Friday, July 31, 2009

United States Patent 7,020,344
WWW.USPTO.GOV
Edgar
March 28, 2006

Match blur system and method

Abstract

A method for blurring in signal processing, for example, in digital film processing, is performed with digital artifacts. The digital artifacts are derived, such as by scanning, and include a noisy artifact and a less noisy artifact. The artifacts are subdivided into a plurality of windows, with each window being subdivided into a plurality of squares. The squares of the noisy artifact and of the less noisy artifact have spatial correspondence, as do the respective windows. The method includes determining a difference between a square at a centrum of a window of the less noisy artifact and another square within the window of the less noisy artifact, weighting a value for the square based on the difference, summing all of the values for the square as so weighted, multiplying a value for the square of the window of the noisy artifact by the result of summing, summing all of the results of multiplying for each square of the window of the noisy artifact, and dividing the result of summing all of the results, by the result of summing all of the values for the square. The method can also include multiplying certain values by a percentage to limit over-expression of certain properties exhibited in certain of the artifacts, for example, magenta mottle.
Inventors: Edgar; Albert D. (Austin, TX)
Assignee: Eastman Kodak Company (Rochester, NY)
Appl. No.: 09/775,688
Filed: February 2, 2001
Related U.S. Patent Documents

Application Number Filing Date Patent Number Issue Date
60180036 Feb., 2000

Current U.S. Class: 382/264 ; 358/3.26; 358/3.27; 382/275
Current International Class: G06K 9/40 (20060101)
Field of Search: 382/264,275 358/3.26,3.27
References Cited [Referenced By]
U.S. Patent Documents

2404138 July 1946 Mayer
3520689 July 1970 Nagae et al.
3520690 July 1970 Nagae et al.
3587435 June 1971 Chioffe
3615479 October 1971 Kohler et al.
3615498 October 1971 Aral
3617282 November 1971 Bard
3747120 July 1973 Stemme
3833161 September 1974 Krumbein
3903541 September 1975 Von Meister et al.
3946398 March 1976 Kyser et al.
3959048 May 1976 Stanfield et al.
4026756 May 1977 Stanfield et al.
4081577 March 1978 Horner
4142107 February 1979 Hatzakis et al.
4215927 August 1980 Grant et al.
4249985 February 1981 Stanfield
4265545 May 1981 Slaker
4301469 November 1981 Modeen et al.
4490729 December 1984 Clark et al.
4501480 February 1985 Matsui et al.
4564280 January 1986 Fukuda
4594598 June 1986 Iwagami
4621037 November 1986 Kanda et al.
4623236 November 1986 Stella
4633300 December 1986 Sakai
4636808 January 1987 Herron
4666307 May 1987 Matsumoto et al.
4670779 June 1987 Nagano
4736221 April 1988 Shidara
4741621 May 1988 Taft et al.
4745040 May 1988 Levine
4755844 July 1988 Tsuchiya et al.
4777102 October 1988 Levine
4796061 January 1989 Ikeda et al.
4814630 March 1989 Lim
4821114 April 1989 Gebhardt
4845551 July 1989 Matsumoto
4851311 July 1989 Millis et al.
4857430 August 1989 Millis et al.
4875067 October 1989 Kanzaki et al.
4969045 November 1990 Haruki et al.
4994918 February 1991 Lingemann
5027146 June 1991 Manico et al.
5034767 July 1991 Netz et al.
5101286 March 1992 Patton
5124216 June 1992 Giapis et al.
5155596 October 1992 Kurtz et al.
5196285 March 1993 Thomson
5200817 April 1993 Birnbaum
5212512 May 1993 Shiota
5231439 July 1993 Takahashi et al.
5235352 August 1993 Pies et al.
5255408 October 1993 Blackman
5264924 November 1993 Cok
5266805 November 1993 Edgar
5267030 November 1993 Giorgianni et al.
5292605 March 1994 Thomson
5296923 March 1994 Hung
5334247 August 1994 Columbus et al.
5350651 September 1994 Evans et al.
5350664 September 1994 Simons
5357307 October 1994 Glanville et al.
5360701 November 1994 Elton et al.
5371542 December 1994 Pauli et al.
5391443 February 1995 Simons et al.
5414779 May 1995 Mitch
5416550 May 1995 Skye et al.
5418119 May 1995 Simons
5418597 May 1995 Lahcanski et al.
5432579 July 1995 Tokuda
5436738 July 1995 Manico
5440365 August 1995 Gates et al.
5447811 September 1995 Buhr et al.
5448380 September 1995 Park
5452018 September 1995 Capitant et al.
5465155 November 1995 Edgar
5477345 December 1995 Tse
5496669 March 1996 Pforr et al.
5516608 May 1996 Hobbs et al.
5519510 May 1996 Edgar
5546477 August 1996 Knowles et al.
5550566 August 1996 Hodgson et al.
5552904 September 1996 Ryoo et al.
5563717 October 1996 Koeng et al.
5568270 October 1996 Endo
5576836 November 1996 Sano et al.
5581376 December 1996 Harrington
5587752 December 1996 Petruchik
5596415 January 1997 Cosgrove et al.
5627016 May 1997 Manico
5641596 June 1997 Gray et al.
5649260 July 1997 Wheeler et al.
5664253 September 1997 Meyers
5664255 September 1997 Wen
5667944 September 1997 Reem et al.
5678116 October 1997 Sugimoto et al.
5691118 November 1997 Haye
5695914 December 1997 Simon et al.
5698382 December 1997 Nakahanada et al.
5726773 March 1998 Mehlo et al.
5739897 April 1998 Frick et al.
5771107 June 1998 Fujimoto et al.
5790277 August 1998 Edgar
5835795 November 1998 Craig et al.
5835811 November 1998 Tsumura
5870172 February 1999 Blume
5880819 March 1999 Tanaka et al.
5892595 April 1999 Yamakawa et al.
5930388 July 1999 Murakami et al.
5959720 September 1999 Kwon et al.
5963662 October 1999 Vachtsevanos et al.
5966465 October 1999 Keith et al.
5979011 November 1999 Miyawaki et al.
5982936 November 1999 Tucker et al.
5982937 November 1999 Accad
5982941 November 1999 Loveridge et al.
5982951 November 1999 Katayama et al.
5988896 November 1999 Edgar
5991444 November 1999 Burt et al.
5998109 December 1999 Hirabayashi
6000284 December 1999 Shin et al.
6005987 December 1999 Nakamura et al.
6065824 May 2000 Bullock et al.
6069714 May 2000 Edgar
6088084 July 2000 Nishio
6089687 July 2000 Helterline
6101273 August 2000 Matama
6102508 August 2000 Cowger
6137965 October 2000 Burgeios et al.
6200738 March 2001 Takano et al.
Foreign Patent Documents

0 261 782 Aug., 1987 EP
0 422 220 Mar., 1989 EP
0 482 790 Sep., 1991 EP
0 525 886 Jul., 1992 EP
0 580 293 Jun., 1993 EP
0 580 293 Jan., 1994 EP
0 601 364 Jun., 1994 EP
0 669 753 Feb., 1995 EP
0 794 454 Feb., 1997 EP
0 768 571 Apr., 1997 EP
0 806 861 Nov., 1997 EP
0 878 777 Nov., 1998 EP
0 930 498 Dec., 1998 EP
WO 90/01240 Feb., 1990 WO
WO 91/09493 Jun., 1991 WO
WO 97/25652 Jul., 1997 WO
WO 98/19216 May., 1998 WO
WO 98/25399 Jun., 1998 WO
WO 98/31142 Jul., 1998 WO
WO 98/34157 Aug., 1998 WO
WO 98/34397 Aug., 1998 WO
WO 99/43148 Aug., 1999 WO
WO 99/43149 Aug., 1999 WO
WO 01/01197 Jan., 2001 WO
WO 01/13174 Feb., 2001 WO
WO 01/45042 Jun., 2001 WO
WO 01/50192 Jul., 2001 WO
WO 01/50193 Jul., 2001 WO
WO 01/50194 Jul., 2001 WO
WO 01/50197 Jul., 2001 WO
WO 01/52556 Jul., 2001 WO

Other References

Johannes Ristau and Wooil M. Moon. "Digital Filtering of 2-D Spatial Data Using Modified Local Statistics" Jun. 15, 1998. cited by examiner .
"Adaptive Fourier Threshold Filtering: A Method to Reduce Noise and Incoherent Artifacts in High Resolution Cardiac Images", Doyle, M., et al., 8306 Magnetic Resonance in Medicine 31, No. 5, Baltimore, MD, May, pp. 546-550, 1994. cited by other .
"Anisotropic Spectral Magnitude Estimation Filters for Noise Reduction and Image Enhancement", Aich, T., et al., Philips GmbH Research Laboratories, IEEE, pp. 335-338, 1996. cited by other .
"Adaptive-neighborhood filtering of images corrupted by signal-dependent noise", Rangayyan, R., et al., Applied Optics, vol. 37, No. 20, pp. 4477-4487, Jul. 10, 1998. cited by other .
"Grayscale Characteristics", The Nature of Color Images, Photographic Negatives, pp. 163-168. cited by other .
"Parallel Production of Oligonucleotide Arrays Using Membranes and Reagent Jet Printing", Stimpson, D., et al., Research Reports, BioTechniques, vol. 25, No. 5, pp. 886-890, 1998. cited by other .
"Low-Cost Display Assembly and Interconnect Using Ink-Jet Printing Technology", Hayes, D. et al., Display Works '99, MicroFab Technologies, Inc., pp. 1-4, 1999. cited by other .
"Ink-Jet Based Fluid Microdispensing in Biochemical Applications", Wallace, D., MicroFab Technologies, Inc., Laboratory Automation News, vol. 1, No. 5, pp. 6-9, Nov., 1996. cited by other .
"Protorealistic Ink-Jet Printing Through Dynamic Spot Size Control", Wallace, D., Journal of Imaging Science and Technology, vol. 40, No. 5, pp. 390-395, Sep./Oct. 1996. cited by other .
"MicroJet Printing of Solder and Polymers for Multi-Chip Modules and Chip-Scale Package", Hayes, D., et al., MicroFab Technologies, Inc. cited by other .
"A Method of Characterisstics Model of a Drop-on-Demand Ink-Jet Device Using an Integral Method Drop Formation Model", Wallace, D., MicroFab Technologies, Inc., The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Winter Annual Meeting, pp. 1-9, Dec. 10-15, 1989. cited by other .
"Digital Imaging Equipment White Papers", Putting Damaged Film on ICE, www.nikonusa.com/reference/whitepapers/imaging, Nikon Corporation, Nov. 28, 2000. cited by other.

