Login| Sign Up| Help| Contact|

Patent Searching and Data


Title:
ELECTRONIC VAPOUR PROVISION DEVICE WITH USER CONTROLS
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2018/154286
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
An electronic vapour provision device or component therefor has two or more user controls each operable by an actuating characteristic to allow a user to alter an associated operational parameter of the device, wherein all the user controls share a common actuating characteristic.

Inventors:
SPENCER, Alfred Vincent (LimitedGlobe House,1 Water Street, London WC2R 3LA, WC2R 3LA, GB)
BLICK, Kevin David (LimitedGlobe House,1 Water Street, London WC2R 3LA, WC2R 3LA, GB)
BENNETT, Julie Jenson (Studio 129/130Westbourne Studios,242 Acklam Road, London W10 5JJ, W10 5JJ, GB)
Application Number:
GB2018/050438
Publication Date:
August 30, 2018
Filing Date:
February 20, 2018
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO (INVESTMENTS) LIMITED (Globe House, 1 Water Street, London WC2R 3LA, WC2R 3LA, GB)
International Classes:
A24F47/00; H01H13/00; H01H15/00; H01H19/00; H01H21/00
Domestic Patent References:
WO2016090426A12016-06-16
Foreign References:
US20160353800A12016-12-08
CN204351068U2015-05-27
CN204483034U2015-07-22
US20160073688A12016-03-17
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MCGOWAN, Cathrine (D Young & Co LLP, 120 Holborn, London EC1N 2DY, EC1N 2DY, GB)
Download PDF:
Claims:
Claims

1 . An electronic vapour provision device or component therefor having two or more user controls each operable by an actuating characteristic to allow a user to alter an associated operational parameter of the device, wherein all the user controls share a common actuating characteristic.

2. A device or component according to claim 1 , in which the actuating characteristic comprises rotation about an axis, each user control comprising a rotatable dial.

3. A device or component according to claim 2, in which each rotatable dial is rotatable about a common axis.

4. A device or component according to claim 3, in which the common axis comprises a longitudinal axis of the device.

5. A device or component according to claim 4, in which the dials are arranged adjacently along the longitudinal axis. 6. A device or component according to claim 2, in which each rotatable dial is rotatable about a different axis.

7. A device or component according to claim 6, in which the different axes are parallel to each other.

8. A device or component according to claim 1 , in which the actuating characteristic comprises sliding, each user control comprising a slider.

9. A device or component according to claim 1 , in which the actuating characteristic comprises pressing, each user control comprising a pressable button.

10. A device or component according to any preceding claim, in which at least one of the two or more user controls is configured to alter an operational parameter of the device via an electrical connection to one or more components of the device.

1 1 . A device or component according to any preceding claim, in which at least one of the two or more user controls is configured to alter an operational parameter of the device via a mechanical adjustment of one or more components of the device. 12. A device or component according to any preceding claim, in which the two or more user controls each share a common construction on the exterior of the device.

13. A device or component according to claim 12, in which the two or more user controls each share a common appearance on the exterior of the device.

14. A device or component according to any preceding claim, in which the two or more user controls are arranged adjacently as a group on the exterior of the device.

15. A device or component according to any preceding claim, in which the operational parameters associated with the two or more controls include at least one of: airflow through the device; electrical power level to a heating element in the device; electrical power profile to a heating element in the device; nicotine level in an aerosol stream delivered by the device; flavour level in an aerosol stream delivered by the device; and flavour composition in an aerosol stream delivered by the device.

16. An electronic vapour provision device comprising at least two user-operated controls, each control enabling adjustment of a corresponding operating parameter of the device, and wherein each control has the same configuration on an exterior of the device and requires the same actuating motion from a user to adjust the corresponding operating parameter.

Description:
ELECTRONIC VAPOUR PROVISION DEVICE WITH USER CONTROLS

Technical Field

The present invention relates to vapour provision devices such as electronic vapour provision devices having controls operable by a user.

