Title:
Non-strenuous under furniture exercise device
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An under-furniture exercise device is presented that provides a non-strenuous workout that allows user to concentrate on day-to-day tasks. The exercise device interacts with computer software operating on a general purpose computer in order to provide an incentive for users to continue their exercise. The software receives data signals from the exercise device that allows the software to determine whether the exercise has fallen below a certain threshold. If so, the software issues a command to entertainment software or driver software that controls a device external to the computer. The command causes the entertainment software to alter its performance so that the alteration would be noticed by the user, and causes the driver software to change the operation of the external device in a similar manner. Multiple devices can be networked together for central monitoring, which can be used by health insurance providers to provide incentives to exercise.



Inventors:
Glick, David B. (Maplewood, MN, US)
Application Number:
11/432233
Publication Date:
11/15/2007
Filing Date:
05/11/2006
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
482/9
International Classes:
A63B71/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20090192027DUMBBELLS WITH CONNECTIONS FOR A BARBELLJuly, 2009Parker
20070099780Shoulder Stretcher AssemblyMay, 2007Bowser
20060100067Training bagMay, 2006Washburn et al.
20070060449Foldable elliptical fitness machineMarch, 2007Lo
20030211920Light weight and portable exercise device with bench seatNovember, 2003Mandel
20060040811Floor exercise mat and pad systemFebruary, 2006Foster
20020055418INTERACTIVE FITNESS EQUIPMENTMay, 2002Pyles et al.
20060199711The Running Training MachineSeptember, 2006Miers
20080004162EXERCISE TREADMILL WITH POWER DRIVEN FOLDING DEVICEJanuary, 2008Chen
20050085348Apparatus for the improvement of rowing techniqueApril, 2005Kiefer et al.
20070173382Yoga belt and method of useJuly, 2007Axelrod



Primary Examiner:
RICHMAN, GLENN E
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Tysver Beck Evans, PLLC (Minneapolis, MN, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A exercise system comprising: a) an item of furniture having i) a generally horizontal work surface, and ii) at least one support that keeps the work surface above a ground surface; b) an exercise device located underneath the work surface and having i) data gathering electronics that gather exercise data, and ii) a data link through which data signals containing the exercise data are transmitted from the exercise device; c) a general purpose computer resting on the work surface, connected to the data link, and having i) a general purpose operating system capable of operating a plurality of application programs; ii) a control and analysis software program that receives the data signals from the data link and that transmits a command via the general purpose operating system, the command being sent only when the data signals indicate that a level of exercise currently being performed on the exercise device does not meet a minimal level; iii) a second program that receives the command and changes its functioning in response to the command.

2. The exercise system of claim 1, wherein the second program is an audio application program that creates an audible sound, and in which the changed functioning relates to the audible sound.

3. The exercise system of claim 2, wherein the audible sound is music, and in which the changed functioning is to discontinue the playing of the music.

4. The exercise system of claim 1, wherein the second program is a visual application program that creates a visual image on a display controlled by the general purpose computer, and in which the changed functioning relates to the visual image display.

5. The exercise system of claim 1, wherein the second program is a driver program that controls a device external to the general purpose computer, and wherein the changed functioning is to alter the operation of the external device.

6. The exercise system of claim 5, wherein the external device is a remote controlled electrical outlet, and wherein the changed functioning is to turn off the outlet.

7. The exercise system of claim 1, wherein after the command is sent, the control and analysis software senses when the level of exercise meets a restarting level, after which a second command is sent to the second program that reverses the change in functioning.

8. The exercise system of claim 7, wherein the minimal level and the restarting level are the same.

9. The exercise system of claim 1, wherein the control and analysis software sends a control signal over the data link to the exercise device in order to change the operation of the exercise device.

10. The exercise system of claim 1, wherein the exercise device is chosen from the set including an elliptical machine, a bicycle-type machine, a skiing-type machine, and a leg-extension machine.

11. The exercise system of claim 1, wherein the exercise device is a leg exercise device having a vertical range of motion of less than 4.5 inches.

