Title:
Method and apparatus for safely seating multiple children
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Methods and apparatus for seating two or more small children in a safe and comfortable manner in a reduced seating footprint. Through the use of a reduced seating footprint, parents can utilize safer, smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles such that the financial burden associated with owning and operating larger vehicles can be foregone. The seating assembly can include a unitary seating frame having two or more seating portions operatively connected to the seating frame. The seating assembly can further include a utility bin that operably attaches to the unitary seating frame.



Inventors:
Haun, James P. (Golden Valley, MN, US)
Doyle, James N. (St. Louis Park, MN, US)
Application Number:
11/595656
Publication Date:
05/17/2007
Filing Date:
11/09/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A47C15/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
WHITE, RODNEY BARNETT
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
PATTERSON THUENTE PEDERSEN, P.A. (MINNEAPOLIS, MN, US)
Claims:
1. A method for reducing a car seat footprint required for seating two or more children in a motor vehicle comprising: providing a unitary seating frame having at least a first seating portion and a second seating portion; fastening the unitary seating frame to an automobile seat; and attaching at least a first car seat and a second car seat to the first seating portion and the second seating portion.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein the unitary seating frame includes a third seating portion.

3. The method of claim 2 further comprising: attaching either a third car seat or a utility bin to the third seating portion.

4. A child car seat system comprising: a unitary frame having at least a first seating portion and a second seating portion; a first car seat; and a second car seat, wherein the unitary frame is coupled to an automobile seat; and wherein the first car seat is attached to the first seating portion and the second car seat is attached to the second seating portion.

5. The child car seat system of claim 4, wherein the unitary frame further comprises a third seating portion and wherein a third car seat is attached to the third seating portion.

6. The child car seat system of claim 4, wherein the unitary frame further comprises a third seating portion and wherein a utility bin is attached to the third seating portion.

7. The child car seat system of claim 6, wherein the utility bin includes one or more storage features selected from the group comprising: an interior storage portion, a recessed storage portion and a drink holder.

8. The child car seat system of claim 4, wherein the first car seat and the second car seat are detachably removable from the unitary frame.

9. The child car seat system of claim 4, wherein the first car seat is selected from the group comprising: an infant seat, a toddler seat and a child booster seat.

10. The child car seat system of claim 4, wherein the second car seat is selected from the group comprising: an infant seat, a toddler seat and a child booster seat.

11. The child car seat system of claim 4, wherein the unitary frame comprises a multi-child restraining bar adapted for placement in a retaining orientation to both the first car seat and the second car seat.

12. A method of seating two or more children across an automobile seat comprising: attaching a single seating frame to the automobile seat, wherein the single seating frame includes at least a first seating portion and a second seating portion; and installing a first car seat in the first seating portion and a second car seat in the second seating portion.

13. The method of claim 12, wherein the steps of attaching the single seating frame and installing the first car seat and the second car seat reduces a seating width by at least 3 inches when compared to attaching two individual car seats to the automobile seat.

14. The method of claim 12, wherein the first car seat is selected from the group comprising: an infant seat, a toddler seat and a child booster seat.

15. The method of claim 14, wherein the second car seat is selected from the group comprising: an infant seat, a toddler seat and a child booster seat.

16. The method of claim 12, wherein the single seating frame includes a third seating portion.

17. The method of claim 16, further comprising: attaching a third unit to the third seating portion, wherein the third unit is selected from the group comprising: an infant seat, a toddler seat, a child booster seat and a utility bin.

18. The method of claim 16, further comprising: storing children's items within a utility bin attached to the third seating portion.

Description:

PRIORITY CLAIM

The present application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/734,828 filed Nov. 9, 2005 and entitled “METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR SAFELY SEATING MULTIPLE CHILDREN”, which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety.

FIELD OF INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to car seats for safety seating children in a motor vehicle. More particularly, the invention relates to a seating assembly for multiple children utilizing a unitary frame assembly for reducing the overall footprint of the seating assembly.

BACKGROUND OF INVENTION

Infants and young children typically ride within motor vehicles in specially configured and secured child seats until the child reaches a specified age such as, for example, 5 or 6 years or until the child reaches a desired height and/or weight. The car seats provide an ability to use the safety restraints and safety features of automobiles with small children and infants. Generally, child seats utilize a seat frame having one or more interfaces for securing the child seat to the vehicle safety restraints such as, for example, lap belts or over the shoulder belts.

In many instances, families may have two or more children of ages requiring each child to use a child seat. This can occur when brothers and/or sisters are born within relatively short time frames such as, for example, within a one, two, three or four year time period. However, one increasingly frequent instance when families have two or more children is when the family experiences the birth of multiples, such as, for example, twins and triplets. In the United States, the frequency of multiple births has increased due to the fact that more women over age 30 are having babies as well as by the increased use of fertility-stimulating drugs and assisted reproductive techniques such as in vitro fertilization. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of twin births increased by over 70% while the number of higher order multiples (triplets, quadruplets and more) increased by over fivefold. Overall, almost 3% of the babies born today in the United States are born in sets of two, three, four or more.

