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Publication numberUS20060207849 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/377,457
Publication dateSep 21, 2006
Filing dateMar 15, 2006
Priority dateMar 16, 2005
Publication number11377457, 377457, US 2006/0207849 A1, US 2006/207849 A1, US 20060207849 A1, US 20060207849A1, US 2006207849 A1, US 2006207849A1, US-A1-20060207849, US-A1-2006207849, US2006/0207849A1, US2006/207849A1, US20060207849 A1, US20060207849A1, US2006207849 A1, US2006207849A1
InventorsBernard Sadow
Original AssigneeBbs Licensing, Inc.
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Inflatable air frame for soft-sided luggage and article of luggage incorporating same
US 20060207849 A1
Abstract
An article of luggage having a semi-rigid frame made from an inflatable member is disclosed. The article of luggage is readily inflated from a deflated state in which it is conveniently stored when not in use. The article of luggage is provided with a set of wheels and a telescoping handle that are attachable to the article of luggage when in the inflated state, for easily rolling and pulling or pushing the inflated article of luggage about over the ground.
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Claims(20)
1. An article of luggage comprising:
a.) a case including a fluid-tight bladder, made from a flexible, fluid-impervious, and puncture-resistant material, the bladder having a first, outer wall and a second, inner wall, the outer and inner walls forming an enclosed volume, for containing a volume of an inflation fluid, the space having a maximum inflated thickness predetermined by the nature of the inner and outer wall material and the size of a space left between the inner and outer walls, and such that when inflated, the bladder forms a closed, continuous, semi-rigid element of predetermined maximum inflated thickness, that defines a sidewall of the case, the bladder being alternatively inflatable with a fluid and deflatable by the removal of the fluid therefrom, and being so constructed that it is capable of supporting a weight of objects placed in the object-carrying volume of the case without substantial deformation of the outer wall of the sidewall, and such that the inner wall of the bladder faces toward an interior of the case and the outer wall of the bladder faces toward an exterior of the case, the bladder further having means for alternatively inflating and deflating the bladder;
b.) a top wall and a bottom wall, which together with the sidewall, define an object-carrying enclosure of the case, the top and bottom walls being formed of a flexible material, each having an inner surface facing the interior of the case and an outer surface facing the exterior of the case, the top wall being at least partially detachably attached to the sidewall about at least a portion of a periphery thereof, when the sidewall is inflated and the case is assembled in an object-carrying mode;
c.) an outer fabric covering that covers the inner and outer walls of the sidewall and the inner and outer surfaces of the top and bottom walls, and protects the bladder from being punctured, the outer fabric covering being made from a flexible, fluid-impervious and puncture-resistant material;
d.) at least one closure means, alternatively openable and closeable, for respectively opening and closing the at least partially detachably attached top wall so as to allow access to the object-carrying volume of the case when in the inflated state;
e.) carrying means attached to the outside of the case over the outer fabric covering and to the outer wall of the sidewall, for carrying the case when it is inflated in the object-carrying mode; and
f.) case transport means, detachably attachable to the case when the case is in an inflated condition, for pulling or pushing the case along the ground when it is inflated.
2. The article of luggage according to claim 1, wherein the bladder is formed alternatively from two separate flat sheets of material that are sealed to one another in a fluid-tight manner along corresponding opposite sides of the sheets, or from a single sheet of material with opposite sides that are sealed to one another in a fluid-tight manner, to form a sleeve, and with opposite ends of the side-sealed sleeve formed from the one or two sheets of material further being sealed to one another in a fluid-tight manner to contain a volume of inflation fluid when the article of luggage is inflated.
3. The article of luggage according to claim 1, wherein the outer and inner walls of the bladder are formed so as to provide a plurality of fluid-tight chambers in fluid communication with one another, by the provision of a plurality of ribs in the material of at least one of the outer and inner walls, which form a plurality of tubular chambers.
4. The article of luggage according to claim 1, wherein the bladder is shaped, and an object-carrying volume of the case in an inflated state is thereby defined, such that the sidewall has an inflated configuration selected from the group consisting of: a configuration that includes a plurality of angles and a corresponding plurality of linear side segments between the angles; a configuration that includes at least one arcuate side segment; and a configuration that includes at least one linear side segment and at least one arcuate side segment.
5. The article of luggage according to claim 3, wherein the sidewall has a configuration with a single continuous arcuate section.
6. The article of luggage according to claim 3, wherein the sidewall has an inflated configuration that includes at least one linear side segment and at least one arcuate side segment.
7. The article of luggage according to claim 1, wherein the inflation means is a fluid inlet and outlet valve.
8. The article of luggage according to claim 1, wherein at least one closure means in (d) is positioned in a location selected from the group consisting of: the top wall of the case, the bottom wall of the case, the sidewall of the case, and at a junction of at least one segment of the sidewall of the case with at least one segment of the top or bottom wall of the case.
9. The article of luggage according to claim 1, wherein the closure means in 1(d) is attached to a juncture of the top wall and the sidewall of the case and extends around substantially the entire circumference of the juncture.
10. The article of luggage according to claim 1, wherein the bladder is made from a soft and pliable plastic or rubber material.
11. The article of luggage according to claim 1, wherein the inflation fluid is a gas.
12. The article of luggage according to claim 1, wherein the bladder is surrounded by a girdle of a material that maintains the shape of the case when inflated and helps to prevent ballooning or the formation of a bulge or an aneurysm in the bladder, if the bladder becomes over- inflated.
13. The article of luggage according to claim 3, wherein the overall case shape-imparting angles in the bladder are formed so that they have a thickness that is less than the thickness of the bladder at a sidewall portion so that an angular bend can be made therein without causing a bulge or high pressure stress point in the bladder at an angular bend in the bladder.
14. The article of luggage according to claim 1, wherein the means for pulling or pushing the case along the ground when it is inflated in the object-carrying mode, in (f), includes a wheeled member with wheels, to which the case is attachable, and a pulling and pushing handle that is attachable to at least one of the case and the wheeled member, by which the case is pullable or pushable.
15. The article of luggage according to claim 14, wherein the wheeled member includes a pair of wheels attached to an axle that is rotatably mounted on a support frame upon which a wall of the case is positionable.
16. The article of luggage according to claim 14 further including attachment means for detachably attaching the case to the support frame of the wheeled member.
17. The article of luggage according to claim 14, wherein the pulling and pushing handle includes a longitudinal element, having a length, a distal end for attachment to the wheeled member, and a proximal end for grasping, such that the pulling and pushing handle extends from a place of attachment to the wheeled member at its distal end, at least beyond a largest dimensions of the case when attached to the wheeled member, regardless of the orientation of the case thereon, so that the pulling and pushing handle is graspable about its proximal end, and such that the longitudinal element of the pulling and pushing handle has sufficient rigidity to enable a case in the inflated state and in a loaded object-carrying mode to be pulled or pushed without buckling in resistance to a weight of the case and its contents.
18. The article of luggage according to claim 14, wherein the pulling and pushing handle is attachable to the case by attachment means, when the case is in the inflated state.
19. The article of luggage according to claim 18, wherein the attachment means includes at least one element selected from the group consisting of: a sheath fixed to the outside of the outer fabric covering of the case, along a length of one of the walls of the case, through which the handle is insertable, and at least one detachable fastener for detachably fastening the handle to the outer fabric covering of the case.