12. An exercise system comprising: a) an exercise device having i) an outer housing; ii) an electrically controlled resistance mechanism that determines a resistance level for the exercise device, iii) data gathering electronics that gather exercise data, and iv) a data link passing through the outer housing through which data signals containing the exercise data are transmitted from the exercise device and through which control signals that alter the resistance control mechanism are received by the exercise device; and b) a general purpose computer external to the outer housing of the exercise device having i) a general purpose operating system capable of operating a plurality of application programs; ii) a word processing productivity software program operating on the general purpose operating system and that provides word processing capabilities; iii) a control and analysis software program operating on the general purpose operating system, that (1) receives the data signals from the data link, (2) receives input relating to the resistance of the exercise device through a user input, (3) sends control signals to the exercise device through the data link to control the resistance of the resistance mechanism, and (4) transmits a command via the general purpose operating system, the command being sent only when the data signals indicate that a level of exercise currently being performed on the exercise device does not meet a minimal level; iv) an entertainment control program operating on the general purpose operating system that (1) controls an entertainment related output that is perceptible outside the general purpose computer, and (2) receives the command and changes its functioning in response to the command, wherein the change in functioning changes the entertainment related output.

13. An exercise system for workers in a workplace comprising: a) a plurality of desks used by the workers; b) an exercise device under each desk, the exercise device having i) data gathering electronics that gather exercise data, and ii) a data link through which data signals containing the exercise data are transmitted from the exercise device; c) a general purpose computer on each desk that is connected to the data link, each general purpose computer having i) a general purpose operating system capable of operating a plurality of application programs, ii) a control and analysis software program that (1) receives the exercise device from the data link in real time, (2) controls the functioning of a second software program operating on the general purpose computer based upon the exercise data, and (3) creates exercise summary data based upon the exercise data; d) a computer network linking together each of the general purpose computers; and e) a central analysis computer different than the general purpose computers and linked to the computer network, the central analysis computer receiving exercise summary data from each general purpose computer over the computer network.

14. The exercise system of claim 13, wherein the central analysis computer is operated for the benefit of a healthcare insurance provider, and wherein the exercise summary data is used to determine whether a financial incentive has been earned that effectively reduces the cost of providing health insurance for workers using the exercise devices.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to exercise equipment. More particular, the present invention relates to a small, under furniture exercise device under the control of software operating on a general purpose computer that provides a computerized incentive to continue exercising.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Many types of exercise equipment are known in the prior art. In most cases, however, an individual must set aside time dedicated to using the equipment in order to obtain the exercise necessary for healthy living. There are few options available that allow exercise while the user performs other tasks, and those that do exist suffer from lack of follow through on the part of users. For instance, hand exercisers can be used while watching television, talking on the telephone, or even having a conversation with friends. However, as the user's mind focuses on matters other than exercise, the user will forget to keep up the exercise regimen. Before long, the hand exerciser is placed on a table and forgotten, all without a conscious decision on the part of the user to stop exercising.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention overcomes these difficulties by creating an exercise device that can operate under a desk, table, or other piece of furniture. By providing a non-strenuous workout, the present invention allows a user to concentrate on day-to-day tasks during periods of exercise. Furthermore, the present invention interacts with computer software operating on a general purpose computer in order to provide an incentive for users to continue their exercise.

The exercise device is connected to the computer through a wireless or wired data link. Control and analysis software residing on the computer uses this data link to receive data signals from the exercise device and to send control signals to the exercise device. This software is responsible for analyzing the data signals and outputting its analysis to the user. In order to motivate the user to use the exercise device, the software uses this analysis to issue commands to other software if the exercise has fallen below a certain threshold. In one embodiment, the other software is entertainment software, such as music or movie player software, wherein the instructions cause the entertainment software to alter its performance so that the user would notice the alteration. For instance, music software could cease operation or lower its volume. In another embodiment, the other program is driver software for an external device such as an alternating current plug into which a separate electronic device is plugged. Similar to the first embodiment, the instructions cause the driver software to change the operation of the external device in order to provide a gentle reminder for the user to continue their exercise, such as to prevent electric current from passing through the plug to a radio, television, or lamp.

