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1. (WO2018037224) SYSTÈME DE NIVELAGE POUR OBJET MOBILE
Note: Texte fondé sur des processus automatiques de reconnaissance optique de caractères. Seule la version PDF a une valeur juridique

LEVELLING SYSTEM FOR A MOBILE OBJECT

BACKGROUND

Technical Field

The present invention relates generally to the field of levelling systems for mobile objects, such as leisure vehicles, staging and portable toilets. More particularly, but not exclusively, the present invention concerns a levelling system for leisure vehicles, including caravans, trailers and motorhomes.

Description of the Related Art

Leisure vehicles, including caravans and motorhomes, need to be level when in use. This is not just in order that there is a level floor to walk on, but is necessary for some appliances to function, e.g. fridges, in addition to safety considerations. Upon arrival at a campsite pitch that is uneven, there are currently a number of different solutions to levelling the leisure vehicle.

One solution is to have a fully-automated levelling system installed in the leisure vehicle, using either hydraulic or electrically-controlled jacks. The jacks that are positioned either at four corners of a motorhome, and/or spaced over the wheel axle of a caravan or trailer, are automatically lowered by differing amounts until the floor platform is level. The systems are complex and therefore, expensive and also contribute significant additional weight to the leisure vehicle.

Another solution is to use a ramp and a crude level detector, e.g. a spirit level, which is simple, but more difficult to use in practice. This system entails the positioning of one or more ramps just in front of a wheel or wheels at the side of the leisure vehicle that is lowest. The leisure vehicle is then either manually driven (by its own engine or by a caravan mover), or towed up the ramp(s) until the level detector shows that the floor platform is level. This process can be laborious and challenging since it is necessary to be accurate with the driving and the level detector needs to be regularly checked.

Caravan movers are a drive system that make positioning of a caravan or trailer (without its own drive system or engine) on a campsite pitch more straightforward. They comprise two or four electric motors that drive rollers adapted to engage with the wheels of the leisure vehicle. A control system of the caravan mover is generally attached to the chassis of the leisure vehicle and powered through a connection to the leisure battery. Remote control with the control system allows a user to drive the leisure vehicle onto a designated pitch whilst either on or off the leisure vehicle.

It is an object of the present invention to address one or more of the problems of the prior art as discussed herein or otherwise.

Therefore, it is now desired to provide an improved levelling system for a mobile object comprising a platform, particularly for a leisure vehicle.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In a first aspect of the present invention there is provided a drive system for a mobile object, comprising a platform and one or more wheel(s), the drive system comprising at least one drive motor adapted to drive the one or more wheels, characterised in that the drive system comprises a levelling system comprising a level detector, the level detector comprising at least one sensor adapted to detect a level condition of the platform and a drive controller adapted to communicate with the sensor in order to receive condition information regarding the condition of the platform, the drive controller further being adapted to control the drive motor(s) in response to said condition information..

With this arrangement, the levelling system can be used to control a drive system (a towing vehicle or other mover) to drive the mobile object up one or more ramps in response to the condition of the platform. The system is not expensive or heavy and is simple and easy to use, without the laborious checking and driving routine. The drive system and levelling system are fully integrated and can be used on a caravan or trailer without requiring a secondary towing vehicle or communication with an on-board vehicle engine.

By 'mobile object', what is meant is any wheeled or rolling platform, which includes leisure vehicles such as motorhomes, caravans, trailers or entertainment modules such as staging, portable toilets, etc.

By 'level condition' what is meant is approximately horizontal, with an acceptable tolerance of up to 5°.

By 'drive system', what is meant is any means by which the mobile object can be driven in at least forward and backward directions up and down said ramp, including an on-board motor or engine, the engine of a towing vehicle, or a caravan mover, or similar.

Preferably, the drive system comprises one or more rollers driven by said drive motor(s) and adapted to engage with one or more of the wheels of the mobile object.