Primary Examiner: Mancuso; Joseph
Assistant Examiner: Edwards; Patrick L.
Attorney, Agent or Firm: Simon, Galasso & Frantz
WWW.GAPATENTS.COM
Parent Case Text


CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application is related to U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/180,036, entitled "Match Blur System and Method, filed on Feb. 3, 2000. This application is related to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Nos. 60/180,035, entitled "Digital Imaging With Sheep and Shepherd Artifacts" filed on Feb. 3, 2000; 60/180,030, entitled "Reducing Streaks in Scanning" filed on Feb. 3, 2000; and 60/180,031, entitled "Pyramiding and Digital Imaging System and Method" filed on Feb. 3, 2000, each of the same inventor hereof, and filed concurrently herewith, and those respective applications are incorporated herein. This application is also related to U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/255,401, entitled "Parametric Image Stitching", filed on Feb. 22, 1999, and Ser. No. 09/247,264, entitled "Image Block Windowed Blending", filed on Feb. 10, 1999, each of the same inventor hereof and incorporated herein. This application is also related to U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/180,028, entitled "Method to Remove Magenta Stain From Digital Images" filed on Feb. 3, 2000, assigned to the same assignee hereof, filed concurrently herewith, and incorporated herein.
Claims


What is claimed is:

1. A subroutine in a method of blurring, said subroutine comprising the steps of: deriving a noisy artifact exhibiting a color green; selecting a less noisy artifact exhibiting a color green; subdividing the noisy artifact into a plurality of windows; subdividing each of the plurality of windows into a plurality of squares; subdividing the less noisy artifact into a plurality of windows corresponding to the plurality of windows of the noisy artifact; subdividing each of the plurality of windows of the less noisy artifact into a plurality of squares corresponding to the plurality of squares of the noisy artifact; determining a difference between a square at a centrum of a window of the less noisy artifact and all of the other squares within the window of the less noisy artifact; weighting the difference between a square at a centrum of a window of the less noisy artifact and said other squares by multiplying the difference by a multiplying factor; varying the step of weighting by (a) 75% for the square of the window of the noisy artifact which is less than the square at the centrum of the window of the noisy artifact and (b) 25% for each square of the window of the noisy artifact which is not less than the square at the centrum of the window of the noisy artifact; summing all of the values for said other squares as so weighted; multiplying a value for each one of said other squares of the window of the noisy artifact by results of the step of summing; summing said results of the step of multiplying for each of said other squares of the window of the noisy artifact; and dividing said results of the step of summing said results, by the result of the step of summing all of the values for said other squares.

2. The subroutine of claim 1, further comprising the step of: clamping the weighting step between minimum and maximum extremes, if the noisy artifact tends to be overly expressed in a result.

3. The subroutine of claim 1, further comprising the step of: clamping the step of weighting so that the weight for the value is in the range of 0 to 1.
Description


FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The invention generally relates to signal processing and, more particularly, to improving results from blur operations with digital artifacts of an analog signal, by guiding noisy artifacts by less noisy artifacts and clamping overly emphasized properties, for example, in digital film processing.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

In blurring operations, digital separations or channels (also referred to herein as "artifacts") of analog signals, such as digital artifacts respectively exhibiting various characteristics or properties of an analog image, are refined or enhanced by averaging over a spatial area each point (e.g., pixel) of the digital result. For each pixel represented in a digitized image or artifact, for instance, the particular pixel is averaged with a surrounding region of adjacent pixels to obtain a new value for the particular pixel. When such blurring is performed for all points in a digital artifact, the intended result is a more expressive and refined digitization.

Blurring can sometimes distort, however, rather than improve the digital result. In digitization of an image, a resulting digital image can be further distorted, rather than enhanced, in certain spatial locations of the image, for example, blurring near edge lines or borders can yield unintended results from the averaging operation. This is because each pixel is replaced with an average for an area surrounding the pixel, and dramatically varying features within the area can skew the average. Additional techniques are required to correct the unintended results.

Certain blurring operations, particularly in digital imaging, can cause mottle effects, such as magenta mottle. Mottle refers to spotting or blotching. In digitization of images, such as in digital film processing, various factors can affect mottle in the result. The tone magenta in images from digital film processing is particularly problematic in mottle effects.

It would be an advantage and improvement in the art and technology to provide systems and methods for performing blurring of digital images that reduces chances of unintended results in spatial vicinities of significant features and also in mottle effects.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

An embodiment of the invention is a method of blurring a digital image. The method includes separating the image into noisy artifacts and less noisy artifacts, averaging the less noisy artifacts over a spatial range for each pixel of the image, and guiding the noisy artifacts by the less noisy artifacts in the step of averaging.

Another embodiment of the invention is a method of blurring. The method includes deriving a noisy artifact, selecting a less noisy artifact, subdividing the noisy artifact into a plurality of windows, subdividing each of the plurality of windows into a plurality of squares, subdividing the less noisy artifact into a plurality of windows corresponding to the plurality of windows of the noisy artifact, subdividing each of the plurality of windows of the less noisy artifact into a plurality of squares corresponding to the plurality of squares of the noisy artifact, determining a difference between a square at a centrum of a window of the less noisy artifact and another square within the window of the less noisy artifact, weighting a value for the square based on the difference, summing all of the values for the square as so weighted, multiplying a value for the square of the window of the noisy artifact by the result of the step of summing, summing all of the results of the step of multiplying for each square of the window of the noisy artifact, and dividing the result of the step of summing all of the results, by the result of the step of summing all of the values for the square.

Yet another embodiment of the invention is a method of blurring. The method includes guiding a noisy artifact by a less noisy artifact.

Another embodiment of the invention is a method of blurring. The method includes weighting a value in a blur region.

Another embodiment of the invention is a method of signal processing. The method includes deriving a noisy artifact and a less noisy artifact from an analog signal and guiding the noisy artifact by the less noisy artifact.

Yet another embodiment of the invention is a system for blurring. The system includes a noisy artifact, a less noisy artifact, wherein spatial locations of the less noisy artifact corresponds to locations of the noisy artifact, and a computer for guiding the noisy artifact by the less noisy artifact.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is an illustration of an exemplary image, such as can be imprinted in a photographic film, illustrating spatial relationships of portions thereof, according to embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is an illustration of digital artifacts derived from a separation process with an image, wherein noisy (sheep) artifacts and less noisy (shepherd) artifacts result, according to embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 3 is a side-view of an image, like that of FIG. 1, illustrating a superimposed density curve and blur plot about a point (i.e., pixel) and illustrating a blurring to obtain a single averaged value for the pixel, according to embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 4 illustrates a noisy artifact and three less noisy artifacts and locates corresponding points of each such artifact that are correlated in a blur method, according to embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 5 is a flow diagram of a method of blurring, according to embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 6 is a more detailed flow diagram of an embodiment of the method of the flow diagram of FIG. 5, and illustrating a method to de-emphasize a particular property of magenta mottle exhibited by certain artifacts employed in the blur, according to embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 7 is a graph showing an example comparison of effects in artifacts exhibiting the particular property for de-emphasis in the method of FIG. 6, according to embodiments of the present invention; and

FIG. 8 is a graph illustrating sheep and shepherd artifact guiding effects and clamping in order to de-emphasize the particular property in the method of FIG. 6, according to embodiments of the present invention.

Skilled artisans appreciate that elements in the figures are illustrated for simplicity and clarity and have not necessarily been drawn to scale. For example, the dimensions of some of the elements in the figures may be exaggerated relative to other elements to help improve the understanding of the embodiments of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

When analog signals are scanned or otherwise separated or channeled into digital data sets (herein referred to as "artifacts"), the resulting artifacts will, to varying degree, inexactly model the continuous analog signals, because of the discrete nature of digital signals. For example, digital images derived from analog images can exhibit differences of distortion or noise that limits quality of color, lines, structure and other feature or property expression. An operation to enhance digital signals, such as a digital image, derived from analog signals, such as an exposed photographic film, is referred to as "blurring". In blurring operations, for example, with a digital file of an image, the digital image is blurred by independently averaging all pixels within a region surrounding each pixel of the image, and replacing each pixel with the averaged result for the pixel.

Transition effects, such as edge lines in an image, can cause blurring procedures to undesirably distort the averaged result for the regions of pixels at the transitions. Also, certain properties, such as the color magenta, can be expressed more significantly than desired in the resulting digital product as mottle. These problems and others can be reduced by employing a relatively less noisy digital artifact (shepherd artifact), in comparison to other noisy digital artifacts (sheep artifacts), to guide a blurring operation. Additionally, special techniques of clamping the expression of a certain property exhibited by the artifacts, such as the color magenta, can reduce the undesired over-expression of the property, for example, as mottle, in the result from the blur.

Referring to FIG. 1, an analog signal is illustrated as an image 100 imprinted in a photographic film 102. The image 100 depicts a diamond shape 104 in a centralized portion of the film 102. A window 106 is shown at an edge of the shape 104 of the image 100. The window 106 is not actually exhibited in the image 100, but is intended merely to illustrate a single, spatial location of the image 106 (for example, a point located at a center of the window 106) and a defined area adjacent that location (in this case, exemplified by the square shape of the window 106). Although the window 106 is square, that shape is intended merely as exemplary, as the window 106 could be any other desired shape.

Referring to FIG. 2, scanning and other digitization of analog signals, such as images, can provide separations of various properties of the signals that are exhibited by digital data sets (or artifacts), for example, artifacts of a scanned image. As described in the related applications and patents, pluralities of artifacts can be segregated into noisy (sheep) artifacts and less noisy (shepherd) artifacts for various properties of interest of the analog signal. These sheep and shepherd artifacts can be obtained and derived from scanning or other operations. In the particular application of digital photographic film processing, a scanner scans a photographic film at instances during the film development process. The scan yields scanned results that provide grainy and luminous noisy (sheep) channels, such as a red, green and blue channel at various instances in time during film development, and also can provide channels that are highly definite in exhibiting detail and edges, such as a relatively noiseless (shepherd) channel for each of those colors at certain instances in time. The digital artifacts can be manipulated, for example, the sheep artifacts can be averaged and a best one of the shepherd artifacts can be selected, so that the shepherd artifacts can guide the sheep artifacts in order to produce an improved resulting digitized image.

In an exemplary three-color (e.g., red, green and blue) system in digital imaging, a representative sheep artifact 202 is derived, such as a red sheep artifact which is an average of artifacts exhibiting the color red. The particular representative sheep artifact 202, in any instance, can be derived as an average, some weighted or proportional sum, or some other selection of, from, or among multiple artifacts. The representative sheep artifact 202, for example, has corresponding shepherd artifacts 204, 206, 208, such as a red shepherd, a green shepherd, and a blue shepherd artifact, in the case of the three-color system and the exemplary red sheep artifact. Each of the colors of the system, such as green and blue in addition to red, will also have a particular representative sheep artifact 202 and several shepherd artifacts 202, 205, 208 for all colors that are associated with the color. As described in the related applications, each of the shepherd artifacts is developed to guide the sheep artifacts to yield desired results. The same beneficial effects of guiding noisy channels (sheep artifacts) by less noisy channels (shepherd artifacts) can be employed to reduce undesired blurring results, such as skewed averages in a vicinity of strong features, and to suppress noise in the image 104, such as mottle of magenta or other color, as later described herein.

Referring to FIG. 3, a blurring operation 300 is explained through illustration. In the operation 300, an image 302 is subjected to blurring. In the blurring operation 300, each pixel, such as a pixel 304, of the image 302, is averaged over a region surrounding the pixel 304 to obtain a new value for the pixel 304. The average is indicated by the curve 306.

A square window 308 superimposed over the image 302 in the Figure is illustrative of the averaging operation for the pixel 304. As shown in the illustration of the window 308, a new value for the pixel 304 is obtained as an average, for example, a weighted average determined from calculations involving the pixel 304 and surrounding pixels within the square 308. The window 308, in an 8-bit imaging instance, is 8-bit by 8-bit in area. For the single pixel 304, therefore, a blurring operation can involve numerous calculations, on the order of 64 or more. Of course, the entire image 302 can be composed of a significant number of pixels, substantially increasing the number of calculations necessary to perform blurring of the entire image 302. New values are determined for each pixel of the image, in the same manners as for the pixel 304, and each such pixel of the image 302 requires the numerous calculations as for the single pixel 304.