Additionally, the exercise device can be designed to communicate with a portable, dedicated computing device having a simplified user interface with buttons for user input and a small screen for communicating messages to the user. The dedicated computing device stores the data from the exercise device for later download to the control and analysis software.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a schematic diagram illustrating the present invention exercise device located under a piece of furniture.

FIG. 2 is schematic diagram illustrating a first form for the exercise device of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is schematic diagram illustrating a second form for the exercise device of FIG. 1.

FIG. 4 is schematic diagram illustrating a third form for the exercise device of FIG. 1.

FIG. 5 is a schematic diagram illustrating a fourth form for the exercise device of FIG. 1

FIG. 6 is a schematic diagram illustrating the environment in a general purpose computer in which control and analysis software operates in cooperation with the exercise device of FIG. 1.

FIG. 7 is a schematic diagram illustrating a dedicated computer device that can be used to operate the exercise device of FIG. 1.

FIG. 8 is a flow chart of the method of operating the exercise device of the present invention.

FIG. 9 is a schematic diagram showing multiple exercise devices networked together for group management and health insurance reimbursement.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Overview

As shown in FIG. 1, the present invention is a small exercise device 10 designed to fit under an item of furniture 30. The furniture 30 can take the form of a desk, a table, or any other furniture 30 that is held off the floor by supports 32 and preferably has a relatively horizontal work surface 34 above the exercise device 10. Residing on the work surface 34 is a general purpose computer 100 that communicates with the exercise device 10 through a data link 40. This data link 40 can be a physical link, such as that provided by the USB, IEEE 1394 (or “Firewire”), and Ethernet protocols. Alternatively, the data link 40 can be a wireless link, such as that provided by the Bluetooth and IEEE 802.11 protocols.

The exercise device 10 is purposefully designed as a small machine for leg exercises requiring only a limited range of motion. In the preferred embodiment, the vertical movement of a user's legs during exercise is no more that 4.5 inches. The device 10 is intended for non-strenuous, continuous exercise that can be performed while performing typical desk-based office tasks. The purpose is to allow a user to sit next to the furniture and perform tasks on the work surface 34 while at the same time exercising their legs on the exercise device 10. Of course, the user of the device 10 may also be engaging in more leisure activities, such as playing a game, talking on the telephone, working on a puzzle, or watching television.

To keep the exercise device 10 in place, the device 10 can be secured to the supports 32 of the furniture 30. In one embodiment, the machine is manufactured together with the furniture 30, with the supports of the furniture 32 being integrated directly into the case of the exercise device 10. In another embodiment, weight is added to the exercise device 10 to keep it from moving during use.

The exercise device 10 includes an adjustable resistance mechanism 12 that is designed to control the amount of resistance that the user will face when using device 10. As is known in the prior art, the resistance mechanism 12 could take the form of an electromagnetic device that allows the resistance to be controlled through electronic signals. The exercise device 10 receives instructions as to the appropriate resistance through data link 40. Control circuitry 14 receives these instructions and develops the appropriate electronic signals necessary to provide the appropriate level of resistance at mechanism 12.

Exercise device 10 also includes data-gathering electronics 16, such as magnet and magnetic sensor combinations that are able to count repetitions or strides. These strides are made by the user exercising their legs against the footpads 18 that move relative to the rest of the exercise device 12. The data that is obtained by the data gathering electronics is analyzed by the control circuitry 14 and is then sent via data link 40 to the general purpose computer 100. In the preferred embodiment, the resistance mechanism 12, control circuitry 14, and the data gathering electronics are contained within an outer housing 19 of the exercise device.

The general purpose computer 100 contains control and analysis software 120 that receives the data signals 44 from the data link 40 and sends the control instructions over data link 40. This software 120 provides a user with the ability to control the workout settings for the exercise device 10, and to analyze the results of their workout. The software 120 could take the form of a small “widget” type application, or alternative could be normal application software running on the general purpose computer 100. This software 120 is also responsible for providing the reminders and incentives to the user to continue their use of the exercise device 10, as is described in more detail below.

