Title:
Method and Device for Free-Standing Support of Objects in Space
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An object is supported freely in space without requiring an anchoring point connected to ground, by attaching the object to a support structure adapted to float in air when filed with a gas having lower specific gravity than air at a controlled pressure that provides sufficient buoyancy for different weight objects. The support structure is released together with the attached object so as to reach an equilibrium position where a buoyancy force of the support structure counteracts a combined weight of the enclosure and attached object. The object may be integral with the support structure and may be a self-powered electrical device operating on a battery or solar energy. The enclosure may be a floating platform or may be part of an object.



Inventors:
Shenhar, Oz (Raanana, IL)
Application Number:
12/088486
Publication Date:
10/30/2008
Filing Date:
09/20/2006
Assignee:
NEW CREATE LTD. (Tel-Aviv, IL)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63H3/06; A63H27/10
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
KLAYMAN, AMIR ARIE
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
SUGHRUE MION, PLLC (WASHINGTON, DC, US)
Claims:
1. 1-53. (canceled)

54. An object adapted to float in air when filled with a gas having lower specific gravity than air, said object including a hollow enclosure having an inlet coupled to a pressure adjustment means for regulating pressure of said gas within the enclosure so as to ensure that a buoyancy force alone of the enclosure counteracts a weight of the object.

55. The object according to claim 54, being an electrical device.

56. The object according to claim 55, being self-powered by a battery contained therein.

57. The object according to claim 56, being powered by radiation conveyed to the electrical device.

58. The object according to claim 57, being solar-powered.

59. The object according to claim 54, being a support structure for buoyantly supporting an attached article.

60. The object according to claim 59, wherein the support structure has a hollow wall section adapted to be filled with gas.

61. The object according to claim 54, wherein the inlet is adapted for coupling to an external source of gas.

62. The object according to claim 54, wherein the inlet is adapted for coupling to a sealed unit containing a quantity of gas, which is released by breaking a gas seal accessible from an outer surface of the object.

63. The object according to claim 54, wherein the pressure adjustment means is an adjustable pressure valve.

64. The object according to claim 63, being a support structure for buoyantly supporting an attached article wherein the adjustable pressure valve has a dial bearing a scale that is calibrated as a function of weight of the attached article.

65. The object according to claim 54, wherein the pressure adjustment means is responsive to ambient conditions, such as ambient temperature and humidity of the air.

66. The object according to claim 54, further including: a temperature sensor for measuring the ambient temperature, and a compensation unit coupled to the temperature sensor for adjusting the pressure of the gas so as to adjust a mass of gas inside the enclosure.

67. The object according to claim 54, wherein the pressure adjustment means includes a volume adjustment means for adjusting the effective volume of the hollow support structure.

68. The object according to claim 67, wherein the volume adjustment means includes: a flexible diaphragm within the hollow enclosure, and means for displacing the flexible diaphragm within the hollow enclosure so as to adjust the effective gas volume of the hollow enclosure support structure by displacement of the flexible diaphragm.

69. A method for supporting an object freely in space without requiring an anchoring point connected to ground, said method comprising: attaching the object to a support structure that has a hollow enclosure filled with a gas having lower specific gravity than air; regulating pressure of said gas within the enclosure so as to ensure that a buoyancy force alone of the enclosure counteracts a weight of the support structure and attached object.

70. The method according to claim 69, wherein regulating pressure of said gas within the enclosure includes setting a pressure gauge that is calibrated as a function of weight of the attached object according to a known weight of the attached object in order to supply gas at an appropriate pressure to produce said buoyancy force.

71. The method according to claim 69, wherein regulating pressure of said gas within the enclosure includes: measuring the ambient temperature, and adjusting the pressure of the gas responsive to the measured ambient temperature so as to adjust a mass of gas inside the enclosure.

