Title:
FLEXIBLE PICKUP LIPS FOR USE WITH FIXED VACUUM SHOES ON SELF-CONTAINED AND PROPELLED CARPET CLEANING EQUIPMENT
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An improved vacuum shoe for use on a self-propelled cleaning apparatus is disclosed. Specifically, the vacuum shoe may have a gliding member either integral or connected to the shoe housing. The gliding member is designed to decrease the drag coefficient of the vacuum shoe as it traverses a surface thereby increasing the machine's efficiency and decreasing the amount of required operating power.



Inventors:
Pedlar, Roger (Lakewood, CO, US)
Application Number:
11/279992
Publication Date:
10/18/2007
Filing Date:
04/17/2006
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
15/320, 15/401
International Classes:
A47L7/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
THOMAS, DAVID B
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Sheridan Ross PC (Denver, CO, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A floor cleaning apparatus, comprising: a self-propelled chassis; a vacuum shoe interconnected to the chassis, the vacuum shoe comprising a housing having a first end and a second end with a vacuum chamber therebetween, the first end being adapted to interface with a vacuum source; and a gliding member interconnected to the second end of the housing, the gliding member comprising an outer surface that has at least one radius of curvature.

2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the outer surface of the gliding member intersects a surface to be cleaned at an angle of intersection that is between about 5° and about 80°.

3. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein the outer surface comprises a smooth transition that extends away from the surface to be cleaned.

4. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the gliding member is operable to be selectively attached to and detached from the housing without requiring a disassembly of the gliding member and the housing.

5. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the vacuum source is a vacuum motor and wherein the vacuum motor is interconnected to the chassis.

6. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the gliding member comprises a series of at least one of slots and holes that allow debris of less than a predetermined size to pass through to the vacuum chamber.

7. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the radius of curvature is greater than about 0.5 inches.

8. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the gliding member comprises at least one of Teflon, polyvinylchloride, and Delrin.

9. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the chassis is adapted for seating of an operator.

10. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the gliding member comprises a fluid passageway having a proximal end for receiving a fluid and a distal end for delivering the fluid to a surface to be cleaned.

11. The apparatus of claim 10, wherein the proximal end is adapted to interface with a fluid supply line that delivers the fluid from a fluid source to the gliding member.

12. A floor cleaning apparatus, comprising: a self-propelled chassis; a vacuum shoe interconnected to the chassis, the vacuum shoe comprising a housing having a proximal end and a distal end, the proximal end being adapted to interface with a means for creating a pressure gradient between the proximal end and the distal end; and a means for gliding in communication with the distal end of the housing, the means for gliding comprising an outer surface that has at least one radius of curvature.

13. The apparatus of claim 12, wherein the outer surface of the means for gliding intersects a surface to be cleaned at an angle of intersection that is between about 5° and about 80°.

14. The apparatus of claim 13, wherein the outer surface comprises a smooth transition that extends away from the point where the means for gliding intersects the surface.

15. The apparatus of claim 12, wherein the means for gliding is operable to be selectively attached to and detached from the housing without requiring a disassembly of the means for gliding and the housing.

16. The apparatus of claim 12, wherein the means for creating is a vacuum motor and wherein the vacuum motor is interconnected to the chassis.

17. The apparatus of claim 12, wherein the means for gliding comprises a series of at least one of slots and holes that allow debris of less than a predetermined size to pass through to the vacuum chamber.

18. The apparatus of claim 12, wherein the radius of curvature is greater than about 0.5 inches.

19. The apparatus of claim 12, wherein the means for gliding comprises at least one of Teflon, polyvinylchloride, and Delrin.

20. The apparatus of claim 12, wherein the chassis is adapted for seating of an operator.

21. The apparatus of claim 12, wherein the means for gliding comprises a means for delivering a fluid to a surface to be cleaned.

22. A method, comprising: applying at least a first fluid to a surface to be cleaned; agitating the surface to be cleaned; generating a suction at a vacuum shoe interconnected to a self-propelled cleaning machine, wherein the vacuum shoe is equipped with a gliding member, and wherein the gliding member comprises an outer surface that comprises at least a first radius of curvature; and passing the gliding member across the surface to be cleaned.