In addition to connecting the device to a general purpose computer 100, the exercise device 10 may also function utilizing a portable, dedicated computing device 200. This dedicated device 200 connects to the exercise device through the same data link 40 described above, and has a simplified user interface that allows the user to control and monitor the exercise device 10 in a manner similar to that provided by the control and analysis software 120.

Exercise Device Alternatives

FIGS. 2, 3, 4, and 5 disclose different embodiments for the exercise device 10. In FIG. 2, exercise device 10 is shown as a small, elliptical type machine 20 with two footpads 18 that move in an elliptical motion. This machine 20 secures the footpad 18 to an outer tube 24 that slides over an inner rod 25. The inner rod 25 is secured to a stable attachment point 26, while the outer tube 24 is attached to a rotating attachment point 27. As the outer tube 24 moves along with the rotating attachment point 27, the outer tube 24 will slide along the inner rod 25 as the inner rod 25 rotates about the stable attachment point 26, causing the attached foot pads 18 to move in an elliptical motion.

FIG. 3 shows exercise device 10 as a bicycle-type machine 21 in which the two footpads 18 move in a circular motion. In this case, the footpads 18 have been directly attached to the rotating attachment point 27 in such a way as to allow the footpads 18 to rotate like standard bicycle pedals. This machine 21 could be the same device 10 as the elliptical machine 20, with the outer tube 24 removed from the rotating attachment point 27. The footpads 18 could be removed from the outer tube 24 as shown in FIG. 3, or else the footpads 18 that attach directly to the rotating attachment point 27 could be different than those attached to the outer tube 24.

FIG. 4 shows exercise device 10 as a leg-extension machine 22 in which the two footpads 18 move in a linear motion. In this case, the footpads 18 are attached directly to a linearly moving attachment point 28. This attachment point 28 is attached to internal mechanical and electrical devices that control resistance and gather exercise data such as mechanism 12 and electronics 16 shown in FIG. 1.

FIG. 5 shows a skiing machine 23 in which the footpads 18 move in a shuffling or skiing motion. In this case, the footpads 18 are shown attached to outer tube 24 that is itself attached to the linearly moving attachment point 28. As can be seen by comparing FIGS. 4 and 5, the direction of movement differs between machines 22 and 23 by approximately forty-five degrees. It would be possible to create a single exercise device 10 that converts between these machines 22 and 23 by providing an ability to change the angle of linear motion, such as by rotating the internal mechanism and electronics together as a unit into the desired position.

In each embodiment, the user moves the footpads 22 relative to the rest of the exercise machine 10 against the resistance provided by resistance mechanism 12. The resistance mechanism 12 maybe mechanical, electro-magnetic, or any other known prior art mechanism used for adjusting resistance in exercise devices.

Preferably, each of these devices is small in size, requires little relative motion of the user's feet to complete the exercise, and can be set so that the resistance provides only minimal to moderate exertion on the part of the user. In this way, the user can operate the exercise device 10 while continuing to focus on other tasks while sitting adjacent to the furniture 30. The goal is not to create a strenuous workout, but allow the user the ability to perform constant, relatively stress-free exercise while engaging in their normal routine.

Control and Analysis Software

FIG. 5 shows the software environment of the general purpose computer 100. The control and analysis software 120 receives input from the user and provides feedback to the user through the user interface 110 of the general purpose computer 100, including the display 112 and speaker(s) 114. The software 120 interacts directly with the exercise device 10 by sending control signals 42 to the device 10 and receiving data signals 44 from the exercise device 10 via the data link 40.

The control signals 42 sent by the control and analysis software 120 direct the operation of the exercise device 10 in part by specifying the resistance to be used. These control signals 42 are determined by the algorithms contained within the control and analysis software 120, and preferably are based upon parameters set by the user. For instance, a user may instruct the control and analysis software 120 that they want the exercise device to intermittently change resistance. The control and analysis software 120 would contain the appropriate algorithm, and would instruct the exercise device 10 to change resistance at appropriate times by sending the appropriate control signals 42 to the device 10. Of course, it would be well within the scope of the present invention to have a system in which no control signals 42 are ever sent to the device 10. In this case, all controls for resistance and other settings would reside on the exercise device 10 itself, or else the device 10 would be pre-set to a particular settings without any option for change.

