CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
The present application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/785,133, filed Mar. 23, 2006, herein incorporated by reference.
Product marketing strategies often involve providing prospective customers with free product samples in the hope that those who sample the product will be induced to buy it. The delivery of free product samples has been achieved in numerous ways. For example, single sample units have been mailed to prospective customers.
Single sample units have also been provided to prospective customers at a point of sale with the hope that a sample will induce the individual into an immediate sale of the sampled product. Such point of sale samples have been traditionally provided by a product representative or marketing personnel. The presence of such a person at the sample point of sale is advantageous for a number of reasons, one being that the sample provider can manage and control the distribution of the samples and prevent a dishonest person from improperly taking a large number of them. This preserves samples for other prospective customers.
However, the presence of a product representative, marketing personnel, or sales person, while advantageous for a number of reasons, can be costly, and is not warranted in every situation. However, without a person physically present to control the distribution, it is possible that a dishonest person could improperly take a large number of samples and deprive other potential customers from sampling the product.
DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
According to various embodiments of the present invention, a mechanism is provided that restricts access to product samples that utilizes a timer. Access to the product is only permitted at certain timed intervals and thereby a dishonest user would find it much more difficult to improperly take a large number of samples.
The invention is described with reference to various preferred embodiments shown in the drawings and described in the following text.
FIG. 1A is an isometric line drawing of an embodiment of the product dispenser;
FIG. 1B is a pictorial illustration showing the embodiment of the product dispenser shown in FIG. 1A that is loaded with product samples and has advertising affixed to the exterior; and
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
FIG. 2 is a pictorial schematic diagram of the product access locking mechanism.
FIGS. 1A and 1B illustrate a simple embodiment of the present product dispenser 10, which comprises a product storage area 20 or bin in which product samples 50 are stacked. Ideally, the sizes for samples of various products can be standardized so that a reconfiguration of the storage area 20 is not required when changing products, or the size can be optimized so that it can properly hold a large range of different product sizes. In the embodiment shown, a two-chambered storage area 20 is provided in which two chambers 22 are separated by a partition 24. In a preferred embodiment, the storage area 20 is made of a clear material to allow the product packaging to show through.
Any practical configuration, however, could be used for such a storage area, including variations on the number of chambers and sizes of respective chambers. In a preferred embodiment that is made for marketing a wide range of pre-packaged consumable goods, each of the two chambers 22 are dimensioned as 2⅞×3½×34⅞.
When product samples are stacked in the storage area 20, they may be accessed via the product access area 30 by the user. In its simplest form, the dispenser 10 is designed to operate in a gravity feed manner so that a sample 50 is always available in the product access area 30.
The access area 30 is designed such that it has a tray 32 into which a single product sample is provided by the gravity feed mechanism. By default, a tray cover 34 covers the tray 32. When the dispenser 10 is in an accessible mode, the user can move the tray cover 34 which, e.g., pivots around a product cover pivot axle 40 to access the sample 50 in the tray 32. When the dispenser 10 is in an inaccessible mode, the tray cover 34 is locked so that it cannot be moved or pivoted, thereby preventing access. Tray dimensions in a preferred embodiment are 7½″×5″.
A product restrictor mechanism 34′, such as a blocking or trap door, may be implemented that prevents the user from accessing more than one product when the tray access cover 34 is opened. Such a door is well-known in the arts and operates to be in an open position permitting the product to drop into the tray 32 when the access cover 34 is closed, but then swinging into position to close off the storage area 20 from access when the access cover 34 is open. This could also serve as the mechanism that allows a sample to be provided in the tray 32 when the door is opened.
More elaborate mechanisms can be provided, but are not necessary for the purposes of the invention. For example, any system that utilizes a controller for actuating electrical and electro-mechanical components for release of the product may be utilized as well and controlled in a precise manner. Other forms of mechanical restrictors that hold additional samples out of reach until the door is closed may be utilized. It is also possible to simply provide an alarm that could sound if the cover 34 remains open for too long of a period of time, suggesting that a customer may be taking more than one sample. This alarm could be implemented in a graded form to increase in volume over time. Some form of flashing alarm could also be implemented.
FIG. 2 illustrates an embodiment of the locking mechanism 100 that is utilized to control access. In this embodiment, the tray cover 34 is mounted to the product cover pivot axle 40, which is generally free to rotate. However, the pivot axle 40 also comprises a cutout 42, illustrated by example here as a 90° notch, that is configured to engage with a locking mechanism 140 that may be configured as an engaging arm or dog and having an engaging portion 142 to engage with the cutout 42 and prevent rotation of the axle 40.
