Fan-driven air freshener
Air Freshener Abstract
Air Freshener Claims
1. An air freshener apparatus for a robotic vacuum cleaner comprising: a reservoir containing a chemical; a triggering circuit controlled by the robotic vacuum cleaner; a fan assembly comprising a fan and a fan motor disposed in a housing adjacent the reservoir that is controlled by the triggering circuit; and an outlet duct directing scented air from the fan assembly wherein the fan motor is activated for a predetermined time by the triggering circuit.
2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the source of chemical is a fragrance cartridge.
3. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the outlet duct is disposed within a housing cover of the robotic vacuum cleaner.
4. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising a shutoff circuit, wherein the shutoff circuit deactivates the fan motor after a predetermined time.
5. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the outlet duct is directed toward a floor surface.
6. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the outlet duct is disposed outside a housing cover of the robotic vacuum cleaner.
7. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the chemical contained in the reservoir is an air freshening chemical.
8. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the chemical contained in the reservoir is an anti-bacterial or anti-microbial chemical.
9. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the chemical contained in the reservoir is an odor masking chemical
10. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising a microprocessor connected to the fan motor, whereby the microprocessor drives the fan at a predetermined frequency for a predetermined duration.
11. The apparatus of claim 10, wherein the microprocessor is connected to a micropump and to an electron spray device.
12. Air freshener apparatus comprising: a source of air freshening chemical contained; a motion sensor; and a fan assembly comprising a fan and a fan motor disposed in a housing adjacent the source of air freshening chemical that is controlled by the motion sensor, wherein the fan motor is activated for a predetermined time period upon the motion sensor being activated.
13. Air freshener apparatus comprising: a source of air freshening chemical; and a fan assembly comprising a fan and a fan motor disposed in a housing adjacent the source of air freshening chemical that is controlled a microprocessor, wherein the fan motor is activated for a predetermined time by the microprocessor.
14. The apparatus of claim 13, wherein the source of air freshening chemical is disposed in a reservoir beneath the fan and is connected to an outlet duct.
15. The apparatus of claim 13, further comprising a shutoff circuit, wherein the shutoff circuit deactivates the fan motor after a predetermined time
16. The apparatus of claim 15, wherein the predetermined time is determined the microprocessor.
17. The apparatus of claim 16, wherein the fan motor is driven by the microprocessor in response to a pattern learned by inputs from one or more sensors.
18. The apparatus of claim 17, wherein the housing comprises a robotic vacuum system.
19. The apparatus of claim 13, further comprising a microprocessor connected to the fan motor, whereby the microprocessor drives the fan at a predetermined frequency for a predetermined duration.
20. The apparatus of claim 19, wherein the microprocessor is connected to a micropump and to an electron spray device.
 This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. Ser. No. 10/682,051 filed on Oct. 9, 2003, now pending, the contents of which are hereby incorporated by reference.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
 The present invention relates to fragrance delivery systems, and more particularly to active systems in which a fan suffuses the air in an environment with a chemical to mask or minimize objectionable odors.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
 Various devices are known that "freshen" air by adding a chemical to the air. In particular, off odors and malodors found in bathrooms are common. Various devices and chemicals that either disinfect, i.e., kill odor causing bacteria, or spray a perfume or fragrance to mask odors are know. Although many of these systems are passive and emit an air freshening compound into the air continuously, others use a fan to circulate the air freshening compound more rapidly and in higher concentration.
 Currently available air fresheners with fans have various limitations. One limitation is that they do not deliver air freshening compounds effectively, primarily because the compound is delivered in intermittent bursts of varying intensity, or pulses, while the fan is operating. Additionally, currently available designs simply turn the fan on and off manually. If the fan is activated for a period of time beyond that needed the life of the fan and motor assembly is shortened unnecessarily, as is the battery life in battery-driven models. Moreover, air freshening chemicals volatilized by the fan are used up more quickly if the fan is either constantly running or running for a period of time longer than necessary.
 U.S. Pat. No. 4,695,435-Spector discloses an air freshener device with a motor driven fan that is activated by a light being turned on, and is deactivated when the light is turned off.
 U.S. Pat. No. 4,707,338-Spector discloses an air freshener device with a motor driven fan that is activated by a light being turned on, and is deactivated after a set period of time.
 Neither of these prior art devices address the problems outlined above. Therefore, there remains a long-felt yet unmet need for providing enhanced levels of volatile air freshening or aroma chemicals in an effective and efficient manner. It would therefore be desirable to provide materials and methods that enhance the efficiency of fan driven air freshening systems. It would further be desirable to provide such improvements in a manner that permitted their application across a wide variety of situations and that permitted their implementation in a cost-effective manner.