72. The method according to claim 69, wherein regulating pressure of said gas within the enclosure includes adjusting an effective volume of the hollow support structure.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates to methods and attachments for anchoring objects in space.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Relativity notwithstanding, we continue to live in a Newtonian world, where Newton's Third Law of Motion dictates our way of thinking and construction. Thus, the realization that a body in equilibrium subject to an action exhibits an equal and opposite reaction is not just a description of the Newtonian world, it is a blueprint for the creation of a safe and useful environment. Specifically, so far as the present invention is concerned, any object that requires to be supported in space is generally assumed to require a support surface on which it rests. So, for example, lamps rest on tables or floors or are fitted to walls or to ceilings; pictures are hung via hooks; notices are pinned to walls or are hung from hooks in ceilings and so on. To be sure, electrical appliances operating on mains power require electrical connection to the electrical supply; and typically the electrical connection serves also to effect mechanical connection to the support surface constituted by the wall or ceiling. But, in fact, the electrical connection need neither be mechanical supporting; nor need the mechanical support serve to connect to an electrical point. Thus, a portable, battery-operated electrical appliance such as a clock, for example, that requires no electrical connection must nevertheless be supported on a suitable support surface such as a wall.

To the extent that mechanical support surfaces are subject to friction, which is not always desirable, there have been attempts in the art to elevate objects above their supports. This is the principle of the hovercraft and later of magnetic levitation so championed by Prof. Eric Laithwaite of Imperial College, London UK, that eventually found its realization in Maglev trains.

Some of these principles are disclosed in the patent literature, always to the same or similar ends.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,693,695 (Cheng) published Sep. 15, 1987 discloses an ascending and descending balloon action toy that includes an envelope filled with a lighter-than-air gas, the envelope repeatedly ascending and alternately descending a tether.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,390,651 (Bertrand) published May 21, 2002 discloses a toy that simulates an illuminated overhead moon with a long-legged spacecraft under it. The toy includes a lighting apparatus secured to a balloon by string under tension. The lighting apparatus, located wholly outside the balloon, illuminates the inside of the balloon so the balloon appears to glow.

The lighting apparatus has at least three arms extending from a body having a locking fastener. The locking fastener is attached by string under tension to the neck of the balloon. Each arm terminates in a window for contacting the skin of the balloon and for transmitting light through the skin to the interior of the balloon. In one embodiment, the lighting apparatus is of sufficiently low weight that the toy floats in air.

U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,106,135 and 6,371,638 (Zingale et al.) disclose an inflatable translucent balloon body that has a predetermined net lifting force upon inflation with a lighter than air gas. A light source is attached to the balloon upon inflation by a light transmitting tether. To keep the buoyant balloon afloat while attached to the light transmitting tether, the light transmitting tether has a net weight of less than the net lifting force of the balloon in an inflated state with lighter than air gas therein.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,499,941 (Penjuke) published Mar. 19, 1996 discloses a balloon inflation device having a light bulb attached to one end of a tube and illuminated by an external power source connected at the other end of the light bulb. The tube fits light first into the neck of a balloon, a mechanical seal being formed that prevents gas from passing between the flange and the balloon stem. The power source of the light bulb can be removed from the tube and a gas stream can be projected into the balloon, inflating it, but the tube is arranged and configured such that the gas in the balloon cannot flow out of the balloon through the tube.

None of the above-mentioned references relates specifically to the need to anchor an object in space without attaching it to a support surface that serves as an anchoring point connected to ground. But support surfaces are not always available, for example when it is required to support an object outside without resorting to a support pillar; or when an available support surface is either fully used or inaccessible.

To the extent that some of the above-mentioned references allow an object, such as an electric lamp, to be supported in space it is a mere by-product of an illuminated toy balloon and the lamp is constrained to fit inside the balloon. Even in the specific case where the balloon thereby supports an electric lamp in space, this imposes severe limitations on the magnitude of the lamp and thus its intensity. The lamp must be physically sufficiently small to fit inside the balloon and to be inserted through its neck without the risk of tearing the balloon. Moreover, it must not be too bright since the resulting heat would most likely cause the balloon to burst.