It can be seen that when the locking mechanism 140 in the illustrated embodiment has its engaging end 142 engaging the notch 42, the axle 40 will not be able to turn. However, if the locking mechanism 140 is moved a sufficient amount, e.g., by rotation about a pivot axis 144, then the axle 40 will be free to rotate. The invention, however, is not limited to this specific configuration and may utilized any mechanism for preventing an opening of the access cover, including any form of interferential, frictional, or other mechanism.
One mechanism for controllably moving the locking mechanism 140, is a pneumatic device. FIG. 2 illustrates an intake 110 at which a pneumatic hose is attached. The pneumatic motion transducer 120 is able to move the locking mechanism 140 from its engaged and disengaged positions via its attachment at a connection point 130 to the locking mechanism 140. The pneumatic motion transducer 120 could also be implemented by any form of motion transducer (e.g., electro-mechanical, hydraulic, etc.).
In this embodiment, applying or not applying air at the intake 110 controls whether the locking mechanism is engaged or disengaged. A biasing mechanism 150 may be applied to provide a bias in either the locking mechanism 140, the axle 40 or both. Such a biasing mechanism may comprise a spring on a post 152.
According to an important aspect of the embodiments, the pneumatic control is engaged and disengaged according to a timer sequence that is cycled, based on control circuitry 172 that is supplied. Since the goal is to permit timed access to a single product unit, the cover 34 is locked in a closed position for some portion of the cycle (e.g., 20 seconds, 1 minute, etc.) after an access is detected, and then allowed to be opened after the locked portion timer has expired. This prevents a user from repeatedly opening and closing the dispenser 10 to access additional samples, at least in an efficient and timely manner. Each time the cover 34 is opened, the user must wait for the predetermined period of time before the cover 34 can be opened again. As noted above, a configuration may be provided that limits access to the number of product samples obtainable with each opening of the cover 34.
The control circuitry 172 can be implemented in a very simple manner (e.g., with dedicated IC timers and flip-flop circuits) or in a complex manner, involving the inclusion of a microprocessor. A power supply 170 may be included, and can be implemented as, e.g., batteries for a completely self-contained unit, although the unit could easily be designed to work on external power.
According to an embodiment of the invention, an indicator light 160 is provided on the dispenser 10 so that a customer will know that the dispenser 10 is locked, but that the product samples will be accessible in some short amount of time. A label located on the dispenser 10 could indicate how long the user should wait before attempting another access. Alternately, an inexpensive countdown timer could be provided to indicate precisely how long the user should wait before trying to access the sample again.
In a further embodiment of the invention, a coupon dispenser is provided on the product dispenser 10 itself, permitting the user to access both a product sample and an associated coupon at the same time.
As noted above, an indicator light 160 may be provided. A blue or green indicator, e.g., could be utilized to indicate that the dispenser is available to dispense another product (by, for example, unlocking the door so that it could be lifted), or, e.g., a red indicator could be utilized to indicate that access to additional samples is restricted. Any form of indicator could be used in this manner. Additionally, a tag or sticker could be provided that would explain the significance of the indicator (e.g., “lift door when blue light is lit”).
- REFERENCE CHARACTERS
For the purposes of promoting an understanding of the principles of the invention, reference has been made to the preferred embodiments illustrated in the drawings, and specific language has been used to describe these embodiments. However, no limitation of the scope of the invention is intended by this specific language, and the invention should be construed to encompass all embodiments that would normally occur to one of ordinary skill in the art. The particular implementations shown and described herein are illustrative examples of the invention and are not intended to otherwise limit the scope of the invention in any way. For the sake of brevity, conventional electronics, control systems, software development and other functional aspects of the systems (and components of the individual operating components of the systems) may not be described in detail. Furthermore, the connecting lines, or connectors shown in the various figures presented are intended to represent exemplary functional relationships and/or physical or logical couplings between the various elements. It should be noted that many alternative or additional functional relationships, physical connections or logical connections may be present in a practical device. Moreover, no item or component is essential to the practice of the invention unless the element is specifically described as “essential” or “critical”. Numerous modifications and adaptations will be readily apparent to those skilled in this art without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention.
- 10 product dispenser
- 20 product storage area
- 22 storage chamber
- 24 storage partition
- 30 product access area
- 32 product access tray
- 34 product access cover
- 34′ product restrictor mechanism
- 40 product cover pivot axle
- 42 axle cutout
- 50 product
- 100 product access locking mechanism
- 110 pneumatic intake
- 120 pneumatic motion transducer
- 130 pneumatic transducer connection
- 140 locking mechanism/engaging arm
- 142 engaging end of locking mechanism
- 144 engaging arm pivot axis
- 150 biasing mechanism
- 152 bias spring post
- 160 indicator light
- 170 power supply
- 172 control circuitry