Referring to FIG. 4, several artifacts 400 are employed in the blurring operation 300 of FIG. 3 according to embodiments of the present invention. In FIG. 4, a representative sheep artifact 402, like the sheep artifact 202 of FIG. 2 for the color red, is illustrated in an enlarged and partial view format. The sheep artifact 402 includes a window 404 superimposed on the artifact 402 at a particular spatial location. Shepherd artifacts 412, 422, 432 corresponding to the sheep artifact 402 are also illustrated in similar enlarged and partial format. Windows 414, 424, 434 are each spatially located in the respective shepherd artifacts 412, 422, 432 at the particular location of the shepherd corresponding to the particular location of the sheep.

Each window 404, 414, 424, 434 has at its centrum a corresponding index 406, 416, 426, 436, respectively. Each window 404, 414, 424, 434 is for purposes of performing calculations, sub-divided into a number of small squares or other shapes (e.g., squares 408) of spatial area within the respective window 404, 414, 424, 434, for example, 64 squares. The index 406, 416, 426, 436 identifies the particular window, 404, 414, 424, 434, and also identifies the small squares (e.g., square 408) of spatial area within the window 404 that is the centrum. Each artifact 402, 412, 422, 432 is similarly divided into the respective windows over the entire area of the artifact 402, 412, 422, 432, and each window over the entire area of the respective artifact 402, 412, 422, 432 is similarly divided into the respective squares over the entire area of the respective window. It is notable that there are corresponding windows and squares within the windows as to spatial location, for each of the artifacts 402, 412, 422, 432. The plurality of artifacts, windows over the area of the artifacts, and squares over the area of each window are used in performing a blur hereinafter described.

Referring to FIG. 5, a method 500 performs a match blur. The term "match blur", as used herein, refers to a guiding of the blurring calculations for any given pixel by the method 500. In a step 502 of the method 500, sheep and shepherd artifacts of an image are derived. The derivation of sheep and shepherd artifacts in the step 502 is further detailed in the related applications and patents. In general, sheep artifacts exhibit significant noise and color, whereas the shepherd artifacts are relatively noiseless and exhibit primarily lines and edges. A representative sheep artifact is selected from a plurality of sheep artifacts, for example, by an averaging calculation for the plurality or by some other selection process.

In a step 504, one or more shepherd artifacts from the step 502 are used to guide the blur region for each particular location, e.g., each square of each window, of a representative sheep artifact. The blur region, as so defined, corresponds (for example purposes) to the square 106 of FIG. 1, shown in respective sheep and shepherd artifacts 202, 204, 206, 208 in FIG. 2 as squares 202a, 204a, 206a, 208a, and respective sheep and shepherd artifacts 402, 412, 422, 432 in FIG. 4 as squares 404, 414, 424, 434. In general, the shepherd artifacts serve to indicate edges in the vicinity of the particular window and the blurring for the window is limited where such transitions are dictated by the shepherd artifacts. By so guiding the blur with the shepherd artifacts, the problems of skewed averages in blur calculations are reduced in areas in the vicinity of transitions such as edge lines.

In a step 506, a first averaging of values for each window having an index and respective squares is accomplished through shepherd guide of sheep and yields a refined sheep artifact. In a step 508, the refined sheep artifact is again guided by the shepherd artifacts in a second averaging operation. From the guiding step 508, a resulting sheep artifact is obtained. The method 500 is performed for each of the respective sheep artifacts of an image. The several resulting sheep artifacts from the method 500 can then be recombined, for example, according to the procedures of the related patents and applications.

Referring to FIG. 6, a method 600 details each of the guiding steps 504, 508 of the method 500 of FIG. 5. The method 600 is performed at each of the steps 504, 508 for each of the representative sheep artifacts. In a step 602 of the method 600, an initialization of a value "k" is performed for each shepherd artifact. If the representative sheep artifact is not representative of a property, for example, the color green, that tends to be over-expressed in blur results, such as magenta mottle, then k=1 for each shepherd artifact. Otherwise, k=2 for each shepherd artifact. The variable "k" is employed in later steps of the method 600 as a weighting factor.

In a step 604, an absolute value of a difference determination between a value of the center square (i.e., index) of a window of the shepherd artifact and another square of the window is determined for each square of each window, whereby such difference determinations of each window represents a sequence of difference determinations for that particular window. In a step 606, the absolute value of each difference from the sequence of difference determinations of each window is then weighted by multiplying the absolute value of each difference from the sequence of difference determinations of each window (i.e. each absolute difference value) by the weighting factor "k" from the step 602, thereby producing a weighted difference value corresponding to each absolute difference value. The absolute value determination and weighting is performed over the entirety of each shepherd artifact, that is, square-by-square, through window-by-window, over the entire artifact.

Each weighted difference value from the step 606 is then limited by the product of one over a threshold factor. The threshold factor is determined empirically and can vary for the particular application and desired result. In every event, the threshold factor is chosen to yield a value (i.e., the original product referred to below) between one and zero when each weighted difference value is multiplied by one over the threshold factor.

In a step 610, a new value of either zero or one is derived for each weighted difference value by setting the new value at 0.0 when the original product of the weighted difference value times one over threshold factor is greater than one and at 1.0 when the original product of the weighted difference value times one over threshold factor is less than one. This clamps each weighted difference value to one or zero, as illustrated by a step 612, thereby producing clamped weighted difference values.

The clamped weighted difference values, after clamping in step 612, are summed in a step 614. For the representative sheep artifact, the squares of the sheep artifact at the corresponding locations are also summed. A product sum is calculated for each square of the shepherd artifact, which product is sum of all squares the sheep artifact multiplied times the clamped and summed weight for a particular square of the shepherd artifact. The clamped weight values from the step 612 are saved in a step 616 for each square of the shepherd artifact, such as in an array. The saved clamped weight difference values from the step 616 are later used only in the event of performing the method 600 with the sheep artifact that would otherwise be overly expressed in the result, such as the green sheep artifact that leads to magenta mottle if the method 600 is not followed in the blur.

In effect, the weighting and clamping of the foregoing steps of the method 600 serves to cause the weight for each window saved in the step 616, to approach the value of either 0 or 1 for the window. Because the weight is either 0 or 1, the sum of the weights for each square will only become large if the absolute value of the difference of the respective squares of the shepherd artifacts approach the value zero. That is, the sum of the weights is large only if the shepherd artifacts agree at the particular square of the shepherd artifact and, thus, at the particular window. If a feature exists in one shepherd artifact, but not another shepherd artifact for the calculation, then the feature will be less emphasized in the resulting blur from the method 600 than will other feathers appearing strongly in both shepherd artifacts. This is the effect of the method 600, as just described, for all sheep artifacts; provided any sheep artifact, such as the green sheep artifact of an image, that tends to be overly expressed in the result, for example, as magenta mottle in the case of the green sheep artifact, is further manipulated to limit the expression, as now described.

If the sheep artifact in the method 600 is not one that tends to be overly expressed in the result, for example, it is not the green sheep artifact in imaging, then a new value is set and saved in step 618 for each window of the sheep artifact, which new value is calculated as the product sum of all squares for the sheep artifact times the clamped and summed weight for the square from the step 614 divided by the clamped and summed weight from the step 614.

If, on the other hand, the sheep artifact in the method 600 is one that tends to be overly expressed, such as the green sheep artifact, then the method 600 proceeds to a step 620 or 622. For each square of each window of the sheep artifact, if the value for a particular square is less than the value at the centrum of the square of the sheep artifact, then the step 620 is performed. Otherwise, the step 622 is performed. In the step 620, if the value for a particular square of the sheep artifact is greater than zero, then the weight for the square is multiplied by a factor, such as 0.75. If the value for the particular square is less than zero, then the weight for the particular square is multiplied by another factor, for example, 0.20. The factor is empirically determined for the application. In a step 624, the weight as multiplied by the applicable factor from the step 620 is employed to derive a new value which is set and saved in the step 624 for each window of the sheep artifact. The new value, in this instance, is calculated as the product sum of all squares for the sheep artifact times the weight multiplied by the applicable factor from the step 620, divided by the weight multiplied by such applicable factor from the step 620.

If the step 622 is performed, rather than the step 620, then the step 624 proceeds in the same manner as the step 618. That is, the new value is calculated as the sum of all squares for the sheep artifact multiplied by the weight and divided by the sum of the weight.

Example code for performing the method 600 of FIG. 6 is attached and incorporated herein.

Referring to FIG. 7, the guiding of a sheep artifact 202, such as the red sheep artifact of FIG. 2, by one or more shepherd artifacts 204, 206, 208, such as the red, green, and blue shepherd artifacts of FIG. 2, can be understood with reference to some exemplary curve plots. The plots include a sheep artifact curve 702 and three shepherd artifact curves 704, 706, and 708. For purposes of example, the sheep curve 702 corresponds to a representative sheep artifact 202, such as a red sheep artifact. The shepherd artifact curves 704, 706, and 708 correspond to the shepherd artifacts 204, 206, 208, such as the red, green shepherd, and blue shepherd artifacts, respectively. As discussed in the related patents and applications, the shepherd artifacts 204, 206, and 208 exhibit very little noise and are highly indicative of transitions, such as edge lines. The sheep artifact 202, such as the red sheep artifact, is primarily color and is very noisy. In FIG. 3, scanning distance for a particular point, such as that corresponding to the point of the pixel 304 of the image 302, is plotted against color density detected by the scanner. From the plot, it is apparent that the shepherd curves 704, 706, and 708 indicate clear transitions at a certain point "x" along the scan distance axis. This is indicative of a transition, such as an edge line, in the original image.

The sheep curve 702, on the other hand, is a very irregular curve. Although the transition at "x" appears in the curve 702, the irregularity of the curve 702 does not so clearly locate the transition. In accordance with the embodiments described herein, one or more of the shepherds artifacts 204, 206, or 208, as depicted by the curves 704, 706, and 708, are employed to guide the sheep artifact 702, as indicated by the curve 702. By guiding the sheep artifact 702 with one or more of the shepherd artifacts 204, 206, and 208, the color of the sheep artifact 702 can be located more precisely in the digitized image because of the strong transition identification by the shepherd artifacts 204, 206, and 208.

Referring to FIG. 8, treatment of a sheep artifact 202 that tends to be overly expressed in a result, such as the effect of magenta mottle from the green sheep artifact in imaging, is manipulated by a special technique that was described above. The effect of the special technique can be understood by the overlapping curves of FIG. 8. A curve 802 is an exemplary color density plot from scanning of the green sheep artifact. A curve 806 is a similar curve for a shepherd artifact that can guide the sheep artifact in the method 600. Because the method 600 offsets weighting in squares of the green sheep artifact, according to the steps 620 or 622 in the method 600, upper 802a and lower 802b extremes of the green sheep artifact 802 are limited, so that the resulting green sheep artifact from the method 600 is more akin to the curve 804. It is notable that the curve 804 does not exhibit the upper 802a and lower 802b extremes of the green sheep artifact before offsetting of weighting. This limitation, or clamping, of extremes reduces the extent of mottle, such as magenta mottle from the green sheep artifact.

The foregoing description describes certain embodiments that are particularly applicable in digital film processing and other digital imaging operations. The same concepts are useful, however, in other contexts as well. In fact, the concepts can be applied generally to digital signal processing applications, in particular, in instances of a plurality of artifacts exhibiting various properties of the analog signal, some more prevalently than others. In such instances, blurring steps can be guided by using shepherd and sheep artifacts. Furthermore, properties that tend to be overly expressed in a result can be reduced in effect by weighting and weight offsetting in a sheep artifact exhibiting the particular property.