These drawbacks appear to be avoided in above-mentioned U.S. Pat. No. 6,390,651, where a lamp is affixed externally to the balloon for illuminating through the translucent surface of the balloon. The balloon may be filled with helium so as to float, but it must then be tethered with a string so as to prevent its floating away. Indeed, it is specifically recommended that when using an embodiment in which the balloon is filled with helium, the free end of the string be tied to a heavy object or to the user's wrist or arm to prevent the toy from floating away.

Above-mentioned U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,106,135 and 6,371,638 do relate to free floating balloons but of very limited lifting capability. Thus, it is noted that conventional freshly inflated helium filled party balloons measuring about 12 inches (30 cm) in height and 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter have a net lifting force of approximately 12 ounce (14 gram). These two patents employ an optical fiber whose length is such that its weight is less than 14 gram and can thus be supported by an inflated helium party balloon, while allowing light to be conducted inside the balloon via the optical fiber tether. Thus it is clear that these references make no suggestion to support objects in space. Moreover, such balloons are intended for one-time use only and are not adapted to support different objects and lack any method to control the buoyancy of the balloon. Generally, since such balloons are intended for one-time use only, they are formed of a material such as Mylar® that is very light so that sufficient buoyancy can be achieved with minimum volume. However, such materials are not adapted to withstand harsh treatment or knocks as required for non-disposable use.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,014,757 (Donaldson et al.) published May 14, 1991 discloses a balloon device includes an inner container and an outer container that are movable with respect to each other. The device includes a pressurized gas container mounted in the inner container and a firing mechanism that is operated by slamming the device against a solid surface such as a table top or the like. The firing mechanism punctures the pressurized container and permits gas to escape into the device, and this gas is guided via orifices to the balloon that is sealingly held on the device by an O-ring type element.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,099,376 (Singlial et al.) published Aug. 8, 2000 discloses weightless toy objects where the upward buoyancy force of lighter than air gas inside the toy object body is carefully balanced against the gravitational weight of the toy object using a system of balance weights and orientation weights enabling the toy object to stay at a height and orientation in a space where it is deposited.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,425,552 (Lee et al.) discloses a cyclical thermal management system for responding to diurnal heating and nocturnal cooling cycles to maintain a high altitude platform in a geostatic position for long periods of time.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,931,028 (Jaeger et al.) published Jun. 5, 1990 discloses a toy blimp with at least one engine mounted on a top side of an inflatable helium balloon blimp like member, and an infrared control circuit and power supply mounted on a bottom side. The blimp operates from a self-contained power supply and is controlled by the self-contained control system which receives control signals from a transmitter.

In conclusion, none of the above-mentioned references relates to the floating support of objects, such as electric lights and other household or office accessories in a manner that even massive objects may be supported in space without requiring tethering or other ground-based supports.

Furthermore, the prior art does not appear to relate to a modular floating support whereby different objects can be supported by the same platform. Thus, prior art devices are designed to lift objects of a weight that corresponds to a fixed buoyancy of the device. Attempting to support heavier objects would cause the device to sink.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

It is therefore an object of the invention to provide a method and apparatus for supporting an object freely in space without requiring an anchorage such as a support surface or pillar.

It is a further object of the invention to provide such an apparatus that is amenable for multiple use.

It is yet a further object of the invention to provide such an apparatus that is modular and allows different objects to be supported by the same buoyant platform. It is a still further object of the invention to provide such an apparatus that is fully contained so as to allow the apparatus to float when required.