23. The method of claim 22, wherein the outer surface of the gliding member intersects the surface to be cleaned at an angle of intersection that is between about 5° and about 80°.

24. The method of claim 23, wherein the outer surface comprises a smooth transition that extends away from the point where the gliding member intersects the surface.

25. The method of claim 22, further comprising: removing the gliding member from the vacuum shoe without disassembling the gliding member and the vacuum shoe; and after removing the gliding member, reattaching the gliding member to the vacuum shoe.

26. The method of claim 22, wherein the suction is generated by a vacuum motor and wherein the vacuum motor is interconnected to the cleaning machine.

27. The method of claim 22, wherein the gliding member comprises a series of at least one of slots and holes that allow debris of less than a predetermined size to pass through to the vacuum chamber.

28. The method of claim 22, wherein the radius of curvature is greater than about 0.5 inches.

29. The method of claim 22, wherein the gliding member comprises at least one of Teflon, polyvinylchloride, and Delrin.

30. The method of claim 22, further comprising: an operator of the cleaning machine, sitting on the cleaning machine and controlling the direction of travel of the cleaning machine.

31. The method of claim 22, further comprising supplying a fluid to the surface to be cleaned via the gliding member.

Description:

FIELD OF INVENTION

The present invention is directed toward self-contained and propelled cleaning equipment and devices, and focuses upon a vacuum shoe and/or shoe attachment is provided that improves the cleaning ability and overall functionality of the cleaning machine.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Cleaning machines are used extensively for cleaning flooring surfaces comprised of carpets and other soft floor surfaces. Maintaining the cleanliness of these surfaces, especially in high-volume areas, in commercial, industrial, institutional, and public buildings is an on-going and time consuming process. There are several different mechanisms that can be employed to clean such surfaces.

One such example would be self-propelled walk-behind devices, i.e., vacuums or self-cleaning carpet machines. These apparatus typically have a scrub deck followed by a vacuum shoe. The vacuum shoe has the ability to follow the path of the scrub deck as the machine changes direction. This type of equipment is generally more efficient in cleaning large surface areas than conventional hand-cleaning techniques. Also, walk-behind machines can be equipped with relatively wide vacuum pickups. These characteristics limit the machines ability to maneuver and further limit the doorway that the machine can pass through. Typical three-foot doorways allow a machine with no more than a 33″ squeegee or vacuum shoe to fit through without removal.

Another example would be self-propelled ride-on cleaning devices. Such devices are generally well-known in the field and are employed to treat large floor surfaces, such carpeted floors found in hospitals, department stores, schools, gyms, etc. These devices generally provide the operator with seating from which he/she can control operation of the device. These devices are ideal for cleaning large open areas because they are capable of containing large amounts of cleaning and waste fluids and/or debris without having to repeatedly perform time-consuming fluid replacement or removal. Moreover, because these devices provide the user with seating, the user does not become prematurely fatigued, increasing overall worker productivity.

Unfortunately, these previously mentioned types of cleaning devices have drawbacks. For example, they are not as efficient as possible. The drag created by the vacuum shoe is often excessive, mainly due to the weight of the machine, the amount of pressure required to maintain a vacuum seal to the floor, and drag characteristics of the componentry that actually contacts the surface to be cleaned. Additionally, typical vacuum shoes tend to vibrate at higher cleaning speeds. This additional vibration may lead to more mechanical failures through the life of the machine. Heavy equipment, such as ride-on cleaners, also tend to roll the carpet forward during cleaning, which is undesirable because if the carpet is pushed in the same direction a number of times and rolled forward in that same direction, the carpet in that area may become irreversibly ruined.

An example of a prior-art vacuum shoe used on a walk-behind or ride-on cleaning machine can be seen with reference to FIG. 1. The vacuum shoe 100 comprises a shoe housing 102, a vacuum chamber 104, an opening to the vacuum chamber 106, and a hose 108. The hose is fluidically connected to the vacuum chamber and a preferably air-tight seal is maintained between the shoe housing 102 and the hose 108. Negative pressure is applied, for example, by a vacuum motor connected at the opposite end of hose 108, thereby creating a vacuum pressure within the vacuum chamber 104, creating suction at the opening 106 of the vacuum shoe 100. The suction enables dirt, water and other debris to be lifted up off of the surface. A major drawback to the vacuum shoe design shown in FIG. 1, however, is that the housing 102 intersects the floor surface abruptly, and typically is made with a material that is not specifically designed to effortlessly glide over wet carpeting, etc. Thus, as the vacuum shoe 100 is moved forward and backwards in the direction of the depicted arrows 109, excessive drag forces are created on the vacuum shoe 100, resulting in undesired efficiency losses. These efficiency losses contribute to both slower overall cleaning of a surface, as well as, increased power usage by the cleaning machine.