In the foregoing specification, certain specific embodiments have been described. Those of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate that various modifications and changes can be made without departing from the scope of the present invention as set forth in the claims below. Accordingly, the specification and figures are to be regarded in an illustrative rather than a restrictive sense, and all such modifications are intended to be included within the scope of the present invention.

Benefits, other advantages, and solutions to problems have been described above with regard to specific embodiments. However, the benefits, advantages, solutions to problems and any element(s) that may cause any benefit, advantage, or solution to occur or become more pronounced are not to be construed as a critical, required, or essential feature or element of any or all the claims. As used herein, the terms "comprises," "comprising," or any other variation thereof, are intended to cover a non-exclusive inclusion, such that a process, method, article, or apparatus that comprises a list of elements does not include only those elements but may include other elements not expressly listed or inherent to such process, method, article, or apparatus. For more information go to WWW.GAPATENTS.COM or WWW.GOOGLE.COM.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

United States Patent 7,077,604
WWW.USPTO.GOV
Fowler
July 18, 2006

Article carrier apparatus and system comprising same

Abstract

An article carrier apparatus configured for use with a pneumatic article transport system comprises a tubular body, a first end cap attached to a first end of the tubular body, a second end cap attached to a second end of the tubular body and a first door pivotally attached to at least one of the first end cap and the tubular body. The first door is movable between an open position and a closed position with respect to an access opening in the first end cap. An interior space of the tubular body is accessible through the access opening of the first end cap when the first door is in the open position. The first door is at least partially disposed within the interior space of the tubular body when the first door is in the open position.
Inventors: Fowler; Morgan (Senatobia, MS)
Appl. No.: 11/176,486
Filed: July 7, 2005

Current U.S. Class: 406/188 ; 406/187
Current International Class: B65G 51/06 (20060101)
Field of Search: 406/184,185,186,187,188,189,190
References Cited [Referenced By]
U.S. Patent Documents

3701497 October 1972 Anders et al.
4264032 April 1981 Vanis
4941777 July 1990 Kieronski
5174689 December 1992 Kondolf, Jr.
5215412 June 1993 Rogoff et al.
5356243 October 1994 Vogel
5518545 May 1996 Miyano
6474912 November 2002 Meeks
6729808 May 2004 Nelson
Primary Examiner: Dillon, Jr.; Joe
Attorney, Agent or Firm: Galasso & Associates, LP Galasso; Raymond M. Simmons; David O.
WWW.GAPATENTS.COM

Claims


What is claimed is:

1. An article carrier apparatus configured for use with a pneumatic article transport system, comprising: a tubular body; a first end cap attached to a first end of the tubular body; a second end cap attached to a second end of the tubular body; and a first door pivotally attached to at least one of the first end cap and the tubular body, wherein the first door is movable between an open position and a closed position with respect to an access opening in the first end cap, wherein an interior space of the tubular body is accessible through the access opening of the first end cap when the first door is in the open position and wherein the first door is at least partially disposed within the interior space of the tubular body when the first door is in the open position.

2. The article carrier apparatus of claim 1 wherein the tubular body has a generally round cross-sectional profile.

3. The article carrier apparatus of claim 2 wherein the first door has generally straight side edges.

4. The article carrier apparatus of claim 1 wherein the first door is biased to the closed position.

5. The article carrier apparatus of claim 4, further comprising: a resilient member engaged between the first door and at least one of the first end cap and the tubular body, wherein the resilient member biases the first door to the closed position.

6. The article carrier apparatus of claim 1, further comprising: a second door pivotally attached to at least one of the second end cap and the tubular body, wherein the second door is movable between an open position and a closed position with respect to an access opening in the second end cap, wherein the interior space of the tubular body is accessible through the access opening of the second end cap when the second door is in the open position and wherein the second door is disposed entirely outside of the interior space of the tubular body when the second door is in the open position.

7. The article carrier apparatus of claim 1, further comprising: a resilient member engaged between the first door and at least one of the first end cap and the tubular body for biasing the first door to the closed position; and a second door pivotally attached to at least one of the second end cap and the tubular body, wherein the second door is movable between an open position and a closed position with respect to an access opening in the second end cap, wherein the interior space of the tubular body is accessible through the access opening of the second end cap when the second door is in the open position and wherein the second door is disposed entirely outside of the interior space of the tubular body when the second door is in the open position; wherein the tubular body has a generally round cross-sectional profile; wherein the first door has generally straight side edges; wherein the first door is biased to the closed position.

8. An article transport system kit, comprising: an elongated carrier tube; a first end housing connectable to a first end of the elongated carrier tube; a second end housing connectable to a second end of the elongated carrier tube; and an article carrier apparatus positionable within a carrier passage jointly defined within said end housings and the elongated carrier tube, wherein the article carrier apparatus includes a tubular body, a first end cap attached to a first end of the tubular body, a second end cap attached to a second end of the tubular body and a first door pivotally attached to at least one of the first end cap and the tubular body, wherein the first door is movable between an open position and a closed position with respect to an access opening in the first end cap, wherein an interior space of the tubular body is accessible through the access opening of the first end cap when the first door is in the open position and wherein the first door is at least partially disposed within the interior space of the tubular body when the first door is in the open position.

9. The article transport system kit of claim 8 wherein: a first end of the first end housing is attached to a first end of the elongated carrier tube; the carrier passage extends into first end housing; and the first end housing includes means for preventing the article carrier apparatus from being removed from the first end housing through an access opening in a second end of the first end housing.

10. The article transport system kit of claim 8 wherein: a first end of the first end housing is attached to a first end of the elongated carrier tube; the carrier passage extends into first end housing; the first end housing includes an access opening in a second end of the first end housing; and the access opening in the second end of the first end housing is positioned and sized for enabling access to the interior space of the article carrier apparatus therethrough.

11. The article transport system kit of claim 10 wherein the first end housing includes means for preventing the article carrier apparatus from being removed from the first end housing through the access opening in the second end of the first end housing.

12. The article transport system kit of claim 8 wherein the first door is biased to the closed position.

13. The article transport system kit of claim 12, further comprising: a resilient member engaged between the first door and at least one of the first end cap and the tubular body, wherein the resilient member biases the first door to the closed position.

14. The article transport system kit of claim 8, further comprising: a second door pivotally attached to at least one of the second end cap and the tubular body, wherein the second door is movable between an open position and a closed position with respect to an access opening in the second end cap, wherein the interior space of the tubular body is accessible through the access opening of the second end cap when the second door is in the open position and wherein the second door is disposed entirely outside of the interior space of the tubular body when the second door is in the open position.

15. The article transport system kit of claim 8, further comprising: a resilient member engaged between the first door and at least one of the first end cap and the tubular body, wherein the resilient member biases the first door to the closed position; and a second door pivotally attached to at least one of the second end cap and the tubular body; wherein the second door is movable between an open position and a closed position with respect to an access opening in the second end cap; wherein the interior space of the tubular body is accessible through the access opening of the second end cap when the second door is in the open position; wherein the second door is disposed entirely outside of the interior space of the tubular body when the second door is in the open position; wherein a first end of the first end housing is attached to a first end of the elongated carrier tube; wherein the carrier passage extends into first end housing; and wherein the first end housing includes means for preventing the article carrier apparatus from being removed from the first end housing through an access opening in a second end of the first end housing.

16. An article transport system, comprising: an elongated carrier tube; an article receiving assembly including a first end housing connected to a first end of the elongated carrier tube and a support body connected to the first end housing; a system control assembly including a second end housing connected to a second end of the elongated carrier tube and a transport energizing unit attached to the second end housing; and an article carrier apparatus movably disposed within a carrier passage jointly defined within said end housings and the elongated carrier tube, wherein the article carrier apparatus includes a tubular body, a first end cap attached to a first end of the tubular body, a second end cap attached to a second end of the tubular body and a first door pivotally attached to at least one of the first end cap and the tubular body, wherein the first door is movable between an open position and a closed position with respect to an access opening in the first end cap, wherein an interior space of the tubular body is accessible through the access opening of the first end cap when the first door is in the open position and wherein the first door is at least partially disposed within the interior space of the tubular body when the first door is in the open position.

17. The article transport system of claim 16 wherein: the article carrier apparatus includes a second door pivotally attached to at least one of the second end cap and the tubular body; the second door is movable between an open position and a closed position with respect to an access opening in the second end cap; the interior space of the tubular body is accessible through the access opening of the second end cap when the second door is in the open position; and the second door is disposed entirely outside of the interior space of the tubular body when the second door is in the open position.

18. The article transport system of claim 17 wherein: a first end of the first end housing is attached to a first end of the elongated carrier tube; the carrier passage extends into first end housing; and the first end housing includes means for preventing the article carrier apparatus from being removed from the first end housing through an access opening in a second end of the first end housing.

19. The article transport system of claim 18 wherein: a first end of the first end housing is attached to a first end of the elongated carrier tube; the carrier passage extends into first end housing; the first end housing includes an access opening in a second end of the first end housing; and the access opening in the second end of the first end housing is positioned and sized for enabling access to the interior space of the article carrier apparatus therethrough.
Description


FIELD OF THE DISCLOSURE

The disclosures made herein relate generally to article transport systems and, more particularly, to article transport systems using an energising means such as pneumatic power.

BACKGROUND

Suburban and rural homeowners typically have a mailbox located at a road at the edge of their property or across the street from their property. A post mounted or pedestal mounted mailbox is an example of a conventional mailbox used in such an arrangement. Mail is deposited in the mailbox by a mail carrier and is retrieved by the mail recipient (i.e., an individual, a member of a household, a member of a business, etc).

A conventional, remotely-located residential mailbox (i.e., a conventional mailbox located at a road at the edge of their property or across the street from their property) is convenient and financially advantageous for the postal service because it allows mail to be delivered without the mail carrier having to leave their vehicle and/or individually delivery mail at each physical building on a mail route. However, this arrangement is less than convenient for the mail recipient as it requires them to venture outdoors in sometimes inclement whether conditions, which may result in falling on a slippery surface or becoming ill. The mail recipient also places himself or herself in danger in that they generally must stand near a roadway to retrieve their mail.

Mail tampering is another drawback associated with conventional mailboxes located remotely from a recipients premise. A conventional, remotely-located residential mailbox (i.e., a conventional mailbox located at a road at the edge of their property or across the street from their property) is typically not locked, even though it is lockable. Thus, the potential exists for the recipients mail to be tampered with or for undesirable and/or dangerous object to be readily placed in their mailbox.

Various types of article transport systems that are configured for and/or capable of transporting mail from a remote location (e.g., at an edge of the recipient's property) to a recipient premise (e.g., the recipient's home) are known. Examples of such known mail transport systems (i.e., conventional article transport systems) are disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,264,032; 6,474,912; 5,518,545; 5,356,243; 5,215,412; 5,174,689; 4,941,777 and 6,729,808. While each these conventional article transport systems do provide a means for transporting mail from a remote location to a recipient premise, they are also not without one or more limitations. One limitation is that some such conventional article transport systems include a carrier device that can be readily removed at the location where a carrier deposits mail, which can result in theft of the carrier device, insertion of foreign objects into a carrier tube of the system, etc. Another limitation is that some such conventional article transport systems include a carrier device that does not include means for precluding extraction of mail by an unauthorized party once the mail has been deposited within the carrier device.