Background

Aerosol or vapour provision systems such as e-cigarettes generally comprise a reservoir of a source liquid containing a formulation, typically including nicotine, from which an aerosol is generated, such as through vaporisation or other means. Thus an aerosol source for a vapour provision system may comprise a heating element or other vapour generating component coupled to a portion of the source liquid from the reservoir. In some systems, the heating element and reservoir are comprised within a first section or component which is connectable to a second section or component housing a battery to provide electrical power to the heating element. In use, a user inhales on the device to activate the heating element which vaporises a small amount of the source liquid, which is thus converted to an aerosol for inhalation by the user.

Some devices offer a degree of control to the user, so that the user may configure the aerosol delivery according to personal preference. For example, user operable controls may be provided that allow the user to alter an amount of airflow through the device, or to modify the level of electrical power provided to the heater to alter the amount of vaporisation.

Approaches aimed at improving the configuration of these user controls are of interest.

Summary

According to a first aspect of certain embodiments described herein, there is provided an electronic vapour provision device or component therefor having two or more user controls each operable by an actuating characteristic to allow a user to alter an associated operational parameter of the device, wherein all the user controls share a common actuating characteristic.

The actuating characteristic may comprise rotation about an axis, each user control comprising a rotatable dial. Each rotatable dial may be rotatable about a common axis. The common axis may comprise a longitudinal axis of the device. The dials may be arranged adjacently along the longitudinal axis.

Alternatively, each rotatable dial may be rotatable about a different axis. The different axes may be parallel to each other. In other examples, the actuating characteristic may comprise sliding, each user control comprising a slider, or the actuating characteristic may comprise pressing, each user control comprising a pressable button.

At least one of the two or more user controls may be configured to alter an operational parameter of the device via an electrical connection to one or more components of the device. Further, at least one of the two or more user controls may be configured to alter an operational parameter of the device via a mechanical adjustment of one or more components of the device.

The two or more user controls may each share a common construction on the exterior of the device. The two or more user controls may each share a common appearance on the exterior of the device. The two or more user controls may be arranged adjacently as a group on the exterior of the device.

The operational parameters associated with the two or more controls may include at least one of: airflow through the device; electrical power level to a heating element in the device; electrical power profile to a heating element in the device; nicotine level in an aerosol stream delivered by the device; flavour level in an aerosol stream delivered by the device; and flavour composition in an aerosol stream delivered by the device.

According to a second aspect of certain embodiments described herein, there is provided an electronic vapour provision device comprising at least two user-operated controls, each control enabling adjustment of a corresponding operating parameter of the device, and wherein each control has the same configuration on an exterior of the device and requires the same actuating motion from a user to adjust the corresponding operating parameter.

These and further aspects of certain embodiments are set out in the appended independent and dependent claims. It will be appreciated that features of the dependent claims may be combined with each other and features of the independent claims in combinations other than those explicitly set out in the claims. Furthermore, the approach described herein is not restricted to specific embodiments such as set out below, but includes and contemplates any appropriate combinations of features presented herein. For example, an electronic vapour provision device or a component for an electronic vapour provision device may be provided in accordance with approaches described herein which includes any one or more of the various features described below as appropriate.

Brief Description of the Drawings

Various embodiments will now be described in detail by way of example only with reference to the accompanying drawings in which: Figure 1 shows a simplified schematic cross-sectional view of an example electronic cigarette or vapour provision device;

Figure 2 shows a perspective exterior view of an example electronic cigarette;

Figure 3 shows a close-up view of part of the Figure 2 example;

Figure 4 shows a schematic longitudinal cross-sectional view of the Figure 2 example;

Figure 5 shows a schematic partial exploded view of the Figure 2 example;

Figure 6 shows a schematic plan view of part of the Figure 2 example;

Figure 7 shows a schematic side view of a further example electronic cigarette; Figure 8 shows a schematic side view of a yet further example electronic cigarette; and

Figure 9 shows a schematic side view of a still further example electronic cigarette.

Detailed Description

Aspects and features of certain examples and embodiments are discussed / described herein. Some aspects and features of certain examples and embodiments may be implemented conventionally and these are not discussed / described in detail in the interests of brevity. It will thus be appreciated that aspects and features of apparatus and methods discussed herein which are not described in detail may be implemented in accordance with any conventional techniques for implementing such aspects and features.