These objects are realized in accordance with a first aspect of the invention by a method for supporting an object freely in space without requiring an anchoring point connected to ground, said method comprising:

attaching the object to a hollow support structure that is adapted to float in air when filled with a gas having lower specific gravity than air;

coupling a gas supply to the support structure via a pressure gauge that is set to a controlled pressure adapted to achieve a buoyancy force of the support structure that counteracts a combined weight of the support structure and attached object;

filling the hollow in said support structure with a quantity of said gas at said controlled pressure; and

releasing the gas-filled support structure together with the attached object so as to reach an equilibrium position where said buoyancy force of the support structure counteracts a combined weight of the support structure and attached object.

According to another aspect of the invention there is provided a hollow support structure for supporting an object freely in space, said support structure being adapted to float in air when filled with a gas having lower specific gravity than air and being adapted to be filled prior to use via a gas fill mechanism with a quantity of said gas at a controlled pressure so as to ensure that a buoyancy force of the enclosure counteracts a combined weight of the support structure and attached object;

said gas fill mechanism being integral with the support structure and including an inlet for coupling to a gas supply and an adjustable pressure valve for regulating gas pressure.

In one embodiment of the invention, the support structure is a buoyant platform having an anchoring point for attaching an object to the buoyant platform, whereby in use the buoyant platform together with the attached object reaches an equilibrium position where a buoyancy force of the platform counteracts a combined weight of the platform and attached object.

In such an embodiment, the object may be integral with the buoyant platform and may be a self-powered electrical device operating on a battery or solar energy. More generally, the object may be separate from the support structure or integral therewith. It may also be part of the object, such as a hollow wall lining within a housing of the object and dimensioned so that, when filled with a predetermined quantity of gas, the object floats in air.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

In order to understand the invention and to see how it may be carried out in practice, some exemplary embodiments will now be described, by way of non-limiting example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:

FIGS. 1a and 1b show respectively pictorial wire-frame and solid representations of a buoyant platform for supporting an object freely in space according to a first embodiment of the invention;

FIGS. 2a and 2b show pictorial wire-frame representations of a self-powered electrical lamp enclosed within an outer envelope accommodating a gas connector that couples to the buoyant platform;

FIG. 3 shows pictorially a wire-frame representation of components of the lamp and gas connector shown in FIGS. 2a and 2b;

FIG. 4 is an exploded pictorial wire-frame representation of the buoyant platform and the associated components of the gas connector in use;

FIGS. 5a and 5b show different perspective views of components of the gas connector;

FIGS. 6a and 6b show different perspective views of a gas canister according to a first embodiment adapted for filling the buoyant platform with helium gas;

FIGS. 7a and 7b show different perspective views of the gas canister shown in FIGS. 6a and 6b when connected to the gas connector during use;

FIGS. 8a and 8b show different perspective views of the buoyant platform and attached object in situ;

FIG. 9 is a pictorial representation showing use of the buoyant platform to support objects in space;

FIGS. 10a, 10b and 10c are pictorial representations showing a gas canister according to a second embodiment;

FIG. 11a is a pictorial representation showing a device integral with a buoyant casing having a hollow wall section;

FIG. 11b is pictorial representation of the device in FIG. 11a showing a cut-away view of the hollow wall section;

FIG. 12a is a pictorial representation showing a disposable device that floats when a sealed gas unit is ruptured; and

FIG. 12b is a pictorial exploded half-sectional view showing a detail of the device depicted in FIG. 12a.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EMBODIMENTS

In the following description, features that appear in more than one drawing will be identified by identical reference numerals.

FIGS. 1a and 1b show pictorial wire-frame and solid representations of a buoyant platform 10 according to the invention for freely supporting a portable self-powered electric lamp 11 or other objects in space. The buoyant platform 10 constitutes a hollow support structure formed of a semi-rigid, gas-impermeable, plastic material that is sufficiently strong to withstand knocks and the like without bursting, while being sufficiently light that when filled with helium gas it is capable of floating in air while supporting the lamp 11. A valve seating 12 is formed at a lower surface of the buoyant platform 10 for accommodating a corresponding valve seating 13 formed in the lamp 11 via an adapter 14 that allows different objects having different valve sittings to be sealingly connected to the buoyant platform 10.