Additionally, when vacuum shoes 100 of the prior art are used, the vacuum shoe opening 106 has to be large enough to mitigate clogging of the vacuum inlet. If the vacuum shoe is too small, then the chance of having particles become trapped in the vacuum shoe opening 106 increase. As the vacuum shoe opening 106 becomes larger, more vacuum pressure is required to create enough suction to lift debris from the surface to be cleaned. If more suction is required, then a larger vacuum motor may be required, which further increases the weight of the cleaning machine. Indeed, more power will also be required to operate the cleaning machine effectively. Moreover, in the event that a smaller vacuum motor is used in an attempt to keep the cleaning machine weight at a reasonable level, there is a chance that the vacuum motor may not be capable of supplying the required suction for adequate pickup.

There have been attempts to remedy some of these and related problems associated with hand-held cleaning wands. For example, TurboTeck has introduced a superlips glide and superglide wand glides that decrease the amount of force required for an operator to move the wand over a surface. Although used in hand-held wands and other hand-held cleaning devices, the inventions claimed in this invention have not been adapted for use in ride-on or walk-behind self-propelled cleaning machines. Indeed, glide technology was developed for use with hand-held wands in an attempt to relieve the back pains associated with operating a hand-held wand. The challenges associated with implementing a gliding attachment onto a self-propelled or ride-on cleaner are much different than those associated with attaching a glide onto hand-held cleaning wand. For example, the weight of a ride-on cleaner and its cleaning power is much more substantial than a hand-held cleaning wand.

The extra weight and power of a ride-on cleaner creates many complicating issues. For example, typical vacuum shoes have abrupt edges that can damage floor transitions (i.e., a transition from one type of carpet to another) and the additional weight of the ride-on cleaner causes these transitions to be damaged over time. Furthermore, when typical vacuum shoes get caught on these transitions, the forces applied to the machine may cause further damage to other machine parts. Moreover, access to a vacuum shoe is much more difficult than with a hand-held cleaning wand making cleaning and maintenance a difficult task.

SUMMARY

It is desired to have self-propelled cleaning machines that have an increased efficiency of suction, which results in quicker drying times, increased battery life, decreased wear on a surface to be cleaned, all of which result in improved productivity and efficiency. It is thus one aspect of the present invention to provide a self-propelled cleaning apparatus comprising a vacuum shoe that is more efficient and easier to clean than prior used vacuum shoes. A self-propelled cleaning apparatus having a more efficient vacuum shoe provides for several advantages.

One such advantage that may be provided by an apparatus with an efficiently gliding vacuum shoe is decreased amount of required power needed to propel the equipment, thus resulting in increased run time for some cleaning machines. A decrease in required power consumption may also result in the use of a smaller battery or power source on the cleaning machine, which in turn may result in the use of a lighter battery, more efficient propulsion systems, etc. A lighter battery translates to a lighter cleaning machine, which corresponds to decreased wear on a surface to be cleaned. Economic efficiencies in overall machine production costs may also be realized.

Another advantage that may be offered by embodiments of the present invention is decreased drying times may be realized. The suction rate of an efficient vacuum shoe is greater than the suction rate afforded by vacuum shoes used in the prior art. With an increased suction rate, quicker drying times result because more debris and water may be picked up with a single pass of the vacuum shoe than would have otherwise been picked up with machines of the prior art. The result is quicker cleaning times, because fewer passes with the cleaning machine is required. The bottom line is that after a cleaning apparatus employing the vacuum shoe of the present invention has cleaned an area, one does not have to wait for an extraordinarily long amount of time before the surface can be walked on again.

