Title:
Multifunctional Toilet With Locking Access Doors
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A self cleaning toilet seat has an annular seat and a housing for concealing cleaning fluids used to clean the toilet scat and other fluids used to clean portions of the user's body. The housing also conceals a power supply used to power electrical devices built into the toilet. The toilet housing includes doors which provide access to the cleaning fluid tanks and access to the electrical power supply. Locks on the doors prevent tampering with the cleaning fluid and power supply.



Inventors:
Bergmann, Eric (San Francisco, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/659172
Publication Date:
02/21/2008
Filing Date:
08/04/2004
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
4/237
International Classes:
A47K13/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
LOEPPKE, JANIE MEREDITH
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
DERGOSITS & NOAH LLP (SAN FRANCISCO, CA, US)
Claims:
1. A toilet seat mounted on a toilet bowl comprising: an annular scat; a housing attached to the seat and the toilet bowl; a cleaning fluid tank mounted in a first area of the housing; an electric motor for rotating the annular seat mounted in a second area of the housing; a power supply which powers the electric motor mounted in the second area of the housing; a first door on a side surface of the housing which allows access to the fluid tank in the first area of the housing but does not provide access to the second area of the housing; and a first lock connected to the first door which prevents the first door from being opened when the first lock is in the locked position and allows the first door to open when in the unlocked position.

2. The toilet seat of claim 1 further comprising: a cleaning mechanism which moves over a portion of the scat using power supplied by the electric motor and uses cleaning fluid from the cleaning fluid tank to clean at least a portion of the seat; wherein the power supply comprises a battery.

3. The toilet seat of claim 2 further comprising: a second door in the housing which allows access-to the battery in the second area of the housing but does not provide access to the second area of the housing when the second door is opened; a second lock connected to the second door which prevents the second door from being opened when the second lock is in the locked position and allows the second door to open when in the unlocked position.

4. The toilet seat of claim 2 wherein the second door is mounted in a side surface of the housing.

5. The toilet seat of claim 4 wherein the switch is an optical switch which is actuated when movement in the proximity of a sensor connected the switch is detected.

6. The toilet seat of claim 2 further comprising: a battery charge level indicator.

7. The toilet seat of claim 6 wherein the battery charge level indicator emits a signal when the battery power level is low.

8. The toilet seat of claim 1 further comprising: a cleaning fluid tank level indicator.

9. The toilet scat of claim 8 wherein the cleaning fluid tank level indicator emits a signal when the cleaning fluid tank level is low.

10. The toilet scat of claim 1 further comprising: a nozzle connected to the housing and the cleaning fluid tank; and a switch; wherein a quantity of the cleaning fluid flows through the nozzle when the switch is actuated.

11. A toilet seat mounted on a toilet bowl comprising: an annular seat; a housing having a first area and a second area that is attached to the scat and the bowl; a cleaning fluid tank located in the first area of the housing; an electrical power supply mounted in the second area of the housing; a first door that allows access to the cleaning fluid tank but does not allow access to the second area of the housing; and a second door in the housing that allows access to the electrical power supply in the second area of the housing but does not allow access to the first area of the housing when opened.

12. The toilet seat of claim 11 further comprising: a nozzle mounted under the seat; an electrical switch; and an electrical pump for pumping cleaning fluid from the cleaning fluid, talk through the nozzle; wherein the cleaning fluid is deposited onto an exposed area of a user of the toilet which the switch is actuated.

13. The toilet seat of claim 12 further comprising: a cleaning mechanism which moves over the scat using power supplied by the electric motor and uses cleaning fluid from the cleaning fluid tank to clean at least a portion of the seat.

14. The toilet seat of claim 13 further comprising: a switch mounted to the housing which initiates the cleaning mechanism when actuated.

15. The toilet scat of claim 11 wherein the first door is mounted in a side surface of the housing.

16. The toilet seat of claim 11 further comprising: an electric power supply charge level indicator.

17. The toilet scat of claim 11 wherein the electric power supply level indicator emits a signal when the battery power level is low.

18. The toilet seat of claim 12 further comprising: a cleaning fluid tank level indicator.

19. The toilet seat of claim 12 further comprising: a first lock connected to the first door which prevents the first door from being opened when the first lock is in the locked position and allows the first door to open when in the unlocked position; and a second lock connected to the second door which prevents the second door from being opened when the second lock is actuated.