As described above, the present disclosure relates to (but is not limited to) electronic aerosol or vapour provision systems, such as e-cigarettes. Throughout the following description the terms "e-cigarette" and "electronic cigarette" may sometimes be used; however, it will be appreciated these terms may be used interchangeably with aerosol (vapour) provision system or device. Similarly, "aerosol" may be used interchangeably with "vapour".

As used herein, the term "component" is used to refer to a part, section, unit, module, assembly or similar of an electronic cigarette that incorporates several smaller parts or elements, often within an exterior housing or wall. An electronic cigarette may be formed or built from one or more such components, and the components may be removably connectable to one another, or may be permanently joined together during manufacture to define the whole electronic cigarette.

According to embodiments of the invention, it is proposed to provide an electronic cigarette with at least two user operable controls configured to enable a user to modify operation of the electronic cigarette, where all the user controls have the same configuration. In other words, each control on the electronic cigarette is configured to be operated in the same way, such as requiring the same actuation or movement action by the user to adjust the control. Actuation may comprise pushing, sliding, twisting, rotating, pressing or touching, for example, depending on the structure of the controls and how they are arranged to interact with the internal parts of the electronic cigarette which they control. This motion, movement or action required on the part of the user to operate a control can be considered as an actuation characteristic, and the example devices proposed herein have multiple controls with a shared actuation characteristic. The controls may also be configured to have the same or similar external appearance, that is, the part of each control visible on the exterior of the device has a common or shared appearance and/or a common or shared construction. The controls may be arranged adjacently on the electronic cigarette, such that they are grouped in the same area on the electronic cigarette's external surface. In an electronic cigarette comprised of separable components such as a battery section and an aerosol source section, the controls may all be on the same component, or grouped at or near the interface between the components, for example.

Figure 1 is a highly schematic diagram (not to scale) of an example aerosol/vapour provision system such as an e-cigarette 10. The e-cigarette 10 has a generally cylindrical shape, extending along a longitudinal axis indicated by a dashed line, and comprises two main components, namely a control or power component or section 20 and a cartridge assembly or section 30 (sometimes referred to as a cartomizer, clearomiser or atomiser) that operates as a vapour generating component.

The cartridge assembly 30 includes a reservoir 3 containing a source liquid comprising a liquid formulation from which an aerosol is to be generated, for example containing nicotine. As an example, the source liquid may comprise around 1 to 3% nicotine and 50% glycerol, with the remainder comprising roughly equal measures of water and propylene glycol, and possibly also comprising other components, such as flavourings. The reservoir 3 has the form of a storage tank, being a container or receptacle in which source liquid can be stored such that the liquid is free to move and flow within the confines of the tank. Alternatively, the reservoir 3 may contain a quantity of absorbent material such as cotton wadding or glass fibre which holds the source liquid within a porous structure. The reservoir 3 may be sealed after filling during manufacture so as to be disposable after the source liquid is consumed, or may have an inlet port or other opening through which new source liquid can be added. The cartridge assembly 30 also comprises an electrical heating element or heater 4 located externally of the reservoir tank 3 for generating the aerosol by vaporisation of the source liquid by heating. A liquid conduit arrangement such as a wick or other porous element 6 may be provided to deliver source liquid from the reservoir 3 to the heater 4. The wick 6 has one or more parts located inside the reservoir 3 so as to be able to absorb source liquid and transfer it by wicking or capillary action to other parts of the wick 6 that are in contact with the heater 4. This liquid is thereby heated and vaporised, to be replaced by new source liquid transferred to the heater 4 by the wick 3. The wick therefore extends through a wall that defines the interior volume of the reservoir tank 3, and might be thought of as a bridge or conduit between the reservoir 3 and the heater 4.