 Self-propelled, self-navigating sweeper-vacuum cleaners known as "robot" vacuum systems are currently in market. U.S. Patent No. 6,809,490 discloses a control system for a mobile robot vacuum cleaner to effectively cover a given area by operating in a plurality of modes, including an obstacle following mode and a random bounce mode, as well as spot coverage, such as spiraling or other modes to increase effectiveness and ensure full coverage. U.S. Pat. No. 6,594,844 discloses a robot obstacle detection system including a robot housing which navigates with respect to a surface and a sensor subsystem having a defined relationship with respect to the housing and aimed at the surface for detecting the surface. Both of these patents herein incorporated by reference in their entirety as if fully set forth herein, and both are assigned to iRobot Corporation which markets a robotic vacuum system under the tradename "Roomba.TM.."
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
 Accordingly, it has now been found that these and other problems found in the prior art can be overcome by an air freshener apparatus that has a source of air freshening chemical, a photocell and a fan assembly disposed in a housing adjacent the source of air freshening chemical. The fan is controlled by the optical sensor such that the fan motor is activated for a predetermined time period upon the photocell sensing a predetermined level of light. In preferred embodiments, the source of air freshening chemical is a wick, and most preferably, the wick is disposed beneath the fan and allows fragrance to be delivered over time without the fan. In certain embodiments, the air freshener also has a control circuit, or shutoff circuit that deactivates the fan motor after a predetermined time, or alternatively shuts the motor off if the sensor senses a level of light below a predetermined level, either immediately or after a predetermined length of time. The fan motor is either driven by direct current or AC line current. In the latter, in certain preferred embodiments, the housing comprises a plug that connects the motor to the AC line current via a wall outlet and a receptacle wherein the wall outlet retains its utility and can be used to power another device simultaneously with the fan.
 In one aspect of certain preferred embodiments of the present invention, a microprocessor is connected to the fan motor, and drives the fan at a predetermined frequency for a predetermined duration. Most preferably, the microprocessor is connected to a micropump and to an electron spray device.
 In alternate embodiments, the air freshener apparatus uses a motion sensor to control the fan. In these embodiments, the fan motor is activated for a predetermined time period upon the motion sensor being activated, and the device also has a shutoff circuit. In a manner similar to the optical sensor embodiments, the shutoff circuit either deactivates the fan motor after a predetermined time which is either pre-set or determined by the absence of motion.
 In additional embodiments, the fan-driven air freshener apparatus is integrated within a robotic vacuum cleaner assembly and is used to freshen room air as the flooring or carpets are cleaned.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
 FIG. 1 is a side elevation view of a first embodiment of a fan driven air freshener made in accordance with the present invention;
 FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a second embodiment of a fan driven air freshener made in accordance with the present invention;
 FIG. 3 is a perspective view of a robotic vacuum cleaner incorporating the present invention;
 FIG. 4 is a perspective view of the underside of another embodiment of a robotic vacuum cleaner incorporating the present invention;
 FIG. 5 is a cut away side elevation view of the robotic vacuum cleaner shown in FIG. 4; and
 FIG. 6 is a schematic illustrating a preferred embodiment of a control circuit for use with the present invention.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
 The implementation of the present invention is in several preferred embodiments, discussed below, along with several illustrative examples. The embodiments of the invention described below are provided for the purpose of understanding the invention and are not meant to be limiting.
 Referring now to FIG. 1, a side elevation view of a preferred embodiment of a fan driven air freshener 100 made in accordance with the present invention is illustrated. The apparatus is contained within a housing 102. In order to illustrate the invention those of skill in the art will understand that one side panel of the housing 102 has been removed. It will be further understood that the housing can be any of a number of designs and shapes, and is not limited to that which is illustrated. Generally, the housing 102 may be constructed from metal, plastic or any other suitable material that has sufficient structural strength to hold the components as shown while permitting sufficient airflow and that meets any safety or aesthetic criteria. Typically, but not necessarily, at least a portion of the housing 102 will comprise an air permeable panel 106 through which air may intermingle with air freshening chemicals. The chemicals are held in a reservoir 50, such as a wick, as is well known in the art. The chemicals may be any combination of odor masking or odor eliminating compounds that react with malodors or that have a more pleasant aroma than malodors. The composition and concentration of such chemicals for this use is well known. In a preferred embodiment, the reservoir 50 is contained within a shroud or reservoir housing 104. Preferably, the reservoir housing 104 allows the reservoir 50 to be handled without spilling or degrading the chemicals, and in certain embodiments may permit the chemicals to be replaced after they have dissipated by replacing the reservoir housing 104 and the reservoir 50 that contains fresh chemicals.
