US 3812546 A
A self-inflatable life preserver including an inflatable annular tube which is stored in a deflated condition within a generally spherical shell suitable for throwing by hand over considerable distances. A pressurized fluid container is positioned within the inflatable tube and is actuated by a trigger mechanism biased toward a first position allowing the pressurized fluid to fill the annular tube; the trigger mechanism being normally held in a second position by a liquid deterioratable strap wrapped about the exterior of the tube. The spherical shell is provided with a number of holes for allowing a liquid (e.g. water) to pass into the shell upon the occurrence of which the strap deteriorates allowing the valve actuator to move to its first position inflating the deflated tube causing the spherical shell to split apart and separate from the inflated preserver.
Claims available in
Description (OCR text may contain errors)
United States Patent [191 l [111 3,812,546
Witte May 28, 1974 l SELF-INFLATABLE LIFE PRESERVER APPARATUS Primary Examiner-Milton Buchler st n m i qrrBaul .E sau rer Attorney, Agent, or FirmMerchant, Gould, Smith &  Inventor: John R. Witte, P.O. Box 293,
Homer, Minn. 55942  ABSTRACT A self-inflatable life preserver including an inflatable annular tube which is stored in a deflated condition within a generally spherical shell suitable for throwing by hand over considerable distances. A pressurized 221 Filed: Junel2, 1972 211 App]. No: 261,650
 US. Cl. 9/319, 222/3 fluid container is positioned within the inflatable tube  Int. Cl. B63c 9/18 and is actuated by a trigger mechanism biased toward  Field of Search 222/3; 3 first position allowing the pressurized fluid to fill the F327, 40 annular tube; the trigger mechanism being normally held in a second position by a liquid deterioratable strap wrapped about the exterior of the tube. The
 References Cited spherical shell is provided with a number of holes for UNITED STATES PATENTS allowing a liquid (e.g. water) to pass into the shell upon the occurrence of which the strap deteriorates 3,242,514 3/1966 Waters 9/318 3,2 3 19 Davis 9 3 X allowing the valve actuator to move to its first position 3,355,751 12/1967 McGroarty 9/323 inflating the deflated tube causing the spherical shell 3,693,202 I972 Ohtani 9/317 to split apart and separate from the inflated preserver.
7 Claims 8 Drawing liigures Z5 Z7 Z6 4 /3b l n SELF-INFLATABLE LIFE PRESERVER APPARATUS BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION Field of the Invention The present invention pertains to self-inflatable life preserver apparatus.
Cross Reference to Related Patents See my co-pending US. Pat. application Ser. No. 801,079 now US. Pat. No. 3,682,354.
Description of the Prior Art The self-inflatable life preservers which are commercially available at the present time have numerous design features in common. Typically, these preservers include an inflatable toroidal-shaped tube or annular ring which is stored in a deflated condition within a generally hollow spherical shell. The positioning of the inflatable tube within the spherical shell allows the preserver unit to be conveniently stored and transported as well as allowing the preserver to be thrown easily and'accurately over considerable distances. To inflate the tube at the desired moment (i.e., upon contact with water), a valve-operated compressed air container is provided. A trigger mechanism operates the compressed air container to inflate the annular tube upon the actuation of the trigger mechanism. It is, of course, highly desirable to prevent premature inflation of the tube, but at the same time it is essential to assure proper inflation when the shell encasing the inflatable tube is thrown into a body of water.
Before the discovery of the invention disclosed and claimed in my co-pending US. Pat. application Ser. No. 801,079, it was common practice to maintain the trigger mechanism in an inactive position by having the mechanism engage a pellet of water soluble material. However, the utilization of such pellets was undesirable for numerous reasons. First, the water soluble pellet had a tendency to crumble during the storage of the life preserver causing accidental actuation of the trigger mechanism and, thus, premature inflation of the preserver. Also, the pellets frequently crumbled when exposed to a force such as occurs when the spherical shell encasing the inflatable tube is inadvertently dropped. On the other hand, the pellets tended to become extremely hardened and insoluble when stored at a location having a relatively low humidity. This resulted in retarded or complete failure of the preserver to inflate.
