|Publication number||USRE41765 E1|
|Application number||US 09/996,439|
|Publication date||Sep 28, 2010|
|Filing date||Nov 28, 2001|
|Priority date||Nov 22, 1993|
|Also published as||DE69428709D1, DE69428709T2, EP0730422A1, EP0730422A4, EP0730422B1, US5597200, WO1995014409A1|
|Publication number||09996439, 996439, US RE41765 E1, US RE41765E1, US-E1-RE41765, USRE41765 E1, USRE41765E1|
|Inventors||Christian T. Gregory, David R. Noles, David F. Gallup, David H. Heller|
|Original Assignee||Amerigon Incorporated|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (48), Non-Patent Citations (3), Referenced by (40), Classifications (11), Legal Events (5)|
|External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet|
Related Applications: The present application is a continuation of prior application Ser. No. 09/239,054, filed Jan. 27, 1999.
1. Field of the Invention
The invention provides a method and apparatus for climate control of an individualized occupant seat In the practice of this invention, there is a method and apparatus for providing conditioned air to a vehicle seat's occupant. Conditioned air is obtained from a central source in the vehicle and is channeled through the seat. The air is then separated into a plurality of smaller subchannels via a manifold. The air is then further divided up, i.e., diffused, through a layer of reticulated foam. This reticulated foam takes the place of the upholstery backing foam that is normally used in a vehicle seat. The air passes through the foam, both perpendicular to, as well as parallel with, the seat cushion surface. The air, in exiting the reticulated foam, is directed through the seat covering. The air provides for heating and cooling of the vehicle seat's occupant
2. Prior Art
Temperature modified air for environmental control of living or working space is typically provided to relatively extensive areas, such as entire buildings, selected offices, or suites of rooms within a building. In the case of vehicles, such as automobiles, the entire vehicle is cooled or heated as a unit. There are many situations, however, in which more selective or restrictive air temperature modification is desirable, the ultimate use of which is to enhance the comfort of human beings. For example, it is desirable to provide a chair or seat, the immediate surroundings of which can be selectively cooled or heated, and yet the modified effect cannot be noted to any substantial extent beyond that range.
It is also desirable to provide an individualized climate control for an occupant seat so that substantially instantaneous heating or cooling can be achieved. For example, an automotive vehicle exposed to the summer weather, where the vehicle has been parked in an unshaded area for a long period of time, can cause the vehicle seat to be very hot and uncomfortable for the occupant for some time after entering and using the vehicle, even with normal air conditioning. Even with normal air-conditioning, on a hot day, the seat occupant's back and other pressure points may remain sweaty while seated. Also, in the winter time, it is highly desirable to have the ability to quickly warm the seat of the occupant to facilitate the occupant's comfort, especially where the normal vehicle heater is unlikely to warm the vehicle's interior as quickly. For such reasons, there has long been a desire for a seat which provides for the comfort of human beings primarily by cooling or heating the occupant, as desired by the user.
One technique employed to attempt to provide occupant individualized comfort has been to use seating which either warms or cools the occupant via conduction. This embodiment requires a number of currently non-standard components, such as specialized coil spring elements specifically configured for heat transfer, multiple layers of material to enclose the non-standard coil springs, and additional air flow barrier layers.
One limitation of this embodiment is that it does not use common elements presently available that can be used to construct vehicle seats. While this embodiment provides some heating and cooling, it nevertheless does not achieve optimal operation without sacrifice of the comfort of the user. Also, excessive accumulation of condensate can occur, with the potential of spilling and damaging the vehicle in the vicinity of the seat.
