Title:
Apparatus For Providing Convenience Services To Vehicles
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A convenience service unit for providing convenience services to vehicles parked in a parking lot includes a base located outside a peripheral boundary of the parking lot, and a boom coupled to the base and extending over the parking lot. The apparatus further includes a service module located outside the parking lot and configured to provide at least one convenience service to a vehicle. A conduit supported on the boom has a first end coupled to the service module, and a second end extending into the parking lot for connection to a vehicle.



Inventors:
Fielden, Michael M. (Powell, TN, US)
Application Number:
13/233727
Publication Date:
03/15/2012
Filing Date:
09/15/2011
Assignee:
CONVOY SOLUTIONS LLC (New York, NY, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65B3/00
View Patent Images:
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Other References:
Lund, J. et al., "Geothermal (Ground-Source) Heat Pumps a World Overview", September 2004, GHC Bulletin, p.1-10.
Primary Examiner:
KELLY, TIMOTHY PATRICK
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WOOD, HERRON & EVANS, LLP (CINCINNATI, OH, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An apparatus for providing convenience services to vehicles parked in a parking lot, comprising: a base located outside a peripheral boundary of the parking lot; a boom coupled to said base and extending over the parking lot; a service module located outside the peripheral boundary of the parking lot, said service module configured to provide at least one convenience service; a conduit supported on said boom and having a first end operatively coupled to said service module and a second end extending into the parking lot for operative connection to the vehicle such that said convenience service is provided to the vehicle.

2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein said convenience service comprises at least one of electrical power, conditioned air, telephone communication, internet communication, video signals, or radio signals.

3. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein said convenience service is conditioned air and wherein said service module includes an evaporator for providing said conditioned air to the vehicle, said evaporator supported on said base.

4. The apparatus of claim 3, wherein said evaporator is operatively coupled to a compressor for providing conditioned air to the vehicle, and wherein said compressor is not supported on said base.

5. The apparatus of claim 4, wherein said compressor is, in turn, operatively coupled to at least one other evaporator of a separate apparatus for providing convenience services, including conditioned air, to vehicles.

6. The apparatus of claim 4, wherein said compressor is further operatively coupled to a ground-source heat exchange system.

7. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising an auxiliary power source supported on said base, said auxiliary power source comprising at least one of a solar power source, a wind power source, a geothermal source for providing heating and/or cooling and/or power generation, or a battery power source.

8. A system for providing convenience services to vehicles parked in a parking lot, comprising: a plurality of convenience service units for providing convenience services to respective vehicles parked in the parking lot, each convenience service unit comprising: a base located outside a peripheral boundary of the parking lot, a boom coupled to said base and extending over the parking lot, a service module located outside the peripheral boundary of the parking lot, said service module configured to provide at least one convenience service, and a conduit supported on said boom and having a first end operatively coupled to said service module and a second end extending into the parking lot for operative connection to a respective vehicle such that said convenience service is provided to the vehicle.

9. The system of claim 8, wherein said convenience services comprise at least one of electrical power, conditioned air, telephone communication, internet communication, or television/cable communication.

10. The system of claim 9, wherein said convenience service comprises conditioned air and wherein each said service module includes an evaporator for providing said conditioned air to a respective vehicle, said evaporator supported on said base.

11. The system of claim 10, further comprising at least one compressor, said compressor operatively coupled to multiple ones of said evaporators for providing conditioned air to multiple vehicles parked in the lot.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 61/383,155 (pending), filed on Sep. 15, 2010, the disclosure of which is incorporated by reference herein in its entirety.

TECHNICAL FIELD

This invention relates to an apparatus for providing convenience services to a stationary vehicle, allowing the vehicle to conserve fuel and reduce noise and emissions by shutting off the engine. Specifically, the invention relates to a system which provides services such as heating, cooling, electrical, telephone, internet access, video signals, radio signals, and/or other convenience services, independent of the vehicle's electrical system.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Over-the-road (OTR) drivers spend many hours on the road. The cab of the tractor-trailer often serves as home for days at a time. Accordingly, modern tractor-trailer cabs are well equipped with amenities to make time on the road more enjoyable. The amenities are especially important when considering the regulations imposed upon OTR drivers with regard to the number of hours which may be legally driven between periods of rest. Full sleeper cabs allow the driver to stop and rest without having to leave the tractor-trailer. Often these cabs include televisions and other amenities to make the driver more comfortable. However, these amenities require a power source and, typically, that power source is the electrical system of the tractor-tractor. Accordingly, the engine must be generally left running during these times. This period of low-idle operation when the tractor-trailer engine runs only to provide power to the amenities, such as basic heating and cooling during sleep periods, has been shown to increase wear on the engine and result in approximately 60% of all required engine maintenance. By providing these services externally to the tractor-trailer, thereby allowing the engine to be shut off during rest periods, the life of the engine can be improved and fuel consumption reduced. For example, shutting off the engine during a rest period can save as much as one gallon of fuel per hour. Additionally, by shutting off the engine, the particulate matter (PM-10) emissions and other gaseous pollutants are eliminated which benefits the environment.