As would be expected, families having two or more young children are faced with a variety of new expenses that may stretch the budget. This can include items such as, for example, baby formula, diapers, cleaning wipes, clothing and the other typical child-rearing items. With multiples, the effects of these expenses can be even more pronounced as there is no ability to pass down items from child-to-child and all the expenses for all of the children are incurred at the same moment.

In addition to lower dollar consumable items such as those described above, families having multiple young children, and especially families with multiples, may suddenly be faced with the prospect that the family automobile is not adequate, i.e., large enough to accommodate multiple child seats. In some extreme instances such as, for example, families having three young children wherein the children are of differing ages or triplets, the parents may suddenly face the prospect of having to buy a new vehicle such as, for example, a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV), station wagon, mini-van or van that is large enough to physically accommodate multiple child seats. In addition to further increasing the financial burden on parents by requiring the purchase of new, larger vehicles, these vehicles often suffer additional disadvantages such as lower crash safety ratings and increased operating expenses due to decreased fuel efficiency and more costly maintenance than smaller vehicles. Because of the added financial burdens placed on families having multiple small children, and especially families having multiples, there remains a growing need to find ways to reduce the cost burdens placed on parents.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention addresses the aforementioned needs of parents having multiple young children by providing a unitary seating assembly for seating two or more small children in a safe and comfortable manner in a reduced seating footprint. Through the use of a reduced seating footprint, parents can utilize safer, smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles such that the financial burden associated with owning and operating larger vehicles can be foregone.

In one aspect, a representative embodiment of a seating assembly of the present invention comprises a seating frame having two or more seating portions operatively connected to the seating frame. Generally, the seating frame can comprise tabs, latches, buckles and the like, alone or in combination, allowing the seating frame to retainably connect to lap and/or shoulder belt assemblies of a motor vehicle. The seating portions can be permanently attached to the seating frame or may be removably detachable from the seating frame to serve additional functions such as, for example, baby carriers or as components of a stroller assembly.

In another aspect, the present invention relates to methods of reducing the overall seating footprint required to safely seat two or more children within a motor vehicle. By utilizing a seating assembly comprising a seating frame having two or more child seats, the additional space associated with two or more individual car seat frames is eliminated allowing the children to be safely seated and restrained in a seating footprint having a reduced width. By reducing the overall seating footprint, a family can safely utilize a safer, smaller motor vehicle having lower costs of operation.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an embodiment of a multiple child car seat of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is an exploded perspective view of an embodiment of a multiple child car seat of the present invention.

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of an embodiment of a multiple child car seat of the present invention.

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of an embodiment of a multiple child car seat of the present invention.

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of an embodiment of a multiple child car seat of the present invention.

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of the multiple child car seat of FIG. 1 installed in an automobile.

FIG. 7 is perspective view of the multiple child car seat of FIG. 4 installed in an automobile.

FIG. 8 is a perspective view of an embodiment of a child car seat installed in an automobile.

FIG. 9 is a perspective view of an embodiment of a child car seat installed in an automobile.

FIG. 10 is a perspective view of an embodiment of a child car seat installed in an automobile.

While the invention is amenable to various modifications and alternative forms, specifics thereof have been shown by way of example in the figures and will be described in detail. It should be understood, however, that the intention is not to limit the invention to the particular embodiments described. On the contrary, the intention is to cover all modifications, equivalents, and alternatives falling within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

As illustrated in FIG. 1, an embodiment of a unitary seating frame 100 can comprise a floor portion 102, a rear wall 104, a pair of end walls 106a, 106b and one or more interior seat walls 108. Unitary seating frame 100 can comprise any suitable material such as, for example, plastic polymers, metals and combinations thereof, exhibiting advantageous characteristics such as reduced weight and increased strength. Though not illustrated, it will be understood that unitary seating frame 100 can include various reinforcement means so as to further promote the strength of unitary seating frame 100. These can include one or more reinforcement members integrated into any of the floor portion 102, rear wall 104, end walls 106a, 106b and interior seat walls 108. Though illustrated as a single integral component, it will be understood that unitary seating frame 100 can comprise two or more frame pieces that operably attach and lock to one another to form the unitary seating frame 100 so as to facilitate positioning of the unitary seating frame 100 within an automobile. End walls 106a, 106b and interior seat walls 108 define a first seating portion 110a, a second seating portion 110b and a third seating portion 110c.