Yet another technique employed to provide localized heating and cooling of an occupant has been to alter the above technique by allowing some of the conditioned air to escape the confines of the seat in order to provide some convection cooling or heating of the occupant. However, the same problems of non standard and specialized parts remains. For example, non-standard oval helically wound metal wire springs or molded plastic tubes, and a bladder-type containment layer for specialized fluids to facilitate the heat transfer are used. Other non-standard parts can include metal wire plenum coils or layers of copper or aluminum cloth. Yet another non-standard part that may be used in the seat construction is a pair of plastic sheets in facing relationship and heat sealed at a number of points and that also requires a Fluorinert liquid in order to provide for high thermal transfer properties. A condensate collection system is preferably needed along with the air conditioning unit, requiring more complex parts and maintenance. If the condensate collection system were not provided, then undue liquid accumulation would occur within the main exchanger housing for conditioned air. This is undesirable because excessive condensate accumulation reduces the main exchanger performance.
Further problems with the techniques available are that the air conditioning supply units and their accompanying condensate collection systems may require additional wiring apparatus. This includes requiring electrical cabling that is plugged into the cigarette lighter socket of an automobile in order to power the equipment.
Other problems that have been experienced with existing techniques include that the construction of the seats are not easily integratable into existing seat construction methods. The techniques require a significantly greater number of parts as compared to existing automotive seats, and often require non-standard parts. The parts used are typically more complex than other existing air distribution methods. In the past, this has lead to increased costs if individualized occupant cooling was provided. Also, the mechanical comfort of the seat is appreciably affected in the techniques employed, as compared to the comfort provided by standard automotive seats, wherein the user is able to distinguish between the comfort of the two. Further, the current techniques are problematic in the ability for vehicle designers to provide modern seating embodiments and stylistic designs. Yet another problem is that the techniques employed above do not provide good insulation for holding conditioned air until it is used by the occupant.
Therefore, it is desirable to provide a simple construction of a vehicle occupant seat which requires little, if any, non-standard parts and which utilizes commonly available materials. It is contemplated that a simple seat construction can be utilized as an automobile seat or other such seating embodiment where the occupant desires to be at a different environmental comfort zone than the surrounding users of the vehicle, room or office. The amount of conditioned air is modest because the area to be cooled or heated is relatively small and localized so that it will not disturb others in the vehicle or room.
The present invention relates to an improved method and apparatus for providing conditioned air to the occupant of a vehicle seat without requiring a significant amount of extra parts or increased costs, as compared to a standard vehicle seat. Air distribution to the occupant is provided without having to use exotically designed parts and does not compromise the mechanical comfort of the seat. Further, the invention allows for the use of a plurality of various air conditioning sources.
In an embodiment, the conditioned air is channeled from an inlet to the relative top or seating surface side of the seat cushion through one main channel opening. The air flow then branches off via a single manifold to a plurality of subchannels which travel along the seating surface side of the interior foam cushion. The air then exits the subchannels via a reticulated foam layer. The reticulated foam layer facilitates both perpendicular, as well as parallel, air flow relative to a seating surface side of the foam. The air travels to the seat cushion seating surface and exits the seat through an air permeable fabric. Air flow through the seat provides for relatively quick comfort adjustment of the seat's occupant. The air flow can also be used to initially warm up or cool down the seat prior to use by the occupant, if desired.
An alternate embodiment of the invention involves dividing the air into a plurality of main channels on the bottom of the interior foam seat cushion, where the bottom represents the surface opposite the occupant seating surface. The air then enters a plurality of local manifolds, travels to the top surface of the interior foam cushion, and exits the manifold along a plurality of subchannels. Each group of subchannels preferably service a single manifold. The air then travels along the top surface of the seating cushion and is diffused through a layer of reticulated foam and onto the occupant, as previously described.
Other variations of this invention are possible. For example, if desired, a secondary structure may be incorporated into the interior foam cushion to assist supporting the channel side walls, in order to prevent them from crushing under the weight of the seat's occupant.
In yet another alternate embodiment, the seams that are already present in the seat can be utilized as either primary or secondary channels to direct air flow next to the occupant. The sewn seams can be utilized as distribution channels, to supplement or replace the reticulated foam layer. Air distribution is accomplished through the seat's sewn seams to direct air to the occupant from the channels or subchannels. The seams have the advantage of eliminating any barriers of fabric and allowing the air to flow so that it will be in direct contact with the occupant.