Another aspect of the present invention is to provide a selectively attachable gliding surface that may be fastened to a prior art vacuum shoe. An easily detachable and re-attachable gliding member provide for easy access to clear blockages from the main vacuum shoe since the gliding member may be easily removed. Moreover, smaller slots increase the suction forces at the surface without requiring more suction power. Additionally, the gliding surface helps to reduce the impact forces applied to the vacuum shoe by transitions in the floor surface, which in turn helps to decrease the amount of maintenance required for the vacuum shoe and the cleaning apparatus. The gliding member may be easily and relatively cheaply replaced by a new gliding member after it has been worn out by use, whereas a vacuum shoe is expensive and sometimes difficult to replace after it has been worn out.

In accordance with one embodiment of the present invention, a cleaning apparatus is provided. The cleaning apparatus comprises a vacuum shoe comprising a shoe housing have a proximal end a distal end with a vacuum chamber there between. The proximal end is defined by an opening that is adapted interface with a gliding member. The distal end is adapted to interface with a hose and/or vacuum source on the cleaning apparatus. The gliding member comprises a surface that easily glides across a surface to be cleaned. For example, the gliding surface intersects the surface to be cleaned at an angle that has a decreased drag coefficient compared to vacuum shoes of the prior art. An angle of intersection typically is defined by the angle between the intersecting surface and the surface to be cleaned. Suitable angles of intersection include, but are not limited to, between about 2° and about 80°. The shallower the angle of intersection the more easily the vacuum shoe can traverse the surface to be cleaned. Additionally, the outer surface of the gliding member extends from the intersection point outwardly (in a general direction of travel) such that the incident angle between the outer surface and the surface to be cleaned increases such that the chances of intersecting the surface to be cleaned with an abrupt surface is decreased. Further, the gliding member is preferably made of a material that moves over a surface to be cleaned much more efficiently and effectively than materials used on prior art vacuum shoes. Examples of suitable materials include, but are not limited to, Delrin®, Teflon®, and other materials having a low coefficient of friction.

In accordance with at least one embodiment of the present invention, a gliding member 110 may be configured to apply a solution or fluid to a surface just prior to the surface being vacuumed. When fluid is applied by the gliding member 110, the fluid does not have as much time to penetrate the surface to be cleaned. However, enough fluid is applied by the gliding member 110 such that any debris, or other cleaning solution in the surface, can be released and picked up by the suction of the vacuum.

These and other advantages will be apparent from the disclosure of the invention(s) contained herein. The above-described embodiments and configurations are neither complete nor exhaustive. As will be appreciated, other embodiments of the invention are possible using, alone or in combination, one or more of the features set forth above or described in detail below.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a cross-sectional view of a vacuum shoe in accordance with embodiments of the prior art;

FIG. 2 is a cross-sectional view of one configuration of a vacuum shoe equipped with a gliding member in accordance with embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 3 is a cross-sectional view of another configuration of a vacuum shoe equipped with a gliding member in accordance with embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional view of another configuration of a vacuum shoe equipped with a gliding member in accordance with embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 5 depicts a floor cleaning apparatus employing an improved vacuum shoe in accordance with embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 6 depicts a selectively attachable and detachable gliding member along with a vacuum shoe in accordance with embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 7 depicts openings of a gliding member in accordance with embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 8 depicts a gliding member in accordance with embodiments of the present invention; and

FIG. 9 is a flow chart depicting a method of cleaning surfaces in accordance with at least some embodiments of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Referring initially to FIG. 2, an exemplary vacuum shoe 100 will be described in accordance with at least some embodiments of the present invention. The vacuum shoe comprises a shoe housing 102 with a vacuum chamber 104 defined by the shoe housing 102. The shoe housing 102 at a first end has an opening 106 where debris and other material, including fluids, can be received. The other end of the vacuum shoe housing 102 is adapted to be connected with a hose 108 or another type of vacuum source (e.g., a vacuum motor connected to the cleaning machine). The opening 106 of the shoe housing 102 is further adapted to be interconnected to a glide member 110 or set of glide members 110. The glide members 110 may be an integral part of the housing 102 or may be selectively attached and detached from the shoe housing 102. The glide members 110 generally have a space or an opening that defines an inlet of the glide member(s) 110. This opening 112 is typically smaller than the opening 106 of the vacuum chamber 104. However, it can be appreciated by one of skill in the art that the opening 112 of the glide member 110 may be substantially the same size or smaller than the opening 106 of the vacuum chamber.