As illustrated in FIG. 2, an embodiment of a multiple child car seat 114 can comprise unitary seating frame 100, at least one detachable car seat 116 and a utility bin 118. Both detachable car seat 116 and utility bin 118 can include suitable attachment mechanisms allowing for operable attachment and detachment to and from the various seating portions. For instance, detachable car seat 116 and utility bin 118 can each comprise latching or receiving members 119 for engaging retaining members 121 on first seating portion 110a, second seating portion 110b and third seating portion 110c. Representative attachment mechanisms can include those illustrated and described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,237,999; 6,428,099, 6,428,100; 6,616,226; 6,672,664; 6,705,676; and 6,857,700 as well as U.S. Published Application Nos. 2004/0113469A1; 2004/0217636A1; 2005/0077765A1; 2005/0127727A1; and 2005/0173955A1, the preceding patents and published applications being herein incorporated by reference in their entirety. Alternatively, first seating portion 110a, second seating portion 110b and third seating portion 110c can include child seats permanently attached to the unitary seating frame 100. Though not depicted, it will be understood that each detachable car seat 116 can include conventional child restrain mechanisms such as, for example, a five point harness, a T-shield and/or a tray shield.

Utility bin 118 can be integral to the unitary seating frame 100 or alternatively, utility bin 118 can comprise an attachment mechanism for detachably connecting the utility bin 118 to the second seating portion 110b. Utility bin 118 can comprise a cover assembly 120 for providing access to an interior storage portion for storing games, toys, baby wipes, diapers, treats and similar items frequently required and used by small children. Cover assembly 120 can include one or more drink holders 122 and one or more recessed storage portions 124. In some instances, parents with a single child will find utility bin 118 to provide enough convenience that unitary seating frame 100 can be utilized with the sole intention of seating only the single child along with attaching the utility bin 118.

As illustrated in FIG. 2, unitary seating frame 100 can comprise arm slots 126 for accommodating attachment of a restraining bar 128. Restraining bar 128 can comprise projecting arms 130 and a padded cross-bar 132. Restraining bar 128 can be operably pivoted between an upward open disposition and a downward closed disposition. Unitary seating frame 100 can include restraining bar 128 for individual operation with each of first seating portion 110a, second seating portion 110b and third seating portion 110c or alternatively, unitary seating frame 100 can include a multi-child restraining bar 134 as illustrated in FIG. 3. Restraining bar 128 and multi-child restraining bar 134 can each include a buckle mechanism for locking the restraining bar to a leg strap.

As illustrated in FIG. 4, multiple child car seat 114 can comprise detachable car seats 116 operably mounted in each of the first seating portion 110a, second seating portion 110b and third seating portion 110c for providing seating for three children.

As illustrated in FIG. 5, multiple child car seat 114 can comprise detachable car seats 116 operably mounted in the first seating portion 110a and third seating portion 110c with utility bin 118 operably mounted in the second seating portion 110b for providing seating for two children.

As illustrated in FIG. 6, unitary seating frame 100 can be positioned and operably attached to an automobile seat 200. Unitary seating frame 100 can include receptacles or other connectors for operably interconnecting the unitary seating frame 100 with a shoulder belt 202 or lap belt 204 such as, for example, those taught in the aforementioned and incorporated patents and published patent applications.

Through the use of unitary seating frame 100, arrangements can be made for seating multiple children in a space smaller than that required for seating the same number of children using individual car seats of the prior art as there is no longer a need for separate, individual frames for each car seat. In some instance, it is presently contemplated that use of unitary seating frame 100 can reduce the overall width necessary to seat two or more children by at least about 3 inches and more preferably, from about 3 inches to about 12 inches or more as compared to the use of two or more individual car seats and their corresponding frames. By eliminating the use of the individual frames and instead, utilizing a single unitary seating frame 100, overall width is reduced while the opportunity is presented to increase overall strength through the use of stronger, larger frame.

Unitary seating frame 100 provides a wide degree of seating flexibility to accommodate different numbers and sizes of children. Once unitary seating frame 100 is attached to automobile seat 200, detachable car seats 116 can be attached to the first seating portion 110a, second seating portion 110b and third seating portion 110c to allow seating for up to three children as illustrated in FIG. 7. As illustrated in FIG. 8, unitary seating frame 100 can include multi-child restraining bar 134 for operably restraining up to three children in the detachable car seats 116. As illustrated in FIG. 9, unitary seating frame 100 can be adapted to accept a rear facing infant seat 136 in the first seating portion 110a. As illustrated in FIG. 10, an embodiment of unitary seating frame 100 can comprise a toddler seat 138 positioned over the first seating portion 110a for use with larger children without requiring that unitary seating frame 100 be removed from the automobile seat 200. The toddler can then be restrained using shoulder belt 202 and lap belt 204. In this way, unitary seating frame 100 can be utilized with the differing style of car seats based upon the child's age, size and weight. In another embodiment, a second unitary frame 100 can be provided or purchased allowing parents, grandparent and other caregivers to easily move the detachable car seats 116 between different cars without requiring that the unitary frame 100 be removed and reinstalled when transporting children in different cars.

Although the present invention has been described with respect to a representative, presently contemplated embodiment, it will be understood that numerous insubstantial changes in configuration, arrangement or appearance of the elements of the present invention can be made without departing from the intended scope of the present invention. Accordingly, it is intended that the scope of the present invention be determined by the claims as set forth.