Preferably, the drive system comprises a casing adapted to sit on or parallel with the platform. Preferably, the casing comprises a mounting component adapted to attach the level detector to said platform. Preferably, the mounting component is fixed to the casing. Preferably, the mounting component is adapted to attach the casing to a chassis of the mobile object. Alternatively the mounting component is adapted to attach the casing to the platform of the mobile object. Most preferably, the level detector is adapted to be mounted by said mounting component parallel with a wheel axle of the mobile object.

Preferably, the drive system comprises a connection to a power source.

Preferably, the drive system comprises a remote controller communicable with the control system to allow a user to drive the mobile object. The remote controller may be a purpose-built remote unit, employing infrared or other communication technology with said drive system. Alternatively, the remote controller may comprise a smart phone software application, employing wireless or Bluetooth® technology to communicate with the drive system.

Most preferably, the drive system comprises a first normal mode and a second levelling mode. Preferably, changing the mode comprises a manual switch, or a software selection of a mode via a display means on said remote controller or on the casing of the drive system. Preferably, the normal mode is configured to allow user-control of the drive system in order to position the mobile object. Preferably, the levelling mode is configured to allow user-control of the drive system and an override procedure once a level condition is achieved.

In a second aspect of the present invention there is provided mobile object comprising a platform, one or more wheels, characterised in that the mobile object comprises a drive system according to the first aspect of the invention.

With this arrangement, the drive system and levelling system are fully integrated with a mobile object, such as a caravan or trailer, which can be moved and levelled without requiring a secondary towing vehicle or an on-board vehicle engine.

It will be appreciated that the preferred features described in relation to the first and second aspects of the invention also apply to the third aspect of the invention.

In a third aspect of the present invention there is provided a mobile object comprising a platform, one or more wheel(s) and a drive system according to the first aspect, wherein the drive motor comprises a vehicle engine and said engine is controlled by an engine management system.

In a fourth aspect of the present invention there is provided a mobile object comprising a drive system having an engine controlled by an engine management system, a platform, and one or more wheel(s) driven by said engine, the drive system further comprising a levelling system comprising a level detector, characterised in that the level detector comprises at least one sensor adapted to detect a level condition of the platform and a drive controller adapted to communicate with the sensor in order to receive condition information regarding the condition of the platform, the drive controller further being adapted to control the engine management system to drive the wheel(s) in response to said condition information.

With the third and fourth arrangements, the drive system and levelling system are fully integrated with the on-board engine of the mobile object.

It will be appreciated that the preferred features described in relation to the first, second and third aspects of the invention also apply to the fourth aspect of the invention.

The below features may apply to all aspects of the invention.

Preferably, the levelling system comprises at least one ramp. Preferably, the ramp(s) comprise a wedge shape. Alternatively, the ramp(s) may comprise a curved upper and/or lower face. Preferably, the ramp is at least the width of a standard tyre for a mobile object.

Preferably, the sensor(s) is(are) adapted to detect a non-level condition of the platform, e.g. outside the tolerances for a level condition.

Preferably, the drive controller receives condition information from the sensor only when a level condition has been detected. Alternatively, the drive controller also receives condition information from the sensor when a non-level condition has been detected. Most preferably, the drive controller receives condition information at regular intervals, preferably, at least every one second.

Preferably, the drive controller comprises user input means. Preferably, the drive controller comprises display means. Most preferably, the drive controller comprises an integrated user input and display means, such as a touch-enabled screen, or a separate screen and keyboard.

Preferably, control of the drive system by the drive controller uses wireless technology. Preferably, control of the drive system by the drive controller uses Bluetooth® technology. Most preferably, the drive controller comprises a pairing means for pairing with said drive system.

Preferably, the drive controller is adapted to be configured according to the geometry of the, or each ramp. Preferably, the drive controller is configured to receive user input of dimensions of specific ramps, which may be at least, height, length and incline length. Additionally, or alternatively, the drive controller comprises a database of pre-programmed ramp geometries for user selection of one or more specific ramps from the pre-programmed ramp geometries. More preferably, the drive controller is adapted to be configured to multiple ramps, through a combination of pre-programmed and user input of specific ramp geometries. This may be achieved through a pictorial display of a variety of ramp arrangements on the display means.