20. The toilet seat of claim 11 further comprising: a nozzle connected to the housing and the cleaning fluid tank; and a switch; wherein a quantity of the cleaning fluid flows through the nozzle when the switch is actuated.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Toilets have been in existence for many years. The toilet includes a seat mounted over a bowl and a flushing system. The modern toilet connected to a water source which can be a water tank or a pressurized water source. When the flushing system of the toilet is actuated, the bowl is flooded with water which washes the waste from the bowel into the sewer so that a clean bowl is empty before the next use.

The basic toilet has been improved in various ways. Some toilets include additional cleaning or sanitation systems. Some toilets include a washing and drying system for a user's body parts which includes special water streams and air dryers. Other toilets include a seat cleaning mechanism which cleans the seat after the toilet has been used. Still other toilets have heated seats. These additional features require special cleaning fluid tanks and electrical power supplies to operate the mechanical motors and heating element which provide these functions.

A problem with these new features is that the fluids and power supplies must be stored in housing built into the toilet. If the toilets are used in a commercial setting, the cleaning fluids and power supply must be accessible to the parties maintaining the units but remain inaccessible to all others. The security of the cleaning fluid tank must be maintained so that there are assurances that the cleaning fluid will not contaminate any other fluids. If the cleaning fluid in the tank is compromised, the toilet will no longer have the cleaning

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to the improvement of toilets that have special functionality which requires cleaning fluids, stored in the toilet and may also require an electrical power supply. These advanced toilets may have cleaning fluid tanks and power supplies which may be within a housing which is part of the toilet. The fluids may be used to clean the toilet itself or to clean the toilet user. The electrical power supply may be used to drive the mechanisms used to clean the toilet seat or pumps used to control the flow of the cleaning fluid. In order to prevent tampering with either the cleaning fluid tanks or the electrical power supply, the inventive housing has lockable doors which only allow access to authorized maintenance people. These lockable doors or drawers provide access to the fluid tanks, electrical power supplies, electrical circuit boards, motors and other internal components which may need periodic maintenance and repair.

A first type of advanced toilet has a self-cleaning toilet seat that has a cleaning mechanism which is placed over the seat. The cleaning mechanism deposits a cleaning fluid on the seat and wipes the seat clean as the seat rotates under the mechanism. This type of seat cleaning mechanism is disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,536,899 and 4,790,036 which are hereby incorporated by reference. These toilets have cleaning fluid tanks which are built into the housing adjacent to the seat. The tank must be replenished periodically as the fluid is consumed by the cleaning process. The toilet also includes an electrical power supply which is also concealed in the housing. Other advanced toilets have body cleaning mechanisms which also use cleaning fluids and electrical mechanisms for other purposes such as user body part cleaning and heating of the seat.

In order for these advanced toilets to operate properly, the cleaning fluids and power supplies must be protected from tampering. The inventive toilet includes locking doors which prevent access to the cleaning fluid and power supplies when the doors are locked, but allows access when the doors are unlocked. The first door in the housing provides access to the cleaning fluid tank. This door may only cover a filling nozzle or area, or be large enough to allow the removal of the entire tank. Similarly, a second door may cover a recharging plug to the power supply or be large enough to allow the entire power supply to be removed. Alternatively, the housing may have a cover which encloses both the fluid tank and power supply. A lock may secure this cover to the housing.

In an embodiment, the toilet includes a device for monitoring the cleaning fluid level. The fluid level may be monitored by a visual display such as an analog gauge or an alpha numeric read out. The toilet may alternatively produce a signal that indicates that the cleaning fluid level is low. This signal may be visual, audible, electrical, radio frequency or any other suitable type of signal.

