US 20070224025 A1
A wheelchair lift having a logic module which provides several interlocks that promote proper operation is described. Also, a wheelchair lift having an arm geometry which requires a lower peak force for operation is described.
1. A lift for raising and lowering a load between a ground level and a floor level, the lift comprising:
a platform configured for carrying a passenger;
a mounting structure configured to move the platform between a ground level position, a floor level position and a stowed position;
at least one sensor attached to the lift configured to produce a signal in response to a lift condition; and
a logic module configured to control operation of the lift in response to a level of the signal from the sensor.
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26. A method for operating a lift, comprising:
providing a platform configured for moving between a ground level position, a floor level position and a stowed position;
receiving a signal from a sensor associated with the lift; and
controlling operation of the lift in response to a level of the signal received by the sensor.
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detecting whether a restraint belt associated with the platform is fastened; and
preventing initiating movement of the platform from between the ground level position and the floor level position if the set value is exceeded and the restraint belt is not fastened.
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stopping movement of the platform from between the ground level position and the floor level position if the signal level reaches the set value and the restraint belt is not fastened.
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This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/954,697, filed on Sep. 29, 2004 entitled “Wheelchair Lift”, which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/251,433 filed on Sep. 20, 2002 entitled “Wheelchair Lift Device”, now U.S. Pat. No. 6,705,824, which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/675,318 filed on Sep. 29, 2000 entitled “Wheelchair Lift Device”, now U.S. Pat. No. 6,461,097, each of which is incorporated by reference herein.
1. Field of the Invention
The present invention is directed to a wheelchair lift. More specifically, the present invention is directed to a wheelchair lift with interlocks that promote proper operation. The present invention is also directed towards a wheelchair lift which requires a lower peak force for operation.
2. State of the Art
Wheelchair lifts raise and lower a wheelchair and/or passenger to and from vehicles. Wheelchair lifts are typically mounted in a doorway of a vehicle with a lift mechanism and have a platform that raises and lowers the wheelchair and/or passenger between the ground and the vehicle. A common wheelchair lift design uses a mounting structure comprising a parallelogram design having two sets of lift arms arranged in a parallelogram or near-parallelogram arrangement on either side of the platform. Other designs may include mounting structures having sliding arrangements such as where the platform is horizontally stowed adjacent to the vehicle bed and slid-out to a raising and lowering position.
Wheelchair lifts may use hydraulic actuators to provide the lifting force to move the platform. In certain situations, the use of electric actuators may provide certain features which are desirable to wheelchair lifts. For example, electric actuators may provide variable speed control. However, an electric actuator of a given force rating will cost more than a hydraulic actuator of the same force rating.
What is needed is a wheelchair lift with interlocks that promote proper operation. What is also needed is a wheelchair lift which requires a lower peak force for operation, to permit the practical use of electric actuators.
The present invention overcomes the problems of the prior art by providing a wheelchair lift having a logic module that provides several interlocks to promote proper and safe operation. The logic module may also be programmed to enable efficient user interface and to compensate for variations in lift operation parameters.
Other and further features and advantages of the present invention will be apparent from the following descriptions of the various embodiments when read in conjunction with the accompanying drawings. It will be understood by one of ordinary skill in the art that the following embodiments are provided for illustrative and exemplary purposes only, and that numerous combinations of the elements of the various embodiments of the present invention are possible.
In the drawings, which illustrate what is currently considered to be a preferred embodiment for carrying out the invention:
Wheelchair lift 100 also includes a platform 111 coupled to vertical arm 116. Platform 111 is kept in a substantially level position by a platform stop 129 (
A logic module 200 provides several interlocks that promote the proper operation of wheelchair lift 100. Logic module 200 is described in greater detail below. A visual alarm 132 provides a visual alert when wheelchair lift 100 is in use, and/or when a specific event occurs such as a mechanical or safety related condition preventing operation of wheelchair lift 100 (e.g., weight is detected on threshold plate 130). In a preferred embodiment, two visual alarms 132 are coupled to frame 117, or otherwise coupled directly to wheelchair lift 100. Audio alarms such as a siren or buzzer may also be included to provide audible alerts that wheelchair lift 100 is in use, or if there is a condition preventing wheelchair lift 100 from being operated.