20. An article of luggage comprising:
a.) an inflatable air-tight bladder, made from a flexible material forming an inner set of sidewalls and frame of the piece of luggage, when inflated, capable of supporting a weight of objects placed in the luggage, without deforming;
b.) an outer fabric covering that covers the inflatable frame and additionally forms a soft top and bottom of the piece of luggage;
c.) closure means surrounding at least a portion of an outer periphery of the piece of luggage when in an inflated condition, alternatively positionable in a closed position to close the object-carrying space of the piece of luggage and in a open position to enable access to the object-carrying space of the piece of luggage;
d.) rolling means, attachable to the piece of luggage when in an inflated condition, for enabling rolling movement of the piece of luggage over the ground; and
e.) handle means attachable to the piece of luggage when in an inflated condition, for enabling the piece of luggage to be pulled or pushed over the ground in conjunction with the rolling means.
Description
    CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION
  • [0001]
    This patent application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application, Ser. No. 60/662,409, filed Mar. 16, 2005, the contents of which are incorporated by reference herein.
  • FIELD OF THE INVENTION
  • [0002]
    This invention relates generally to carrying cases for transporting one or a plurality of solid objects, such as an article of luggage for carrying clothes and the like. More particularly, the invention relates to carrying cases and articles of luggage, which are alternatively inflatable and deflatable.
  • BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • [0003]
    Carrying cases for solid objects, particularly articles of luggage for carrying clothing and the like, have evolved over the years from the large, bulky, and heavy steamer trunks in widespread use over a century, first to rigid, hard-side luggage and then to soft-side luggage with a rigid frame. Over the years conveniences have been added to luggage to facilitate its carrying and movement including the addition of fixed rolling wheels for transporting the luggage over the ground and telescoping pulling/pushing handles for guiding the luggage when it is being wheeled about. The goal of luggage designers has always been to minimize the weight of the article of luggage itself while maximizing its carrying capacity. Another important object of luggage designers is to minimize the exterior volume of the article of luggage. In order to minimize the space it occupies during use and, more importantly, when being kept in storage between uses.
  • [0004]
    Ideally, an article of luggage should have a large carrying capacity during use, and should be capable of being collapsed or folded when not in use so as to minimize its storage volume.
  • [0005]
    One proposed solution to the problem has been to develop inflatable luggage which can be inflated to form a semi-rigid carrying case during use and which is also capable of being deflated and collapsed and folded up for convenient storage when in a deflated state.
  • [0006]
    One such article of inflatable luggage has previously been disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,044,867 to Fisher for inflatable luggage, issued Aug. 30, 1977. The '867 patent discloses an article of inflatable luggage that can be fabricated and produced in any geometric shape or form, utilizing heat-sealable flexible material with the article of luggage having a side, top, bottom and endwalls, at least some of which have communicating air chambers and passages therein for providing an inflatable semi-rigid enclosures. When deflated the luggage may be flattened and rolled-up for storage.
  • [0007]
    One disadvantage of the article of luggage of the '867 patent is that other than providing a regular carrying handle on one of the sidewalls for carrying the case when in an inflated state, it does not provide means for conveniently rolling the article of luggage when in an inflated state and containing objects therein and it does not provide for a telescoping handle for pulling or pushing the inflated and filled article of luggage, as such wheels and a handle are typically affixed to other rigid and semi-rigid articles of luggage in common used today.
  • [0008]
    Another disadvantage of the article of luggage of the '867 patent is that inflated article of such luggage have a “air mattress” exterior appearance due to the presence of the plurality of ribbed, inflated air chambers which are evident on the exterior of the article of luggage. This produces a generally non-aesthetic effect.
  • [0009]
    Accordingly, there is a need in the field of luggage for an article of luggage that is both inflatable and deflatable, and which also provides for conveniently attachable rolling wheels and a pulling/pushing handle for ease in transporting the article of luggage over the ground when in an inflated state and containing objects therein.
  • SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • [0010]
    The disadvantages heretofore associated with the prior art are overcome by the present invention of an article of luggage which is both inflatable and deflatable, and which is provided with attached rolling wheels and a telescoping pulling/pushing handle that are attachable to the article of luggage when in an inflated state.
  • [0011]
    It is, therefore, an object of this invention to provide carrying cases and other articles of luggage that are inflatable and deflatable, and which are sturdy, light in weight, capable of supporting a substantial weight of contents when in an inflated state, without deforming or losing shape, which are provided with both rolling wheels and a pulling/pushing telescoping handle that can be conveniently attached to the article of luggage when in an inflated state, and which are conveniently foldable for storage when not in use, as well are simple and inexpensive to manufacture.
  • [0012]
    Another object of the invention is to provide an inflatable and deflatable article of luggage, which when inflated, has a smooth exterior surface and aesthetic appearance that does not indicate that the article of luggage is inflated when it is, in fact, in an inflated state.
  • [0013]
    Yet another object of the invention is to provide an inflatable and deflatable article of luggage which when inflated, and particularly when empty of any contents, can also be used as an emergency flotation device.
  • [0014]
    Further objects and advantages of the invention will become apparent from the following detailed description and accompanying drawings. The novel features of this invention are pointed out in the set of claims annexed to and forming a part of this specification.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • [0015]
    The present invention is more fully described and may be more readily understood by reference to the accompanying set of drawing figures in which:
  • [0016]
    FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an article of luggage according to the present invention, shown in its inflated state in dashed lines and in its deflated state in solid lines, together with the assembled rolling wheels and telescoping handle for attachment thereto and with an inflation air pump used to inflate the article of luggage for placement and storage on the inflated article of luggage;
  • [0017]
    FIG. 2 is an inflated article of luggage according to the present invention with an inlet port for insertion of an inflation tool and an inflation air pump shown proximal thereto;
  • [0018]
    FIG. 3 is a detailed exploded view of the inflation air port and valve along line 3-3 of FIG. 2 of the article of inflatable luggage with the nozzle of an inflation air pump being shown inserted therein;
  • [0019]
    FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional view along line 4-4 of FIG. 2 of the inflated air chamber forming a side wall of an article of luggage, with details of a plurality of pneumatically communicating air chambers being shown therein;
  • [0020]
    FIG. 5 is a cross-sectional view along line 5-5 of FIG. 2 of the inflated air bladder of the side wall of the article of luggage showing the construction of a plurality of pneumatically communicating air chambers at a corner of the article of luggage in such a way so as to provide a smooth rounded corner;
  • [0021]
    FIG. 6 is a detailed view of an assembled rolling wheels and telescoping pulling/pushing handle sub-assembly for attachment to an inflated article of luggage according to the present invention with details of cooperating snap closures on a wall of the article of luggage being shown;
  • [0022]
    FIG. 7 is a view of an assembled inflated article of luggage and rolling wheels and telescoping handle sub-assembly according to the present invention, shown in vertical standing upright position, with an alternative, tilted position of the assembled article such as for pulling or pushing the article, being shown in shadow outline;
  • [0023]
    FIG. 8 is a detailed view looking vertically downward of the telescoping handle and attachment bracket;
  • [0024]