The invention is easily integratable into existing seat construction methods. In a preferred embodiment, the invention requires substantially the same number of parts as existing automotive seats. Using less parts and complexity than previous air distribution techniques results in a lower cost to utilize this invention. Further, the mechanical comfort of the seat is not appreciably affected, as generally the same basic types of materials that are used in vehicle seats today are utilized for the air distribution method and apparatus. The seat styling and design are also not appreciably changed. Finally, the inherent tendencies of the existing foam construction of vehicle seats is a good insulator for holding and maintaining the conditioned air until it is delivered to the seat occupant. This achieves maximum comfort levels, that this invention provides in a very energy efficient mode, while requiring no complex systems or devices in order to practice this invention.
These and other features, aspects, and advantages of the present invention will be appreciated as the same become better understood by reference to the following detailed description when considered in connection with the accompanying drawings, wherein:
In a first embodiment of the invention, conditioned air 5, represented by arrows, is supplied to the air inlet 12 of an automotive seat cushion 10 as shown in FIG. 1. The conditioned air 5 passes through the main channel 14 and is divided via the manifold 20 into subchannels 16, 17, as shown in FIG. 1. The air inlet 12 is located on the entrance side 22, and is opposite the occupant side 24 of the seat cushion 10. The air inlet 12, the channel walls 15, and a portion of the subchannel walls 26, 27 are substantially formed by standard automotive seat cushion foam material 30. The subchannel walls 36, 37 nearest the occupant side 24 of the seat cushion 10 preferably are formed by reticulated foam 40. The reticulated foam is encapsulated by a layer of automotive upholstery 42 that is preferably air permeable.
The conditioned air 5 passes from the subchannel regions into the reticulated foam layer 40. Within the reticulated foam, the conditioned air is free to move both vertically and horizontally relative to the occupant side 24 of the seat cushion 10. The conditioned air then exits the reticulated foam through the automotive upholstery to impinge the occupant, wherein the occupant is in close proximity to the occupant side 24 of the cushion 10. In this manner, the occupant is heated or cooled, as desired, by the conditioned air.
The adhesive-backed material may also provide for additional occupant comfort. For example, the adhesive-backed material assists in making the subchannels substantially unnoticeable to the occupant's hand when feeling the seat. The subchannels are unnoticeable because the channels are structurally covered by the adhesive-backed material. Therefore, for example, the penetration by a hand into the sub-channels, and penetration of the reticulated foam layer and seat covering into the subchannels when depressed by the occupant or the occupant's hand, is prevented. This provides a structural benefit as well as an aesthetic one, wherein the adhesive-backed material assists in the occupant's lack of awareness of the subchannels in the seat cushion.
An alternative embodiment to prevent potential crushing, is that the walls of the channels, manifold, and subchannels formed by the automotive seat cushion foam 30 can be augmented. The As seen in
While the wide perforated or air permeable adhesive-backed material is not preferably used in the practice of this invention, a tape such as the one described, or other alternate materials, may be used. For example, gluing a very porous material, such as a strong cheesecloth-like material, over the subchannels would be another manner of providing extra strength or support to the subchannels. If a adhesive-backed layer is used, it is preferable that it have relatively minimal stretch characteristics, as well as being more porous, relative to the foam seat cushion material 30.
The reticulated foam is preferably polyurethane or the like, with approximately 20 pores per inch (ppi). Other porosities, such as 10 ppi, and 30 or 40 ppi, are also acceptable. Currently, 20 ppi is the preferred foam type, as there is a slight drop off in the breathability of the foam above 20 ppi.
Another alternate embodiment of the invention is shown in
The conditioned air is next directed into the manifold area 120 where the air is further divided into the respective subchannels 132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137. From this point on, the air travels a path substantially similar the air path described in the first embodiment, i.e., the conditioned air passes through the reticulated foam layer 140 and through the preferably air permeable automotive upholstery 142 in order to cool or heat the occupant.