Referring simultaneously to FIGS. 2-4, alternative configurations of the glide member or glide members 110 will be described in accordance with at least some embodiments of the present invention. It is advantageous to have the glide member 110 shaped such that the outer surface 111 of the glide member 110 that interacts with the surface to be cleaned is smooth rather than abrupt as was used in the prior art. For example, the outer surface 111 of the glide member 110 may be defined to have a particular radius of curvature as can be seen with reference to either FIG. 2 or FIG. 3. For normal size vacuum shoes 100 the radius of curvature of the outer surface 111 of the glide member 110 may be between approximately 0.5″ to 1.5″. Additionally, for larger vacuum shoes 100, a larger radius of curvature may be used, for example, a radius of 1.5″ or greater. Of course the radius of curvature of the outer surface 111 of the glide member 110 depends on the size of the machine, the weight of the machine, the size of the vacuum shoe 100, the type of surface to be cleaned, and other variables.

Various designs depicted in FIGS. 2-4, show a glide member that provides a relatively small drag co-efficient as the vacuum shoe 100 is traversed across a surface to be cleaned. For example, in FIG. 2, the glide member is shaped such that it has two substantially linear regions and one non-linear region with a particular radius of curvattre. Whereas the glide member 110 depicted in FIG. 3 has a substantially uniform radius of curvature for the entire outer surface 111. Alternatively, with reference to FIG. 4, the outer surface of the glide member 110 may include three linear regions with a smooth radius of curvature between each linear region. Regardless of the shape of the outer surface of the glide member 110, it is preferred to have an outer surface that moves along a surface to be cleaned with a relatively lower drag coefficient than would be provided by the shoe housing 102 alone.

The point where the outer surface 111 intersects the surface to be cleaned is known as the intersection point. At the intersection point an intersection angle 113 is defined. Specifically, the intersection angle 113 is the angle between the outer surface 111 and the surface to be cleaned. Typically, the smaller the intersection angle 113 is, the lower the drag coefficient is between the gliding member 110 and the surface. A suitable intersection angle 113 is between about 5° and about 80°, with the intersection angle being preferably about 30°. A lower drag coefficient results in an increase in cleaning efficiency and potentially less power required by an internal power source of the cleaning machine. The outer surface 111 generally extends away from the surface to be cleaned with a smooth transition, rather than an abrupt one as is known in the prior art. The smooth transition between the intersection point and the end of the outer surface 111 provides for a smooth traversal of the gliding member 110 across uneven surfaces.

Another way to decrease the amount of drag between the glide member 110 and a surface to be cleaned is by the intelligent selection of material used to construct the glide member 110. Examples of the types of materials of which the glide member 110 may be constructed include, but are not limited to, Teflon™, polyvinylchloride, Delrin™ or other suitable types of self lubricating materials or materials exhibiting a low frictional coefficient. Additionally, the outer surfaces of the glide members 110 may be treated with a chemical and/or covered with a material that provides for easier traversal of the gliding member 110 across the surface to be cleaned. For carpeting, it is believed that Delrin™ is a preferable material to use in constructing the glide member 110, although other materials may be found equally suitable.

Referring now to FIG. 5, a floor cleaning apparatus 114 will be described in accordance with at least some embodiments of the present invention. The floor cleaning apparatus comprises a chassis 115 that is typically driven by some sort of internal power drive or motor 124, for example, an electric motor or gas-powered motor. A vacuum shoe 100 is preferably connected to the chassis by at least a hose 108. The hose 108 extends up to a vacuum source, like a vacuum motor 126, that helps create the negative suction used to lift fluid and debris from the surface. The vacuum shoe 100 may also be interconnected to the chassis by other securing mechanisms like stabilizer bars and so on. The vacuum shoe 100 also comprises a glide member 110 that provides for ease of movement of the vacuum shoe 100 across the surface to be cleaned.