Preferably, the drive controller is adapted to calculate a maximum drive range depending upon the geometry of a ramp. Most preferably, the drive controller is configured to detect the mounting of the, or each ramp by wheel(s) of the mobile object. Preferably, the drive controller is adapted to stop at least forward and backward drive operations in said drive system upon breaching the maximum drive range. More preferably, the drive controller is adapted to instigate a handbrake-on action through an electronic management system of a drive system, upon breaching the maximum drive range. Most preferably, the drive controller is adapted to instigate an engine-off action through an electronic management system of a drive system upon breaching the maximum drive range.

Preferably, the drive controller is adapted to stop at least forward and backward drive operations in said drive system upon receiving level condition information. More preferably, the drive controller is adapted to instigate a handbrake-on action through an electronic management system of a drive system, preferably upon receiving level condition information. Most preferably, the drive controller is adapted to instigate an engine-off action through an electronic management system of a drive system upon receiving level condition information. Preferably, the drive controller is adapted to initiate and maintain at least forward and backward drive operations in said drive system in the absence of level condition information, or alternatively, upon receipt of non-level condition information.

Preferably, the level detector comprises a power supply. The power supply may comprise an integrated battery. Most preferably, the power supply comprises a means for connection to a battery of the mobile object.

Preferably, the mobile object is a leisure vehicle. Preferably, mobile object is a caravan, motorhome or trailer.

The mobile object may a portable toilet, modular staging, static caravan, PortaKabin® or similar cabin, etc.

In a fifth aspect of the present invention there is provided a levelling system for a mobile object having a platform, the levelling system comprising a level detector adapted to sit on or parallel with said platform, characterised in that the level detector comprises at least one sensor adapted to detect a level condition of the platform and a drive controller adapted to communicate with the sensor in order to receive condition information regarding the condition of the platform, the drive controller further being adapted to control a drive system in response to said condition information.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

For a better understanding of the invention, and to show how exemplary embodiments may be carried into effect, reference will now be made to the accompanying drawings in which:

Figure 1 is a schematic diagram of part of a levelling system according to a first embodiment of the invention;

Figure 2 is a side elevation of a motorhome comprising the levelling system of Figure 1 ;

Figure 3 is a schematic diagram of a part of a drive system incorporating a levelling system according to a second embodiment of the invention;

Figure 4 is a side elevation of a caravan with a drive system according to Figure 1 ; and

Figure 5 is a rear elevation of a caravan with a drive system according to Figure 1 .

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS

Figures 1 and 2 show a levelling system 10 for a mobile object 50 having a platform 54, the levelling system 10 comprising a level detector 20 adapted to sit on or parallel with said platform 54, characterised in that the level detector 20 comprises at least one sensor 24 adapted to detect a level condition of the platform 54 and a drive controller 26 adapted to communicate with the sensor 24 in order to receive condition information regarding the condition of the platform 54, the drive controller 26 further being adapted to control a drive system 56 in response to said condition information.

In this embodiment, the mobile object 50 is a motorhome with an on-board drive system 56 in the form of the engine and engine management system 57. However, it is to be appreciated that this embodiment of the invention may be configured to communicate with any drive system, whether on-board (like in a motorhome, or a caravan mover installed in a caravan or trailer), or off-board (like in a towing vehicle).

In an exemplary embodiment, the level detector 20 is a retro-fit component that is firmly fixed to the platform 54 that is the chassis of the vehicle 50. In order to assist the retro-fit, the level detector 20 comprises a mounting component (not shown) adapted to attach a casing 21 of the level detector 20 to said platform 54. It is, however, to be appreciated, that the level detector 20 should ideally, in a single axle mobile object like a caravan, be positioned parallel with a wheel axle of the mobile object.