    FIG. 9 is a cross-sectional view along line 9-9 of FIG. 7 of the point of attachment of the telescoping handle and attachment-bracket to the outer wall of the inflated piece of luggage according to the present invention, utilizing cooperating parts of snap closures;
  • [0025]
    FIG. 10 shows a substantially rectangular corner of an article of luggage according to the present invention with an outer fabric covering over the inflatable air bladder;
  • [0026]
    FIG. 11 is cross-sectional view along line 11-11 of FIG. 10 of the inflated sidewall of an article of luggage according to the present invention having a single air chamber therein;
  • [0027]
    FIG. 12 is a detailed cross-sectional view along line 12-12 of FIG. 10 of a portion of a side and a corner of an article of luggage according to the present invention having a plurality of segmented air chambers therein;
  • [0028]
    FIG. 13 is a perspective view of an alternative embodiment of an inflatable article of luggage according to the present invention, having a dual longitudinal post telescoping handle;
  • [0029]
    FIGS. 14A and 14B are detailed perspective views of an assembled rolling wheels and dual handle telescoping pulling/pushing handle sub-assembly for attachment to an inflated article of luggage according to the present invention with details of cooperating snap closures on a wall of the article of luggage being shown, showing alternative brackets for attachment to the article of luggage;
  • [0030]
    FIGS. 15 a-15 e illustrate other alternative embodiments of articles of inflatable luggage according to the present invention, having a number of representative shapes incorporating various linear and arcuate portions, alone and in combination;
  • [0031]
    FIG. 16 illustrates an embodiment of an article of luggage according to the present invention having a substantially round cross sectional shape in the plane of the top and bottom, and representationally showing one configuration of the multiple cells or segments of the inflated air bladder for an article of luggage with arcuate shaped sides; and
  • [0032]
    FIG. 17 illustrates an embodiment of a cart with rolling wheels and telescoping handle suitable for carrying an article of luggage according to the present invention with an arcuately shaped lower side wall.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION
  • [0033]
    The present invention relates generally to carrying cases for transporting one or a plurality of solid objects, such as an article of luggage for carrying clothes and the like. More particularly, the invention relates to carrying cases and articles of luggage, which are alternatively inflatable and deflatable. When inflated, the carrying cases and articles of luggage maintain a semi-rigid form capable of supporting the weight of contents place therein; and when deflated, they are readily collapsible for convenient storage. The invention still more particularly relates to inflatable and deflatable carrying cases and articles of luggage which, when in the inflated state, are capable of conveniently being carried about and transported by being pulled or pushed and rolled over the ground by virtue of their having rolling wheels and a pulling/pushing handle attached thereto for convenience in wheeled transport over the ground.
  • [0034]
    Referring now more particularly to the drawings, wherein like numerals refer to identical or similar elements, FIGS. 1 and 13 show an inflatable article of luggage 10 according to the present invention, which is shown in an inflated state (in dashed lines), with the two articles of luggage 10 being provided respectively with single post and double post telescoping handle attachable wheeled handle carts; and FIG. 2 also shows an inflated article of luggage 10 according to the present invention, together with an inflation port 12 and valve 14 and with a hand-held air inflation pump being illustrated adjacent thereto.
  • [0035]
    An article of luggage 10 according to the present invention includes a fluid-tight bladder 20 made from a flexible, fluid-impervious and generally puncture-resistant material, with the bladder 20 having a first, outer wall 22 and second, inner wall. The outer and inner walls of the bladder 20 are alternatively formed from either two separate flat sheets of material that are sealed to one another in a fluid-tight matter along corresponding, opposite side ends 28 of the sheets or the bladder 20 is made from a single sheet of material which is folded over such that opposite side ends 28 of the material are sealed to one another in a fluid-tight manner, thereby forming a sleeve 27. The bladder 20 is made completely fluid-tight by having the ends thereof sealed, alternatively, separately or to one another to form a continuous enclosed bladder 20 where the opposite longitudinal ends of the bladder 20 are separately sealed and the ends are attached to one another using other means to form a continuous enclosed shape when inflated. This enclosed shape, when inflated, also serves to define an object-carrying volume 11 in an internal space formed by the enclosed, inflated air bladder.
  • [0036]
    This enclosed space may take any form and shape, however, typically it is arranged in a rectangular shape that is typical for a suitcase or article of luggage 10. When inflated the air bladder 20 forms a semi-rigid, closed, continuous enclosure that constitutes the side walls of the article of luggage 10. The side-ends of this enclosure are covered with a fabric material that forms the top and bottom of the article of luggage 10 as described below.
  • [0037]
    The inflated bladder 20 may form a single continuous fluid-tight chamber, or alternatively, the sides of the bladder 20 may be constructed so as to have a plurality of ribs running longitudinally across the material to form a plurality of individually separated chambers that are in fluid communication with one another.
  • [0038]
    The bladder 20, and in certain embodiments, the individual air chambers thereof, are inflatable with a fluid, typically a gas. The gases most commonly used include air, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide.
  • [0039]
    The bladder 20 is fitted with an inflation port 12 and valve 14, which is preferably positioned such that it faces towards the inner, object-carrying volume 11 of the article of luggage 10 when in an inflated state. Preferably, the inlet port 12 and valve 14 is located at the juncture of a corner of the article of luggage 10, as shown in FIG. 2. The valve 14 is typically a one-way valve such as is used for inflating air mattresses and the like, as shown in FIG. 3. In order to minimize a smooth, outer surface and aesthetic appearance, articles of luggage 10 according to the present invention have the inner inflatable bladder 20 covered with a material covering on the outer surfaces thereof. This outer material covering also provides the top and bottom of the article of luggage 10.
  • [0040]
    The pressure in the bladder 20 upon inflation is from about two (2) psig to about fifteen (15) psig, and, in any case, is sufficient to fully inflate the bladder 20 to a semi-rigid state wherein it is capable of providing the frame for the article of luggage 10 that can support the weight of objects placed inside the fully inflated case.
  • [0041]
    Reversible closure means 16 (FIG. 1) are attached along the edge of the outer covering material along at least several sides of the article of luggage 10. In a typical four-sided rectangular-shaped case, the reversible closure means 16 is attached to three of the side edges. Typically the reversible closure means 16 is a metal or plastic zipper.
  • [0042]
    An article of luggage 10 according to the present invention generally includes the following elements in addition to the fluid-tight bladder 20. A top wall 32 and a bottom wall 34, which together with the sidewall 36, define the enclosed carrying space of the luggage or case 10 into which objects are placeable for carriage. The top and bottom walls are formed of a flexible, semi-rigid material 30, and each has an inner surface facing the interior of the case and an outer surface facing the exterior of the case. The top wall 32 is detachably attached to the sidewall 36 about at least a portion of a periphery thereof, such that when the sidewall 36 is inflated, the case 10 is assembled in an object-carrying mode.
  • [0043]
    An outer fabric covering 30 covers the inner and outer walls of the sidewall 36 and the inner and outer surfaces of the top and bottom walls 32 and 34. The outer fabric covering 30 helps to protect the bladder 20 from being punctured. The outer fabric covering 30 is made from a flexible, fluid- impervious, and preferably puncture-resistant material.
  • [0044]
    At least one closure means 16, alternatively openable and closeable, is provided for allowing access to the object-carrying volume 11 of the case 10 when in the inflated state.
  • [0045]
    Referring to FIG. 7, carrying means 18 is attached to the outside of the case 10 over the outer fabric covering 30 and to the outer wall of the sidewall 36, for carrying the case 10 when it is inflated in the object-carrying mode.
  • [0046]
    Handle means with attachable wheels, such as a wheeled handle cart 50, is provided for pulling or pushing the case along the ground when it is inflated in the object-carrying mode.