A heater and wick (or similar) combination is sometimes referred to as an atomiser or atomiser assembly, and the reservoir with its source liquid plus the atomiser may be collectively referred to as an aerosol source. Various designs are possible, in which the parts may be differently arranged compared to the highly schematic representation of Figure 1 . For example, the wick 6 may be an entirely separate element from the heater 4, or the heater 4 may be configured to be porous and able to perform the wicking function directly (a metallic mesh, for example). Alternatively, the liquid conduit may be formed from one or more slots, tubes or channels between the reservoir and the heater which are narrow enough to support capillary action to draw source liquid out of the reservoir and deliver it for vaporisation. Other means for vapour generation may be used in place of a heater, such a vibrating vaporiser based on the piezoelectric effect, for example. In general, therefore, an atomiser can be considered to be a vapour generating or vaporising element able to generate vapour from source liquid delivered to it, and a liquid conduit (pathway) able to deliver or transport liquid from a reservoir or similar liquid store to the vapour generator such as by a capillary force. Embodiments of the invention are applicable to all and any such configurations.

Returning to Figure 1 , the cartridge assembly 30 also includes a mouthpiece 35 having an opening or air outlet through which a user may inhale the aerosol generated by the heater 4.

The power component 20 includes a cell or battery 5 (referred to herein after as a battery, and which may be re-chargeable) to provide power for electrical components of the e-cigarette 10, in particular the heater 4. Additionally, there is a printed circuit board 28 and/or other electronics or circuitry for generally controlling the e-cigarette. The control electronics/circuitry connect the heater 4 to the battery 5 when vapour is required, for example in response to a signal from an air pressure sensor or air flow sensor (not shown) that detects an inhalation on the system 10 during which air enters through one or more air inlets 26 in the wall of the power component 20. When the heating element 4 receives power from the battery 5, the heating element 4 vaporises source liquid delivered from the reservoir 3 by the wick 6 to generate the aerosol, and this is then inhaled by a user through the opening in the mouthpiece 35. The aerosol is carried from the aerosol source to the mouthpiece 35 along an air channel (not shown) that connects the air inlet 26 to the aerosol source to the air outlet when a user inhales on the mouthpiece 35. An air flow path through the electronic cigarette is hence defined, between the air inlet(s) (which may or may not be in the power component) to the atomiser and on to the air outlet at the mouthpiece. In use, the air flow direction along this air flow path is from the air inlet to the air outlet, so that the atomiser can be described as lying downstream of the air inlet and upstream of the air outlet.

In this particular example, the power section 20 and the cartridge assembly 30 are separate parts detachable from one another by separation in a direction parallel to the longitudinal axis, as indicated by the solid arrows in Figure 1 . The components 20, 30 are joined together when the device 10 is in use by cooperating engagement elements 21 , 31 (for example, a screw or bayonet fitting) which provide mechanical and electrical connectivity between the power section 20 and the cartridge assembly 30. This is merely an example arrangement, however, and the various components may be differently distributed between the power section 20 and the cartridge assembly section 30, and other components and elements may be included. The two sections may connect together end-to-end in a longitudinal configuration as in Figure 1 , or in a different configuration such as a parallel, side-by-side arrangement. The system may or may not be generally cylindrical and/or have a generally longitudinal shape. Either or both sections may be intended to be disposed of and replaced when exhausted (the reservoir is empty or the battery is flat, for example), or be intended for multiple uses enabled by actions such as refilling the reservoir and recharging the battery. Alternatively, the e-cigarette 10 may be a unitary device (disposable or refillable/rechargeable) that cannot be separated into two or more parts, in which case all components are comprised within a single body or housing. Embodiments and examples of the present invention are applicable to any of these configurations and other configurations of which the skilled person will be aware.

The example device in Figure 1 is presented in a highly schematic format to provide a high-level indication of the operation of an example electronic cigarette. No user operated controls are shown in Figure 1 , and indeed, some electronic cigarettes are not equipped with any such controls, or may include a simple on-off switch only. In other cases, however, one or more controls are provided to enable the user to modify the operation of the electronic cigarette, so that the aerosol output can be tailored to the user's particular requirements at any given time. A control may be configured to allow electronic/electrical adjustment of an operating parameter of the electronic cigarette. Movement of the control reconfigures electrical connections within the device or sends an electrical control signal to initiate operation at a particular level of a parameter. Alternatively, a control may be configured to allow mechanical adjustment of a component that modifies an operating parameter. Movement of the control may directly or indirectly move or reconfigure a mechanical part or parts within the device.