The level detector 20 comprises a connection 58a to a leisure battery 58 in order to power the level detector 20. Since the leisure battery 58 is typically installed outside of an engine compartment of the motorhome 50, but close to a main battery 59 in order that a further connection 58b can be formed therewith, the level detector 20 is generally positioned as close to the front of a leisure 52 compartment as possible, or within the cabin 51 .

The levelling system 10 comprises at least one wheel 55 ramp 30 in the form of a wedge. The ramp(s) 30 are at least the width of a standard tyre for the motorhome 50 and comprise an incline 32 of up to 30° to a base 31 .

In this embodiment, the level detector 20 is pre-programmed with a number of ramp 30 dimensions and geometries by comprising a database of ramp profiles in a memory component 28. In order that any of the pre-programs may be selected by a user, the level detector 20 comprises a display controller 27 connected to a touch-screen display 29 integrated into the casing 21 . The display controller 27 in together with the drive controller 26 and the memory component 28 are configured to display a set-up option when the level detector 20 is powered

up for use, with the set-up option allowing either selection of one or more pre-programmed ramp profiles, or manual input of specific ramp dimensions (at least, height, length and incline length). The set-up option further provides the selection of a ramp arrangement or plan, depending upon the position of each ramp 30 in use. This is achieved through a pictoral display of a variety of ramp arrangements on the display 29 at the outset. Accordingly, the drive controller 26 is adapted to be configured according to the geometry of the, or each ramp in use 30.

Based upon the ramp profiles entered at set-up, the drive controller 26 is adapted to calculate a drive range for each ramp 30 and select the shortest drive range as the maximum drive range.

The sensor(s) 24 is(are) adapted to also detect a non-level condition of the platform, e.g. outside the tolerances for a level condition. The drive controller 26 receives condition information from the sensor 24 at at least one second intervals in order to identify quickly when a non-level condition changes to a level condition.

In this embodiment, the control of the drive system 26 by the drive controller 26 uses Bluetooth® technology. Accordingly, the drive controller 26 is configured to send instructions to the engine management system 57 of the motorhome 50 via a communication controller 23, which is configured to provide an information exchange connection 23a by 'pairing' with the engine management system 57 and thereafter send instructions to, and receive information therefrom. However, it is to be appreciated that this information exchange connection could be established by either a broadcasted LAN, or a hardwired connection, such as USB, or other.

The drive controller 26 is adapted to stop forward and backward drive operations in said engine management system 57 upon reaching the maximum drive range. The drive controller 26 is adapted to instigate a handbrake-on action through the engine management system 57 to prevent further movement outside of the maximum drive range. In addition, the drive controller 26 is adapted to stop forward and backward drive operations in said engine management system 57 upon receiving level condition information from the sensor 24. Again, the drive controller 26 is adapted to instigate a handbrake-on action through the engine management system 57 upon receiving level condition information to prevent movement up and down the ramp 30 away from the level condition.

During retro-fit of the level detector 20, the level detector casing 21 is firmly attached to either the chassis of the motorhome 50 or a floor platform of the motorhome 50 close to the leisure battery 58.

Upon performing a switch-on operation of the level detector 20, the ramps 30 are placed in front of the relevant wheels 55 of the motorhome 50 that are on the lowest surface. The level detector 20 is 'set-up' by prompting user-selection of a ramp arrangement and ramp profiles on the display screen 29. The drive controller 26 calculates the maximum drive range allowed during the levelling operation. Either before, or after this set-up operation, the information exchange connection 23a is formed between the level detector 20 and the engine management system 57 using standard Bluetooth® protocol. Once set-up and information exchange connections are complete, a start operation is instigated by the user on the touch-screen display screen 29. At this point, the drive controller 26 sends a forward-drive command to the engine management system 57, which in turn drives the engine 56 to drive the wheels 55 up the ramps 30. During the forward-drive operation, the drive controller 26 receives condition information from the sensor 24 at no less than one second intervals. Once a level condition has been received by the drive controller 26, the drive controller 26 immediately sends a brake instruction to the engine management system 57, thereby applying brakes to the wheels 55. The drive controller 26 waits for another two condition information receipts to check the level condition of the platform 54. If the level condition is maintained, the drive controller 26 immediately sends a handbrake-on instruction to the engine management system 57 before the user can switch off the engine 56. If the level condition has been lost and uneven condition information is returned, the drive controller 26 sends a reverse instruction to the engine management system 57 until the level condition is received, followed by a brake instruction. Again, the drive controller 26 waits for another two condition information receipts to check the level condition of the platform 54 before sending a handbrake-on instruction.