  • [0047]
    The article of luggage 10 is fabricated so that the outer and inner walls 22 and 24 of the bladder 20 are formed in such manner so as to provide a plurality of fluid-tight chambers 23 in fluid communication with one another. This is accomplished by provision of a plurality of ribs 26 in the material of at least one of the outer and inner walls, which ribs form a plurality of tubular chambers, as shown in FIGS. 4 and 5.
  • [0048]
    Alternatively, the bladder 20 may be compartmentalized into a plurality of fluid-tight cells or compartments 40, by dividers 38, as shown in FIG.12 for a straight-sided article of luggage 10 and in FIG. 16 for an article of luggage 10 with an arcuately shaped side wall. This embodiment has the advantage that if one of the individual compartments 40 should develop a leak and become deflated, the entire inflated frame of the case will not deflate.
  • [0049]
    In the simplest embodiment, the air bladder 20 is a single, non-ribbed, non-compartmentalized structure, as shown in FIG. 11. Where a single compartment bladder 20 is used, it is recommended that the bladder 20 be made from a highly puncture-resistant material in order to prevent complete deflation of the entire case if the bladder 20 should become punctured. A self-sealing rubber material may also be used for any embodiment of the bladder 20 in order to reduce and/or stop leakage if the bladder material is punctured.
  • [0050]
    It is, however, preferred that the inflatable sidewall surfaces of the case be ribbed so as to provide increased support; to enable the surfaces to more easily be made to a greater variety of shapes; and to more readily retain such shapes and resist the formation of bulges or aneurysms on the surfaces when the case is inflated.
  • [0051]
    Articles of luggage 10 according to the present invention can be fabricated in virtually any shape. The bladder itself provides the semi-rigid frame of the luggage 10. The luggage 10 can take on any shape combining straight sections or sides, arcuate portions and intervening angles or rounded bends. Typically, the bladder 20 is shaped, and an object-carrying volume 11 of the case in an inflated state is thereby defined, such that the sidewall 36 has an inflated configuration selected from the group consisting of: a configuration that includes a plurality of angles and a corresponding plurality of linear side segments between the angles, such in as a square or rectangular shaped piece of luggage; a configuration that includes at least one arcuate side segment, such as a completely rounded piece of luggage, typically such as a hatbox; and a configuration that includes at least one linear side segment and at least one arcuate side segment.
  • [0052]
    Although virtually any shape and configuration that the bladder 20 can be made to attain is possible, as a practical matter of construction, an article of luggage 10 according to the present invention is typically made so that the sidewall 36 of the case has from three angles and three linear side segments (i.e., a triangular-shaped article of luggage) to twelve angles and twelve linear side segments. Beyond about twelve separate side segments, it becomes less expensive to fabricate the luggage in a completely rounded shape.
  • [0053]
    FIGS. 15 a through 15 e illustrate various non-limiting embodiments of alternative shapes for an article of inflatable luggage 10 according to the present invention, having various arcuate and linear side wall portions 36, alone or in various combinations. Thus, FIG. 15 a shows an article of luggage 10 having a substantially circular side wall 36, such as is typically used for a hat box or a portable vanity traveling case. FIG. 15 b shows an article of luggage 10 having a substantially arcuate side wall over most of its periphery, but having a straight linear top side wall 36. FIG. 15 c shows an article of luggage 10 that is substantially the same as that shown in FIG. 15 b, but also having a straight linear lower sidewall portion. FIG. 15 d shows an article of luggage 10 having a substantially rectangular side wall shape encompassing three sides of its periphery, but having an arcuate, semi-circular shaped upper sidewall portion. FIG. 15 e shows a representative article of luggage 10 having all linear sidewall portions, with a number of such sidewall portions greater than the four sides of a square or rectangular case. The article shown in FIG. 15 e for illustrative purposes is hexagonal shaped, having six sidewall portions. As previously discussed, although there is no limit to the number of sidewall portions that can be incorporated in an article of luggage 10 according to the present invention, as a practical matter, there is no real need to go beyond about a twelve sided case, due principally to fabrication complexities of manufacturing the inflatable air bladder for a case with more sides, and the costs associated therewith. Beyond more than about twelve sides, it is more practical and economical to fabricate the case as circular shaped or having at least several arcuate segments 46, especially since as the number of linear sidewall segments increases, the shape of the article of luggage 10 begins to approximate the shape of a circle or other arcuate shape anyway.
  • [0054]
    The most typical configuration for an article of luggage 10 according to the invention is one wherein the sidewall 36 of the case has from four angles and four linear side segments to eight angles and eight linear side segments. This encompasses square and rectangular-shaped cases, up to octagonal-shaped ones.
  • [0055]
    The most typical shape is one, wherein the sidewall 36 of the case has four angles and four linear side segments, such as for a square or rectangular-shaped case.
  • [0056]
    In the most typical configurations, articles of luggage 10 according to the present invention are fabricated such that all angles are equal. For square-shaped cases, moreover, all four straight side segments are of equal length. For the conventional rectangular-shaped case, there are two pairs of side segments of different lengths.
  • [0057]
    For square and rectangular-shaped cases, all four angles are right angles.
  • [0058]
    For a square case, the sidewall 36 has a generally square shape in the inflated state. When viewed from the perspective of the top or bottom wall of the case, there are two pairs of parallel side segments of the sidewall 36 that are perpendicular to one another, and all four individual side segments of the sidewall 36 are of equal length.
  • [0059]
    For a rectangular case, the sidewall 36 has a generally rectangular shape in the inflated state, when viewed from the perspective of the top or bottom wall, there are two pairs of parallel side segments of the sidewall 36 that are perpendicular to one another, and a first pair of parallel side segments of the sidewall 36 have a first length, and a second pair of parallel side segments of the sidewall 36 that are perpendicular to the first pair of side segments of the sidewall 36 have a second length, which is different from the length of the first pair of parallel side segments of the sidewall 36.
  • [0060]
    For an article of luggage 10 according to the present invention that has a rounded circular, ellipsoidal, or ovoid shape, the sidewall 36 is fabricated as a single continuous arcuate section.
  • [0061]
    For an article of luggage 10 according to the present invention that has a fully rounded circular shape, the single continuous arcuate section of the sidewall 36 has a generally round shape in the inflated state, when viewed from the perspective of the top or bottom wall of the case, such that the sidewall 36 forms a continuous circle with no angular bends therein.
  • [0062]
    Articles of luggage 10 having complex shapes combining straight linear sections with angular bends between the straight sections and arcuate sections with rounded bends therebetween can be fabricated. In such embodiments, the sidewall 36 has an inflated configuration that includes at least one linear side segment and at least one arcuate side segment.
  • [0063]
    In one embodiment of case according to the present invention, as shown in FIG. 15 d, a lower portion of the sidewall 36 in the inflated state, when viewed from the perspective of the top or bottom wall, has two outer linear side segments 42 and one inner linear side segment 44 that are contiguously joined to one another at two right angles, and an upper portion of the sidewall in the inflated state, when viewed from the perspective of the top or bottom wall, has a single semi-circular arcuate segment 46, which is joined at one end thereof to one of the two outer linear side segments, and at an opposite end thereof, is joined to the other of the two outer linear side segments, such that overall the sidewall has square or rectangular lower shape and a semicircular upper shape, when viewed from the perspective of the top or bottom wall of the case in an inflated state in the object-carrying mode.