A first example of a user control is a control which allows the level of airflow along the air channel between the air inlet(s) and the air outlet to be altered. In this way, the amount of air which can be drawn through the device in an inhalation, and which is therefore available to collect vaporised source liquid, can be adjusted. The amount and/or concentration of vapourised source liquid per inhalation is hence controllable. Also, the amount of air per inhalation, or how hard the user must inhale to achieve a given airflow (also known as "resistance to draw"), can be a matter of personal preference that defines the experience of using the device for the user. Therefore, adjustability of this parameter allows customisation of the device according to user preference.

A convenient way to provide for adjustment of the airflow level is to arrange for a movable part or parts that can be moved into and out of the airflow channel to change the size of the bore of the channel at the location of the movable part. The movable part may be directly accessible from the exterior of the electronic cigarette so that its position can be changed by the user, or may be connected to one or more other parts which can be externally adjusted by the user. The movable part may be located along the airflow channel at a point intermediate between the air inlet and the air outlet, or may be arranged to partly cover or uncover the air inlet(s). The user operable control is therefore configured such that actuation of the control produces movement of the movable part or parts into and out of the air flow channel (by directly or indirectly moving the movable part). Usefully, the restriction of the airflow channel bore enabled in this way is located upstream of the aerosol source to control the amount of air that collects vapour from the aerosol source.

A further example is a user control configured to alter the level of electrical power provided from the battery to the heater or other vapour-generating element in the aerosol source. A higher power level produces an increased temperature rise at the heater so that the amount of vapour generated is increased, and/or vapour generation is initiated sooner at the start of a heating cycle. For a given heater, the power level can be altered by changing the voltage applied across the heater, or by changing the current passed through the heater, or both, and a particular design of electrical cigarette can be configured accordingly.

Hence, a convenient way to provide for adjustment of the power level is to configure a user operable switch or dial within the circuitry connecting the battery and the heater. For example, each position of a switch may make a different electrical connection between the battery and the heater that supplies a different power level, such as by connecting one out of a selection of differently valued resistors. A rheostat may alternatively be used to provide an adjustable resistance; this offers the benefit of allowing a continuous adjustment of resistance and hence power level, rather than a stepped adjustment corresponding to a set of different resistors. The user control may be configured to be adjustable over a continuous range, such as by rotation of a dial or sliding of a linear slider. Alternatively, the control may be configured such that its different positions each activate a different control signal sent to the control circuit of the electronic cigarette, and the control circuit (which may be programmable) is operable to modify the voltage or current supplied from the battery to the heater.

A control that modifies the electrical power supplied to the heater can be presented to the user directly as a power control, for example by labelling as a power control with an indication of the relative size of the possible settings (high to low, or 1 to 10, for example), or by labelling with numerical values of obtainable voltage, current or wattage. Knowledge of actual level of voltage, current or wattage by the user is not necessary for successful control of an electronic cigarette, but may be preferred by users of a scientific or technological bent.

In addition to control of the power level, for example a maximum value of power supplied to the heater, one might offer control of the cycle in which electrical power is provided to the heater. In some devices, the circuitry is configured with a detailed power (heating) cycle or profile over which the power level alters, either per inhalation or over several inhalations. The cycle may include a pre-heat phase to bring the heater to vaporising temperature, a heating phase when vapour is generated, and a cooling phase, for example (other and different cycles are known). Different heating cycles produce differently composed aerosol streams, so it may be desired to enable the user to choose between different cycles, as well as or instead of selecting a simple maximum power level or temperature. Accordingly, a user control may be provided for this, for example configured such that different positions of the control send different control signals to the control circuit, each of which activates heating according to a different cycle or profile.