It is to be appreciated that the above described embodiment may also be retrofit to a towed vehicle, such as a caravan or trailer. In that instance, the level detector 20 would be retrofit relevant to the caravan or trailer platform, but the power connection 58a and the information exchange connection 23a would be made with the battery and the engine management system of the towing vehicle in order to use the drive system of the towing vehicle.

Figures 3, 4 and 5 show an alternative embodiment of the invention. In this embodiment, the drive system 1 10 for a caravan or trailer 150, comprises at least one drive motor 156, one or more rollers 156a driven by said drive motor(s) 156 and adapted to engage with one or more wheels 1 55 of a mobile object 150, a casing 121 adapted to sit on or parallel with a platform 154 of the mobile object 150 and a connection 158a to a power source 1 58, characterised in that the drive system 157 comprises a levelling system comprising a level detector 120, the level detector 120 comprising at least one sensor 124 adapted to detect a level condition of the platform 154 and a drive controller 126 adapted to communicate with the sensor 124 in order to receive condition information regarding the condition of the platform 154, the drive controller 126 further being adapted to control the drive motor(s) 156 in response to said condition information.

In this embodiment, the mobile object 150 is a caravan with an independent installed drive system 1 10. However, it is to be appreciated that this embodiment of the invention may be installed in a trailer, or other vehicle, such as a motorhome, car, mobile staging module, portable toilet module, etc.

In an exemplary embodiment, the drive system 1 10 is a component that can be retro-fitted by firmly fixing to the platform 154 that is the chassis of the caravan 150. In order to assist the fitting, the level detector 120 comprises a mounting component (not shown) adapted to attach a casing 121 of the level detector 120 to said platform 154. It is, however, to be appreciated, that the level detector 120 should ideally, be positioned parallel with a wheel axle of the caravan 150.

The level detector 120 comprises a connection 158a to a leisure battery 158 in order to power the level detector 120.

The levelling system 10 comprises at least one wheel ramp 130 in the form of a wedge. The ramp(s) 130 are at least the width of a standard tyre for the caravan 150 and comprise an incline of up to 30° to a base 131 .

In this embodiment, the level detector 120 is pre-programmed with a number of ramp 130 dimensions and geometries by comprising a database of ramp profiles in a memory component 128. In order that any of the pre-programs may be selected by a user, the level detector 120 comprises a display controller 127 connected to a touch-screen display 129 integrated into the casing 121 . The display controller 127 in together with the drive controller 126 and the memory component 128 are configured to display a set-up option when the level detector 120 is powered up for use, with the set-up option allowing either selection of one or more pre-programmed ramp profiles, or manual input of specific ramp dimensions (at least, height, length and incline length). The set-up option further provides the selection of a ramp arrangement or plan, depending upon the position of each ramp 130 in use. This is achieved through a pictorial display of a variety of ramp arrangements on the display 129 at the outset. Accordingly, the drive controller 126 is adapted to be configured according to the geometry of the, or each ramp in use 130.

Based upon the ramp profiles entered at set-up, the drive controller 126 is adapted to calculate a drive range for each ramp 130 and select the shortest drive range as the maximum drive range.

The sensor(s) 124 is (are) adapted to also detect a non-level condition of the platform, e.g. outside the tolerances for a level condition. The drive controller 126 receives condition information from the sensor 124 at one second intervals in order to identify quickly when a non-level condition changes to a level condition.