In another embodiment, audio alarms may be in the form of voice notifications or commands, which may be used to notify a lift operator or passenger of a specific condition or to give instruction to take a responsive action. Such voice-based alarms may be especially desirable, by way of example, when the operator's view of a portion of the lift is obstructed, or when a passenger is sight impaired and requires verbal notifications to be aware of lift events. Non-limiting examples of specific verbal alarms may include notifying a passenger when to enter and exit the platform, that it is safe for the operator to proceed with raising or lowering the lift, or that some specific part of the lift requires attention before operation may take place.
A platform light 134 attached to vertical arm 116 illuminates platform 111 when wheelchair lift 100 is used in poor light conditions. In a preferred embodiment, two platform lights 134 are connected to each vertical arm 116, or otherwise coupled directly to wheelchair lift 100.
As mentioned above, logic module 200 provides several interlocks that promote the proper operation of wheelchair lift 100. Logic module 200 is capable of receiving feedback from various sensors located throughout wheelchair lift 100 and controlling the operation of wheelchair lift 100 accordingly. Logic module 200 is connected to sensors which detect the positions of platform 111, upper arm 114, lower arm 115, inboard roll stop 126, inboard roll stop actuator 128, outboard roll stop 119 and threshold pressure plate 130, as well as whether restraint belt 127 is fastened. These sensors may include ammeters, voltmeters, limit switches, weight sensors, optical sensors, ultrasound sensors, pressure mats, pressure switches, pressure transducers, linear encoding devices such as variable resistors, and any other suitable sensors. Logic module 200 includes a microprocessor and software, and uses data from these sensors to control lift actuator 118 and inboard roll stop actuator 128. Logic module 200 may also detect pressure levels, voltage levels, faulty connections or other conditions that are relevant to the operation of lift components such as lift actuator 118 and inboard roll stop actuator 128.
As illustrated in
Logic module 200 is capable of sending an interlock signal to the vehicle which is capable of interacting with the vehicle to prevent forward and rearward movement of the vehicle when wheelchair lift 100 is not in the stowed position. Logic module 200 is also capable of preventing unstowing and/or operation of wheelchair lift 100 unless an interlock signal is received from the vehicle, indicating, for example, that the vehicle transmission is in the park position and the vehicle parking brake has been set. Logic module 200 is also capable of stopping wheelchair lift 100 if: wheelchair lift 100 is overloaded, platform 111 is occupied when a FOLD command is received, resistance is encountered when wheelchair lift 100 is being stowed, outboard roll stop 119 is lowered when platform 111 is more than three inches above the ground, restraint belt 127 is not fastened, and threshold plate 130 is occupied when platform 111 is below the floor level position.
Logic module 200 raises and lowers inboard roll stop 126 at the appropriate points during operation of wheelchair lift 100. Before platform 111 is lowered from the floor level position, logic module 200 raises inboard roll stop 126. After platform 111 is raised to the floor level position, logic module lowers inboard roll stop 126. Logic module 200 will check the position of inboard roll stop 126 or inboard roll stop actuator 128 and raise inboard roll stop 126 if necessary before moving platform 111, regardless of the position of platform 111. This prevents inboard roll stop 126 from damaging the vehicle when inboard roll stop 126 is in a partially lowered position after repairs or any other reason while platform 111 is below the floor level position.
As shown in the embodiment illustrated by
Logic module 200 is capable of preventing wheelchair lift 100 from being stowed when platform 111 is still occupied. As can be seen in
Logic module 200 may also be capable of preventing wheelchair lift 100 from being stowed when platform 111 encounters resistance due to possible jamming of the lift apparatus. According to this embodiment, logic module 200 is programmed with a maximum pressure or amperage allowed for lift actuator 118 for stowing platform 111. When a FOLD command is received, logic module 200 may read the pressure or amperage on lift actuator 118 while platform 111 is rotated. If logic module 200 detects that the pressure or amperage required for lift actuator 118 increases a predetermined level beyond the maximum (e.g. an increase in pressure of 200 PSI), logic module 200 will stop platform 111 from rotating. Because the weight of platform 111 will be redistributed as it rotates, a higher pressure or amperage will be required when initiating the stowing operation than when finishing the stowing operation. Accordingly, maximum value for pressure or amperage required of lift actuator 118 may be programmed in logic module 200 as an adjustable curve.