FIGS. 2a and 2b show pictorial wire-frame representations of the lamp 11 enclosed within an outer envelope 15 accommodating a gas fill mechanism coupled via a gas connector 16 that couples to the buoyant platform and is shown in FIG. 1b and in greater detail in FIGS. 5a and 5b. The outer envelope 15 also encloses an electric circuit (not shown) for operating the lamp as well, of course, as the lamp itself (also not shown). A battery housing 17 for accommodating one or more batteries may be inserted into an axial bore 18 within the housing of the outer envelope 15, and which is then sealed at its lower end by means of a lower sealing cap 19. For the purpose of the description and the appended claims, the envelope 15 and its associated components constitute an object that is to be supported by the buoyant platform 10. It will clearly be appreciated that other appliances may be accommodated within the envelope 15; and as noted above, different envelopes having different attachments may be provided for coupling to the buoyant platform 10 via appropriate adapters. In such an arrangement, the lamp is mounted at the upper end of the axial bore 18 so as to illuminate the inside of the buoyant platform 10, which may be balloon-shaped as shown in the figures and whose surface may be formed of light-transmitting material. However, in accordance with an alternative embodiment, the lamp may be mounted at the lower end of the axial bore 18, so as to shine downwards when the buoyant platform 10 is set afloat. Such an embodiment is described in more detail below with reference to FIG. 13. In yet another embodiment, electrical connections may be formed at opposite end of the axial bore 18 so as to allow connection of the lamp at either end.

FIGS. 3a and 3b illustrate in more detail the components of the battery housing 17 showing the lower sealing cap 19 that fits at a lower end of the battery housing 17 and an upper sealing cap 20 that fits at an upper end of the battery housing 17. The lower and upper sealing caps 20 both include respective electrical battery contacts (not shown) on internal surfaces thereof. The battery housing 17 may further include any electronics associated with the lamp as well as the lamp housing and the lamp itself. The upper sealing cap 20 is formed of light transparent material so as to allow light to illuminate the inside of the buoyant platform 10.

FIG. 4 is an exploded pictorial wire-frame representation of the buoyant platform 10 and the associated components of the gas fill mechanism shown in enlarged detail in FIGS. 5a and 5b. In particular it is to be noted that the gas connector 16 is coupled via an adjustable pressure valve 21, whereby gas may be fed at a controlled pressure to the buoyant platform 10. By such means the buoyancy of the platform may be adjusted so as to exactly counteract the combined weight of the buoyant platform 10 and the attached object, thereby allowing the buoyancy of the platform to be adjusted when different objects are attached. Preferably, the pressure valve 21 has a dial bearing a scale that is calibrated as a function of weight of the attached object, so that the dial may be set according to the weight of the attached object in order to supply gas to the buoyant platform 10 at exactly the right pressure to produce the desired buoyancy. The gas connector 16 comprises a one-way valve seating similar to those used for filling vehicle tires, which open to allow the entry of gas when depressed by a gas supply nozzle and close automatically when the gas supply nozzle is withdrawn, thereby preventing escape of gas.

The dial is calibrated based on the established physical principle that an object including a hollow support filled with a gas that is less dense than air, such as helium, can float in air owing to the weight of the helium gas being less than that of the air that is displaced by the object. This requirement can be realized in practice providing that the pressure of the gas in the hollow support is properly adjusted and that the volatility of gas is negligible. There are also other factors that need to be taken into consideration, such as ambient temperature and moisture content (humidity) of the air, since these affect the gas density and consequently the mass of gas required to achieve buoyancy. It is precisely owing to the indeterminacy of the support's buoyancy that dynamic adjustment of the gas pressure via the adjustable pressure valve 21 is essential if different objects are to be supported and/or buoyancy is to be achieved under variable ambient conditions.