In this second embodiment, the control of the drive motors 156 by the drive controller 126 uses hardwired connections 1 56b, although it is appreciated that wireless technology, such as Bluetooth® may be used. Accordingly, the drive controller 126 is configured to send instructions to the, or each motor 156 via individual (or a central) motor controller(s) 123.

The drive controller 126 is adapted to stop forward and backward drive operations in said rollers 156a via the drive motors 156 upon reaching the maximum drive range. In addition, the drive controller 126 is adapted to stop forward and backward drive operations in said rollers 156a via the drive motors 156 upon receiving level condition information from the sensor 124. In both cases, the drive controller 126 is adapted to instigate a permanent brake action through the drive motors 156 upon receiving level condition information to prevent movement up and down the ramp(s) 130 away from the level condition.

As with existing caravan movers, the drive system 1 10 of the second embodiment comprises a remote controller (not shown) communicable with the drive controller 126. The remote controller can be a purpose-built remote unit, employing infrared or other communication technology with said drive controller 126. Alternatively, the remote controller comprises a smart phone software application, employing wireless or Bluetooth® technology to communicate with the drive controller 126.

However, the drive system 1 10 of the second aspect comprises a first normal mode and a second levelling mode. The changing the mode comprises a manual switch, or a software selection of a mode via the display 129 on said remote controller, on the casing 121 of the drive system 1 10, or on the software application of the smart phone. Whilst the normal mode is configured to allow user-control of the drive system 1 10 in order to position the mobile object 150, the levelling mode is configured to allow use as described below.

During fitting of the level detector 120, the level detector casing 121 is firmly attached to either the chassis of the caravan 150 or a floor platform of the caravan 150 close to the leisure battery 158.

Upon performing a switch-on operation of the level detector 120, the ramps 130 are placed in front of the relevant wheels 155 of the caravan 150 that are on the lowest surface. The level detector 120 is 'set-up' by prompting user-selection of a ramp arrangement and ramp profiles on the display screen 129. The drive controller 26 calculates the maximum drive range allowed during the levelling operation. Once set-up, a start operation is instigated by the user on the touch-screen display screen 129. At this point, the drive controller 126 sends a forward-drive drive motors 156, which in turn drives the rollers 1 56a to drive the wheels 155 up the ramps 130. During the forward-drive operation, the drive controller 126 receives condition information from the sensor 124 at no less than one second intervals. Once a level condition has been received by the drive controller 126, the drive controller 126 immediately sends a brake instruction to the drive motors 156, thereby applying brakes to the wheels 155. The drive controller 126 waits for another two condition information receipts to check the level condition of the platform 154. If the level condition is maintained, the drive controller 126 immediately sends a permanent brake instruction to the drive motors 156. If the level condition has been lost and uneven condition information is returned, the drive controller 126 sends a reverse instruction to the drive motors 156 until the level condition is received, followed by a brake instruction. Again, the drive controller 126 waits for another two condition information receipts to check the level condition of the platform 154 before sending a permanent brake instruction.

In the above embodiments: 'mobile object', is any wheeled or rolling platform, which includes leisure vehicles such as motorhomes, caravans, trailers or entertainment modules such as

staging, portable toilets, etc. ; 'level condition' is approximately horizontal, with an acceptable tolerance of up to 5°; and 'drive system' is any means by which the mobile object can be driven in at least forward and backward directions up and down said ramp, including an on-board motor or engine, the engine of a towing vehicle, or a caravan mover, or similar.

With the above two embodiments, the levelling system 10 and drive system 1 1 0 respectively can be used to control an independent drive system 56 (an on-board engine, a towing vehicle), or integrated drive motors 156, respectively, to drive the mobile object 50, 150 up one or more ramps 30, 130 in response to the condition of the platform54, 154. The system 10, 1 1 0 in either guise is not expensive or heavy (unlike the existing jack systems), and is simple and easy to use without the laborious checking and driving routine afforded by existing ramp kits.

Although a few preferred embodiments have been shown and described, it will be appreciated by those skilled in the art that various changes and modifications might be made without departing from the scope of the invention, as defined in the appended claims.