Conventional systems for providing convenience services to vehicles, such as tractor trailers, generally involve locating structures within a parking lot where the vehicles may park for extended periods of time, such as a truck stop. Such structures may include concrete supports, posts, framework, and other structures that occupy physical space within a parking lot. Location of these structures within a parking lot generally requires tearing up and repaving of the parking lot or similar construction so that electrical cables or other equipment may be buried beneath the parking lot surface. Not only does the location of conventional structures reduce the usable space in a parking lot, but these structures also hinder traffic through the parking lot and hinders the removal of snow and general maintenance of the parking lot. Moreover, location of these structures within a parking lot may undesirably affect the aesthetic appearance of the parking lot. A need therefore exists for improved apparatus for providing convenience services to parked vehicles which overcomes these and other drawbacks of the prior art.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention overcomes the foregoing and other shortcomings and drawbacks of systems heretofore known for providing convenience services to vehicles. While the invention will be described in connection with certain embodiments, it will be understood that the invention is not limited to these embodiments. On the contrary, the invention includes all alternatives, modifications and equivalents as may be included within the spirit and scope of the present invention.

In one aspect, a convenience service unit for providing convenience services to vehicles parked in a parking lot includes a base located outside or close to a peripheral boundary of the parking lot, and a boom coupled to the base and extending over the parking lot. The apparatus further includes a service module located outside the parking lot and configured to provide at least one convenience service. A conduit supported on the boom has a first end coupled to the service module, and a second end extending over the parking lot for connection to a vehicle.

In one embodiment, the service module includes an evaporator for providing conditioned air to a vehicle through the conduit. The evaporator may be supported on the base. In another embodiment, the evaporator is operatively coupled to a compressor that is not supported on the base. The compressor may be shared between multiple evaporators associated with respective service modules. The compressor may also be coupled with a geothermal system for providing heating and/or cooling to a vehicle.

In another aspect, a system for providing convenience services to vehicles includes a plurality of convenience service units as described above.

Various additional advantages, objectives and features of the invention will become apparent to those of ordinary skill upon review of the following detailed description of the illustrative embodiments taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a system for providing convenience services to vehicles in accordance with the principles of the present disclosure.

FIG. 2 is a plan view of a parking lot incorporating the system of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a schematic perspective view of a convenience service unit of FIG. 1.

FIG. 4 is a schematic elevation view of the convenience service unit of FIG. 3.

FIG. 5 is another schematic elevation view of the convenience service unit of FIG. 3, viewed from a different side.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

With reference to FIG. 1, a system for providing convenience services to vehicles includes individual convenience service units 10 that are located outside the peripheral boundary of a parking lot 12 where vehicles 14, such as tractor trailers, park for extended periods of time. The convenience service units 10 provide convenience services to the cabs of the tractor trailers so that the drivers and/or occupants of the vehicle 14 can be comfortable and enjoy various entertainment and/or communication services without requiring the engine of the vehicle 14 to be operating.

Each convenience service unit 10 comprises a base located outside the peripheral boundary of the parking lot 12. In the exemplary embodiment shown, the bases 12 of the convenience service units 10 are located in a grassy area adjacent the edge of the parking lot 12. Each base is positioned and arranged to be aligned with a respective space 20 designated for parking a vehicle 14. In the embodiment shown, the base 16 comprises a concrete footing that extends into the ground and which includes a portion extending above the ground. It will be appreciated, however, that the bases 16 of the convenience service units 10 may comprise other structure suitable for supporting the components of the convenience service unit 10 for delivery of the convenience services to a vehicle 14. The convenience service unit 10 further includes a vertically extending post 22 secured to the base 16. In the embodiment shown, the post 22 is secured to the base 16 by a base plate 24 that is bolted to the base 16. It will be appreciated, however, that the post 22 may alternatively be imbedded directly into the base 16, or may be secured to the base 16 by various other methods.