  • [0064]
    In another embodiment of case according to the present invention, as shown in FIG. 15 a, the sidewall 36 has a generally round shape in the inflated state, when viewed from the perspective of the top or bottom wall of the case 10, such that the sidewall 36 forms a continuous circle over substantially the entire periphery of the case, and such that the sidewall has a linear segment along a lower portion of the periphery of the case, when viewed from the perspective of the top or bottom wall of the case and with the case standing vertically, so as to provide a flat base on which the case rests when standing vertically in an inflated state in the object-carrying mode, to prevent the case from rolling.
  • [0065]
    A variety of closure means 16 can be provided for cases according to the present invention. At least one closure means 16 is positioned in a location selected from the group consisting of: the top wall 32 of the case, the bottom wall 34 of the case, the sidewall 36 of the case, and at a junction of at least one segment of the sidewall of the case with at least one segment of the top or bottom wall of the case.
  • [0066]
    Most typically, there is a closure means 16 in an upper segment of the sidewall 36 of the case, as viewed from the perspective of the top or bottom wall of the case 10, with the case standing vertically on a lower segment of the sidewall, in an inflated state in the object-carrying mode.
  • [0067]
    According to at least one embodiment of case according to the present invention, there is a closure means 16 attached to the juncture of the top wall and the sidewall of the case.
  • [0068]
    For a square or rectangular shaped case, the closure means 16 is attached to a juncture of the top wall 32 and the sidewall 36 of the case and extends around a three linear side segment portion of the periphery of the juncture, as shown in FIG. 2.
  • [0069]
    Referring to FIG. 10, for most square or rectangular-shaped cases, the three linear side segments 40 of the case around which the closure means 16 extends are an upper and two side linear side segments of the case, as viewed from the perspective of the top or bottom wall of the case when in an inflated state, with the case standing vertically on a fourth, lower linear side segment of the sidewall along which the closure means 16 does not extend.
  • [0070]
    For a round case, the closure means 16 is attached to a juncture of the top wall and the sidewall of the case and extends around substantially the entire circumference of the juncture.
  • [0071]
    For generally rounded cases that also have at least one straight side along their bottom edge to stabilize them and prevent the case form rolling, the closure means 16 in FIG. 15 d is attached to a juncture of the top wall 22 and the sidewall 16 of the case and extends around the entire circular portion of the circumference of the juncture, but not along the linear segment along a lower portion of the periphery of the case.
  • [0072]
    Typically, the closure means 16 is a zipper, the components of which, including the track and the fastening mechanism may be made of metal or plastic.
  • [0073]
    The bladder 20 is typically made from a soft and pliable plastic or rubber material. The bladder material is generally selected from the group consisting of: poly-vinyl chloride (PVC), polyurethane (PU)—coated nylon, mylar, and latex.
  • [0074]
    The outer fabric covering 30 for an article of luggage 10 according to the present invention is typically made from a soft and pliable plastic, rubber, s fabric, plastic- or rubber-treated fabric, or leather material. Generally, the outer fabric material 30 is selected from the group consisting of: poly-vinyl-chloride (PVC), nylon, canvas, PVC-backed canvas, natural leather, and artificial leather.
  • [0075]
    An inflatable article of luggage 10 according to the present invention can be inflated utilizing substantially any fluid, either gas or liquid. Weight considerations generally mandate use of a gas. However, under certain special, circumstances, such as for cases used to protect and carry delicate or sensitive items that need to be protected from shock or damage, certain liquids or gels can be used to inflate the bladder 20 of the case. Most typically, however, for ordinary carrying cases and articles of luggage 10, the fluid used is a gas. The gas should be non-toxic, non-corrosive, and non-flammable. Most typically, air is used as the inflation gas, although nitrogen and carbon-dioxide are commonly readily available gases that can also be used. Non-flammable, non-explosive lighter than air gases, such as helium, may be used under special circumstances to afford apparent weight-reducing buoyancy to the case 10.
  • [0076]
    Generally, the inflatable bladder 20 is surrounded by a girdle of material that maintains the shape of the case when inflated and helps to prevent ballooning or the formation of a bulge or an aneurysm in the bladder 20, if the bladder becomes over-inflated. The material of the girdle may be of a non-elastic material or an elastic material that has “give” to it and stretches somewhat up to a point as the bladder 20 is inflated. One preferred material for the girdle is a non-elastic nylon having a gauge of about 70 denier.
  • [0077]
    Typically, the carrying means 18 for the case is one or a plurality of carrying handles. Typically, two carrying handles are typically provided, with one mounted to either side of the sidewall of the case, on the top and bottom walls of the case, as shown in FIG. 7. In certain embodiments, additional carrying handles may be positioned on other side surfaces of the case to facilitate carrying it in any orientation.
  • [0078]
    Additionally, the plurality of carrying handles 18 may optionally be further provided with a combined gathering means 19 and hand grip which enables the plurality of carrying handles to be gathered together and joined in a detachably fastened manner to facilitate and make comfortable carrying of the case.
  • [0079]
    The carrying handle or handles may be of any type and are rigid, semi-rigid, or soft. A rigid handle is made from a molded plastic or rubber material, or is made from a rubber, plastic, or leather material wound over an inner stiffening and reinforcing material, such as wood, metal, cardboard, or wire. A semi-rigid handle is made from leather or a softer plastic material, such as vinyl. A soft handle is made from a soft rubber or plastic material, nylon, canvas, leather, rope, or cord, unreinforced with any stiffening material.
  • [0080]
    In fabricating a case 10 according to a particular shape, it is important that the bladder 20 be made in such a way that it is not susceptible to local high pressure stress points caused by angular or arcuate bends in the inflated bladder 20. Accordingly, the overall case shape-imparting angles in the bladder 20 are formed so that they have a thickness that is less than the thickness of the bladder 20 at a sidewall portion so that an angular bend can be made therein without causing a bulge or high pressure stress point in the bladder at an angular or arcuate bend 25 in the bladder, as is shown in FIGS. 5 and 12.
  • [0081]
    The means for pulling or pushing the case 50 along a floor or ground surface when it is inflated in the object-carrying mode generally includes a wheeled member or cart with wheels 51, to which the case 10 is attachable, for providing rolling movement of the case over the ground, and a pulling and pushing handle 52 that is attachable to at least one of the case and the wheeled member 51, and preferably to both, by which the case is pullable or pushable while it is being rolled over a ground surface.
  • [0082]
    Referring to FIGS. 1 and 6, the wheeled member 51 includes a pair of wheels 54 attached to an axle 56 that is rotatably mounted on a support frame 58 upon which a wall of the case is positionable. Means for detachably attaching (i.e., attaching means) 60 the case to the support frame 58 of the wheeled member 51 is provided so that the wheeled member 51 can be attached when the case 10 is inflated and removed when the case is deflated.
  • [0083]
    The attachment means 60 may also include at least one cord, having first and second ends, whereby a first end of the cord is attached to the support frame of the wheeled member, the cord is wound at least once around at least a portion of the case, and the second end of the cord is also attached to the support frame of the wheeled element to thereby hold the case on the support frame of the wheeled member for wheeled transport of the case using the wheeled member. The cord is typically made from an elastic, stretchable material. One example of such a cord is an elastic cord often referred to as a “bungee” cord, having fastening means, such as hooks at each end, for attaching the cord to the cart and/or handle after it is wrapped around the case.