The data signals 44 received from the exercise device 10 contain real-time data relating to the use of the device 10, including repetition counts, speed, and force exerted. The control and analysis software 120 analyzes these data signals 44 and converts the signals into more useful information, such as simulated distance traveled, elapsed time, pace, and calories burned. This data can be graphed and outputted through the user interface 110 for the benefit of the user. In addition, the control and analysis software can store the data in permanent storage available on the general purpose computer 100. In this way, data from multiple uses of the exercise device 10 can be aggregated, which allows long term goals to be tracked and compared with actual results. In addition, this data can be exported in a delimited text or standard spreadsheet format, thereby allowing external database and spreadsheet applications to access the user's exercise data.

One of the primary benefits of the present invention is the ability to motivate a user to continue their exercise even while their mind is focused on other activities. The control and analysis software 120 provides this motivation by monitoring the data provided by the exercise device and issuing a reminder if the data indicates that the exercise has fallen below a preset threshold. This threshold can be a default threshold, or can be selected directly by the user. In its most simple form, the reminder would be a simple audio or visual prompt on the user interface 110 of the general purpose computer 100 generated directly by the control and analysis software 120.

In the preferred embodiment however, the reminder takes the form of an instruction or command 122 that is sent to another program 140, 150 operating on the general purpose computer 100. These commands 122 are formulated according to the requirements of the operating system used by the general purpose computer 100. Such commands are well known and understood in the prior art in at least the Windows. Unix, Linux, and Macintosh operations systems. The other program could be entertainment software 140, such as music or movie player software. In this case, the instruction 122 instructs the entertainment software 140 to alter its performance so that the user would notice the alteration. For instance, a user working on a computer may be utilizing the productivity software 130 while music player software 140 provides background music. The control and analysis software 120 monitors the data signals 44 received over the data link, and allows the music player software 140 to operate normally as long as the user is using the exercise device at the established minimum level. When the user gets distracted and ceases their exercise, the control and analysis software 120 will notice this change and send a command 122 instructing the music player software 140 to change how it is operating. For instance, the music player software 140 might lower the volume of the music, or stop playing music altogether. In this way, the user is gently reminded to continue their exercise in order to keep the entertainment software operating normally.

Alternative, the control and analysis software could send the instruction 122 to driver software 150 that controls a device that is external to the computer 100. For example, the driver software 150 could operate a remotely controlled power outlet 190 into which a separate electronic device 192 could be plugged in. In this case, the instruction 122 sent to the driver software 150 could cause the plug 190 to stop providing current to the electronic device 192. By plugging a radio, television, or lamp into the plug 190, the present invention could tie continued use of the exercise device 10 to the ability to listen to the radio, watch television, or light a lamp.

One of the primary benefits of placing the intelligence of the control and analysis software 120 in a general purpose computer 100 is that it allows the exercise device 10 to be manufactured with limited engineering and construction costs. The resistance mechanism 12 and the data gathering electronics 16 are controlled by control circuitry 14, but this circuitry can involve limited to no software or firmware. The only function of the circuitry is to translate between the signals sent on the data link 40 and the signals sent to the resistance mechanism 12 and from the data gathering electronics 16. Since all the complicated programming occurs in a general purpose computer software program 120, manufacturing, distribution, and upgrading costs are significantly reduced. This feature also allows new versions of the control and analysis software 120 to be easily downloaded over the Internet.

Dedicated Computing Device

FIG. 6 shows the preferred embodiment of the dedicated computing device 200 that can be used with the exercise device 10. This dedicated computing device 200 can be similar in size and complexity to standard bike computer. This type of computing device 200 can be used when communication with the general purpose computer 10 is impractical or in certain corporate settings where software installation on the general purpose computer 10 is not permitted. This device 200 uses the same data link 40, control signals 42, and data signals 44 as the control and analysis software 120 operating on a general purpose computer 100. While this device 200 is referred to as a “dedicated” computing device, it is possible to program a personal digital assistant (PDA) or an intelligent music player such as the iPod by Apple Computer to function as the dedicated computer device 200.