Alternatively, a control that adjusts the electrical power might be presented to the user as a temperature controller. A given power level produces a particular temperature output from the heater, so that altering the power and altering the temperature are effectively the same thing as regards operation of the electronic cigarette. The control might be labelled as a temperature control and marked as adjustable between high and low settings (in steps or continuously, for example) or a simple 1 to 10 scale. Alternatively, the scale might be marked with actual temperature values produced at each setting; these might indicate the heater temperature or the temperature of the inhaled aerosol.

Another example of a user control is one configured to allow the user to modify the level of nicotine present in the inhaled airstream. Since nicotine is incorporated in the airstream by vaporised source liquid containing nicotine being taken up by air in the air channel passing over the heater, the amount of nicotine may be controlled by controlling the amount of source liquid which is vaporised in a given time, in other words the vaporisation rate. As mentioned, this can be done by changing the temperature of the heater, by altering the amount of electric power provided to the heater from the battery. Accordingly, a control configured as described above to regulate the heater output (power control or temperature control) may equivalent^ be considered as a nicotine level control. Appropriate labelling to indicate this use to the user may be provided.

A further way to control nicotine level is to control the rate at which source liquid is delivered to the vapour generator for vaporisation. For example, a mechanism which provides variable constriction of a wick, or allows switching between two or more wicks (by opening and closing different reservoir outlets, for example), or alters the bore of a capillary channel, might be provided, where the mechanism is adjustable by actuation of a user control on the exterior of the electronic cigarette.

Alternatively, the nicotine level might be altered by configuring the electronic cigarette to accommodate more than one reservoir of source liquid. Each reservoir may contain a source liquid with a different nicotine strength or concentration. A control is provided which is operable between positions each of which makes a fluid connection between one reservoir and the heater (via a shared wick or other liquid conduit, or a conduit per reservoir) while closing the fluid connection from the other reservoir or reservoirs. The various connections might be opened and closed by mechanical means which are moved directly or indirectly by altering the position of the control, for example, or which are under electrical control. For example, a valve at the outlet of each reservoir might be opened and closed mechanically or electrically. More simply, a sliding plate with a single through-hole might be moved between a set of positions each of which aligns the aperture with one fluid connection only, thereby blocking the other fluid connections.

A similar configuration using two or more tanks might be used to enable the user to control the flavour of the generated aerosol stream. Typically, source liquid is provided with a flavouring that passes to the vapour; this may be nicotine flavour to mimic a conventional cigarette smoking experience, or may be various fruit, herbal or food-based flavours, for example. To change flavours in an electronic cigarette with a single reservoir, the user must either consume all the source liquid, and either refill with a different source liquid or replace the reservoir with one containing a different source liquid (depending on whether the reservoir or the cartridge section is configured to be disposable or re-usable), or remove a partially emptied reservoir and replace it with one containing a different source liquid. The former option restricts the times at which flavour can be switched, while the latter option causes waste of unconsumed source liquid if the reservoir is simply thrown away, or inconvenience in storing a part-full reservoir without leakage or spillage.

Accordingly, an electronic cigarette may be designed to accommodate more than one reservoir, each of which can contain a differently-flavoured source liquid, and a user control is provided to switch which reservoir is coupled to the heater, as discussed above with regard to nicotine level control. Hence, operation of the user control enables the user to change the flavour of the aerosol stream. As an example, the reservoirs might be numbered or named, and the control provided with labelling to indicate which reservoir is connected in which position of the switch.

A more complex configuration may enable blending or mixing of source liquids from two or more reservoirs, by allowing more than one reservoir to be open at a time, and providing adjustment in proportions of source liquid from the various reservoirs that reaches the heater. Other blending configurations are possible, such as based on two separate heaters, which might be heated to different temperatures or exposed to different fractions of the airflow to achieve a mixture of source liquids in the final aerosol stream.

An electronic cigarette with multiple reservoirs may be operated to allow both control of nicotine level and switching/blending of flavours, depending on which source liquids are selected by the user. The electronic cigarette and the user controls may be configured to allow switching between all reservoirs, or between reservoirs in two or more sets of reservoirs.

Thus, an electronic cigarette can include user operable controls to enable a user to configure and customise the device and his usage thereof. Owing to the range of operating parameters that can be adjustable (both the examples discussed above and other parameters that will be apparent to the skilled person), the versatility of an electronic cigarette can be improved by providing controls for more than one parameter or function.