  • [0084]
    The support frame 58 of the wheeled member 51 is made from a plastic or metal material; and the wheels 54 of the wheeled member are made of a plastic or rubber material.
  • [0085]
    According to one preferred embodiment, the pulling and pushing handle 52 includes a longitudinal element, having a length, a distal end 61 for attachment to the frame 58 of the wheeled member 51, and a proximal end 62 for grasping, such that the pulling and pushing handle 52 extends from a place of attachment to the wheeled member at its distal end 61, at least beyond a largest dimensions of the case when attached to the wheeled member 51, regardless of the orientation of the case thereon, so that the pulling and pushing handle is graspable about its proximal end 62, and such that the longitudinal element 52 of the pulling and pushing handle 52 has sufficient rigidity to enable a case in the inflated state and in a loaded object-carrying mode to be pulled or pushed without buckling in resistance to a weight of the case and its contents.
  • [0086]
    For convenience in storage, the pulling and pushing handle is preferably made to be telescoping. The telescoping handle 57 is made so that it is extendable from a telescoped length, which is generally no longer than the largest dimension of the article of luggage to which it is to be attached, as shown in FIG. 1, to at least its full length, which is generally sufficient to provide an extended length convenient for a person of average height. In some embodiments of a telescoping handle 57, the extended length of the handle is made adjustable by the provision of locking means 64 on at least one intermediate position and preferably at a plurality of positions of different lengths between the fully extended and the fully retracted positions, so as to accommodate persons of different height. The pulling and pushing handle 52 and its telescoping elements 57 are preferably made from a material selected from the group consisting of plastic and metal.
  • [0087]
    In certain embodiments, the pulling and pushing handle 52 further includes locking means 64 for holding the telescoping pulling and pushing handle element 57 at any position and length between its fully telescoped position and its fully extended position.
  • [0088]
    In certain embodiments, the pulling and pushing handle 52 further includes a transverse grasping element 66 at its proximal end. The transverse grasping element 66 is foldable against the longitudinal element.
  • [0089]
    As is shown in FIG. 17, for certain embodiments of articles of luggage 10 according to the present invention having a circular or arcuately shaped lower sidewall section (as viewed standing vertically looking toward the top or bottom wall) can have the lower, base plate portion 68 of the wheeled, telescoping handle carrying cart provided therefor molded to have a contoured configuration to match the outline of the inflated article of luggage 10 so that the case rests more securely on the wheeled cart 51 and will not tend to roll sideways off the cart.
  • [0090]
    In one embodiment, the pulling and pushing handle 52 is attached to the support frame 58 of the wheeled member 51 by at least one set-screw 59, as shown in FIG. 6. In that embodiment, as well as in others, the pulling and pushing handle 52 is also attachable to the case 10 by attachment means 60, when the case is in the inflated state, as shown in FIGS. 7 and 8. Although it is generally sufficient to attach the case to only either the wheeled cart 51 or the pulling/pushing handle 52, a more secure attachment is obtained when the case is attached to both. The attachment means 60 for attaching the pulling/pushing handle 52 directly to the case 10 include at least one element selected from the group consisting of: a sheath 70 fixed to the outside of the outer fabric covering 30 of the case 10, along a length of one of the walls of the case, through which the handle 52 is insertable, as shown in FIGS. 1 and 8; and at least one detachable fastener 72 for detachably fastening the handle 52 to the outer fabric covering 30 of the case, as shown in FIGS. 6 and 9. A combination of both an outer sheath and at least one detachable fastener can also be used.
  • [0091]
    In one preferred embodiment, the at least one detachable fastener 72 is a snap closure, having one part thereof, such as a clip attached to the handle and a second part 74 such as a receptacle, with which the first part 72 cooperates to effect fastening, being attached to the outer fabric covering 30 of the case 10, as shown in FIGS. 6 and 9. Typically, the sheath 70 is attached to the bottom wall 34 of the case 10, and is made from the same material as the outer fabric covering of the case.
  • [0092]
    In alternative embodiments, alternative detachable fasteners 60, such as and including, but not limited to VelcroŽ fasteners, can be used to attach the handle 52 and wheeled cart assembly to the inflated article of luggage 10.
  • [0093]
    In another embodiment, as shown in FIGS. 13 and 14, a dual longitudinal post telescoping pulling/pushing handle is provided. This configuration of handle has the advantage of providing a tighter attachment to the inflated article of luggage 10, and helps to keep the article of luggage 10 from yawing from side to side when being pulled along. The dual main longitudinal vertical sections of the dual telescoping handle 52 can be attached to the inflated article of luggage 10 either individually by means of two separate brackets 60, each fitted with one side of at least one pair of detachable fasteners 72, such as snap closures, that cooperate with the opposite side of the corresponding number of the at least one pair of detachable fasteners 74 attached to the outer surface of a wall 34 of the article of luggage 10, with one bracket 72 on each main vertical handle piece, as shown in FIG. 14 a, or alternatively, with a single bracket spanning both handles, as shown in FIG. 14 b. A single bracket 72 can be attached to the article of luggage 10 with as few as two detachable fasteners 74, one at each outer extremity of the bracket, although it is preferable to use three detachable fasteners, with the third one being placed between the two longitudinal handle posts, as shown in FIG. 14 b.
  • [0094]
    Where a dual telescoping handle 57 is utilized, the necessary modifications are also provided to the bottom frame 58 of the wheeled member 51, by providing dual anchoring brackets 55, each with a tightening screw 59, such as a wing screw, to hold its respective vertical handle post 52 securely to the wheeled member 51. Additionally, where fabric are provided to secure the handle to the cart, dual sheaths 70 are provided on the outer surface of one of the walls of the article of luggage 10 to enable both longitudinal handle posts 52 to be inserted therethrough after the article of luggage 10 has been inflated, and as the dual telescoping handle assembly is attached to the wheeled platform.
  • [0095]
    According to still yet other embodiments (not shown), including both those with single and dual telescoping post pulling/pushing handles, the case 10 can be provided with a compartment and a cut-out portion 33 in the outer surface thereof, between the outer covering 29 of the case and the bladder wall 22, in which the telescoped handle 52 is stored when the case is deflated, and from wherein the handle is extendable when the case is inflated. The cut-out portion 33 can be provided with a cover 29 attached by means of a zipper or snap closures, which cover closes and conceals the opening in the outer surface of the case when the pulling/pushing handle is telescoped and contained in the compartment. In these embodiments, the wheeled base 68 of the cart attaches directly to one end of the inflated case, such as by snap closures. These embodiments have the advantage that only the wheeled base of the cart needs to be carried separately from the deflated case, because the telescoping pulling/pushing handle assembly itself is concealed within the cut-out portion 33 of the case for carrying purposes and does not have to be carried separately from the deflated case.
  • [0096]
    An article of luggage 10 according to the present invention may also include and be provided with inflation means 48 for inflating the bladder 20. Typically, the inflation means 48 is selected from the group consisting of: a separate, hand-held, mechanical air pump, and a sealed compressed gas cartridge which when inserted into the fluid inlet 12 and outlet valve 14 and is punctured to release the compressed gas contents causes inflation of the case. A small manual air pump 48 that may be carried with the inflated case is shown in FIG. 1. A separate compartment or pocket may be provided on the outer surface of the case in which to carry the air pump.
