Title:
In-case computer charging system
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A case configured to enclose a portable electronic device includes a plurality of externally accessible electrical contacts, enabling electrical current to flow to or from the device while enclosed in the case. The invention is applicable to all types of portable devices, including laptop, notebook and palm-top computers, as well as telecommunications devices, video players and music players. Typically the electrical contacts allow a battery in the case or in the device to be recharged while device is enclosed. An adaptor cable may be provided between the device and the electrical contacts so that the same or similar case may be used with different model devices from different manufacturers. For greater ‘universality,’ a voltage-changing adaptor cable may be provided within the case between the device and the electrical contacts. The system may further include a docking bay to receive the case, the docking bay having a set of electrical contacts configured to electrically engage with the contacts on the case. Such a docking bay may take the form of a charging stand, a cart with one or more slots or compartments, or a locker with a door and a storage compartment.



Inventors:
Jackson, Shaun (Ann Arbor, MI, US)
Zadvinskis, Mark (Ann Arbor, MI, US)
Application Number:
11/441586
Publication Date:
12/28/2006
Filing Date:
05/26/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
F27D11/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
RAMADAN, RAMY O
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
DINSMORE & SHOHL LLP (TROY, MI, US)
Claims:
I claim:

1. A recharging system for a portable electronic device, comprising: a case configured to enclose the device; and a plurality of externally accessible electrical contacts on the case enabling electrical current to flow to or from the device while enclosed in the case.

2. The system of claim 1, wherein the device is a computer.

3. The system of claim 1, wherein the electrical contacts allow a battery in the device to be recharged while in the case.

4. The system of claim 1, wherein one or more of the electrical contacts protrude from the case.

5. The system of claim 1, wherein one or more of the electrical contacts are recessed.

6. The system of claim 1, wherein one or more of the electrical contacts are adapted to magnetically engage with a corresponding set of electrical contacts.

7. The system of claim 1, further including light indicating that the electrical current is flowing to the device.

8. The system of claim 1, further including an adaptor cable between the device and the electrical contacts.

9. The system of claim 1, further including a voltage-changing adaptor cable between the device and the electrical contacts.

10. The system of claim 1, further including a docking bay to receive the case, the docking bay having a set of electrical contacts configured to electrically engage with the contacts on the case.

11. The system of claim 1, further including a charging stand with a set of electrical contacts configured to electrically engage with the contacts on the case.

12. The system of claim 1, further including a cart with a set of electrical contacts configured to electrically engage with the contacts on the case.

13. The system of claim 1, further including a cart with a plurality of storage compartments, each compartment having a set of electrical contacts configured to electrically engage with the contacts on one of the cases.

14. The system of claim 1, further including a locker with a storage compartment having a set of electrical contacts configured to electrically engage with the contacts on one of the cases.

15. The system of claim 1, further including an indicator light showing that electrical contact has been made between the case and a charging station.

16. The system of claim 1, further including: an externally accessible compartment having an opening within the case to the device; and a power adapter having a plug-in cord within the compartment, enabling the cord to be connected to a source of power with the device enclosed within the case.

Description:

REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/684,894, filed May 26, 2005, the entire content of which is incorporated herein by reference.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates generally to the recharging of portable electronic devices and, in particular to systems and methods for recharging such devices while enclosed in cases according to the invention.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

It is becoming increasingly popular to provide schoolchildren with laptop computers which they obtain from a cart or locker in the classroom. U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,008,621 and 6,218,796 show such storage carts. Some of these notebook computer carts are are also commercially available from various sources.

One of the problems with these arrangements is that students, particularly younger children, can drop the computer while removing or returning the device from and to its storage compartment, thereby costing the school considerable funds. Problems may also arise in the wiring associated with plugging and unplugging the recharger, resulting in dead batteries or poor contacts. The need remains, therefore, for a system which is relatively fool-proof in terms of charging, while, at the same time, protecting expensive devices such as laptop computers.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

This invention improves upon existing systems by providing a case configured to enclose a portable electronic device, the case including a plurality of externally accessible electrical contacts, enabling electrical current or data to flow to or from the device while enclosed in the case. The invention is applicable to all types of portable devices, including laptop, notebook and palm-top computers, as well as telecommunications devices, video players and music players.

Typically the electrical contacts allow a battery in the case or in the device to be recharged while device is enclosed. To reduce shorting, one or more of the electrical contacts may protrude from the case, or one or more of the electrical contacts may be recessed. One or more of the electrical contacts may be adapted to magnetically engage with a corresponding set of electrical contacts, and a light may be provided on the case or the docking station to indicating that electrical current is flowing to the device through the case.

An adaptor cable may be provided between the device and the electrical contacts so that the same or similar case may be used with different model devices from different manufacturers. For greater ‘universality,’ a voltage-changing adaptor cable may be provided within the case between the device and the electrical contacts or at the base itself.