In another embodiment, the toilet includes a mechanism for monitoring the condition of the power supply. This mechanism may also be a visual display or alternatively the toilet may also produce a signal that indicates when the power level is low. By checking or responding to the fluid and power level indicators, the toilet can be properly maintained.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The invention will be better understood and objects other than those set forth above, will become apparent when consideration is given to the following detailed description thereof. Such description makes reference to the annexed drawings wherein through the various Figures of the drawings there have been generally used the same reference characters to denote the same or analogous components and wherein:

FIG. 1 is a side view of an embodiment of the inventive toilet;

FIG. 2 is a front view of an embodiment of the inventive toilet;

FIG. 3 is a side view of an embodiment of the inventive toilet;

FIG. 4 is a view of the housing of the inventive toilet with the access door closed; and

FIG. 5 is a view of the housing of the inventive toilet with the access door open.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The present invention relates to the improvement of toilets that have special functionality which require fluids and may also require an electrical power supply. These advanced toilets may have cleaning fluid tanks and power supplies within a housing that is part of the toilet. The fluids may be used to clean the toilet seat or to clean body parts of the toilet user. The electrical power supply may be used to drive the mechanisms used to clean the toilet seat or pumps used to control the flow of the cleaning fluid. In order to prevent tampering with either the cleaning fluid tanks or the electrical power supply, the inventive housing has lockable doors or drawers which only allow access to authorized maintenance people. These lockable doors or drawers provide access to the fluid tanks, electrical power supplies, electrical circuit boards, motors and other internal components which may need periodic maintenance and repair.

With reference to FIGS. 1 and 2, a first type of advanced toilet 101 has a self-cleaning toilet seat mechanism 103. The seat cleaning mechanism 103 is normally stored in a housing 105 attached to the bowl 107 of the toilet. Before using the toilet 101, the person has the option of cleaning the seat. A switch is actuated and the cleaning mechanism 103 is removed from the housing 105 and is placed over a portion of the toilet seat 109. The cleaning mechanism 103 deposits a cleaning fluid on the seat 109 and wipes the seat clean as the seat 109 rotates. After the entire seat 109 is exposed to the cleaning fluid and wiped, the mechanism retracts back into the housing 105. This process results in a clean seat 109. Examples of self cleaning toilet seats are described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,536,899 and 4,790,036. The toilet 101 may also have a door 111 and a lock 113 built into the housing 105 which allows access to internal components which may require periodic maintenance such as recharging or replacing power supplies and replenishing cleaning fluids. Although the user normally actuates the switch that initiates the seat cleaning, the toilet seat may also have an automatic periodic self cleaning mode. This periodic cleaning may be at set intervals such as every 2, 4, 6 or more hours or alternatively, the cleaning may be set by a clock. For example, the toilet seat may cleaned at midnight every night. The toilet seat may also clean itself at a set period of time after a last flush or cleaning. The toilet seat may clean itself 1 hour after a flush if the user does not clean the seat. Similarly, the toilet seat may clean itself 2 hours after the seat is last cleaned. In these self cleaning embodiments, the toilet seat may have a programmable timer so that the user can set the desired cleaning times.

In alternative embodiments, the cleaning fluid can be used to clean portions of the user's body. For example, a cleaning fluid spray nozzle (not shown) may be mounted under the seat 109 and when a switch is actuated a body cleaning fluid is deposited onto the user's exposed body parts. The seat may then also include dryers which direct an air flow at the cleaned body parts. Electrical power may be required to actuate fluid valves and run the pumps used to deposit the cleaning fluid.

In yet another embodiment, the toilet may include a cleaning fluid that may be used to clean a person's hands. With reference to FIG. 3, in this embodiment, a tube 251, which may include a nozzle or spout, may be attached to the housing. When a switch is actuated, the tube 251 is extended from the housing 105 and the hand cleaning fluid 253 is pumped though the tube 251 into a person's hands. The tube 251 is positioned over the center seat 109 so that if the cleaning fluid 253 is not caught by the user, it will simply fall into the toilet bowl 107 and removed after the next toilet flush. If the toilet is used in a remote area where there is no water source, the toilet may not be water flushing. The toilet may, however, have a reservoir of water or cleaning fluid which is used to wash the user's hands.

Because water is a primary ingredient of the cleaning solutions and the toilet is typically connected to a water source, it is possible to have a toilet which mixes water together with dry or concentrated cleaning products to produce the cleaning fluids. In this embodiment, a cleaning fluid tank within the housing may store the dry or concentrated cleaning liquids and the toilet may combine these with water before using the cleaning fluids. This water mixing may extend the time between refilling the cleaning fluid tank because the concentrated cleaning liquids can clean many more toilets per quantity of cleaning liquid than non-concentrated cleaning liquids.

In yet another embodiment, the toilet may use aerosol type cleaning products rather than a liquid cleaning solution. In this embodiment, the pressurized cleaning spray is applied to the seat during the cleaning process. When the aerosol cleaning product is depleted, the spray can simply be replaced when the access door in the housing of the toilet is unlocked and opened.