The utilization of a liquid deterioratable strap as described in my above-mentioned Patent Application significantly reduces the problems previously encountered with the use of water soluble pellets. However, as in all prior art preserver units, the compressed air container in my previous design was mounted on the exterior of the inflatable tube and an opening was provided in the tube to allow passage 'of compressed air from the container .into the tube. Such a design presented considerable difficulty in obtaining a proper seal between the container and the annular tube. Additionally, the compressed air container projected undesirably outward from the inflated tube interfering with the handleability of the tube as well as presenting an esthetically unpleasant appearance. Finally, while my previous trigger mechanism was essentially fail-proof it was not as readily manufactured and assembled'as is desirable.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION The present invention provides self-inflatable life preserver apparatus in the form of an inflatable body (e.g. a toroidal-shaped tube or ring) having a valveoperated compressed fluid container positioned within the body. Valve actuating means are associated with the compressed fluid container and are normally biased toward a first position for actuating the valve-operated container so as to fill the inflatable tube with compressed air. To maintain the inflatable tube in its deflated condition, liquid deteriorative strap means are positioned on the exterior of the inflatable tube and engage the valve actuating means to nonnally maintain the actuating means in a second position. Upon exposure of the strap means to a liquid (e.g. water), the strap means deteriorate allowing the actuating means to move to its first position causing inflation of the inflatable ring. In the preferred embodiment, the inflatable ring is encased in a deflated condition within a split, generally hollow shell having at least one opening therein communicating between the exterior of the shell and its hollow interior. Upon introduction of a liquid into the shell, the ring is inflated causing the shell to split apart allowing full inflation of the ring.
The present life preserver apparatus considerably reduces the manufacturing and assembly costs heretofore involved in constructing a self-inflatable life preserver; the positioning of the compressed fluid container within the inflatable ring eliminating the previously encountered difficulties in obtaining a proper seal between the ring and a container mounted on the exterior of the ring. Additionally, the valve actuating means provided by my invention has been found to actuate faster than the presently available preservers. Also, the present design is extremely reliable having essentially eliminated the occurrence of premature inflation while assuring proper inflation 0f the preserver ring upon contact of the spherical shell with a liquid. Other advantages of my invention will become apparent from a reading of the Detailed Description which follows.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the hollow, generally spherical shell provided by the present invention for housing the inflatable life preserver ring;
FIG. 2 is a cross sectional view through the spherical shell of FIG. 1 having portions thereof broken away to illustrate the valve actuating mechanism for actuating the compressed air container;
FIG. 3 is a top elevational view of the valve-operated compressed air container and the actuating mechanism associated therewith;
FIG. 4 is a side elevational view of the compressed air container and actuating mechanism shown in FIG. 3;
FIG. 5 is a top, fragmented view of the inflated ring with a portion thereof being broken away to illustrate the compressed air container and valve actuating mechanism;
FIG. 6 is a top plan view of an alternative embodiment of the present invention, portions thereof being broken away;
FIG. 7 is a side elevational view of the alternative embodiment shown in FIG. 6, portions thereof being broken away; and
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT In the drawings, the numeral generally designated the self-inflatable life preserver apparatus provided by the present invention. Life preserver apparatus 10 includes a generally spherical ball 12 formed from two essentially hemispherical portions 13a and 13b. Portions 13a and 13b are held together to form ball 12 by a liquid deteriorative material in the form of a band 15 encircling ball 12 about the middle thereof and affixed to each of the hemispherical portions 13a and 13b by suitable means such as glue, adhesive tape, etc. So
joined, the hemispherical portions 13a and 13b are seeurely held together so long as liquid deteriorative band 15 remains dry yet are free to split or separate from one another upon exposure of band 15 to a liquid (e. g. water). Ball 12 further includes a plurality of holes or openings 18 for allowing passage of a liquid into the hollow interior of the shell. It should be understood that many different container designs can be utilized and that the present container design 12 is illustrated solely because of its simplicity while being easily stored and handled (e.g. thrown). For example, if container 12 is to be worn or carried on a persons body, it would be desirable to have a flatter design.
An inflatable body 20 in the form of a toroidalshaped tube or ring is positioned within ball 12. As explained subsequently, tube 20 is inflated upon exposure of ball 12 to a liquid. This causes the ball to separate into its two hemispherical portions removing the tube from the ball. In the drawings, the toroidal-shaped tube 20 is shown in a deflated condition within ball 12 in FIG. 2 and in an inflated condition removed from ball 12 in FIG. 5. While inflatable bodies or life preservers of various other shapes can, of course, be utilized, the illustrated toroidal shape is highly desirable since it is highly buoyant yet easily handled by the user.