The system may further include a docking bay to receive the case, the docking bay having a set of electrical contacts configured to electrically engage with the contacts on the case. Such a docking bay may take the form of a charging stand, a cart with one or more slots or compartments, or a locker with a door and a storage compartment. The system may further include an externally accessible compartment having an opening within the case to the device, and a power adapter having a plug-in cord within the compartment, enabling the cord to be connected to a source of power with the device enclosed within the case.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a preferred embodiment of the invention in the form of a computer case having a set of externally accessible electrical contacts;

FIG. 2 is a perspective drawing of a computer case having a set of externally accessible electrical contacts being placed into a mobile cart;

FIG. 3 is a perspective drawing of a computer case having a set of externally accessible electrical contacts being placed into stationary stand;

FIG. 4 is a perspective drawing of an alternative embodiment of the invention including a computer case with a set of externally accessible electrical contacts being placed into a slot in a locker; and

FIG. 5 is a perspective drawing of a further alternative embodiment of the invention including a computer case having a cord in a pouch configured to plug into a locker receptacle.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Broadly, this invention resides in cases and corresponding storage facilities that enable a portable electronic device to be recharged while enclosed in that case, thereby protecting the device during periods when it is not in use. The invention is applicable to all types of portable electronic devices, including laptop, notebook and palm-top computers, as well as telecommunications devices, video players and music players.

A preferred embodiment is shown in FIG. 1. The case, 102, which may be of any soft or hard design, includes contacts 108, 110, preferably on one of the side edges of the case. The contacts 108, 110 interconnect to the device shown in broken-line form at 104, through appropriate electrical interconnects 112. In the preferred embodiment two or more such contacts are provided, depending upon the make/model of the enclosed device, though an embodiment with a single contact is possible if at least a portion of the outside surface of the case is sufficiently electrically conductive to act as ground or a positive/negative electrode. The case typically includes some sort of closure such as zipper 105, and an optional handle 106, preferably located on an edge opposite to the contacts 108, 110.

The contacts 108, 110 are in electrical communication with interconnects 112 suited to a particular type of portable electronic device. This allows the same case to be manufactured with interchangeable panels and “pigtails” including appropriate connectors and number of contacts for a particular make and model. For example, a Dell notebook computer may have two contacts with wiring going to a concentric plug suited for that manufacturer, whereas an Apple computer may use three contacts with an interconnect going to a square-type connector on the computer. The invention is not limited in this regard.

Given the in-case recharging capability just described, the case may be used in conjunction with various docking stations, including the cart shown in FIG. 2. In such a configuration, the case 102 may be lowered into compartments of the cart 202, with contacts 210 at the bottom of each receptacle being configured for corresponding contact with the contacts on the case. Once contact is made, an optional indicator light 220′ on the case itself, or indicator lights 220′ on the storage cart, may illuminate to show that proper contact has been made. Although the compartments in FIG. 2 are shown as being vertical, they may be angled or even horizontal, depending upon whether gravity alone or other mechanisms described herein are used to ensure reliable contact.

As an alternative to a cart or rack receiving multiple in-case computers according to the invention, a stationary docking station 302 may be used, as shown in FIG. 3. This docking station would be coupled to a cord 320 receiving electrical power or connected to the device's supplied power adapter, allowing somebody to simply place their computer, while in the case, into the station, enabling the device to be recharged without having to remove it from the case. Again, an indicator light may be provided on the case or the docking station, as an option.

For reasons of safety, and/or to ensure reliable contact, the contacts on the case, or the contacts on the cart or docking station may be recessed or projecting. That is, some or all of the contacts on the case may protrude and make contact with recessed contacts on the cart or docking station. Alternatively, some or all of the contacts on the cart or docking station may protrude, to be received by recessed contacts on the case. Alternatively, a mixture of recessed and protruding contacts may be used, to help avoid metal objects from shorting out the contacts on the cart/docking station or inventive case.

In the event that gravity alone is not relied upon to ensure reliable contact, the contacts on the cart/docking station and/or case may be spring-loaded or magnetic. In the case of magnetic contacts, the magnets may also be disposed on springs, allowing the cart/docking station or computer case contacts to “find one another” when the case is received in the article for recharging. The use of magnetic contacts would also facilitate somewhat of a “tactile” sound or feel, providing a user with a more positive indication that recharging was in progress.

FIG. 4 is a perspective drawing of an alternative embodiment of the invention including a case 402 with a set of externally accessible electrical contacts 408 being placed into a slot 404 in a locker. The contacts make electrical connection to corresponding contacts 406 using any of the mechanisms described herein. Although not shown, an indicator light may be provided on the case or a portion of the locker, or both, to indicate charging of the enclosed electronic device (not shown). Although a horizontal configuration is depicted, slanted or vertical configurations may alternatively be used. An electrical cable 410 is used to make contact to the contacts 406. Such cabling may be common to a group of lockers or routed to individual lockers, in which case current may be monitored to determine if a computer has, in fact, been placed in a particular locker, by a certain time, for example.

FIG. 5 is a perspective drawing of a further alternative embodiment of the invention including a case 502 having a cord 514 in a pouch 512 configured to plug into a locker receptacle 516 while contained in slot 504. The interconnect system may use any voltage or current. For example, if a school or other institution standardizes on a voltage such as 12 volts, connector 514 may go directly to the computer or other device (not shown) without the need for a power adapter or converter. Alternatively, for greater flexibility, line 510 may carry 110 volts, in which case pouch 512 may hold an appropriate power converter for the enclosed computer. To reduce the risk of electrical shock, power may be supplied to the outlet 516 only after the door to the locker is closed and/or outside building hours, in which case an indicator may be provided outside the locker, either on the door or in a centralized location to show the existence of a computer or other device being properly charged.