Calibration of the adjustable pressure valve 21 is based on the following principles. Air density must be equal to the effective or average density of the support and object together:


ρairtotal

The effective or average density of the support structure and object together is given by:

ρtotal=MtotalVtotal=MHE+MObjectVtotal

where:

    • MHE=Mass of Helium
    • MObject=Mass of Object
    • VTotal=Total volume of support and object

The mass of the helium MHE (or other light gas) in the hollow support structure is given by:


MHEairVtotal−MObject

The air density ρair is inversely proportional to absolute temperature in degree K, i.e.:

ρair1273.15+T

It can be shown that the atmospheric pressure of helium the hollow support structure is given by:

[P+a(nV)2](Vn-b)=RT

where:

    • a=3.46*10−3
    • b=23.71*10−6
    • R=Gas constant=8.314472
    • n=250*MKg
    • Mkg=Mass of helium in Kg

The above explanations may be used to calibrate the adjustable pressure valve 21 so that the pressure is automatically set for a desired mass of object. If desired, a temperature sensor may be used to measure the ambient temperature and a compensation unit may be used to adjust the pressure of the helium (or other) gas so that the mass of gas inside the hollow support structure will be exactly correct. In this way, an object of predetermined mass may be anchored to the support structure (or may be integral therewith) and the adjustable pressure valve 21 may be set to a pre-calibrated setting corresponding to the object's mass so as to ensure that the gas pressure is exactly correct to achieve buoyancy.

More simply, the adjustable pressure valve 21 may be set using trial and error so that the gas pressure is exactly correct to achieve buoyancy for an object anchored to the support structure or integral therewith. Alternatively, where objects such as lamps and so on are supplied specifically for attaching to a buoyant support structure according to the invention, the user may be informed of a suitable gas pressure to supply to the buoyant support structure, based on the buoyant gas being used, expected ambient conditions, and the mass of the object to be supported. Likewise, in situations where the support structure is fixedly attached to the object and ambient conditions, such as temperature, pressure and humidity are substantially constant, as is often the case in shopping centers and other enclosed areas, adjustment of the gas pressure may not be necessary.

It will be appreciated that adjustment of the gas pressure in the hollow support structure using an adjustable pressure valve is only one approach. Another approach is to provide a flexible diaphragm within the hollow support structure and to adjust the effective gas volume within the hollow support structure by displacement of the flexible diaphragm. It will be appreciated that, within the context of the appended claims, such a diaphragm constitutes a pressure gauge since by adjusting the effective volume of the hollow support structure, the gas pressure may be set to a controlled pressure adapted to achieve a buoyancy force of the support structure.

The gas connector 16 is fluidly coupled to a tube 22 whose upper end enters an aperture in the buoyant platform 10 so as to fluidly couple the gas fill mechanism to the buoyant platform 10. A removable sealing cap 23 is fixed to a lower end of the tube 22 and prevents gas leakage from the gas fill mechanism. It is to be noted that the figures show the gas fill mechanism in exploded form with the tube 22 protruding through a lower portion of the outer envelope 15. However, in practice the tube 22 is fully contained within the outer envelope 15, only the sealing cap 23 being accessible from a lower surface of the envelope 15 so as to allow it to be removed when it is desired to purge gas from the buoyant platform 10. To this end, a release valve 24 allows for the release of gas from the buoyant platform 10 via the open end of the tube 22 after removal of the sealing cap 23. The gas connector 16 extends through the outer envelope 15, so that on connecting the object 11 to the buoyant platform 10, the latter may be filled with gas, such as helium, at a controlled pressure so as to float and thereby suspend mid-air an attached object. The upper sealing cap 20 also serves to seal the gas fill mechanism from the battery housing 17 and electronics associated with the lamp as well as the lamp housing and the lamp itself, thus avoiding danger of sparks contacting gas.