A valve-operated compressed air container 24 is positioned within the toroidal tube 20. As shown, container 24 has a generally cylindrical shape including a pair of oppositely disposed ends 250 and 25b. An annular sleeve member 26 is rotatably positioned on cylinder end 250 so as to extend axially outward therefrom. A slot 27 is provided in the outermost edge of sleeve 26 for the purpose subsequently described. A push button member 28 projects outwardly from cylinder end 25a through sleeve 26 and operates to allow egress of the pressurized air from the container 24 into the tube 20 upon button 28 being depressed or forced inwardly toward container end 250 of container 24. As will become apparent from the following description, various other types of valving arrangements can also be utilized.
Valve actuating means 30 are also positioned within tube 20 in association with the compressed air container 24 for actuating the push button valve member 28. Valve actuating means 30 include a first generally annular bracket member 32 positioned about cylindrical container 24 adjacent end 25b thereof. Bracket member 32 is fixedly attached by suitable means (e.g. soldering, welding, adhesives, etc.) to container 24. A generally similarly shaped second bracket member 34 is positioned about the container 24 generally adjacent the cylindrical end 25a. Second bracket member 34 is mounted for longitudinal movement along the exterior of the cylindrical container from a first position adjacent end 25a to a second position inward from end 25a toward first bracket member 32. A generally inverted U-shaped trigger arm 35 has its two ends fixedly at- 'tached to second bracket member 34 and extends diametrically across cylindrical end 25a above the outermost end of push button 28. Trigger arm 35 retains rotatable sleeve 26 on'cylinder end 250. Finally, first bracket member 32 includes a pair of diametrically opposed beveled flanged portions 36a and 36b. Similarly, second bracket member 34 includes a pair of diametrically opposed beveled flange portions 38a and 38b which are in alignment with the flange portions 360 and 36b, respectively, of first bracket member 32. Each of the flanged portions 36a, 36b, 38a and 38b are beveled so as to provide a surface inclined upwardly from the cylindrical container toward the adjacent cylindrical end.
A first extension spring 40 is attached to the beveled flange portions 36a and 38a of bracket members 32 and 34, respectively. Similarly, a second extension spring 42 is attached to the flange portions 36b and 38b of bracket members 32 and 34, respectively. The bias provided by the extension springs 40 and 42 urges the second bracket means 34 toward first bracket means 32 to its first position inward from the cylinder end 25a. In this first position, trigger arm 35 is in engagement with push button member 28 so as to depress the push button causing compressed air within the cylinder 24 to escape from the cylinder into the inflatable tube 20.
Prior to immersion of ball 12 in a liquid such as water, the inflatable tube 20 is maintained in its deflated condition. To accomplish this, retainer means in the form of a pair of retainer arms or members 50 and 52 are provided for releaseably engaging the bracket flange portions 36a,'38a and 36b, 38b, respectively, thereby maintaining the second bracket member 34 in its first or outward position. As shown, the retainer arms 50 and 52 each include a beveled end portion which mates with the inclined surface of the respective beveled flange portions 36a, 38a and 36b, 38b. This mating arrangement, causes the inward bias applied to bracket member 34 by extension springs 40 and 42 to urge the retainer arms 50 and 52 radially outward from container 24. To overcome this outward force and to thereby maintain the bracket member 34 in its first position, a liquid deteriorative strap means is tightly wrapped about the exterior of inflatable tube 20 so as to engage the retainer arms 50 and 52 applying an inwardly compressive force thereto and maintaining the arms in the position best seen in FIG. 4. The strap 60 is maintained in thistightly wound position by glueing, taping, or the like of the overlapping strap portions.
To assemble the present invention, the valve actuating means 30 is initially maintained in its first or nonactuating position by assembling the mechanism with annular sleeve member 26 rotated so that the trigger arm 35 rests upon the outermost edge thereof. This maintains trigger arm 35 out of engagement with push button 28 preventing actuation thereof. Compressed air container 24 is now ready for insertion into inflatable tube 20 before the sealing of the tube.
Preferably, a pad .65 formed from a highly pliable material (e.g. a high quality rubber) is wrapped about cylindrical container 24 and valve actuating means 30 prior to the positioning of container 24 within tube 20. Pad 65 serves two purposes. First, it reduces the possibility of a sharp edge of container 24 or actuating means 30 causing a tear in tube 20. Second, it minimizes the possibility of the relatively frigid jet of air exhausted from container 24 impinging directly upon tube and resulting in the development of a small pinhole therein. It should be understood, however, that while the utilization of pad 65 is highly desirable, it is not necessary to the present invention. In fact, the utilization of a relatively strong, resilient material for the construction of tube 20 renders the utilization of pad 65 unnecessary.