Other advanced toilets may have various additional electrical features. The seat may include an electrical heater. The heating may be achieved with electrical heating elements built into the seat. Alternatively, the toilet seat may be heated with a hot air blower which directs hot air onto the seat. This hot air heats the seat and also dries any liquids that are on the seat. This hot air may be used in conjunction with the seat cleaning process described above to more quickly dry the cleaning fluids used to clean the seat. Other electrical accessories built into the toilet may include: radios, televisions, telephones, computers, video games, and other consumer electronic devices.

Switches are used to control the operation these electrical devices. Traditional electrical switches are manually operated and require the user to physically touch the switch. Because the toilet may be in a public environment, this physical contact is not desirable. Various other switches are available which may be more suitable for use in this application. Optical proximity switches and audio switches will perform these same functions without physical contact. The optical switch may be actuated by waving a hand over the top of the housing near the optical sensor 119. If the toilet has multiple functions, a separate optical switch 119 may be required for each operation.

Because these advanced toilets 101 are capable of multiple functions, audio or voice recognition switching allows multiple mechanisms to be controlled with a single smart switch. The user can simply voice the commands for the desired toilet operations. In this embodiment, a more complex electrical system is required which includes a microphone, a voice recognition unit and an electrical relay switching unit for providing the required electrical power to the motors. The operator can also instruct the toilet to cease operations and reset any mechanical devices.

In all of the above examples, the toilets included either a cleaning fluid supply or an electrical power supply, and in several cases, both. In order to maintain the functionality and safe operation of these units, the access to the fluids and power supply must be controlled. With reference to FIGS. 4 and 5, a more detailed illustration of the housing 105 is shown. A cleaning fluid tank 315 and a power supply 317 are mounted within the housing 105. In order to control the access to the cleaning fluid tank 315 and power supply 317, the inventive system uses lockable doors which only allow access to these internal components when the doors are unlocked. FIG. 4 illustrates the door 319 in the closed position and FIG. 5 illustrates the door 319 in the open position.

In the preferred embodiment, the lock 321 is a key lock which is unlocked using a key. When the improper key or no key is inserted into the lock, the pins in the cylinder are not aligned preventing the cylinder from rotating. A bar may be attached to the cylinder so that when the lock 321 is locked, the bar engages a portion of the housing 105 preventing the door 319 from opening. When the proper key is inserted into the lock, the pins contact the exposed surfaces of the key and the pins are aligned in the lock and the cylinder is allowed to rotate. The bar also rotates away from the housing 105 allowing the door 319 to open. Alternatively, the lock 321 can be a numeric combination in which a specific series of numbers are inputted to actuate the lock or a magnetic mechanism which uses magnetic fields to open the lock or any other suitable locking mechanism. Each of these locking devices uses a bar or other physical interference device to prevent the door 319 from opening when the lock 33 is in the locked condition. In these illustrations, the tank 315 is an open top drawer. When the tank is partially removed from the housing 105, the tank 315 can be filled with the cleaning fluid. In alternative embodiments, the door 319 may only allow access to a filling hole for the tank 315 which allows the cleaning fluid to be poured or pumped into the tank 315. Although the tank 315 is shown as an open top unit, it may also be a closed unit having a closure mechanism which must be open before it can be filled. The tank 315 may also be a disposable pouch. After the fluids are consumed, the old empty pouch may be disconnected from a feed tube in the housing 105 and discarded. A full replacement is then connected to the feed tube. The locking mechanism may also be operated by a remote control device or mechanism and/or fingerprint recognition. A card key system or optical reader may also be embodied as a security or locking device. All of the locking systems discussed here are applicable to the electrical power supply locked area described in detail below.

Although the battery door is not illustrated, it is contemplated that a lockable door similar to the door 319 exists in the opposite side of the housing 105. This second door and lock function in the same way as the fluid tank door 319 and lock 321 to allow access to the electrical power supply 317. In an embodiment, the electrical power supply 317 may be a battery in a tray which may be removed when the second door is opened. The removed electrical power supply 317 can then be replaced or recharged. In an alternative embodiment, the second door provides access to an electrical charging port so the electrical power supply 317 can be recharged when the second door is open and the recharging cable is connected.