Therefore, an approach for delivering mail through transportation from a remote location in a manner that overcomes limitations associated with conventional article transport systems would be useful and advantageous.

SUMMARY OF THE DISCLOSURE

In one embodiment of the present invention, an article carrier apparatus configured for use with a pneumatic article transport system comprises a tubular body, a first end cap attached to a first end of the tubular body, a second end cap attached to a second end of the tubular body and a first door pivotally attached to at least one of the first end cap and the tubular body. The first door is movable between an open position and a closed position with respect to an access opening in the first end cap. An interior space of the tubular body is accessible through the access opening of the first end cap when the first door is in the open position. The first door is at least partially disposed within the interior space of the tubular body when the first door is in the open position.

In another embodiment of the present invention, an article transport system kit comprises an elongated carrier tube, a first end housing connectable to a first end of the elongated carrier tube, a second end housing connectable to a second end of the elongated carrier tube and an article carrier apparatus positionable within a carrier passage jointly defined within the end housings and the elongated carrier tube. The article carrier apparatus includes a tubular body, a first end cap attached to a first end of the tubular body, a second end cap attached to a second end of the tubular body and a first door pivotally attached to at least one of the first end cap and the tubular body. The first door is movable between an open position and a closed position with respect to an access opening in the first end cap. An interior space of the tubular body is accessible through the access opening of the first end cap when the first door is in the open position. The first door is at least partially disposed within the interior space of the tubular body when the first door is in the open position.

In another embodiment of the present invention, an article transport system comprises an elongated carrier tube, an article receiving assembly, a system control assembly and an article carrier apparatus. The mailbox assembly includes a first end housing connected to a first end of the elongated carrier tube and a support body connected to the first end housing. The system control assembly includes a second end housing connected to a second end of the elongated carrier tube and a transport energizing unit attached to the second end housing. The article carrier apparatus is movably disposed within a carrier passage jointly defined within the end housings and the elongated carrier tube. The article carrier apparatus includes a tubular body, a first end cap attached to a first end of the tubular body, a second end cap attached to a second end of the tubular body and a first door pivotally attached to at least one of the first end cap and the tubular body. The first door is movable between an open position and a closed position with respect to an access opening in the first end cap. An interior space of the tubular body is accessible through the access opening of the first end cap when the first door is in the open position. The first door is at least partially disposed within the interior space of the tubular body when the first door is in the open position.

Turning now to specific aspects of the present invention, in at least one embodiment, the tubular body has a generally round cross-sectional profile.

In at least one embodiment of the present invention, the first door has generally straight side edges.

In at least one embodiment of the present invention, the first door is biased to the closed position.

In at least one embodiment of the present invention, a resilient member is engaged between the first door and at least one of the first end cap and the tubular body, wherein the resilient member biases the first door to the closed position.

In at least one embodiment of the present invention, a second door is pivotally attached to at least one of the second end cap and the tubular body, the second door is movable between an open position and a closed position with respect to an access opening in the second end cap, the interior space of the tubular body is accessible through the access opening of the second end cap when the second door is in the open position, and the second door is disposed entirely outside of the interior space of the tubular body when the second door is in the open position.

In at least one embodiment of the present invention, a first end of the first end housing is attached to a first end of the elongated carrier tube, the carrier passage extends into first end housing, and the first end housing includes means for preventing the article carrier apparatus from being removed from the first end housing through an access opening in a second end of the first end housing.

In at least one embodiment of the present invention, a first end of the first end housing is attached to a first end of the elongated carrier tube, the carrier passage extends into first end housing, the first end housing includes an access opening in a second end of the first end housing, and the access opening in the second end of the first end housing is positioned and sized for enabling access to the interior space of the article carrier apparatus therethrough.

These and other objects, embodiments advantages and/or distinctions of the present invention will become readily apparent upon further review of the following specification, associated drawings and appended claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 depicts an embodiment of a mail transport system in accordance with the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a fragmented cross-sectional view taken along the line 2--2 in FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a perspective view from a first end of an article carrier apparatus in accordance with the present invention.

FIG. 4 is a perspective view from a second end of the article carrier apparatus in FIG. 3.

FIG. 5 is an end view of the first end of the article carrier apparatus in FIG. 3.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING FIGURES

FIG. 1 depicts an embodiment of a mail transport system in accordance with the present invention, referred to herein as the mail transport system 10. The mail transport system 10 includes an elongated carrier tube 12, a mailbox assembly 14 (i.e., an article receiving assembly), a system control assembly 16 and an article carrier apparatus 18. In practice, the system control assembly 16 is located at a first location (e.g., a location in a home, a mail delivery station at an office building, etc) and the mailbox assembly 14 is located at a remote location from the system control assembly 16 (e.g., at a curb in front of the home, a mailroom in an office building, etc). The elongated carrier tube 12 is connected between the mailbox assembly 14 and the system control assembly 16. The elongated carrier tube 12 may be mounted above ground, underground, in building walls, etc. The elongated carrier tube 12 may be a single length of tubular material or a plurality of interconnected segments of tubular material. As is discussed in greater detail below, the elongated carrier tube 12, the mailbox assembly 14, the system control assembly 16 and the article carrier apparatus 18 are interconnected and interoperable for enabling mail to be transported within the article carrier apparatus 18 through the elongated carrier tube 12 from the mailbox assembly 14 to the system control assembly 16.

Referring to FIGS. 1 and 2, the mailbox assembly 14 includes a first end housing 20 and a support body 22. The first end housing 20 is connected at a first end 23 thereof to a first end 24 of the elongated carrier tube 12. The support body 22 is connected at a first end 25 to the first end housing 20 and is provided for enabling the first end housing 20 to be installed at a desired location. For example, a bottom end 26 of the support body 22 may be secured within a hole in the ground. It is disclosed herein that, in alternate embodiments of the present invention, the support body 22 is omitted and the support body 22 is mounted via alternate means (e.g., mounted within a stone or stucco mail box pedestal).

The system control assembly 16 (FIG. 1) includes a second end housing 28 and a transport energizing unit 30. The second end housing 28 is connected at a first end 32 thereof to a second end 34 of the elongated carrier tube 12. The second end housing 28 includes an access opening 36 therein through which the article carrier apparatus 18 may be removed from and reinstalled within the second end housing 28. The access opening 36 in the second end of the first end housing is positioned and sized for enabling access to the interior space 62 of the article carrier apparatus 18 therethrough.

As depicted in FIGS. 1 and 2, the article carrier apparatus 18 is slidably disposed within a carrier passage jointly defined within the end housings (20, 28) and the elongated carrier tube 12. The first end housing 20 has an access opening 38 at a second end 40 thereof. The article carrier apparatus 18 is accessible through the access opening 38 of the first end housing 20 when the article carrier apparatus 18 is positioned within the carrier passage adjacent the access opening 38. The first end housing 20 includes an access opening 41 that is positioned and sized for enabling access to the article carrier apparatus 18 therethrough.

First end housing 20 includes a stepped portion 42 that serves as a means for preventing removal of the article carrier apparatus 18 through the access opening 38 of the first end housing 20. In applications where the first end housing 20 will be publicly accessible, it is preferred that the article carrier apparatus 18 is not removable from the first end housing 20. By preventing removal of the article carrier apparatus 18 from the first end housing 20 the potential of theft of the article carrier apparatus 18 and vandalism to the article carrier apparatus 18 is reduced. It is disclosed herein that other means for preventing removal of the article carrier apparatus 18 may be implemented (e.g., one or more protruding members, a discrete ring mounted within the access opening 38, etc).

The transport energizing unit 30 of the system control assembly 16 is connected to the second end housing 28 and is configured for generating positive pressure and/or negative pressure within the carrier passage jointly defined within the end housings (20, 28) and the elongated carrier tube 12. Through such pressure, the article carrier apparatus 18 may be transported through the elongated carrier tube 12 between the end housings (20, 28). For example, the transport energizing unit 30 may be connected to the second end housing 28 in a manner whereby an applied positive pressure causes the article carrier apparatus 18 to be transported from the second end housing 28 to the first end housing 20 and an applied negative pressure causes the article carrier apparatus 18 to be transported from the first end housing 20 to the second end housing 28. Depending on the specific construction of the second end housing and operation of the transport energizing unit 30, the necessity and/or preference may exist for a sealing cover (not specifically shown) to be mounted over the access opening 36 of the second end housing 28 for enabling required pressure generation within the carrier passage.

Preferably, the transport energizing unit 30 is a pneumatic energizing unit, which uses air pressure to facilitate transport of the article carrier apparatus 18. However, it is disclosed herein that alternate types of energizing units may be implemented. For example, a transport energizing unit that utilizes a belt drive arrangement (i.e., a belt connected between a motor and the article carrier apparatus 18) may facilitate transport of the article carrier apparatus 18.

Referring now to FIGS. 2 5, the article carrier apparatus 18 includes a tubular body 44, a first end cap 46, a second end cap 48, a first door 50 and a second door 52. The first end cap 46 is attached to a first end 54 of the tubular body 44. The second end cap 48 is attached to a second end 56 of the tubular body 44. The first end cap 46 includes a respective sealing member 43 and the second end cap 48 includes a respective sealing member 45. The sealing members (43, 43) of the end caps (46, 48) provide a seal between the article carrier apparatus 18 and the carrier passage.

The first door 50 is pivotally attached to the first end cap 46. Optionally, the first door may be attached to the tubular body 44 or to both the first end cap 46 and to the tubular body 44. The first door 50 is movable between an open position O1 and a closed position C1 with respect to an access opening 58 in the first end cap 46. The first door 50 is biased to the closed position C1 by a resilient member (i.e., a means) such as a spring 59 (FIG. 2). When in the closed position C1, the first door engages a rear surface 63 of the first end body 46. In this manner, the first door 50 serves as a one-way door through which mail may readily inserted, but not readily removed. An interior space 60 of the tubular body 44 is accessible through the access opening 58 of the first end cap 46 when the first door 50 is in the open position O1. The first door 50 is at least partially disposed within the interior space 60 of the tubular body 44 when the first door 50 is in the open position O1.

The second door 52 is pivotally attached to the second end cap 48. Optionally, the second door 52 may be attached to the tubular body 44 or to both the first end cap 46 and to the tubular body 44. The second door 52 is movable between an open position O2 and a closed position C2 with respect to an access opening 62 in the second end cap 48. The interior space 60 of the tubular body 44 is accessible through the access opening 62 of the second end cap 48 when the second door 52 is in the open position O2. The second door 52 is disposed entirely outside of the interior space 60 of the tubular body 44 when the second door 52 is in the open position O2.

The tubular body 44 preferably, but not necessarily, has a generally round exterior cross-sectional profile and a generally round interior cross-sectional profile. Thus, the first door 50 requires a shape that enables the permits movement of the first door 50 to placement within the interior space 60 of the tubular body 44. In one embodiment, the first door 50 has generally straight side edges and a generally straight bottom edge (FIG. 5). The top edge preferably, but not necessarily, follows the general interior profile of the tubular body 44. Optionally, the tubular body 44 may have a cross sectional shape that is at least partially rectangular and the first door 50 may have a rectangular shape. The first door 50 is pivotally attached by means such as, for example, hinges 64 that are connected between the first door 50 and first end cap 46. Optionally, the hinges 64 may be connected between the first door 50 and tubular body 44.