  • [0097]
    One important and practical feature of an article of luggage 10 according to the present invention is that it is collapsible and foldable, when in the deflated state, so that it may conveniently and compactly be stored.
  • [0098]
    Generally, preferred embodiments of an article of luggage 10 according to the present invention include the following elements: an inflatable air-tight bladder 20, made from a flexible material, forming an inner set of sidewalls 36 and frame of the piece of luggage 10, when inflated, capable of supporting a weight of objects placed in the luggage, without deforming; an outer fabric 30 covering that covers the inflatable frame and additionally forms a soft top and bottom of the piece of luggage; closure means 16 surrounding at least a portion of an outer periphery of the piece of luggage when in an inflated condition, alternatively positionable in a closed position to close the object-carrying space of the piece of luggage and in a open position to enable access to the object-carrying space of the piece of luggage; rolling means 50, attachable to the piece of luggage 10 when in an inflated condition, for enabling rolling movement of the piece of luggage over the ground; and handle means 52 attachable to the piece of luggage when in an inflated condition, for enabling the piece of luggage 10 to be pulled or pushed over the ground in conjunction with the rolling means, such as a wheeled member 51.
  • [0099]
    One preferred embodiment of an article of luggage 10 according to the present invention includes: a fluid-tight bladder 20, made from a flexible, fluid-impervious, and puncture-resistant material, the bladder 20 having a first, outer wall 22 and a second, inner wall 24, the outer and inner walls being formed alternatively from two separate flat sheets of material that are sealed to one another in a fluid-tight manner along corresponding opposite sides 28 of the sheets, or from a single sheet of material with opposite sides that are sealed to one another in a fluid-tight manner, to form a sleeve 27, and with opposite ends of the side-sealed sleeve 27 formed from the one or two sheets of material further being sealed to one another in a fluid-tight manner, to form an enclosed volume 11, wherein the outer and inner walls 22 and 24 of the bladder 20 cooperatively define a space therebetween for enclosing a volume of an inflation fluid, the space having a maximum inflated thickness predetermined by the nature of the inner and outer wall material and the size of a space left between the inner and outer walls 22 and 24, and such that when inflated, the bladder 20 forms a closed, continuous, semi-rigid element of predetermined maximum inflated thickness, that defines a sidewall 36 of a case, which itself defines an object-carrying volume 11 of the case, the bladder 20 being alternatively inflatable with a fluid and deflatable by the removal of the fluid therefrom, and so constructed that it is capable of supporting a weight of objects placed in the object-carrying volume 11 of the case without substantial deformation of the outer wall of the sidewall, and such that the inner wall 22 of the bladder 20 faces toward an interior of the case 10 and the outer wall 24 of the bladder 20 faces toward an exterior of the case, the bladder 20 further having a fluid inlet 12 and outlet valve 14 for respectively inflating and deflating the bladder 20; a top wall 32 and a bottom wall 34, which together with the sidewall 36, define an enclosure 11 of the case into which objects are placeable for carriage, the top and bottom walls being formed of a flexible, semi-rigid material, and each having an inner surface facing the interior of the case and an outer surface facing the exterior of the case, the top wall 32 being detachably attached to the sidewall 36 about at least a portion of a periphery thereof, when the sidewall 36 is inflated and the case 10 is assembled in an object-carrying mode; an outer fabric covering 30 that covers the inner and outer walls of the sidewall and the inner and outer surfaces (girdle) of the top and bottom walls, and protects the bladder 20 from being punctured, the outer fabric covering 30 being made from a flexible, fluid-impervious and puncture-resistant material; closure means 16, attached to the top wall along the portion of the periphery of the top wall 32 that is in detachable attachment to the corresponding portion of the periphery of the sidewall 36 when the case 10 is inflated in the object-carrying mode, for alternatively opening and closing the attachment between the top wall 32 and the sidewall 36; carrying means 18 attached to the outside of the case over the outer fabric covering 30 and to the outer wall of the sidewall 36, for carrying the case when inflated in the object-carrying mode; a sheath 70 attached to the outside of the outer fabric covering 30 along a length of the bottom wall 34, through which a telescoping pulling/pushing handle 52 is insertable when the case is inflated in the object-carrying mode; a telescoping pulling/pushing handle 52, having a telescoping shaft 57 that is insertable through the sheath 70 on the outside of the bottom wall 34 when the case 10 is inflated in the object-carrying mode, the pulling/pushing handle 52 further having a hand-grip 66, perpendicular to the shaft 57, at a proximal end 62 thereof, and means, at a distal end 61 of the telescoping pulling/pushing handle, for attaching the pulling/pushing handle to a wheeled rolling means 51 for the case when in the inflated object-carrying mode; and wheeled rolling means for supporting the case when in the inflated, object- carrying mode, and to which attachment of the telescoping pulling/pushing handle is made, for enabling the case to be wheeled about when in the inflated, object-carrying mode, such that the case is collapsible and foldable, when in the deflated state.
  • [0100]
    One especially preferred embodiment of a soft-sided article of luggage 10 with an inflatable frame, according to the present invention includes: an inner frame made of a fluid-tight bladder 20, made from a flexible, fluid-impervious, and puncture-resistant material, the bladder 20 having a first, outer wall and a second, inner wall, the outer and inner walls being formed alternatively from two separate flat sheets of material that are sealed to one another in a fluid-tight manner along corresponding opposite sides of the sheets, or from a single sheet of material with opposite sides that are sealed to one another in a fluid-tight manner, to form a sleeve 27, wherein there is a plurality of separate individual fluid-tight chambers 40 that are internally in at least partial fluid communication with one another, the plurality of fluid-tight chambers 40 being formed by the provision of a plurality of ribs 26 in the material of at least one of the outer and inner walls, which thereby form a plurality of tubular chambers 40 which are not completely fluid-isolated from one another, upon inflation, and with opposite ends of the side-sealed sleeve 27 formed from the one or two sheets of material further being sealed to one another in a fluid-tight manner, to form an enclosed volume 11, wherein the outer and inner walls of the bladder 20 cooperatively define a space therebetween for enclosing a volume of an inflation fluid, the space having a maximum inflated thickness predetermined by the nature of the inner and outer wall material and the size of a space left between the inner and outer walls, and such that when inflated, the bladder 20 forms a closed, continuous, semi-rigid element of predetermined maximum inflated thickness, that defines a sidewall 36 of a case, which itself defines an object-carrying volume 11 of the case, such that in the inflated state, the sidewall 36 has four right angles and four linear side segments arranged in a generally rectangular shape, when viewed from the perspective of the top or bottom wall, with two pairs of parallel side segments of the sidewall that are perpendicular to one another, a first pair of parallel side segments of the sidewall having a first length, and a second pair of parallel side segments of the sidewall that are perpendicular to the first pair of side segments of the sidewall having a second length, which is different from the length of the first pair of parallel side segments of the sidewall, the bladder 20 being alternatively inflatable with a fluid and deflatable by the removal of the fluid therefrom, and being so constructed that it is capable of supporting a weight of objects placed in the object-carrying volume 11 of the case without substantial deformation of the outer wall of the sidewall, and such that the inner wall of the bladder 20 faces toward an interior of the case and the outer wall of the bladder 20 faces toward an exterior of the case, the bladder 20 further having a fluid inlet 12 and outlet valve 14 for respectively inflating and deflating the bladder 20; a top wall 32 and a bottom wall 34, which together with the sidewall 