. The fastening points 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38 can be spaced equidistantly apart from each other and hold the belt 10 in a closed position. The exact number and location of the fastening points will also depend on the size and type of article of clothing the device is embodied in. In one embodiment, the airbag 8 can be reused by reinserting into the belt, fastening the bag closed, and rearming the device.

FIG. 5 depicts the open position of the belt 10 after deployment of the airbag (airbag not shown for clarity), such that opening 5 separates, as defined by flaps 5a, 5b, when the accelerometer 20 determines the wearer of the device is falling. The belt 10 can be opened by the force of the airbag 8 being deployed or selectively opened in response to a signal, as described in greater detail hereinbelow.

FIG. 6 depicts the device of FIG. 5 as worn by a user and in the deployed state. The airbag 8 is deployed into an inflated form 80 (volume V1) from belt 10 on the user 1 in a fashion such that the airbag 80 protects the falling user's hips 2 from impact with a hard surface 3.

FIG. 7 depicts an alternative embodiment of the device, where electrical wires 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 run from the accelerometer 20 (or microprocessor) to the belt 10 and are directed respectively to spaced attachment points 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 disposed about the belt 10. When the accelerometer 20 determines the wearer is falling, it will send a signal across one or more of the electrical wires 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 to one or more of the attachment points 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. The attachment points 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 are affixed to the fasteners 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, which are released by a signal(s) received via the wires 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28. The release mechanism could be a mechanical actuator including a plunger or sliding fastener, for example.

In one embodiment, the accelerometer 20 determines the direction of the wearer's fall and signals preferentially the relevant attachment points 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 to release the relevant fasteners 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38 via the signal(s) from the relevant electrical wires 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28. The signal(s) may be conditioned by the microprocessor prior to sending to the fasteners 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38. For example, in an embodiment of the device having multiple sensors, the sensor signals are sent to the microprocessor for evaluation thereby. The microprocessor, which could be part of a larger control unit, determines the status of the wearer and the appropriate response to the signals, such as, for example, the wearer is falling backwards so release the fasteners on the back section of the belt 10.

More specifically, as shown in FIG. 8, the accelerometer 20 has determined that the wearer 1 is falling in the direction (arrow a) of attachment points 17 and 18 (from FIG. 7) and preferentially signals release of attachment points 17 and 18 to release attachment points 17a, 17b and 18a, 18b, respectively. This action is accomplished via a signal through electrical wires 27 and 28 to attachment points 17 and 18, thereby causing the release of fasteners 37 and 38. At substantially the same time, the device, either via the sensor or microprocessor, activates the deployment mechanism (e.g., canister 40) to inflate the deflated airbag 8.

FIG. 9 depicts an embodiment of the device 100 including a user interface in the form of a manual activation device 70 attached to a wearer's wrist 79 by a strap 71. Although the present invention will be described with reference to the manual activation device 70 shown in the drawings, it should be understood that the present invention can be embodied in other forms of a user interfaces 11, 124, as described hereinabove. In FIG. 9, an insulated electrical wire 73 transmits a signal from the manual activation device 70 to the canister 40, thereby causing airbag deployment. Any of the insulated wires described herein can be discretely disposed within the device itself for, for example, aesthetic purposes. Additionally, the various signals can be transmitted wirelessly.

FIG. 10 depicts an alternative embodiment of the device as embodied in a vest 10. The vest 10 includes a microprocessor 90 and a transmitting antenna 94, which can be attached directly to the vest 10 or via another component, for example the accelerometer 20. The microprocessor 90 and the transmitting antennae 94 are in electrical communication with the accelerometer 20 and/or any other control components of the device. In the embodiment shown, the microprocessor 90 is attached to the accelerometer 20 by conventional mechanical means 98. An electrical wire 91 allows communication between the microprocessor 90 and the accelerometer 20. As previously mentioned, the microprocessor 90 can be used to determine when and how to deploy the airbag, along with any other action, as necessary, such as monitoring the condition of the wearer and/or sending information to a remote location. For example, the transmitting antennae 94 can signal a remote station, hospital, paramedic station, and/or relative when the airbag has been deployed.

FIG. 11 depicts an alternative embodiment of the device where the accelerometer 20 is linked by an electrical wire 51 to a heart monitoring device 50. The heart monitor 50 has between two and ten additional electrical wire leads 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57 that are attached by heart monitor plastic strips 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67 to the patient wearing the device. The heart monitor leads 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57 are attached by a medical professional in pre-selected anatomic locations. When the heart monitor 50 detects a heart rhythm that may result in the patient falling, it sends a signal to the device via the electrical wire 51. The device (e.g., the microprocessor) processes the information and deploys the airbag when necessary. Additionally, the heart monitor 50 records the heart rhythm of concern on a recording device 88 that is attached to heart monitor 50. A transmitter 59 may be attached to the heart monitor by an electrical wire 99 that allows transmission of concerning heart rhythm to a remote monitoring site. Alternatively or additionally, a transmitter 21 may be attached to the device for transmitting to a remote monitoring site a signal to notify personnel that the airbag has been deployed. The device may signal the heart monitor 50 and the recording device 58 via the electrical wire 51 to begin recording the heart rhythm when the patient begins to approach a threshold acceleration, as in one characteristic of a fall.

In addition to the heart monitor 50 shown in the drawings, other types of equipment 125 can be included as part of the device, such as, for example, a device which measures the wearer's pulse, respiratory rate, oxygen level in the blood, blood sugar, time of event, and/or airbag condition. In one embodiment, any combination of the afore-mentioned equipment can be activated remotely, for example, where medical personnel are monitoring the wearer's vital signs and based on that information determine that a fall is likely and activate the device (e.g., deploy the airbag) and/or monitor the status of the wearer.

FIG. 12 depicts an alternative embodiment of the personal protection device 97 having a larger form in order to hold a larger airbag 98, such that when deployment is signaled by the accelerometer 20, the deployed airbag 98 may protect a greater portion of the wearer's body 101. This is accomplished, in part, because of a greater deployed airbag volume (V2) compared to V1 (see FIG. 8).

In the embodiments described hereinabove, the airbag has remained attached to the device; however, as shown in FIG. 13, the inflated airbag 80 can be deployed away from the wearer's body toward the ground 3 where the wearer will land. This arrangement can be used with any of the devices described hereinabove, including multiple airbags, where one airbag remains attached and one airbag is deployed away from the wearer.

Having described certain embodiments of the invention, it will be apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art that other embodiments incorporating the concepts disclosed herein may be used without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention, as there is a wide variety of further combinations of a heel cup, side walls, tension elements, reinforcing elements and ground surfaces that are possible to suit a particular application and may be included in any particular embodiment of a heel part and shoe sole in accordance with the invention. The described embodiments are to be considered in all respects as only illustrative and not restrictive.