Although not specifically shown, it is disclosed herein that the act of depositing articles in the article carrier apparatus 18 may automatically cause the article carrier apparatus 18 to be transported from the first end housing 20 to the second end housing 22. For example, an activation means such as an optical or mechanical switch may be attached to the first door 50 of the article carrier apparatus 18 and be triggered by opening and closing of the first door 50. In response to such triggering, a signal is sent from the first end housing 20 and/or article carrier apparatus 18 to the transport energizing unit 30 for facilitating transport of the article carrier apparatus 18 from the first end housing 20 to the second end housing 22.

It is disclosed herein that an article transport system in accordance with the present invention may be provided in the form of a kit (i.e., an article transport system kit). The kit includes all of the elements of the mail transport system 10 depicted in FIG. 1. The elements are interconnectable and interoperable as discussed above in reference to FIGS. 1 5. Such a kit is useful in that it enables an entity such as a homeowner to install an article transport system in accordance with the present invention.

While a preferred embodiment of the present invention is a mail transport system, the present invention is not limited to the transport (e.g., delivery) of mail. Various other articles may be transported with an article carrier apparatus or system in accordance with the present invention. Similarly, an article carrier apparatus or system in accordance with the present invention may be used in an environment other than that associated with mail transport and/or delivery. Accordingly, it is disclosed herein that the present invention may be embodied by an article transport system used for transporting a variety of different types of articles in a variety of different types of environments.

In the preceding detailed description, reference has been made to the accompanying drawings that form a part hereof, and in which are shown by way of illustration specific embodiments in which the present invention may be practiced. These embodiments, and certain variants thereof, have been described in sufficient detail to enable those skilled in the art to practice embodiments of the present invention. It is to be understood that other suitable embodiments may be utilized and that logical, mechanical, chemical and electrical changes may be made without departing from the spirit or scope of such inventive disclosures. To avoid unnecessary detail, the description omits certain information known to those skilled in the art. The preceding detailed description is, therefore, not intended to be limited to the specific forms set forth herein, but on the contrary, it is intended to cover such alternatives, modifications, and equivalents, as can be reasonably included within the spirit and scope of the appended claims. For more information go to WWW.GAPATENTS.COM or WWW.GOOGLE.COM.

Monday, July 27, 2009

USPTO Takes Another Step Closer to Full Electronic Patent Application Processing
e-Office Action provides faster, more efficient notification to patent applicants
WWW.USPTO.GOV

WASHINGTON - The Commerce Department’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced today the implementation of the e-Office Action program following a successful pilot project. Under the program, patent applicants receive an e-mail notification of office communications instead of paper mailings. An e-mail is sent to program participants when new office communications are available for viewing and downloading in Private PAIR, the patent application information retrieval system that allows applicants electronic access to the entire file history of their applications.

“We received very positive feedback from applicants who participated in the pilot program,” said Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Acting Director of the USPTO John Doll. “Not only have we dramatically reduced paper processing and mailing costs but also expedited notification allowing applicants to take full advantage of their time period for reply to an office action.”

The e-Office Action program minimizes the possibility of lost or delayed postal mail and makes it faster and more efficient for participants to process and docket USPTO communications in electronic format, thus reducing processing costs. During the pilot, participants were able to retrieve office communications several days faster than postal mail. Participants in the pilot program have also suggested several enhancements to the system which will be under consideration for future implementation as the IT infrastructure is strengthened.

Participation in the e-Office Action program is optional and open to any registered attorney or agent of record, or pro se inventor who is a named inventor, in a patent application associated with a customer number. Program participants also will have the flexibility to opt-out of the e-Office Action program at any time and return to receiving office communications through the postal mail.

The program includes provisional applications and non-provisional applications including utility, plant, design, and reissue applications and national stage applications. International applications, reexamination proceedings, and interference proceedings are not included in the program.

Full requirements for e-Office Action program participation, training, and other program resource information are available at www.uspto.gov/eoa. For specific questions or suggestions about e-Office Action, please contact the Patent Electronic Business Center (EBC) Customer Service Center at 866-217-9197 (toll-free) or 571-272-4100 or send an e-mail to ebc@uspto.gov. For more information go to WWW.GAPATENTS.COM or WWW.GOOGLE.COM.

Friday, July 24, 2009

United States Patent 7,032,396
WWW.USPTO.GOV
Wood , et al.
April 25, 2006

Cooling method for controlled high speed chilling or freezing

Abstract

A cooling method for controlled high speed chilling or freezing is disclosed. Cooling fluid is circulated by a submersed circulator, such as a motor, at a substantially constant velocity past a substance to be cooled . The velocity of fluid flow is maintained despite changes in the viscosity of the cooling fluid, by either increasing or decreasing the amount of torque supplied by the motor. The cooling fluid is cooled to a desired temperature by circulating the fluid past a multi-path heat exchanging coil connected to a refrigeration system. An optimal cooling fluid temperature for a variety of applications is in the range of about -24.degree. C. to -26.degree. C., resulting in significant efficiency gains over conventional cooling processes.
Inventors: Wood; Brian (Lubbock, TX), Cassell; Allan J. (West Heidelberg, AU)
Assignee: Supachill Technologies Pty. Ltd. (AU)
Appl. No.: 10/276,440
Filed: May 16, 2001
PCT Filed: May 16, 2001
PCT No.: PCT/US01/15821
371(c)(1),(2),(4) Date: April 09, 2003
PCT Pub. No.: WO02/14753
PCT Pub. Date: February 21, 2002
Related U.S. Patent Documents

Application Number Filing Date Patent Number Issue Date
60205635 May., 2000

Current U.S. Class: 62/185 ; 62/434
Current International Class: F25D 17/02 (20060101)
Field of Search: 62/185,434,177,430,62,76,114,201,203,204,205
References Cited [Referenced By]
U.S. Patent Documents

4888956 December 1989 le Roux Murray
5003787 April 1991 Zlobinsky
5191773 March 1993 Cassell
6519954 February 2003 Prien et al.
2003/0154729 August 2003 Prien et al.
Primary Examiner: Jiang; Chen Wen
Attorney, Agent or Firm: Galasso; Raymond M. Galasso & Associates, L.P.
WWW.GAPATENTS.COM

Parent Case Text


CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims benefit under 35 U.S.C. .sctn. 119 of U.S. provisional patent application Ser. No. 60/205,635, entitled Cooling Method For Controlled High Speed Chilling or Freezing, which was filed on May 18, 2000. This application claims benefit under 35 U.S.C. .sctn. 365 of PCT international application Ser. No. PCT/US01/15821, entitled Cooling Method For Controlled High Speed Chilling or Freezing, which was filed May 16, 2001 now abandoned.
Claims


What is claimed is:

1. A method for cooling substances comprising: circulating cooling fluid past a substance to be cooled; and controlling the circulation of the cooling fluid such that the cooling fluid is circulated at a substantially constant predetermined velocity past the substance to be cooled by associating the circulation with a change in cooling fluid viscosity so as to maintain circulation of the cooling fluid at the substantially constant predetermined velocity even as viscosity of the cooling fluid changes.

2. The method as in claim 1, further comprising circulating the cooling fluid past a heat exchanging coil submersed in the cooling fluid, and wherein the heat exchanging coil is capable of removing the same amount of heat from the cooling fluid as the amount of heat the cooling fluid removes from the substance.

3. The method as in claim 2, wherein the heat exchanging coil is a multi-path coil.

4. The method as in claim 2, wherein the size of the heat exchanging coil is directly related to an area through which the cooling fluid is circulated, wherein the area is about 24 inches wide and 48 inches deep.

5. The method as in claim 2, further comprising cooling the heat exchanging coil with a refrigeration unit substantially matching load requirements of the heat exchanging coil.

6. The method as in claim 1, further comprising maintaining the cooling fluid at a temperature of between about -24 degrees centigrade and -26 degrees centigrade.

7. The method as in claim 1, wherein at least one circulator is used to circulate the cooling fluid, and wherein controlling the circulation comprises controlling the circulator to produce a desired circulation rate.

8. The method as in claim 7, wherein the circulator comprises: a motor; and an impeller rotatably coupled to the motor such that the impeller rotates to circulate the cooling fluid.

9. The method as in claim 7, wherein an additional circulator is employed for each foot of cooling fluid to be circulated past an area not greater than about 24 inches wide and 48 inches deep.

10. The method as in claim 1, wherein the circulation rate is about 35 liters per minute per foot of cooling fluid through an area not greater than about 24 inches wide and 48 inches deep.

11. The method as in claim 1, wherein the cooling fluid is a solute.

12. The method as in claim 1, further comprising freezing the substance at a controlled freezing rate.

13. The method as in claim 12, wherein controlling the freezing rate comprises controlling the substantially constant predetermined circulation rate of the cooling fluid.

14. The method as in claim 12, wherein controlling the freezing rate comprises controlling the velocity of cooling fluid flowing past the substance to be cooled.

15. The method as in claim 12, wherein controlling the freezing rate comprises controlling the temperature of the cooling fluid.

16. The method as in claim 1, further comprising cooling the substance at a controlled cooling rate.

17. The method as in claim 16, wherein controlling the cooling rate comprises controlling the substantially constant predetermined circulation rate of the cooling fluid.

18. The method as in claim 16, wherein controlling the cooling rate comprises controlling the velocity of cooling fluid flowing past the substance to be cooled.

19. The method as in claim 16, wherein controlling the cooling rate comprises controlling the temperature of the cooling fluid such that the temperature differential throughout the cooling fluid is maintained within about 0.5 degrees centigrade.

20. A method for cooling substances comprising: circulating cooling fluid past a substance to be cooled using at least one circulator; and controlling the at least one circulator to maintain a substantially constant predetermined velocity of cooling fluid circulated past the substance to be cooled, wherein said controlling the at least one circulator includes changing at least one operating parameter of the at least one circulator while the cooling fluid is being circulated in response to associating a change in at least one operating parameter of the at least one circulator with a change in cooling fluid viscosity thereby maintaining circulation of the cooling fluid at the substantially constant predetermined velocity even as viscosity of the cooling fluid changes.

21. The method as in claim 20, further comprising circulating the cooling fluid, at the substantially predetermined velocity, past a heat exchanging coil submersed in the cooling fluid, and wherein the heat exchanging coil is capable of removing at least the same amount of heat from the cooling fluid as the amount of heat the cooling fluid removes from the substance.

22. The method as in claim 21, wherein the heat exchanging coil is a multi-path coil.

23. The method as in claim 21, wherein the size of the heat exchanging coil is directly related to an area through which the cooling fluid is circulated, wherein the area is about 24 inches wide by 48 inches deep.

24. The method as in claim 21, further comprising cooling the heat exchanging coil with a refrigeration unit substantially matching load requirements of the heat exchanging coil.

25. The method as in claim 20, further comprising maintaining the cooling fluid at a temperature of between about -24 degrees centigrade and -26 degrees centigrade.

26. The method as in claim 20, wherein controlling the at least one circulator comprises adjusting the force exerted by the circulator on the cooling fluid such that the substantially constant predetermined velocity of the cooling fluid circulated past the substance to be cooled is maintained.

27. The method as in claim 20, wherein the circulation rate is about 35 liters per minute per foot of cooling fluid through an area not greater than about 24 inches wide and 48 inches deep.

28. The method as in claim 20, wherein the circulator comprises: a motor; and an impeller rotatably coupled to the motor such that the impeller rotates to circulate the cooling fluid.

29. The method as in claim 20, wherein an additional circulator is employed for each foot of cooling fluid to be circulated past an area not greater than about 24 inches wide and 48 inches deep.