In a further embodiment, logic module 200 is capable of preventing wheelchair lift 100 from lifting platform 111 from the ground to the floor level position when it is overloaded or encounters jamming resistance. As described above with respect to
According to another embodiment, logic module 200 is capable of stopping wheelchair lift 100 from raising or lowering platform 111 in response to the UP or DOWN commands when restraint belt 127 is not fastened. If restraint belt 127 becomes unfastened after raising and lowering operations have already commenced, logic module 200 may optionally be programmed to continue the operation and activate visual alarms 132 or an audio alarm until restraint belt 127 is refastened. In an alternative embodiment, logic module 200 may be programmed to stop wheelchair lift 100 from raising or lowering platform 111 only if it detects that platform 111 is occupied (e.g., the sensors indicate a weight of over 50 pounds is resting on platform 111).
The above described interlocks may be further optimized by programming logic module 200 to compensate for additional factors that may affect lift operations. Depending on atmospheric conditions or the age of the wheelchair lift 100, for example, the pressure or amperage required for lift actuator 118 to perform lifting and stowing operations may change over time. According to one embodiment, logic module 200 may adjust its maximum values by tracking changes in average pressure or amperage required to perform operations over time. The adjustment may be based on an average value for pressure or amperage of successful lift or stowing operations only, thereby eliminating any errors that might be introduced by failed operations. As another example, the initial pressure on lift actuator 118 when carrying out the stowing operation may vary depending on whether platform 111 arrived at the floor level position by being raised from the ground position or being unfolded from the stowed position. If platform 111 is unfolded and then refolded without raising and lowering, the pressure on lift 118 may be 30 to 40 PSI higher, for example. In order to compensate for this difference, logic module may be programmed to use a different maximum fold pressure based on the previous lift operation. Logic module 200 may also be programmed to compensate for other factors such as battery voltage level. When determining whether to prevent stowage because lift 100 is occupied, for example, a low battery voltage level may affect the sensor reading that determines whether the 50 pound weight limit is being exceeded. According to a further embodiment of the present invention, logic module may therefore take into consideration the battery voltage level when reading the weight sensed on platform 111.
BATTERY VOLTS indicates the vehicle battery charge level. Logic module 200 may display a low battery indicator when the vehicle battery charge level is below, for example, 12.4 volts. Logic module 200 may also prevent wheelchair lift 100 from being unstowed or lowered when the vehicle battery charge level is below, for example, 12.2 volts. PRESSURE indicates the pressure from lift actuator 118 in an embodiment where lift actuator 118 is a hydraulic cylinder. BUS INTERLOCK is an indicator from the vehicle to logic module 200 that wheelchair lift 100 can be operated. For example, BUS INTERLOCK may indicate that the vehicle transmission is in the park setting and that the vehicle parking brake has been set. LIFT INTERLOCK is an indicator from logic module 200 to the vehicle that the vehicle can be operated. For example, LIFT INTERLOCK may indicate that wheelchair lift 100 is fully stowed.
STOW SWITCH indicates whether wheelchair lift 100 is in the fully stowed position. STOW SWITCH may be a sensor that detects the position of upper arm 114 and/or lower arm 115. LOWERING SWITCH indicates whether platform 111 is at or below the floor level position. LOWERING SWITCH may be a sensor that detects the position of upper arm 114 and/or lower arm 115. PRESSURE SWITCH indicates whether there is a weight on platform 111 before platform 111 can be stowed. PRESSURE SWITCH may be a pressure switch connected to lift actuator 118 and may be set, for example, to 50 pounds. OUTBOARD SWITCH indicates whether outboard roll stop 119 is raised. BELT SWITCH indicates whether restraint belt 127 has been fastened. FOLDING SWITCH indicates whether platform 111 is above the floor level position. MAT SWITCH indicates whether threshold plate 130 is occupied. GROUND SWITCH indicates whether wheelchair lift 100 is in the ground position. EXTRA SWITCH is reserved for other features or interlocks.
RAISE will raise platform 111. If lift actuator 118 is a hydraulic actuator, logic module 200 will turn on the pump motor for lift actuator 118. LOWER will lower platform 111. If lift actuator 118 is a hydraulic actuator, logic module 200 will open the hydraulic valve for lift actuator 118. FOLD will stow platform 111. If lift actuator 118 is a hydraulic actuator, logic module 200 will turn on the pump motor for lift actuator 118 in series with a resistor to provide a slower rate of motion. UNFOLD will unstow platform 111. If lift actuator 118 is a hydraulic actuator, logic module 200 will open the hydraulic valve for lift actuator 118. BEACON LIGHTS will turn on visual alarm 132 while wheelchair lift 100 is in operation. AUDIO BUZZER will turn on audio alarms while wheelchair lift 100 is in operation and/or if an interlock stops wheelchair lift 100. PLATFORM LIGHTS will turn on platform lights 134 while wheelchair lift 100 is at or below the floor level position. UNLATCH will unlatch hooks which hold wheelchair lift 100 in the stowed position. ACTUATOR+ will raise inboard roll stop 126, while ACTUATOR− will lower inboard roll stop 126.