With valve actuating means positioned within tube 20, the liquid deteriorative strap 60 is wrapped annularly about the exterior of tube 20 and container 24 therein so as to compress the retainer members 50 and 52 overcoming the outward bias applied to the retainer members by springs 40 and 42. With this accomplished, the annular cap member 26 is rotated so that slot 27 is aligned with trigger arm 35. This frees trigger arm to move inwardly and engage push button 28 upon the outward movement or release of retainer arms 50 and 52 caused by the deterioration of strap means 60. After being sealed, inflatable tube 20 and the apparatus therein is positioned within spherical ball 12. The liquid deteriorative band 15 is then affixed to the hemispherical portions 130 and 13b and the assembly of the selfinflatable life preserver apparatus 10 is completed.
As should be apparent from the foregoing description, strap 60 is constructed of a material which is sufiiciently strong to hold the retainer arms 50 and 52 in engagement with the respective first and second bracket members 32 and 34 and, thus, retain bracket member 34 and the attached trigger arm in their outer, first position. However, the material from which strap 60 is constructed is also rapidly deteriorable upon being immersed in a liquid thereby allowing the movement of trigger arm 35 into engagement with push button 28 and causing the actuation of container 24 upon the breaking apart of strap 60 from its position about the container. Some examples of material which may be utilized to form strap 60 include felt, paper, cardboard, and numerous other paper products having similar properties. If necessary, several overlapping layers of the strap material can be utilized to gain additional strength.
An alternative life preserver unit is shown in FIGS. 6-8. In this embodiment, the valve-operated compressed air container 24 is positioned within toroidal tube 20, but unlike the previously described unit, valve actuating means, generally designated 70, as well as liquid deteriorative strap means 71 are positioned on the exterior of toroidal tube 20. In numerous respects, the valve actuating means 70 and liquid deteriorative strap means 71 are similar to the apparatus disclosed and claimed in my co-pending US. Pat. application Ser. No. 810,079. However, as mentioned previously, my earlier life preserver unit has the compressed air container positioned on the exterior of the inflatable tube.
To describe briefly, a base or body member 72 is positioned on the exterior of tube 20 in contact with a portion thereof having compressed air container 24 located thereunder. Base member 72 includes a generally wedge-shaped portion or body 73 and a plurality of tabs 74 which extend outwardly from member 72 generally along the arcuate periphery of container 24. A tab extends normally outward from base member 72 along the end 25b of container 24. Preferably, wedgeshaped body 73 and tabs 74 and 75 are integrally molded with base member 72, but this is not necessary to the operation of the present embodiment. The wedge-shaped body 73 defines a channel 76 therein extending from the apex portion of body 73 toward the base thereof. An opening 77 communicates with the inner end of channel 76 and the base of body 73. A plunger in the form of an elongated rod 80 having an enlarged end portion 80a extends axially within channel 76 through the opening 77 in body 73. A compression-type coil spring 81 is positioned about the rod 80 and in engagement with the generally closed inner end of channel 76 and the enlarged end portion 800 of rod 80 so as to produce a longitudinal bias on rod 80 tending to force it out of body 73 away from opening 77. A first end portion 84a of a trigger engaging member or bracket 84 is pivotably attached to an end portion 80b of rod 80, end portion 80b being opposite from end portion 80a. As shown, the bracket 84 extends diametrically across end 250 of air container 24; a second end portion 84b of bracket 84 being pivotably attached to an L-shaped member 85. The base member 72 and L- shaped member 85 are positioned in engagement with diametrically opposed external portions of compressed air container 24, each extending along the length of container 24 with the tab 75 of member 72 and the transverse portion 85a of member 85 engaging the end 25b of container 24. A strap of liquid deteriorative material 88 is wrapped about container 24 with a portion of tube 20 positioned therebetween and is attached to the base member 72 by screws 89 so as to maintain the valve actuating mechanism 70 in the position shown with respect to container 24.
As shown, diametrically extending bracket member 84 engages the push button member 28 of container 24 and is normally prevented from depressing button 28 by liquid deteriorative strap 71. The end portions of strap 71 are attached by a pair of screws 90 to opposite sides of body 72 adjacent the base thereof so as to extend about the enlarged end portion 80a of plunger 80. This prevents plunger 80 from moving toward end 25!) of container 24 (i.e., leftward in FIGS. 6 and 7) upon the urging of spring 82. As a result, the bracket 84 is prevented from depressing the push button valve 28. However, upon exposure of the life preserver unit 10a to a liquid (e.g. water) strap 71 deteriorates allowing the plunger 80 to move toward end 25a of container 24. This causes the bracket 84 to depress valve button 28 resulting in the release of air from container 24 thereby inflating tube 20. In the embodiment shown, the liquid deteriorative strap 88 is of considerably greater width than strap 71, and, thus, necessitates longer exposure to a liquid before fully deteriorating. However, upon such additional exposure, strap 88 deteriorates allowing the trigger actuating member 70 to entirely disengage or fall away from the toroidal tube 20 thereby providing a toroidal tube without any attachments or protrusions. The straps 71 and 88 are composed of a plurality of layers to provide additional strength thereto and, if desired, can be separated by shims (not shown) to assure rapid deterioration when exposed to a liquid.