36, define an enclosure 11 of the case into which objects are placeable for carriage, the top and bottom walls being formed of a flexible, semi-rigid material, and each having an inner surface facing the interior of the case and an outer surface facing the exterior of the case, the top wall being detachably attached to the sidewall about at least a portion of a periphery thereof, when the sidewall is inflated and the case is assembled in an object-carrying mode; an outer fabric covering 30 that covers the inner and outer walls of the sidewall and the inner and outer surfaces of the top and bottom walls, and protects the bladder 20 from being punctured, the outer fabric covering 30 being made from a flexible, fluid-impervious and puncture-resistant material; zippered closure means 16, attached to a juncture of the top wall and the sidewall of the case and extending around a three linear side segment portion of the periphery of the juncture, such that the three linear side segments of the case around which the zippered closure means 16 extends are an upper and two side linear side segments of the top wall and the sidewall of the case, as viewed from the perspective of the top or bottom wall of the case when in an inflated state, with the case standing vertically on a fourth, lower linear side segment of the sidewall along which the zippered closure means 16 does not extend; at least one carrying handle 18, attached to the outside of the case over the outer fabric covering 30 and to the outer wall of the sidewall 36, or to the top and bottom walls of the case, for carrying the case when in the inflated state and in the object-carrying mode; a sheath 70, made from the same material as the outer fabric covering of the case, attached to the outside of the outer fabric covering 30 along a length of the bottom wall 34, through which a pulling/pushing handle 52 is insertable when the case 10 is in an inflated state and in the object-carrying mode; a telescoping pulling/pushing handle 52, having a telescoping longitudinal shaft element 57 that is insertable through the sheath 70 on the outside of the bottom wall 34 when the case is inflated in the object-carrying mode, and having a plurality of first parts of snap closures on a bracket 72 mounted transversely to the longitudinal shaft element for detachable attachment to corresponding second parts of snap closures 74 mounted on the outer fabric covering 30 of the case 10, the pulling/pushing handle further having a hand-grip 66, transverse to the longitudinal shaft element, at a proximal end 62 thereof, and at least one set screw element 59, at a distal end 61 of the longitudinal shaft of the telescoping pulling/pushing handle, for attaching the pulling/pushing handle to a wheeled rolling member 51 for the case, when the case is in the inflated object-carrying mode; and a wheeled rolling member 51 for enabling rolling movement of the case and for supporting the case when in the inflated, object-carrying mode, and to which attachment of the telescoping pulling/pushing handle is made, for enabling the case 10 to be wheeled about when in the inflated, object-carrying mode, the wheeled rolling member 51 including a pair of wheels 54 attached to an axle 56 that is rotatably mounted on a support frame 58 upon which a wall of the case is positionable; such that the case is collapsible and foldable, when in the deflated state.
  • [0101]
    Still another preferred embodiment of an article of luggage 10 according to the present invention includes: an air-tight bladder 20, made from a flexible material, the bladder 20 having a first, outer wall 22 and a second, inner wall 24, the outer and inner walls being formed alternatively from the group consisting of: two separate flat sheets of material, each having a length with a first pair of parallel sides in a longitudinal direction and a width, with a second pair of parallel sides in a transverse direction, such that the two sheets are sealed to one another in a fluid-tight manner along corresponding opposite sides of the sheets in the longitudinal direction, to form a sleeve 27 that is dual side-sealed and open-ended, with one sheet forming the outer wall of the bladder 20 and the other sheet forming the inner wall of the bladder 20; and one flat sheet of material, having a length with a first pair of parallel sides in a longitudinal direction, and a width, with a second pair of parallel sides in a transverse direction, with the sheet being folded in half along its entire length, such that opposite longitudinal ends are sealed to one another in a fluid-tight manner, along the entire length, to form a sleeve 27, that is side sealed and open-ended, with one half of the sheet forming the outer wall of the bladder 20 and the other half of the sheet forming the inner wall of the bladder 20; and with opposite transverse ends of the side-sealed, open-ended sleeve 27 formed from the one or two sheets of material in (i) or (ii) further being sealed to one another in a fluid-tight manner, to form a closed continuous sleeve bladder 20, defining a first enclosed volume internal to the sleeve 27, wherein the outer and inner walls of the bladder 20 cooperatively define a space therebetween, for enclosing a volume of an inflation fluid, the space having a maximum inflated thickness predetermined by the nature of the inner and outer wall material and the size of a space left between the inner and outer walls, and such that when inflated, the bladder 20 forms a closed, continuous, semi-rigid element of predetermined maximum inflated thickness, that defines a sidewall of a case, which itself defines a second, object-carrying volume 11 of the case, the bladder 20 being alternatively inflatable with a fluid and deflatable by the removal of the fluid therefrom, and being so constructed that it is capable of supporting a weight of objects placed in the object-carrying volume 11 of the case 10 without substantial deformation of the outer wall of the sidewall 36, and such that the inner wall of the bladder 20 faces toward an interior of the case and the outer wall of the bladder 20 faces toward an exterior of the case, the bladder 20 further having a fluid inlet 12 and outlet valve 14 for respectively inflating and deflating the bladder 20; a top wall and a bottom wall, which together with the sidewall 36, define an enclosure 11 of the case into which objects are placeable for carriage, the top and bottom walls being formed of a flexible, semi-rigid material, and each having an inner surface facing the interior of the case and an outer surface facing the exterior of the case 10, the top wall 32 being detachably attached to the sidewall 36 about at least a portion of a periphery thereof, when the sidewall36 is inflated and the case is assembled in an object-carrying mode; an outer fabric covering 30 that covers the inner and outer walls of the sidewall and the inner and outer surfaces of the top and bottom walls, and protects the bladder 20 from being punctured, the outer fabric covering being made from a flexible, fluid-impervious and puncture-resistant material; at least one closure means 16, alternatively openable and closeable, for allowing access to the object-carrying volume 11 of the case when in the inflated state; carrying means 18 attached to the outside of the case 10 over the outer fabric covering 30 and to the outer wall of the sidewall 36, for carrying the case when it is inflated in the object-carrying mode; and means for pulling or pushing the case along the ground when it is inflated in the object-carrying mode.
  • [0102]
    In any of the above preferred embodiments, the telescoping pushing/pulling handle 52 alternatively can be a single longitudinal post telescoping handle or a dual longitudinal post telescoping handle.
  • [0103]
    Inflated articles of luggage 10 according to the present invention are buoyant in water, especially when emptied of contents. Accordingly, such inflated articles of luggage 10 can be utilized as emergency flotation devices.
  • [0104]
    The embodiments of an article of inflatable luggage according to the present invention described hereinabove are illustrative and are not intended to be limiting. Other embodiments of an article of luggage according to the present invention will be readily apparent to persons of ordinary skill in the art. The scope of the present invention is determined by the set of claims that follow.
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Referenced by
Citing PatentFiling datePublication dateApplicantTitle
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Classifications
U.S. Classification190/18.00A, 383/3, 206/522
International ClassificationB65D81/02, B65D30/00, A45C5/14
Cooperative ClassificationA45C7/0081
European ClassificationA45C7/00D3G
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Mar 15, 2006ASAssignment
Owner name: BBS LICENSING, INC., NEW YORK
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:SADOW, BERNARD D.;REEL/FRAME:017648/0158
Effective date: 20060314