When a command associated with buttons 240 is received from the user, micro-controller 210 first looks at the state of analog inputs 220 and switch inputs 230 to check that all conditions have been satisfied for the particular command. Only after all the proper conditions have been satisfied for the particular command, will micro-controller 210 send the proper output signals 250 to effect the command. For example, when an UP command is received from the user, micro-controller 210 will first check the inputs to see: (1) whether BUS INTERLOCK indicates that operate wheelchair lift 100 can be operated, (2) whether BATTERY VOLTS indicates there is sufficient battery voltage from the vehicle battery, (3) whether OUTBOARD SWITCH indicates that outboard roll stop 119 is raised when platform 111 is greater than, for example, three inches above the ground, (4) whether inboard roll stop 126 is raised by sending a signal to inboard roll stop actuator 128, (5) whether BELT SWITCH indicates that restraint belt 127 is fastened, and (6) whether MAT SWITCH indicates that threshold plate 130 is not occupied. Only after these conditions for an UP command are satisfied, will micro-controller 210 send the suitable signals that make up an UP command. For example, an UP command may include: (1) turning on BEACON LIGHTS, (2) turning on AUDIO BUZZER, (3) turning on PLATFORM LIGHTS, (4) sending a RAISE output to cause lift actuators 118 to raise platform 111 to the floor level position, (5) sending an ACTUATOR− output to lower inboard roll stop 126, and (6) turning off AUDIO BUZZER.
Logic module 200 may also be programmed to provide additional features which enhance the operation of wheelchair lift 100.
According to one embodiment of the present invention, logic module 200 may be programmed to adjust operation based on the types of sensors used to provide feedback for control of wheelchair lift 100. Sensors comprising pressure transducers, for example, may provide different levels of feedback to logic module 200 based on the scale (i.e. voltage output to pressure ratio) for the type of transducer used. Logic module 200 may be programmed to receive and store the scale value for a given transducer, and adjust operation as required. Scale value or other sensor variables may be entered into logic module 200 using keypad 270 of control pendant 205, or may be entered using other inputs such as by interface 212. Under this embodiment, different sensors may be incorporated into wheelchair lift 100 during the course of manufacturing and maintenance without affecting control of lift operation. It also enables logic module 200 to be recalibrated to compensate for changes in sensor feedback caused by normal wear and tear during the lifetime of a lift.
Where lift actuators 118 are hydraulic actuators, logic module 200 may be programmed to run the pump motors for lift actuators 118 for a small additional period of time after wheelchair lift 100 is fully stowed. This has the effect of pressurizing lift actuators 118 and minimizing or preventing rattling of wheelchair lift 100 in the stowed position. Logic module 200 may also be programmed to pressurize hydraulic actuators at certain time intervals or upon certain events to keep lift actuators 118 pressurized when wheelchair lift 100 is not being used. For example, logic module 200 may pressurize hydraulic actuators every time the vehicle is started, or use pressure sensor feedback to pressurize hydraulic actuators when the pressure has dropped below a certain value (e.g. below 900 PSI for lift actuators 118 when platform 111 is in the fully stowed position). According to one embodiment, it may be desirable to configure logic module 200 to pressurize hydraulic actuators only when the vehicle is on in order to avoid draining the vehicle battery.
Logic module 200 may be programmed to shut off wheelchair lift 100 if an out-of-range voltage is detected, thus acting as a programmable fuse to prevent damage to wheelchair lift 100.
Logic module 200 is capable of preventing wheelchair lift 100 from being operated when the vehicle battery charge level has dropped too low to prevent the vehicle battery from being drained to a point where the vehicle cannot start.
Logic module 200 is capable of recording the number of lift cycles and stow cycles. The definition of a lift cycle and a stow cycles may be changed as needed. For example, a lift cycle may be defined as one full trip from the ground position to the floor level position, regardless of how far platform 111 has actually traveled. Logic module 200 may also be capable of calculating the total amount of work performed by wheelchair lift 100, given the distance traveled by platform 111 and the weight carried.