The chassis 115 also typically includes a number of wheels operably interconnected to the bottom surface of the chassis to enable steering and provide stability. Typically, an operator of the machine may sit or stand on the chassis 115 and can direct the movement of the floor cleaning apparatus 114 with a steering wheel or other type of steering mechanism, such as a joy stick. Such an embodiment of the present invention enables the floor surface to be cleaned or otherwise treated more efficiently, since the operator does not have to push or pull the often heavy apparatus. In addition, the human component of powering or otherwise moving the apparatus may be omitted in order to achieve more consistent flooring treatment, thereby saving cleaning materials and reducing costs of the entire cleaning operation.

In operation, typically a set of scrubbers, sprayers, and/or other type of agitator 128 is placed in front of the vacuum housing 100. The device 128 is used to apply cleaning fluid to a surface and/or to agitate the surface and release dirt that has been held therein. As the cleaning apparatus 114 moves in a forward direction generally depicted by the arrow 109, the vacuum shoe 100 travels over the now agitated surface to suck up any loose fluid and debris that was released from the surface. Since the vacuum shoe 100 is equipped with a glide member 110, the apparatus 114 does not have to provide as much power as it would have if the vacuum was not equipped with a glide member 110. Since the glide member I 1O decreases the drag coefficient of the apparatus 114 as it traverses the surface, less force and as a result, less power is required of the vacuum motor 126 and the drive motor 124. This may result in use of smaller motor 124, if less downward force is applied to the surface and less damage to the surface being cleaned over the course of a number of cleanings. In the instance that the floor cleaning apparatus 114 is a gas powered apparatus, then less fuel would be required to drive the apparatus 114 for the same amount of cleaning time. Alternatively, a battery-powered apparatus may use the same size of batteries as previous cleaning apparatuses but the runtime of the machine could be increased. Again, this equates to less required fuel on board the apparatus 114 for the duration of cleaning a particular room, which, in turn, results in a lower machine weight and, therefore, saves the surface that is being cleaned from being rolled forward as is typically done by heavier machines or machines that are not equipped with the glide member 110.

Additionally, the glide member 110 substantially increases the drying efficiency of the vacuum shoe 100 through operation. Furthermore, by equipping the vacuum shoe 100 with the glide member 110, suction is increased which results in more air entering the vacuum shoe 100. For example, most apparatus 114 equipped with conventional vacuum shoes 100, take in air at the rate of approximately 5,000 cubic feet per minute. When a glide member 110 is placed on a vacuum shoe that is connected to the floor cleaning apparatus 114, suction may be increased by 60 percent, which means that intake velocity of air is roughly 8,000 cubic feet per minute. This results in a 25 percent increase in water pickup as compared to conventional floor cleaning apparatus.

Referring now to FIG. 6, a vacuum shoe 100 that has a selectively attachable and detachable gliding member 110 will be described in accordance with at least some embodiments of the present invention. Typically, the vacuum housing 102 may comprise one, two or more interfaces 116 that are adapted to receive a gliding member 110. The gliding member 110 has one, two, three, four, or more interfaces 118 that are adapted to interconnect with the corresponding interfaces 116 of the vacuum shoe housing 102. This enables the gliding member 110 to be placed on and connected to the vacuum housing 102 without requiring disassembly of either part. In a preferred embodiment, the interfaces 118 of the glide member 110 are adapted to slide onto the interfaces 116 of the vacuum housing 102. A hole or other type of interconnection device 120 is set into place when the glide member 110 is in place on the vacuum housing 102. The glide member 110 may be secured to the vacuum housing 102 by some sort of securing member 121 used in conjunction with the interconnection device 120, for example, a screw and threaded hole, nut and bolt through a hole, wing nut, thumbnut, or other type of connecting member. This enables the glide member 110 to be integral to the vacuum housing 102 during operation of the floor cleaning apparatus 114, however, in the event that some sort of blockage occurs at the gliding member 110, the gliding member 110 may be selectively removed from the housing 102 without any further disassembly of the apparatus 114, gliding member 110, and/or the vacuum shoe housing 102 and the blockage may be easily removed. This results in less required maintenance time, especially if maintenance is required during operation of the equipment.