30. The method as in claim 20, wherein the cooling fluid is a solute.

31. The method as in claim 20, further comprising freezing the substance at a controlled freezing rate.

32. The method as in claim 31, wherein controlling the freezing rate comprises controlling the substantially constant predetermined velocity of the cooling fluid circulated past the substance to be cooled.

33. The method as in claim 31, wherein controlling the freezing rate comprises controlling the volume of cooling fluid.

34. The method as in claim 31, wherein controlling the freezing rate comprises controlling the temperature of the cooling fluid.

35. The method as in claim 20, further comprising cooling the substance at a controlled cooling rate.

36. The method as in claim 35, wherein controlling the cooling rate comprises controlling the substantially constant predetermined velocity of the cooling fluid circulated past the substance to be cooled.

37. The method as in claim 35, wherein controlling the cooling rate comprises controlling the volume of cooling fluid.

38. The method as in claim 35, wherein controlling the cooling rate comprises controlling the temperature of the cooling fluid such that the temperature differential throughout the cooling fluid is maintained within about 0.5 degrees centigrade.

39. A method for cooling a substance comprising: circulating cooling fluid past the substance using at least one circulator; determining changes in cooling fluid viscosity due to thermal transfer; and altering circulator force to compensate for the changes in cooling fluid viscosity, such that a substantially constant predetermined velocity of fluid past the substance is maintained.

40. The method as in claim 39, further comprising circulating the cooling fluid at the substantially constant predetermined velocity past a heat exchanging coil submersed in the cooling fluid, and wherein the heat exchanging coil is capable of removing at least the same amount of heat from the cooling fluid as the amount of heat the cooling fluid removes from the substance.

41. The method as in claim 40, wherein the heat exchanging coil is a multi-path coil.

42. The method as in claim 40, wherein the size of the heat exchanging coil is directly related to an area through which the cooling fluid is circulated, wherein the area is about 24 inches wide and 48 inches deep.

43. The method as in claim 40, further comprising cooling the heat exchanging coil with a refrigeration unit substantially matching load requirements of the heat exchanging coil.

44. The method as in claim 39, further comprising maintaining the cooling fluid at a temperature of between about -24 degrees centigrade and -26 degrees centigrade.

45. The method as in claim 39, wherein the circulation rate is about 35 liters per minute per foot of cooling fluid through an area not greater than about 24 inches wide and 48 inches deep.

46. The method as in claim 39, wherein the circulator comprises: a motor; and an impeller rotatably coupled to the motor such that the impeller rotates to circulate the cooling fluid; and wherein the circulator force is a torque supplied by the motor.

47. The method as in claim 39, wherein an additional circulator is employed for each foot of cooling fluid to be circulated past an area not greater than about 24 inches wide and 48 inches deep.

48. The method as in claim 39, wherein the cooling fluid is a solute.

49. The method as in claim 39, further comprising freezing the substance at a controlled freezing rate.

50. The method as in claim 49, wherein controlling the freezing rate comprises controlling the substantially constant predetermined circulation rate of the cooling fluid.

51. The method as in claim 49, wherein controlling the freezing rate comprises controlling the volume of cooling fluid.

52. The method as in claim 49, wherein controlling the freezing rate comprises controlling the temperature of the cooling fluid.

53. The method as in claim 39, further comprising cooling the substance at a controlled cooling rate.

54. The method as in claim 53, wherein controlling the cooling rate comprises controlling the substantially constant predetermined circulation rate of the cooling fluid.

55. The method as in claim 53, wherein controlling the cooling rate comprises controlling the velocity of the cooling fluid flowing past the substance to be cooled.

56. The method as in claim 53, wherein controlling the cooling rate comprises controlling the temperature of the cooling fluid such that the temperature differential throughout the cooling fluid is maintained within about 0.5 degrees centigrade.
Description


FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to cooling methods and more particularly to methods for rapidly cooling, chilling, or freezing various substances.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

In many industries, rapid cooling, chilling or freezing of items is desirable. While currently available cooling and freezing techniques perform adequately in many instances, numerous industries could benefit from faster or more efficient cooling or freezing methods. Consider, for example, the frozen food industry. The taste, texture, and general appearance of many vegetables, fruits, etc., can vary significantly depending upon the rate at which the item is cooled. Additionally, faster cooling can shorten the time needed to get a frozen food item to market and decrease the amount of inventory storage. For example, if unfrozen product could be received, frozen, and shipped all in the same day, remarkable cost savings might be achieved.

Commercial establishments such as restaurants, hotels, convenience stores, etc. can benefit from rapid cooling of food and beverages that are normally served chilled. For example, if bottled or canned beverages could be chilled quickly enough, only a small number of bottles or cans would need to be kept cool at any one time; most of a stores inventory could be chilled "on demand." As a result, the use of costly, energy consuming refrigerators could be reduced.

Other industries, such as the medical and pharmaceutical industries, may also benefit from rapid cooling of items. These industries rely on various tissues, organs, serums, medicines, etc., to be cooled or frozen. In general, the more quickly such items can be cooled, the longer the items should remain usable.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Therefore, what is needed is a method of cooling, chilling or freezing food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, or other substances more effectively and/or efficiently. Accordingly, at least one embodiment of the present invention provides a method for cooling substances comprising circulating cooling fluid past a substance to be cooled, and controlling the circulation of the cooling fluid such that the cooling fluid is circulated at a substantially constant predetermined velocity independent of changes in cooling fluid viscosity. In one embodiment, at least one circulator is used to circulate the cooling fluid. In another embodiment, the method includes determining changes in cooling fluid viscosity due to thermal transfer, and altering circulator force to compensate for the changes in cooling fluid viscosity, such that a substantially constant predetermined flow of fluid past the substance is maintained. In at least one embodiment, a circulator comprises a motor and an impeller. Various embodiments circulate cooling fluid past a heat exchanging coil submersed in the cooling fluid. This heat exchanging coil is preferably a "multi-path coil," which allows refrigerant to travel through multiple paths, in contrast to conventional refrigeration coils in which refrigerant is generally restricted to one or two continuous paths. As a result the heat exchanging coil used to implement the present invention can be made approximately fifty percent of the size of a conventional coil required to handle the same heat load. The heat exchanging coil is cooled by a refrigeration unit, and is employed to keep the cooling fluid at a desired temperature.

An object of at least one embodiment of the present invention is to quickly and efficiently cool, chill or freeze various substances.

An advantage of at least one embodiment of the present invention is that sensitive or delicate substances can be frozen without damage to the substance.

Another advantage of at least one embodiment of the present invention is that cooling, chilling or freezing is accomplished more rapidly than by many conventional methods.

Yet another advantage of various embodiments of the present invention is that various substances can be cooled, chilled or frozen more cost effectively due to decreased energy usage.

A further advantage of the present invention is that at least one embodiment employs a heat exchanging coil approximately 50 percent smaller than that used with conventional cooling methods handling the same heat load.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Other objects, advantages, features and characteristics of the present invention, as well as methods, operation and functions of related elements of structure, and the combination of parts and economies of manufacture, will become apparent upon consideration of the following description and claims with reference to the accompanying drawings, all of which form a part of this specification, wherein like reference numerals designate corresponding parts in the various figures, and wherein:

FIG. 1 is a side view of a chilling apparatus suitable for practicing a method according to at least one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is an end view of a cross-section of the chilling apparatus illustrated in FIG. 1; and

FIG. 3 is a flow diagram illustrating a method according to at least one embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF A PREFERRED EMBODIMENT OF THE INVENTION

Referring first to FIGS. 1 and 2, a chilling apparatus suitable for practicing a method according to at least one embodiment of the present invention is discussed, and designated generally as cooling unit 100. Cooling unit 100 preferably comprises tank 110 containing cooling fluid 140. Submersed in cooling fluid 140 are circulators 134 such as motors 130 having impellers 132, heat exchanging coil 120, and rack 150, which in one embodiment comprises shelves 155 for supporting substances to be cooled, chilled or frozen. External to tank 110, and coupled to heat exchanging coil 120, is refrigeration unit 190.

Tank 110 may be of any dimensions necessary to immerse substances to be cooled, chilled or frozen in a volume of cooling fluid 140, in which the dimensions are scaled multiples of 12 inches by 24 inches by 48 inches. Other size tanks may be employed consistent with the teachings set forth herein. For example, in one embodiment (not illustrated), tank 110 is sized to hold just enough cooling fluid 140, so that beverage containers, such as wine bottles, milk jugs, soft drink cans, and the like, can be placed in tank 110 for rapid cooling or chilling. In other embodiments, tank 110 is large enough to completely immerse large quantities of meats, vegetables, or other items for rapid freezing. It will be appreciated that tank 110 can be made larger or smaller, as needed to efficiently accommodate various sizes and quantities of substances to be cooled, chilled or frozen. Such substances include, but are not limited to, food items, liquids, pharmaceuticals, or animal, human or plant cells, and the like.

Tank 110 holds cooling fluid 140. In one embodiment, the cooling fluid is a food grade solute. The use of a food grade cooling fluid allows cooling, chilling or freezing of foodstuffs without risk of contamination from the fluid. Good examples of food grade quality fluids are those based on propylene glycol, sodium chloride solutions, or the like. In other embodiments, other fluids, and preferably solutes, are used as cooling fluids. When using a food grade cooling fluid to freeze food items, the food item may be immersed directly in the cooling fluid for rapid and effective freezing. Even relatively delicate food items, such as fish, asparagus and the like, retain their color and texture better than if the same items had been conventionally frozen.

In order to quickly and effectively cool, chill or freeze substances, one embodiment of the present invention circulates cooling fluid 140 past the substance to be cooled, at a relatively constant rate of 35 liters per minute for every foot of cooling fluid contained in an area not more than 24 inches wide by 48 inches deep. The necessary circulation is provided by one or more circulators 134, such as motors 130. In at least one embodiment of the present invention, submersed motors 130 drive impellers 132 to circulate cooling fluid 140 past substances to be cooled, chilled or frozen. Other circulators 134, including various pumps (not illustrated), can be employed consistent with the objects of the present invention. At least one embodiment of the present invention increases the area and volume through which cooling fluid is circulated by employing at least one circulator 134 in addition to motors 130. In embodiments using multiple circulators 134, the area and volume of cooling fluid circulation are increased in direct proportion to each additional circulator employed. For example, in a preferred embodiment, one additional circulator is used for each foot of cooling fluid that is to be circulated through an area of not more than about 24 inches wide by 48 inches deep.

Preferably, motors 130 can be controlled to maintain a constant predetermined velocity of cooling fluid flow past substances to be cooled, chilled or frozen, while at the same time maintaining an even distribution of cooling fluid temperature within +/-0.5.degree. C. at all points within tank 110. The substantially constant predetermined velocity of cooling fluid circulating past substances to be cooled, provides a constant, measured removal of heat, which allows for a controlled, high speed rate of cooling, chilling or freezing. In one embodiment, cooling fluid properties, such as viscosity, temperature, etc., are measured and processed, and control signals are sent to motors 130 to increase or decrease the rotational speed or torque of impellers 132 as needed. In other embodiments, motors 130 are constructed to maintain a given rotational velocity over a range of fluid conditions. In such a case, the torque or rotational speed of impellers 132 imparted by motors 130 are not externally controlled. Of note is the fact that no external pumps, shafts, or pulleys are needed to implement a preferred embodiment of the present invention. Motors 130, or other circulators 134, are immersed directly in cooling fluid 140. As a result, cooling fluid 140 not only cools, chills or freezes the substances placed in tank 110, but cooling fluid 140 also provides cooling for motors 130.