 As illustrated in FIG. 1, a fan assembly 120 is preferably disposed above the reservoir 50 so as to force air through the apparatus. In certain preferred embodiments, placing the fan 120 over the reservoir 50 is preferred and is more effective than placing the fan 120 adjacent the reservoir 50. Moreover, such an embodiment can be constructed by modifying an existing air freshener assembly, which is less expensive than creating an entirely new assembly that positions the components elsewhere. The fan assembly 120 typically comprises a rotor 122 and a fan motor 124. Miniature fans suitable for any number of various embodiments of the present invention are readily available and easily adapted to the configuration shown in FIG. 1. The fan assembly 120 is driven by a power source 130. In the embodiment shown in IFG. 1 the power source 130 is preferably a direct current source, such as a battery. In addition to batteries, other conventional direct current power sources, such as solar cells, for one example, may be included in other embodiments. However, as explained in further detail below with reference to FIG. 2, the present invention also contemplates embodiments that use alternating current. The power source 130 is connected to a control circuit 112 by wires 124. As explained in further detail below, the control circuit 112 determines when the fan motor 124 is activated, and the duration of its activation.
 In certain embodiments of the present invention, the control circuit 112 includes a sensor or photocell 110 that senses the level of light in the environment, and activates or deactivates a switch that supplies power to the fan motor 124. For example, the cell 110 can be chosen and put into a circuit so that the fan motor 124 is activated when a light is turned on in the room in which the apparatus is positioned. The control circuit 112 can also provide controls so that the fan 120 runs until the light is shut off, and then deactivates immediately. Alternatively, the fan 120 could run for a predetermined time (e.g., five minutes) or for a fixed time after the light source changes again, for example, when a light is turned off. The selection of a photocell and the components of the control circuit is conventional and well within the level of skill in the art. By running the fan motor 124 only when necessary, the component life is extended and the chemicals in the reservoir 50 are preserved.
 Alternatively, in certain other preferred embodiments, the photocell 110 is replaced by a motion detector 110. In much the same manner as described in the preceding paragraph, the motion detector 110 determines when the fan assembly 120 should be activated, and in conjunction with the control circuit 112 determines how long a period of time the fan rotor 122 will turn. As mentioned above, the fan 120 is activated only when motion is sensed and shut off immediately in the absence of motion. Alternatively, the fan 120 can be activated when motion is sensed and then run for a fixed period. Finally, the fan can be activated and then run for a period of time measured after all motion has ceased. The selection of a motion detector and the components of the control circuit is conventional and well within the level of skill in the art.
 Referring now to FIG. 2, and alternate embodiment of the present invention is illustrated. In this embodiment AC line current is used as a power source. As shown, the air freshener 100 contains an AC power supply 230 necessary to convert the line current and provide safety, if required, via a ground fault interrupter or similar circuit. The air freshener 100 has conventional plug prongs 232 that connect to a conventional receptacle 10. In the preferred embodiment illustrated in FIG. 2, a receptacle 234 is provided that is part of the power supply assembly 230 and plug prongs 232 that connects the assembly to the power source, so that the AC power outlet retains its utility and can be used to power another device simultaneously with the fan. Alternatively, in certain embodiments, particularly those intended for non-home use, the air freshener 100 is connected directly to an AC source via a junction box or similar wiring device and is thus permanently installed in terms of the electrical connection. The alternating current embodiment illustrated in FIG. 2 is otherwise identical to that described above with reference to FIG. 1.
 In accordance with on aspect of the present invention, a "burst" mode of operation is provided. It has been found that by providing a microprocessor to control the operation of the fan described above, dramatic improvement in performance can be attained. In a most preferred embodiment, the flexibility of programming a microprocessor is utilized to its fullest advantage by incorporating a micro pump into the reservoir described above and driving the pump at a first frequency, and simultaneously driving an atomizing device such as an electro sprayer at a second frequency. The selection of ideal frequencies for any particular fragrance chemical combination is routine and does not require undue experimentation. However, in any embodiment, air freshener chemical will be introduced into the air even when the fan is deactivated. Experiments have shown that adding a burst mode to the above-described device can provide 2.8 times the evaporation (i.e., a 280% increase) an effect particularly well-suited for bathrooms, where it is important to modify the air for short periods of time.