As discussed above, logic module 200 includes a visual display 260 for displaying a variety information. Visual display 260 may be an LCD display or any other suitable display. Visual display 260 may assist the user in operation of wheelchair lift 100 by providing instructions, indicating the current command being performed, indicating the current status of wheelchair lift 100, highlighting conditions that must be satisfied before wheelchair lift 100 can be operated, and suggesting certain actions such as starting the engine to recharge the battery. Logic module 200 may be programmed to include options for the language in which to output instructions or command information to visual display 260, so that users may select between, for example, Spanish and English. In one embodiment of the present invention, information on visual display 260 may be accessed and responded to through the use of keypad 270.
Visual display 260 may assist in the maintenance of wheelchair lift 100 by displaying the number of lift cycles and stow cycles and suggesting maintenance to be performed. According to one embodiment of the present invention, microcontroller 210 may be programmed to output to visual display 260 alphanumeric codes that correspond to information such as number of cycles or total amount of work performed. The codes may then be used to evaluate requirements like scheduled maintenance or compliance with warranty requirements, without having to directly review data recorded in logic module 200. A single code may also be correlated to relate to multiple aspects of the lift operational history. In this manner, tracking and verification of lift status may be simplified. According to a further embodiment, a chart in the form of a decal, etc. may be attached to the lift to include information providing instructions relating to the alphanumeric codes, such as to call the lift vendor for assistance.
Visual display 260 may similarly assist in diagnostics and troubleshooting by, for example, indicating the vehicle battery charge level, indicating temperatures of motors or pumps, and displaying error messages. Visual display 260 may also be used during manufacturing, assembly, and maintenance of wheelchair lift 100 to aid in adjustment and calibration of the various components of wheelchair lift 100. For example, microcontroller 260 may be programmed to output to visual display 260 information about the above-described pressure, amperage and voltage compensation settings, as well as sensor information such as transducer scale.
Wheelchair lift 100 may include a battery backup system. The battery backup system allows wheelchair lift 100 to be operated when other sources of power are not available or have failed. The battery backup system exists in addition to a manual backup system, which may include a hand crank, hand pump, or other manually operated devices for operating wheelchair lift 100.
Lift actuator 118 may be a hydraulic actuator or an electrical actuator. Electrical actuators include screw drives, rack and pinion drives, and other actuators such as Electrak® ball bearing screw drives manufactured by Danaher Motion Linear Products, Marengo, Ill. The use of electrical actuators allow for variable speed control of the raising and lowering of wheelchair lift 100. Electrical actuators may reduce the number of external sensors needed to determine the position of wheelchair lift 100 by providing feedback from sensors such as integrated potentiometers or optical sensors. The electrical characteristics of electrical actuators may be used to implement interlocks. For example, an out-of-range voltage detected from electrical actuators while platform 111 is being lowered may indicate that an object is obstructing platform 111 from lowering, thus acting as an anti-crushing feature. An out-of-range voltage may also indicate that platform 111 has reached the ground, thus acting as an anti-jacking feature. As another example, an out-of-range voltage detected from electrical actuators while platform 111 is at floor level and while stowing of platform 111 is being attempted may indicate that platform 111 is still occupied, thus acting as an occupied platform interlock. Electrical actuators also allow for control of the wheelchair lift during lowering, instead of relying on the “gravity down” operation of hydraulic actuators. Electrical actuators may also allow wheelchair lift 100 to be held tightly in the stowed position without unstowing, rattling, or shaking. Electrical actuators also provide consistent performance over temperature changes and do not leak.
This lift arm geometry reduces the distance between the point where upper arm 114 couples to frame 117 and to the point where lower arm 115 couples to vertical arm 116 as the lift arms are passing through a horizontal position.
This lift arm geometry reduces the peak force needed from lift actuator 118. The reduced peak force required makes this lift arm geometry suitable for use with electrical actuators, which may not be able to generate as much force as hydraulic actuators of comparable cost. However, hydraulic actuators may still be used and benefit similarly from this lift arm geometry.
Although the above examples have described wheelchair lift 100 in the context of carrying a wheelchair and/or a passenger, wheelchair lift 100 may be used in other applications. Wheelchair lift 100 may be used in the same or modified form to be attached to different parts of a vehicle and to carry other types of payloads. Rather than having a mounting structure comprising a parallelogram design as illustrated, for example, wheelchair lift 100 may comprise another design such as a sliding assembly.
While the invention is described in terms of some specific examples and embodiments, it will be clear that this invention is not limited to these specific examples and embodiments and that many changes and modified embodiments will be obvious to those skilled in the art without departing from the true spirit and scope of the invention.