Referring now to FIG. 7, alternative configurations of glide member 110 will be discussed in accordance with embodiments of the present invention. In one configuration, the glide member 110 has a series of slots 122 that define the opening 112 of the glide member 110. The slots 122 are sized to intake debris of a certain particle size and generally do not allow debris of larger size into the vacuum housing 102. The size of the slots also helps to determine the amount of suction that can be generated by the floor cleaning apparatus 114. Typically, the larger the slots 122, the more the air is allowed to enter and be sucked through the vacuum chamber 104. However, smaller openings 122 may be used to cause a larger amount of vacuum pressure to be created or selectively allow particles of various sizes to enter the vacuum chamber 104. As can be appreciated by one of skill in the art, the opening 122 may be a series of slots, a single slot spanning the length of the gliding member 10, a series of holes, or combinations thereof. Furthermore, the glide member 110 may be comprised of two separate pieces, a front piece and a back piece. A front piece may be the only required piece if the floor cleaning apparatus 114 only travels in a single direction. Likewise, the only required piece may be the back piece of the glide member 110 if the situation warrants.

Referring to FIG. 8 a cleaning machine 114 employing a gliding member 110 in accordance with at least one embodiment of the present invention will be described. The cleaning machine 114 comprises a first spray nozzle 122 for applying a first fluid 124, a rotary brush 126 or other suitable type of agitator, and a fluid supply line 128 for supplying a second fluid 130. The gliding member 110 is configured to receive fluid 130 from the fluid supply line 128 at a fluid passageway 132. The fluid 130 may then continue through the passageway 132 to the exit orifice 134 in the gliding member 110. The first fluid 124 is preferably a cleaning solution or the like and the second fluid 130 may be water or some other type of rinsing solution. Of course, the first 124 and second 130 fluids may be the same type of fluid depending upon the surface and/or the desired cleaning method. The second fluid 130 may be fed through the fluid supply line 128 to the gliding member 110 by gravity or by application of pressure to the second fluid 130 by a pump or the like.

The interconnection between the fluid supply line 128 and the gliding member 110 may be a fixed interconnection such that the fluid supply line 128 is integral to the gliding member 110. Alternatively, the fluid supply line 128 is selectively attached to the gliding member 110 through an interface. One suitable type of interface includes a male coupling on the gliding member 110 interconnecting with a female coupling on the supply line 128 or through simple insertion of the male coupling into the fluid supply line 128. In an alternative embodiment, the fluid supply line 128 and gliding member 110 may be equipped with male and female machine threaded interfaces, such that the fluid supply line 128 can be screwed onto the gliding member 110. Other possible interfaces between the gliding member 110 and the fluid supply line 128 will become apparent to those of skill in the art.

The solution exit orifice 134 in the gliding member 110 may simply be an opening that allows the second fluid 130 to be poured or otherwise be gravity fed onto the surface to be cleaned. Alternatively, the exit orifice 134 may comprise a spray nozzle for spraying the second fluid 130 onto the surface to be cleaned. The second fluid 130 that is applied to the surface to be cleaned is typically provided in an amount that does not deeply penetrate the carpet fibers. Thus, the amount of suction required to pick up debris from the surface may be kept at a minimum. Another advantage of enabling a gliding member 110 with a fluid passageway 132 and an orifice 134 is that the second solution 130 is applied to the surface almost immediately before it is vacuumed up. This helps to minimize drying times, as the fluid does not have a long time to settle into the carpet fibers. Additionally, the second fluid 130 helps to lubricate the gliding member 110 further decreasing the coefficient of friction as the gliding member 110 moves across the surface to be cleaned.

In operation a first fluid 124 is applied to the surface by the first spray nozzle 122. The first fluid is any type of suitable cleaning solution that is capable of attracting and cleaning up debris from the surface to be cleaned. Thereafter, the agitator 126 agitates the treated surface so as to help release debris particles from the fibers of the surface. The released debris is then trapped or partially suspended by the first fluid 124. The gliding member 110 is then passed over the surface and the second fluid 130 is applied to the surface via the exit orifice 134. As noted above, just enough second fluid 130 is applied to the surface such that the first fluid 124 can be released from the carpet fibers and sucked up by the vacuum, along with the debris suspended by the first fluid 130. In alternative embodiments, the second fluid 130 may be supplied in larger amounts to ensure that all residue of the first fluid 124 is removed from the surface. After the fluid has been applied to the surface via the exit orifice 134, the vacuum created by the vacuum motor 126 lifts the debris from the surface along with the first 124 and second fluid 130 resulting in a cleaned surface.