Heat exchanging coil 120 is preferably a "multi-path coil," which allows refrigerant to travel through multiple paths (i.e. three or more paths), in contrast to conventional refrigeration coils in which refrigerant is generally restricted to one or two continuous paths. In addition, the coil size is in direct relationship to the cross sectional area containing the measured amount of the cooling fluid 140. For example, in a preferred embodiment, tank 110 is one foot long, two feet deep and four feet wide, and uses a heat exchanging coil 120 that is one foot by two feet. If the length of tank 110 is increased to twenty feet, then the length of heat exchanging coil 120 is also increased to twenty feet. As a result, heat exchanging coil 120 can be made approximately fifty percent of the size of a conventional coil required to handle the same heat load. As discussed below, circulators 134 such as motors 130, circulate chilled cooling fluid 140 over a substance to be cooled, chilled or frozen, and then transport warmer cooling fluid to heat exchanging coil 120, which is submersed in cooling fluid 140. In at least one embodiment, heat exchanging coil 120 is so designed to remove not less than the same amount of heat from cooling fluid 140 as that removed from the substance to be cooled, chilled or frozen, thereby maintaining the temperature of cooling fluid 140 in a predetermined range. Heat exchanging coil 120 is connected to refrigeration unit 190, which removes the heat from heat exchanging coil 120 and the system.

In a preferred embodiment, refrigeration unit 190 is designed to match the load requirement of heat exchanging coil 120, so that the heat is removed from the system in a balanced and efficient manner, resulting in the controlled, rapid cooling, chilling or freezing of a substance. The efficiency of the refrigeration unit 190 is directly related to the method employed for controlling suction pressures by the efficient feeding of the heat exchange coil 120 and the efficient output of compressors used in refrigeration unit 190.

This methodology requires very close tolerances to be maintained between the refrigerant and cooling fluid 140 temperatures, and between the condensing temperature and the ambient temperature. These temperature criteria, together with the design of the heat exchange coil 120, allows heat exchange coil 120 to be fed more efficiently, which in turn allows the compressor to be fed in a balanced and tightly controlled manner to achieve in excess of twenty-five percent greater performance from the compressors than that which is accepted as the compressor manufacturer's standard rating.

Note that in the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 1, refrigeration unit 190 is an external, remotely located refrigeration system. However, in another embodiment (not illustrated), refrigeration unit 190 is incorporated into another section of tank 110. It will be appreciated that various configurations for refrigeration unit 190 may be more or less appropriate for certain configurations of cooling unit 100. For example, if tank 110 is extremely large, a separate refrigeration unit 190 may be desirable, while a portable embodiment may benefit from an integrated refrigeration unit 190. Such an integration is only made possible by the efficiencies achieved by implementing the principles as set forth herein, and particularly the use of a reduced-size heat exchanging coil.

By virtue of refrigeration unit 190 and heat exchanging coil 120, in a preferred embodiment, the cooling fluid is cooled to a temperature of between -24.degree. C. and -26.degree. C., with a temperature differential throughout the cooling fluid of less than about +/-0.5.degree. C. In other embodiments, the cooling fluid is cooled to temperatures outside the -24.degree. C. to -26.degree. C. range in order to control the rate at which a substance is to be cooled, chilled or frozen. Other embodiments control the circulation rate of the cooling fluid to achieve desired cooling, chilling or freezing rates. Alternatively, the volume of cooling fluid may be changed in order to facilitate a particular cooling, chilling or freezing rate. It will be appreciated that various combinations of cooling fluid circulation rate, cooling fluid volume, and cooling fluid temperature can be used to achieve desired cooling, chilling and freezing rates.

By properly balancing the refrigeration plant and coil size, heat can be removed from a substance up to 80% faster than known conventional refrigeration systems. Additionally, heat removal can be held at a constant rate 24 hours per day. At least one embodiment of the present invention has been shown to provide a performance coefficient greater than 1. Recall that the performance coefficient of a cooling system is

##EQU00001## where P.sub.c is the performance coefficient, Q.sub.c is the amount of heat removed, and W is the amount of work needed to remove the heat. For example, a system according to the present invention has been shown to be capable of removing 41,000 Watts of heat from a substance to be cooled using only 31,000 Watts of electricity. Using these values to compute the performance coefficient yields the following equation:

.times..times..times..times. ##EQU00002## which shows that the performance coefficient for at least one embodiment of the present invention is 1.32. In addition, tests have been performed showing that the measured refrigeration load required to freeze a 5 kg piece of Beef Rump from +6.degree. C. to a core temperature of -18.degree. C. is 1479 BTU's. An operational freezer in a normal production process freezes the Beef Rump in 40 hours or more. A method according to at least one embodiment of the present invention has been shown to freeze a 5 kg piece of Beef Rump in approximately 3 hours, a time savings of 37 hours.

In addition to the rapid rate at which substances may be frozen, the controlled rate of cooling, chilling and freezing provided by a preferred embodiment of the present invention can prevent damage to substances being cooled, chilled or frozen (such as the Beef Rump), by preventing the formation of ice crystals and lessening the damage to cell structures.

Referring now to FIG. 2, an embodiment of cooling system 100 suitable for cooling, chilling or freezing relatively large quantities of substances is discussed. Reference numerals in FIG. 2 that are like, similar or identical to reference numerals in FIG. 1 indicate like, similar or identical features. Tank 110 contains cooling fluid 140, into which rack 150 may be lowered. Rack 150 is movably coupled to rack support 210, such that rack 150 may be raised or lowered to facilitate the placement of substances into tank 110.

In use, substances to be cooled, chilled or frozen are placed on shelves 155 of rack 150. Preferably, shelves 155 are constructed of wire, mesh, or otherwise, so that cooling fluid 140 may freely circulate over, under and/or around substances placed thereon. Preferably, once the cooling fluid is chilled to a desired temperature, rack support 210 lowers rack 150 into tank 110, in order to submerge shelves 155 in cooling fluid 140. Lowering rack 150 may be accomplished manually or using various gear, chain, and/or pulley configurations known to those skilled in the art. Circulators 134 circulate cooling fluid 140 across substances placed on shelves 155 to provide quick and controlled cooling, chilling or freezing.

Referring now to FIG. 3, a method according to one embodiment of the present invention is illustrated, and designated generally by reference numeral 300. The illustrated method begins at step 310, where cooling fluid is circulated past a heat exchange coil. The heat exchange coil is operably coupled to a refrigeration system as discussed above, and is used to reduce the temperature of the cooling fluid as the cooling fluid is circulated past the heat exchange coil. In step 320, the temperature of the cooling fluid is measured, and the method proceeds to step 330 where it is determined whether the temperature of the cooling fluid is within an optimal temperature range. This optimal cooling fluid temperature range may be different for different applications, however, a preferred optimal temperature range for many applications is between -24.degree. C. and -26.degree. C.

If the cooling fluid temperature is determined not to be within an optimal, predetermined temperature range, step 335 is performed. In step 335, the heat exchanging coil is cooled by a refrigeration unit, and the method returns to step 310, in which the cooling fluid is circulated past the heat exchange coil in order to lower the temperature of the cooling fluid. Preferably, steps 310, 320, 330 and 335 are performed continually until the cooling fluid reaches the optimal temperature range.

Once the cooling fluid reaches a proper temperature, the method proceeds to step 337, in which a circulator, such as a submersed motor/impeller assembly or pump, is used to circulate the cooling fluid at the velocity previously discussed, past a substance to be cooled, chilled or frozen. As the cooling fluid passes by the substance, heat is removed from the substance, which is at a higher temperature than the temperature of the cooling fluid, and is transferred to the cooling fluid, which transports the heat away from the substance to be cooled, chilled or frozen. As thermal energy is transferred to the cooling fluid, the cooling fluid's viscosity is generally lowered, so that as long as the substance to be cooled is relatively hot compared to the cooling fluid, the viscosity of the cooling fluid having just flowed past the substance is less than the viscosity of the cooling fluid that has just flowed past the heat exchanging coil.

According to at least one embodiment of the present invention, a substantially constant circulation of cooling fluid past the substance to be cooled, chilled or frozen, should be maintained in order to provide a rapid and controlled rate of cooling. However, the flow rate of the cooling fluid is dependent, at least in part, on the viscosity of the cooling fluid. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the viscosity of the cooling fluid changes. In order to compensate for the changes in cooling fluid viscosity, step 340 is performed to measure the viscosity of the cooling fluid. Step 350 then determines if the viscosity of the cooling fluid has changed, either due to heating of the cooling fluid by the substance or due to chilling of the cooling fluid by the heat exchanging coil. If the cooling fluid's viscosity has increased, step 358 is performed, wherein the force (e.g. torque) supplied by a circulator (e.g. motor and impeller), is increased to compensate for the increased fluid viscosity. Alternatively, if it is determined in step 358 that the cooling fluid viscosity has decreased, step 353 is performed to reduce the force produced by the circulator. If an insignificant change in viscosity is detected, the circulator continues to circulate the cooling fluid with an unchanged amount of force, or torque. The method then returns to step 310, and begins again.

The steps illustrated in FIG. 3 are shown and discussed in a sequential order. However, the illustrated method is of a nature wherein some or all of the steps are continuously performed, and may be performed in a different order. For example, at least one embodiment of the present invention uses a single circulating motor to circulate the cooling fluid. In such an embodiment, cooling fluid is circulated past a heat exchanging coil as in step 310 and past a substance to be cooled in step 337 at the same time. In addition, one embodiment of the present invention measures cooling fluid temperatures and viscosities continually, and at multiple locations within the system.

In yet another embodiment, in step 350 the viscosity of the cooling fluid is not directly measured and compared to a previous measurement in order to determine a change in the cooling fluid viscosity. Rather, the change in cooling fluid viscosity is determined indirectly from the rotational speed of a circulation motor. If the motor is turning at a slower rate, then the viscosity is assumed to be increasing, and additional power can be supplied to the motor to return the motor to the desired rotational speed, thereby compensating for the change in cooling fluid viscosity. In at least one embodiment, a motor is configured to maintain a substantially constant rate of rotation. This substantially constant rate of motor rotation will result in a substantially constant rate of cooling fluid circulation.

At least one embodiment of the present invention cools, chills or freezes substances in a controlled and balanced manner so as to achieve extremely high rates of heat exchange, resulting in a freezing rate up to more than 80% faster than conventional freezing methods. In addition, at least one method according to the present invention freezes at a high speed at a relatively high temperature without causing damage to the substance, and thereby providing a recovery and or preservation rate higher than known conventional freezers. These methods also reduce the amount of electrical energy used by up to over 50% when compared to existing operational freezers.

In the preceding detailed description, reference has been made to the accompanying drawings which form a part hereof, and in which are shown by way of illustration specific embodiments in which the invention may be practiced. These embodiments have been described in sufficient detail to enable those skilled in the art to practice the invention, and it is to be understood that other embodiments may be utilized and that logical, mechanical, chemical and electrical changes may be made without departing from the spirit or scope of the invention. To avoid detail not necessary to enable those skilled in the art to practice the invention, the description omits certain information known to those skilled in the art. The preceding detailed description is, therefore, not to be taken in a limiting sense, and the scope of the present invention is defined only by the appended claims. For more information go to WWW.GAPATENTS.COM or WWW.GOOGLE.COM.