FIGS. 6a and 6b show different perspective views of a dedicated gas canister 25 that is adapted for filling the buoyant platform 10 with helium gas. The gas canister 25 comprises a hollow housing 26 having substantially planar parallel upper and lower surfaces 27 and 28, respectively. An arcuate slot 29 is formed in the housing between the upper and lower surfaces 27 and 28 and serves as a handle for gripping the gas canister 25 during use. A substantially semi-circular opening 30 is formed in an internal side-wall 31 of the housing and a sealed gas outlet 32 is formed at its mid-point for coupling to the gas connector 16 of the gas fill mechanism described above with reference to FIGS. 4 and 5a. Likewise, a sealed gas inlet 33 is formed at a mid-point of an external side-wall 34 of the housing for coupling a gas supply thereto so as to fill the gas canister 25 prior to use.

FIGS. 7a and 7b show different perspective views of the gas canister 25 when connected to the gas connector 16 during use. The gas outlet 32 has a protruding pin, which when inserted into the gas outlet 32 opens a one-way valve thereby allowing gas in the canister to flow at high pressure into the gas mechanism via the gas connector 16 and the pressure valve 21. The pressure valve 21 reduces the gas pressure to a preset calibrated pressure, which is adjustable so as to fill the buoyant platform 10 with gas at a desired pressure, as explained above. Once sufficient gas has been injected, the gas canister 25 is removed whereupon the one-way valve closes automatically. The gas canister 25 serves as a portable supply of gas and obviates the need to transport heavy gas cylinders.

FIGS. 8a and 8b show different perspective views of the buoyant platform and object in situ. In particular, opposite sides of the outer envelope 15 are seen in the two figures showing the gas inlet and release valves.

FIG. 9 is a pictorial representation showing use of the buoyant platform 10 to support objects 11a, 11b, 11c and 11d in space. It will be noted that the objects 11a, 11b, 11c and 11d float at different heights depending on their respective weights and the gas pressure in their respective floating platforms.

The gas canister 25 described with reference to FIGS. 6 and 7 is clearly subject to changes that will be well within the competence of one of average skill in the art. As noted above, it serves as a portable supply of gas but is not an essential component since the support structure can be filled with gas via any other suitable source of gas.

FIGS. 10a, 10b and 10c are pictorial representations showing a gas canister 40 according to a second exemplary embodiment of the invention. The gas canister 40 has a replaceable gas cartridge 41, which is connected to a body portion 42 containing a gas fill mechanism having a trigger 43 that is depressed in order to release gas having lower specific gravity than air, such as helium. A spent cartridge 41 may be removed from the body portion 42 and replaced with a full cartridge. A head portion 44 is equipped with a gas outlet 45 for engaging the gas connector 16 of the object 11 described above with reference to FIGS. 4 and 5 of the drawings. Gas pressure may be regulated by means of a pressure valve 46, so that when the gas outlet 45 is inserted into the gas connector 16 of the object 11, it opens a self-sealing valve and injects gas at a preset pressure into the floating platform 10. The gas canister 40 is particularly useful as a standalone unit that may be used with any configuration of floating object so long as there is provided a suitable gas connector 16 for engaging the gas outlet 44.

FIG. 11a is a pictorial representation showing a device having an exemplary form of a clock 50 that is integral with a support structure 51 having a hollow wall section 52 shown in cut-away section in FIG. 11b. Gas may be injected using the gas canister 40 shown in FIG. 10, for example, into the hollow wall section 52 via a gas connector 53 at a pressure controlled by the pressure valve 46 of the gas canister and may be released from the hollow wall section 52 by a release valve 54. Alternatively, gas may be pre-stored within a sealed unit inside the hollow wall section 52 having a seal (not shown) that is accessible from an outer so as to release gas into the hollow wall section 52 by breaking the seal. Such a device thus constitutes a hollow support structure that is integral with an object and has an integral gas supply adapted to release gas at a preset pressure, depending on the quantity of gas in the sealed unit.