While convenience service unit 10 has been described above as having a base 16 located outside the peripheral boundary of a parking lot 12, it will be appreciated that base 16 may alternatively be located at or close to the peripheral boundary of the parking lot 12, as may be desired, whereby the usable space of the parking lot 12 is maximized and generally unobstructed by convenience service unit 10.

The convenience service unit 10 further includes a boom 26 coupled to the post 22 at a first end 28, and having a second end 30 extending into the parking lot 12 and a distance above the parking lot 12, adjacent a respective parking space 20. A conduit 32 is supported on the boom 26 and has a first end 34 located proximate the post 22 and a second end 28 extending into the parking lot 12 for coupling to a vehicle 14. In the embodiment shown, the boom 26 extends into the parking lot 12 a distance sufficient to facilitate coupling the second end 36 of the conduit 32 to a vehicle 14. The conduit 32 may comprise multiple sections, some of which may be sufficiently rigid to facilitate securing the conduit 32 to the boom 26 and to guide the conduit 32 along the boom 26. Other sections of the conduit 32 may be flexible to facilitate maneuvering the second end 38 of the conduit 32 for coupling to the vehicle 14. In the embodiment shown, conduit 32 comprises a flexible first section 32a proximate the post 22, a rigid second section 32b extending along the boom 26, and a flexible third section 32c extending between the second section 32b and the second end 36 of the conduit 32. The distal end of the rigid second section 32b, proximate the second end 30 of the boom 26, includes an elbow portion 38 for directing the conduit 32 from the boom 26 toward the parking lot 12 for coupling with the vehicle 14.

The second end 36 of the conduit 32 may be configured to facilitate coupling the conduit 32 to a vehicle 14, such as through an open window or another opening providing communication with the interior of the vehicle 14. In one embodiment, the second end 38 of the conduit 32 may include a head unit 40 as shown and described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,705,938, or a supply panel as shown and described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,482,080 or U.S. Pat. No. 7,753,765 for providing the convenience services to the vehicle. U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,482,080; 6,705,938; and 7,753,765 are assigned to the assignee of the present invention and are incorporated by reference herein in their entirety. The convenience services provided to the vehicle 14 by the convenience service unit 10 may include one or more of conditioned air (cooling and/or heating), telephone communications, radio signals, video signals, electricity, internet communications, and/or various other convenience services.

The conduit 32 may also be configured such that one or more portions of the conduit 32 are coupled together, or are coupled to other components of the convenience service unit 10, such that the coupled connections may break away from one another when a predetermined force is applied to the connection. For example, the second end 36 of conduit 32 may be configured to break away from a head unit/supply panel 40 coupled thereto in the event that a vehicle is inadvertently driven away without uncoupling the head unit/supply panel 40 from the vehicle, to minimize or avoid damage to the components of the convenience service unit 10. The first end 34 and/or other portions of conduit 32, such as first, second, and third sections 32a, 32b, 32c, may also be coupled to their respective components with break-away connections.

The convenience service unit 10 may further include a service module 42 for providing convenience services to a vehicle 14 through the conduit 32. In the embodiment shown, the service module 42 includes an evaporator and blower assembly 44 in communication with the first end 34 of the conduit 32 for providing conditioned air to the interior of the vehicle 14 through the conduit 32. The evaporator/blower assembly 44 is supported on the post 22 and is dedicated to provide conditioned air to a single vehicle 14 through the conduit 32. The evaporator/blower assembly 44 is in communication with a compressor 46 through a branch line 48 and a trunk line 50 extending therebetween. In the embodiment shown, the branch and trunk lines 48, 50 are only depicted schematically. In practice, the branch and trunk lines 48, 50 provide supply and return paths between the compressor 46 and evaporator/blower assembly 44 to complete the refrigeration circuit of an air conditioning system, as known in the art.

In the embodiment shown, the compressor 46 is shared between multiple evaporator/blower assemblies 44 associated with respective convenience service units 10. Accordingly, each separate convenience service unit 10 includes a dedicated evaporator/blower assembly 44 communicating with the common compressor 46 through respective branch lines and trunk lines 48, 50. In an exemplary embodiment, a single compressor 46 may be shared with as many as eight or more separate convenience service units 10.