In an alternative embodiment, the housing 105 has a rigid cover which surrounds the fluid and power supplies. The cover is secured to the housing with a lock. When the lock is open, the cover can be removed from the housing, allowing access to the cleaning fluid and power supply. In order to prevent accidental device actuation while the cover is removed, the electrical power to the toilet devices may be automatically disconnected when the cover is removed. This power disconnect may be done through an electrical switch, connected to the battery. When the cover is removed, the switch is open and the power to the electrical components is disconnected. The switch can be contact points or a manual switch which is toggled by a portion of the cover.

After the maintenance is performed and the cover is reattached and locked to the housing, the power supply can be automatically engaged to operate one or more functions of the seat upon being closed and locked, through the use of contact points or a closure detection mechanism in the locked electrical power supply area of the device. These processes indicate that the features of the toilet are functioning correctly after the housing cover has been reattached.

Other features of the inventive toilet are devices which indicate the level of cleaning fluid in the tank 315 and charge left in the electrical power supply 317. The cleaning fluid tank 315 must be refilled periodically as the cleaning fluid is consumed by repeated cleaning processes. In an embodiment, the inventive toilet has a sensor 461 that detects the cleaning fluid level and produces a signal which indicates that the tank 315 needs to be refilled. Various level sensors 461 are compatible with the inventive toilet seat. The fluid level sensor 461 can be a simple float device which floats on top of the cleaning fluid in the tank 315. The float may be attached to a visual gauge 331 which provides a visual indication of the fluid level similar to that of a car gas tank. This gauge 331 may be mounted in the housing 105 at a location visible to a person standing close to the toilet. The tank float may also be attached to an electrical switch which provides a signal indicating the fluid level. The display may provide the actual fluid level or provide a general indication of cleaning fluid in the tank with indicator light, a green light may indicate full, yellow may indicate low and red may indicate empty. When the cleaning fluid level is low, a switch may deactivate the seat cleaning mechanism. In an embodiment, a portion of the housing 105 or the door 319 may be transparent so that the fluid level of the tank can be seen.

The cleaning fluid tank level may also be detected by an electronic device which produces an electrical signal that represents the fluid level. The fluid level may also be detected by various other sensors including: ultrasonic, electrical, mechanical, optical, pressure sensor or any other fluid level sensing device. This electrical signal can be fed to a visual gauge 331 or even a transmitter which sends a radio or electrical signal indicating the need for the cleaning fluid tank to be refilled. The fluid level signals for a plurality of toilets can be forwarded to a central location where each of the units can be monitored.

The inventive toilet may also include an electrical power charge detector. If the toilet has a battery type electrical power supply 317, it will be necessary to check the charge level to avoid having the unit run out of electrical power when needed. It is possible to open the power supply door and check the power level, however this is inconvenient and time consuming. A better method for determining the power level is with an internal power meter 471. The power meter 471 transmits a power level signal to a visual display 333. The visual display 333 may be a simple optical device like an LED which glows green to indicate that the power supply 317 is charged and red to indicate that the power supply 317 is dead. Alternatively, the visual display 333 may be an analog gauge or a numeric display. Like the cleaning fluid level, the power level visual display 333 is mounted in the housing 105 at a position visible to a person standing near the toilet. A problem with many power meters 471 is that they consume power. In order to avoid this power draw, the power meter 471 may be connected to a switch. When the switch is actuated, the power meter 471 and visual display 333 indicate the power level of the power supply 317. After the power level visual display 333 has been viewed, the switch can be released and the gauge disconnected from the power supply 317. Alternatively, the power meter 471 may emit an electrical or radio signal which is forwarded to a central location where the conditions of a plurality of toilets can be monitored.

The inventive toilet may have multiple cleaning fluid tanks for various cleaning tasks. For example, the seat cleaning requires a cleaning fluid that is very strong but will dry quickly. The seat cleaning fluid may include water, alcohol, liquid soap, disinfectant, trisodium-phosphate, baking soda, Acetone, or other chemicals which are suitable for cleaning. If the toilet also has cleaning fluids used with human body parts, the fluids may be limited to soap and water.

While there are shown and described present preferred embodiments of the invention, it is to be distinctly understood that the invention is not limited thereto, but may be otherwise variously embodied and practiced within the scope of the following claims.