1 System Type Time (hr.) Start Wt. (g) End Wt. (g) Rate (g/hr.) Conventional 16.2 217 215.6 0.00144 Fan System: 16.2 58.9 58.4 0.00052
 Referring now to FIGS. 3-6, additional preferred embodiments of the present invention are illustrated. In these embodiments, as shown in FIG. 3, an air freshener assembly 300 substantially as described above is integrated into a robotic vacuum cleaner_301. As readily understood by those skilled in the art, the robotic vacuum cleaner 301 is a self-contained assembly and possesses elements such as a power source, logic controls, motion sensors and fans and ducts used to create suction and lift debris from a floor or carpet surface, in the direction of the arrow marked "V" in FIG. 3. The operational parts of the robotic vacuum cleaner_301 are covered by a housing 302. In accordance with this embodiment of the present invention, an additional subsystem is added in which a fan-driven device forces a stream of scented air, in the manner shown by the arrow marked "S" in FIG. 3.
 In the embodiment shown in FIG. 3, an external outlet duct 322 provides a conduit from which the scented air is forced down toward the floor. Alternatively, as illustrated in FIG. 4, the outlet duct 322 may be located internally. In either embodiment, although a single outlet duct 322 is shown, it will be understood that additional outlet ducts can be positioned in and around the structure of the robotic vacuum cleaner_301 in order to disseminate the scented air in an appropriate manner. Moreover, the outlet duct 322 may be disposed along the bottom of the unit to direct air downwardly, toward floor surfaces, such as carpeting, but in an additional embodiment is preferably oriented in other directions such as upwardly so that, for one example, a fragrance may be emitted into the room air and not necessarily on to the floor surface.
 Referring now to FIG. 5, a cut away elevation view show one preferred embodiment of the present invention, in which a feed duct 318 is connected to a fan assembly 320, which forces air over and through a reservoir 350. As discussed above, the fan_320 and the reservoir 350, along with the scented material in the reservoir 350 are chosen and designed so that the rate of air flow through the reservoir 350 will volatilize an effective amount of scented chemicals so that the desired effect is created without waste or excessively rapid depletion of the reservoir 350. A stream of scented air exits the reservoir 350 via the outlet duct 322. The fan 320 may be triggered in any number of ways. As discussed above with reference to FIGS. 1-2, a triggering circuit will cause power to be delivered to a fan motor. As illustrated in FIGS. 5 and 6, and in certain preferred embodiments, the triggering circuit will comprise a microprocessor controller 312 that is in turn connected to and is operated by the robotic vacuum cleaner controller 305. As discussed below, the sensors and logic circuits within the robotic vacuum cleaner controller will permit the system described with reference to the present invention to be integrated into a system that enhances the operation of the robotic vacuum. The microprocessor controller in turn operates the fan 320 that volatilizes one or more chemicals in the reservoir 350 and exhausts a flow of air containing volatilized chemicals via the exhaust duct 322. Alternatively, the microprocessor controller 312 can operate a micropump and an electron spray device, as described above, to volatilize one or more chemicals in the reservoir 350, which are then exhausted through exhaust duct 322.
 Thus, in the robotic vacuum cleaner embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 3-6, the signal will be provided by the microprocessor 305 that operates the other functions of the robotic vacuum cleaner unit 301. For example, the unit 301 may be programmed to first vacuum an area and then repeat its travel path while applying scented air to the cleaned surface. Alternatively, scented air could be created, either continuously or intermittently, simultaneous with the vacuuming process. In another variation the scented air applied as a separate function; e.g., the robot could vacuum floors in the morning, and then travel over the floors later in the day so that a fresh scent greets the dwelling occupant upon arrival.
 Although the preferred embodiment has been described with reference to "scented air" and air freshening chemicals, those of skill in the art will appreciate that the system described herein will have applicability to a wide variety of chemical compounds that provide one or more of the following functions: cleaning, waxing, disinfecting, antibacterial, odor control, odor masking, or fragrance. In certain embodiments it will be preferable to replace the single reservoir 350 with a fragrance cartridge that contains a number of different chemicals that can be dispensed for various purposes. The cartridge can contain different scents for different rooms, or different chemicals for different purposes. For example, a cleaning chemical can be applied and then this application followed later by the application of a fragrance. In particular, using the existing programming features of robot vacuum cleaners, in certain embodiments the system disclosed herein can be "trained" to selectively deposit cleaning and/or stain inhibiting chemicals on a high traffic area, such as a doorway, since robotic vacuum cleaners have the inherent capability to "learn" the layout of a room and sense transitions between types of flooring surfaces.
 Upon review of the foregoing, numerous adaptations, modifications, and alterations will occur to the reviewer. These will all be, however, within the spirit of the present invention. Accordingly, reference should be made to the appended claims in order to ascertain the true scope of the present invention. All US patents and patent applications noted herein are hereby incorporated by reference as if set forth in their entirety.
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