Since the present invention has been described with reference to a particularly preferred embodiment thereof, numerous modifications to the described invention will be readily apparent to the artisan. For example, numerous changes and alterations can be made to the valve actuating means positioned within tube 20 yet allowing the deteriorative strap to maintain the valve actuating means in a de-actuated position so long as the strap remains dry. This being the case, it is my 3 intent to be limited solely by the spirit and scope of the appended claims.
What is claimed is:
l. Self-inflatable apparatus, comprising:
a. an inflatable body having a sealed inner space;
b. a compressed fluid container, completely enclosed within said sealed inner space, for inflating said body upon release of the compressed fluid contained therein, said compressed fluid container including a valve means having a closed position and an open position for release of the compressed fluid;
c. valve actuating means, mounted on said compressed fluid container and also enclosed within said sealed inner space, said valve actuating means having a first position for permitting said valve means to remain in the closed position and a second position for opening said valve, said valve actuating means being biased away from said first position toward said second position; and
d. liquid-deteriorative strap means, wrapped about that portion of the exterior of said inflatable body which encloses said valve actuating means, for engaging said valve actuating means to normally maintain said actuating means in said first position and to allow said actuating means to move to said second position upon deterioration of said strap means.
2. The self-inflatable apparatus of claim 1 including a split generally hollow shell for encasing said inflatable body in a deflated condition, said shell having at least one opening therein for allowing passage of a liquid into the hollow interior of said shell.
3. The self-inflatable apparatus of claim 2 wherein:
a. said inflatable body has a generally toroidal shape;
b. said hollow shell has a generally spherical shape defined by first and second hemispherical portions held together by a liquid deteriorative material affixed to each of said hemisphere portions.
4. The self-inflatable apparatus of claim 3 wherein:
a. said compressed fluid container has a generally cylindrical shape and includes a push button type valve projecting outward from one end of said cylindrical container for releasing the fluid within said container upon the depression of said valve; and
b. said valve actuating means includes a trigger arm for depressing said push button valve when said valve actuating means is moved to said first position upon deterioration of said strap means.
5. The self-inflatable apparatus of claim 4 wherein:
a. said valve actuating means further includes-first bracket means fixedly attached to said container generally adjacent the container end opposite the end having said push button valve projecting outwardly therefrom, second bracket means mounted for longitudinal movement. along said container from a'first position generally adjacent said push button valve end to a second position inward from said push button valve end, spring biasing means urging said second bracket means toward said second position, and retainer means releasably en gageable with said first and second bracket means for releasably maintaining said second bracket means in said first position;
b. said liquid deteriorative strap means is positioned about the exterior of said inflatable ring so as to engage said retainer means causing said retainer means to maintain said second bracket means in said first position until deterioration of said strap means; and
c. said trigger arm is attached to said second bracket means for depressing said push button valve upon movement of said second bracket means to its second position.
6. The self-inflatable apparatus of claim 5 wherein:
a. said first and second bracket means have a generally annular shape and are positioned about said cylindrical container;
b. said trigger arm attached to said second bracket means extends generally diametrically across said end of said container having said push button valve projecting outward therefrom; and
c. said retainer means include first and second members extending longitudinally in a diametrically opposed relationship along said cylindrical container for engagement with said first and second bracket means.
7. Self-inflatable apparatus comprising:
a. an inflatable body; I
b. a compressed fluid container enclosed within said inflatable body for'inflating said body upon release of the compressed fluid contained therein, said compressed fluid container including a push button type valve means having a closed, outwardly projecting position for retaining said compressed fluid and an open, inwardly depressed position for releasing said compressed fluid, c. valve actuating means comprising;
1. a trigger arm for contracting said push buttontype valve and for depressing said push buttontype valve to said open, depressed position,
2 bracket means for transmitting to said trigger arm a biasing force urging said trigger arm toward contact with said push button-type valve,
of said strap means.