As in the first embodiment, the automotive upholstery 142 encapsulates the reticulated foam layer 140. The reticulated foam layer forms the occupant side 124 subchannel boundary wall 145 of the respective subchannel 135 and performs a similar wall forming function for the other subchannels.
In another alternate embodiment, the reticulated foam layer 40 may be omitted, and the seams 62 used as the primary diffusion areas for directing the conditioned air to the occupant from the subchannels via the valleys. The sewn seam diffusion area, or valley embodiment, may be used with any of the alternate embodiments described in connection with this invention, either with or without foam layers such as the currently preferred reticulated foam layer.
The seat coverings or automotive upholstery used in any of the described embodiments is preferably of an air permeable fabric or synthetic. However, other materials can be used, such as leather. To help facilitate air flow through alternate materials, such as leather, the sewn seam diffusion techniques described can be employed. Preferably, materials such as leather are perforated with small holes, in addition to the stitching holes of the sewn seam diffusion technique, to facilitate the air flow. For example, the holes can be approximately the same size or larger than the holes made by the stitching of automotive seat coverings. In addition, the holes can be used together with the sewn seam diffusion techniques. Alternate sized holes, either larger or smaller, can also be used. However, the smaller the holes, assuming the number of holes remains constant, the more the cooling will rely upon conduction rather than convection for cooling the occupant. As the holes become smaller, the convective air flow is proportionately reduced.
Conditioned air 205 is able to cool the occupant of the seat, via an air flow path through the seat fabric, as well. Conditioned air traveling via the channels 214 is directed at and near the occupant through an air permeable seat covering 242. A reticulated foam layer is omitted in this embodiment, though it can be added, if desired.
Yet another embodiment of the foam air distribution channels as schematically shown in
Another embodiment of the denser air channel foam 231 of
The relatively dense air channel forming foam 231 of
The air channel forming foam 231 of the embodiments shown in
If desired, an alternate embodiment of the seat as shown in
The practice of the invention disclosed herein provides an easy and preferable means with which to construct a variable temperature seat. This provides for a convenient manner for environmentally comforting the seat's occupant.
While only preferred embodiments of the invention are described herein in detail, the invention is not limited thereby. It is believed that the advantages and improved results of the invention will be apparent from the foregoing description. It will be apparent that various changes and modifications may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention as sought to be defined in the following claims.
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|U.S. Classification||297/180.13, 5/653, 297/452.47|
|Cooperative Classification||A47C7/74, B60N2/5628, B60N2/5657, B60N2/449|
|European Classification||B60N2/56C4C, B60N2/56C4T, A47C7/74|
|Feb 15, 2011||RF||Reissue application filed|
Effective date: 20100927
|Apr 5, 2011||RR||Request for reexamination filed|
Effective date: 20110124
|May 11, 2012||AS||Assignment|
Owner name: BANK OF AMERICA, N.A., TEXAS
Free format text: SECURITY AGREEMENT;ASSIGNORS:AMERIGON INCORPORATED;BSST LLC;ZT PLUS, LLC;REEL/FRAME:028192/0016
Effective date: 20110330
|Jun 12, 2012||B1||Reexamination certificate first reexamination|
Free format text: THE PATENTABILITY OF CLAIMS 17-19 IS CONFIRMED; CLAIMS 10, 20, 22-24 AND 27 ARE DETERMINED TO BE PATENTABLE AS AMENDED; CLAIMS 11-16, 21, 25, 26 AND 28, DEPENDENT ON AN AMENDED CLAIM, ARE DETERMINED TO BE PATENTABLE; NEW CLAIMS 29-36 ARE ADDED AND DETERMINED TO BE PATENTABLE
|Jan 28, 2013||AS||Assignment|
Owner name: GENTHERM INCORPORATED, MICHIGAN
Free format text: CHANGE OF NAME;ASSIGNOR:AMERIGON INCORPORATED;REEL/FRAME:029722/0326
Effective date: 20120902