Each convenience service unit 10 further includes a control 52 supported on the base 16 and configured to control operation of the convenience service unit 10. The control 52 directs operation of the convenience service unit 10 to provide convenience services to the vehicle 14, and may also provide communication and/or recording of use data, billing information, or various other functions associated with the operation of the convenience service unit 10. In the embodiment shown, the control 52 is mounted to the vertically extending post 22. It will be appreciated, however, that the control 52 may alternatively be located at various other locations on the convenience service unit 10.

In other embodiments, the convenience service unit 10 may be configured to provide convenience services including electrical power to a vehicle 14. Electrical power (such as 110/220/-120/240 line voltage) may be provided through the conduit 32 by electrical cables, for example, as described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,482,080 and 6,705,938. It will be appreciated, however, that various other methods for providing electrical power to the vehicle through the conduit may alternatively be used. As a non-limiting example, electrical power may also be provided by one or more electric service outlets 54 supported on post 22 or base 16 for use by vehicle occupants. Cables (not shown) providing electrical power to each convenience service unit 10 may be routed underground. Because the bases 16 of the convenience service units 10 are located outside of the parking lot 12, installation and/or servicing the electrical cables does not require tearing up the asphalt or concrete surfaces the parking lot 12.

The convenience service unit 10 may further include one or more auxiliary power sources for providing electrical power to the vehicle 14 and/or power to the other components of the convenience service unit 10, such as the evaporator/blower assembly 44 that provides conditioned air to the vehicle 14. In the embodiment shown, a solar panel 60 is mounted atop the vertical post 22 for generating electrical power from sunlight. The convenience service unit 10 may further include a battery 62 to provide auxiliary power, such as during instances when electrical power cannot be provided through the main power source. It will be appreciated, however, that other forms of auxiliary power, such as wind power, hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, or other power sources may be utilized by the convenience service unit 10. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 1, the compressor 46 is illustrated as including a connection for coupling the compressor 46 to a geo-exchange or ground surface heating and cooling system (not shown) that utilizes the earth as a heat sink or heat source.

While the exemplary convenience service unit 10 has been shown and described above as having a single conduit 32 for providing convenience services to a single vehicle 14, it will be appreciated that convenience service units of other embodiments may alternatively include two, or even more, conduits 32 for providing convenience services to multiple vehicles 14. In such embodiments, each conduit 32 may be coupled to a separate service module 42, or may be coupled to a shared service module 42 configured to provide convenience services to the respective vehicles 14. Other components of a multi-vehicle convenience service unit may be similar to those described above with respect to convenience service unit 10 depicted in FIGS. 1-5.

In use, a driver of a vehicle 14 may park the vehicle 14 in a designated parking space 20 of a parking lot 12, adjacent a selected convenience service unit 10. The driver may then couple the second, free end 36 of the conduit 32 to the vehicle 14 to receive convenience services into the interior of the vehicle 14. When the convenience services are no longer required, the driver may uncouple the second end 36 of the conduit 32 from the vehicle 14. To facilitate coupling and uncoupling the second end 36 of the conduit 32 from the vehicle 14, the convenience service unit 10 may include one or more retraction mechanisms 70 that retain the second end 36 of the conduit proximate 32 the post 22, and permits a user to move the second end 36 of the conduit 32 toward a vehicle for coupling to the vehicle as described above. In the embodiment shown, a retraction mechanism 70 includes a retractable line or cable 72 having a first end 74 coupled proximate the second end 38 of the conduit 32, and a second end 76 coupled proximate the post 22. In the embodiment shown, a reel 78 for automatically winding the line or cable 72 is secured to the vertical post 22 and automatically winds the line or cable 72 such that the second end 38 of the conduit 32 is drawn toward the post 22 when not in use. While only a single retraction mechanism 70 is illustrated, it will be appreciated that additional retraction mechanisms of a similar or different configuration may also be utilized to retain the second end 36 of conduit 32 proximate post 22 when the convenience service unit 10 is not in use.

While the present invention has been illustrated by the description of one or more embodiments thereof, and while the embodiments have been described in considerable detail, they are not intended to restrict or in any way limit the scope of the appended claims to such detail. Additional advantages and modifications will readily appear to those skilled in the art. The invention in its broader aspects is therefore not limited to the specific details, representative apparatus and method and illustrative examples shown and described. Accordingly, departures may be made from such details without departing from the scope or spirit of the general inventive concept.