With reference now to FIG. 9, a method of using a self-propelled cleaning machine equipped with a gliding member 110 will be described in accordance with at least some embodiments of the present invention. Initially, in step 204, a first fluid is applied to the surface to be cleaned. As noted above sprayers, foam generators, or the like may be used to apply the fluid to the surface. Suitable fluids that may be applied to the surface to be cleaned include, water, cleaning agents or chemicals, detergents, foam, or other known cleaning fluids known to those of skill in the art. The devices used to apply the fluid to the surface may be interconnected to the chassis 114 of the self-propelled cleaning machine, or the fluids may be applied to the surface prior to passing the self-propelled cleaning machine across the surface to be cleaned. Additional fluids may be applied to the surface if the situation warrants.

After the desired fluid(s) is applied to the surface, the surface is agitated (step 206). The surface may be agitated by, for example, scrubbers, rotating brushes, or any other mechanism that can be used to agitate the surface. By agitating the surface, debris and the like may be released from the surface and captured by the fluid, thus creating a fluid mixed with debris in/on the surface to be cleaned.

Once the surface has been adequately agitated, the fluid that remains on the surface still needs to be removed. In order to remove the fluid suction is generated at the vacuum shoe 100 (step 208). The vacuum shoe 100 is equipped with a gliding member 110 as shown in FIG. 5. The vacuum shoe 100 along with the gliding member 110 is passed across the surface to be cleaned (step 210). The suction generated at the vacuum shoe 100 acts to lift a large portion of the fluid and/or debris from the surface to be cleaned. The vacuum shoe 100 equipped with the gliding surface 110 is operable to remove at least about 25% more fluid from the surface than vacuum shoes of the prior art. This means that less fluid is left on the surface to be cleaned and, in the case of carpet or other type of fabric surface, the required drying time is decreased for the entire surface.

As noted above, the chassis 114 may be adapted for an operator to sit on and operate the cleaning machine. The operator may have a steering wheel or joy stick that allows him/her to control and maneuver the cleaning machine with relatively minimal effort compared to cleaning devices that require the operator to actually push or pull the cleaning device across the surface to be cleaned.

Advantages offered by embodiments of the present invention are not necessarily restricted to the use of a glide member 110 in conjunction with cleaning a carpeted surface. As can be appreciated by one of skill in the art, the use of a glide member 110 with the floor cleaning apparatus 114 when cleaning any number of surfaces including, but not being limited to, carpet, hardwood, cement, tile, rubber floors, and the like is also envisioned.

The present invention, in various embodiments, includes components, methods, processes, systems and/or apparatus substantially as depicted and described herein, including various embodiments, sub combinations, and subsets thereof Those of skill in the art will understand how to make and use the present invention after understanding the present disclosure. The present invention, in various embodiments, includes providing devices and processes in the absence of items not depicted and/or described herein or in various embodiments hereof, including in the absence of such items as may have been used in previous devices or processes, e.g., for improving performance, achieving ease and/or reducing cost of implementation.

The foregoing discussion of the invention has been presented for purposes of illustration and description. The foregoing is not intended to limit the invention to the form or forms disclosed herein. In the foregoing Detailed Description for example, various features of the invention are grouped together in one or more embodiments for the purpose of streamlining the disclosure. This method of disclosure is not to be interpreted as reflecting an intention that the claimed invention requires more features than are expressly recited in each claim. Rather, as the following claims reflect, inventive aspects lie in less than all features of a single foregoing disclosed embodiment. Thus, the following claims are hereby incorporated into this Detailed Description, with each claim standing on its own as a separate preferred embodiment of the invention.

Moreover though the description of the invention has included description of one or more embodiments and certain variations and modifications, other variations and modifications are within the scope of the invention, e.g., as may be within the skill and knowledge of those in the art, after understanding the present disclosure. It is intended to obtain rights which include alternative embodiments to the extent permitted, including alternate, interchangeable and/or equivalent structures, functions, ranges or steps to those claimed, whether or not such alternate, interchangeable and/or equivalent structures, functions, ranges or steps are disclosed herein, and without intending to publicly dedicate any patentable subject matter.