FIG. 12a is a pictorial representation and FIG. 12b is a pictorial exploded half-sectional view showing a disposable device 60 according to an alternative embodiment that floats when a sealed gas unit is ruptured. In many respects, the device 60 is similar in construction to the device 10 described above with reference to FIGS. 1, 4 and 8 and is provided with a buoyant balloon-shaped platform 61 to which an object 62 is attached. However, unlike the first embodiment, the object 62 includes a sealed unit (not shown) containing a quantity of gas, which is released by breaking a gas seal 63 accessible from an outer surface of the object 62. As shown clearly in FIG. 12b, the object 62 is sealed at its lower end and includes a battery housing 17 shown in spatial relationship to an axial bore 18 within an outer envelope 64 of the object 62. Also shown more clearly is the gas connector 16 of the gas fill mechanism and the tube 22, which engages an aperture in the buoyant platform 10.

It will be appreciated that while some specific embodiments have been described, these are by way of example only and many changes can be made without departing from the scope of the invention as defined in the appended claims. For example, in the embodiment described above, the gas fill mechanism is shown integral with the lamp housing. To this extent, the valve seating 12 in the buoyant platform 10 serves as an anchoring point for attaching the object to the buoyant platform via the valve seating 13 and adapter 14 in the object. But the object could also be coupled directly to the buoyant platform 10 or to other suitable gas-filled or gas-fillable support structures, either as an integral unit or via a suitable gas-sealed coupling. In this case, a hook or other equivalent attachment may be provided on the buoyant platform 10 or to other suitable support structures serving as an anchoring point for supporting an object, such as a lamp, directly thus resulting in a simpler construction of the lamp and associated fixture. Furthermore, in the case where the support structure is configured to support different objects, the construction according to the invention allows for a modular approach where the different components are sold either separately or as a kit. For example, a support structure such as the buoyant platform 10 may be sold as a separate item constructed to support a variety of objects that are also available separately. Likewise, the invention contemplates effecting suitable modification to existing objects so as to allow them to be attached to the buoyant platform 10 or other floating support structure.

It has already been noted that the gas canister 40 shown in FIGS. 11a, 11b and 11c requires only that gas connector be provided in the support structure that is complementary to the gas outlet 44 of the gas canister 40. Apart from this requirement, no special construction of the support structure is necessary. Thus, use of such a gas canister obviates the need for a gas fill mechanism in either the support structure or the object and is particularly useful where a modular construction is required.

Preferably helium gas is used to provide buoyancy to the support structure, since it is lighter than air and also inert and safe. However, the principles of the invention are applicable with other suitable gases that are lighter than air.

Specific embodiments as described relate to use of a portable battery-operated lamp or a clock. However, it is to be understood that no limitation is thereby implied and the invention will find use for free-support in air of many other objects, both electrical and non-electrical. It will also be appreciated that many portable electrical devices may be energized by means of suitable radiation such as solar energy and to this end one or more solar cells may be provided in addition to, or instead of, the battery.

Such objects can include hovering three dimensional toys and gadgets for children, interior design products, casings or displays for luxury consumer goods or for collectors' items or art pieces. Products for the advertising industry, such as billboards, flags, screens and the like, as well as emergency signaling products for rescue can likewise be supported using the principles of the invention. The invention may also find application for supporting products such as cameras for surveillance and security, especially in very large spaces or in areas where access is limited and there is no infrastructure. Yet another application of the invention is for outside support of objects such as camping and emergency lighting or other temporary outdoor deployment, for instance for construction or maintenance work (e.g. car breakdown repair in a non-lit area).

It will also be appreciated that while the invention has been described with particular regard to completely free-standing structures, there may be occasions when a buoyant enclosure may be tethered to keep the supported object in the needed area.

The embodiments as described are apt to wander unless tethered, owing to air currents for example. In many cases this may be desired since it provides a measure of indeterminacy as to where the object is supported, which can add to the aesthetic appeal. If desired, a remote controlled propeller may be added to the object or to the support structure so as to allow controlled movement in space of the supported object.