This device 200 has a simplified user interface 210, generally having several buttons 212 for user input and a small screen 214 for presenting input prompts and data summaries to the user. The dedicated computing device 200 stores the data received from the exercise device 10 for later download to the control and analysis software 120. This can be accomplished by simply connecting the dedicated computing device 200 to the same data link 40 used by the general purpose computer 100, and then transmitting the data signals 44 stored on the dedicated device 200 to the control and analysis software 120. In this way, a user can still track all of the exercise performed on the exercise device 10 without needing the general purpose computer 100 to be always available.

Method of Present Invention

FIG. 7 shows the method used by the present invention to interact with the exercise device 10 of the present invention. The method begins by obtaining input from a user relating to the operation of the exercise device 10 positioned under furniture 30 at step 302. This input will normally take place through the user interface 110 of a general purpose computer 110. Next, at step 304, control signals 42 are sent to the exercise device 10 through data link 40 that cause the exercise device 10 to operate as requested by the user. After this, the control and analysis software 120 receives data signals 44 from the exercise device at step 306. In step 308, these data signals 44 are analyzed and converted into more useful information about the exercise, such as simulated distance traveled and calories burned. The control and analysis software 120 will also track the duration of the current exercise regime. This information is then presented through the user interface 110 at step 310, and stored for comparison and aggregation with earlier data at step 312.

The information is also used at step 314 to determine whether the current exercise being performed on exercise device 10 is sufficient to meet the pre-established minimum level. If not, an instruction or command 122 is sent at step 316 to external software, such as entertainment software 140 or driver software 150. If the instruction 122 is sent to entertainment software 140, then the software 140 will at step 318 change its operating parameters so as to be noticeable to the user. As explained above, such parameter changes might include reducing the volume or ceasing the playing of music. If the entertainment software presents audio/video content, the parameter change might dim or remove the video component altogether. In any case, the parameter change is designed to encourage the user to continue their exercise on the device 10, and thus the change will last only until exercise is resumed.

If the instruction 122 is received by driver software 150, then the driver software will interpret the instruction 122 and send its own signal to an external device at step 320. The above example describes driver software that could turn an alternating current outlet on and off, thereby controlling power to any device plugged into the outlet. Many other external devices could also be directly controlled by the driver software 150, including electronic devices like television sets and music receivers. In this case, the driver software 150 would interface directly with the electronic device and instruct the electronic device to change its functionality until the minimum level of exercise is resumed.

System for Central Monitoring

FIG. 9 shows a networked system 400 in which multiple exercise devices 10 are linked together through a network 410. One of the advantages of the present invention is that the exercise data created by the devices 10 are analyzed by general purpose computers 100 in real time. It is therefore a trivial manner to program the control and analysis software 120 to take advantage of network connections already established by the computers 100 to submit exercise data over the network 410 to a central management point, such as a computer 420 operated by corporate management. The actual exercise data submitted over the network 410 need not be the exact exercise data received from the exercise device 10 over the data link 40. Instead, the control and analysis software 120 will preferably summarize this data into a more useful format before sending the data over network 410. By using this system 400, a corporation could place the exercise devices 10 under the desks of its office workers, and then could analyze the amount of exercise performed by its workers in real time.

Furthermore, as health insurers have recently began reimbursing the cost of health club memberships to their insureds, it is feasible that health insurance providers could use the present system 400 to encourage exercise. As shown in FIG. 9, a central health insurance monitoring facility 430 can receive exercise data over the network 410 and determine whether the employees of an employer had met a goal for total exercise. If so, the insurer could issue an insurance rebate check to the employer or otherwise reduce the cost of health insurance for the employer's workers.

The many features and advantages of the invention are apparent from the above description. Numerous modifications and variations will readily occur to those skilled in the art. Since such modifications are possible, the invention is not to be limited to the exact construction and operation illustrated and described. Rather, the present invention should be limited only by the following claims.