In this context, the present disclosure proposes that two or more controls on the same device may be configured in the same way, so that they require the same user action to operate (shared actuating characteristic), and may have the same or similar shape, size and/or range of movement. This offers enhanced simplicity of the device structure, and ease of operation for the user. Configuration of all parameters can be made more rapidly if the controls are operable in the same way. Also, a shared format for the controls can allow them to be grouped together on the device exterior in a neat and efficient manner, for ease of accessibility and ergonomics, and conversely ease of protection from accidental operation (such as by a shared cover).

Figure 2 shows an external perspective view of a first example electronic cigarette configured with multiple user controls. The electronic cigarette 10 has an elongate cylindrical shape, and comprises a battery section 20 and an aerosol generating section or cartridge 30. Disposed between the battery section 20 and the cartridge 30 are three user controls 40, 41 and 42. Each control 40, 41 , 42 is configured as a rotatable dial, so that their actuating characteristic is rotation. Each dial has an axis of rotation coincident with the elongate axis of the electronic cigarette 10. Thus each dial rotates about the same axis. Each dial 40, 41 , 42 has substantially the same diameter (width orthogonal to the axis of rotation) as the diameter of the battery section 20 and of the cartridge 30. Hence, the exterior cylindrical surface of the electronic cigarette 10 is continuous and largely uninterrupted by the dials 40, 41 , 42. Alternatively, the dials might have a larger diameter so that they protrude beyond the surface of the battery section 20 and/or the cartridge section 30 so that a user might be able to grip them more easily. The exterior cylindrical surface of the dials 40, 41 , 42 is provided with a series of ridges or grooves parallel to the axis of rotation, to facilitate gripping by the user. Other surface three- dimensional patterns may alternatively be used, or a surface layer or pattern of an applied material offering enhanced grip, such as rubber, might be provided. Each dial has a longitudinal dimension sufficient to allow a user to grip and manipulate that dial without disturbing the position of an adjacent dial. External shaping of the dials may also be provided to aid this, such as a narrow recess between each dial and the adjacent dial or section. In this example, the three dials 40, 41 , 42 are located immediately adjacent to one another. This minimises the total amount of space occupied by the set of user controls.

Hence, each of the three user controls of the electronic cigarette 10 is configured in the same manner. The same format is shared by all the controls (they have the same external shape, size and general appearance), and each control requires the same actuation by a user to operate it. The controls share a common actuating characteristic. Namely, each control requires rotation about the longitudinal axis of the electronic cigarette 10.

In this example, one user control 40 is operable to adjust nicotine level, one user control 41 is operable to adjust airflow, and one user control 42 is operable to adjust flavour.

Figure 3 shows a close-up perspective view of the three dials 40, 41 , 42 of the electronic cigarette of Figure 2. Each dial 40, 41 , 42 is labelled to indicate the operating parameter of the electronic cigarette. Dial 40 controls nicotine level, and is marked with the letters "MG". This notation can be used to represent "nicotine" since it is an abbreviation for milligrams, and in conventional tobacco products (such as cigarettes, loose tobacco) the nicotine content is measured in milligrams. Dial 41 , which in this example is a central dial within the group, controls airflow, and is accordingly marked with the letters "AF". Dial 42 is used for flavour selection and/or mixing, and is accordingly marked with the letter "FV". These markings are on the outer surface of the dials 40, 41 , 42, and serve also to indicate the rotational position of each dial with respect to the main, non-rotating parts of the electronic cigarette (namely the adjacent battery section 20 and cartridge 30), thereby indicating the operation "setting" at which each control is positioned.

To aid the user in configuring the operation of the electronic cigarette, a scale 44 is provided (by printing, etching, or moulding, for example) on the external surface of the battery section 20 and the cartridge 30, adjacent to the outer two dials 40, 42 of the group of three. By labelling the scales with numerical values (actual or relative) or an indication of "high" and "low" or similar operational range ends or extremes, the user can manipulate each control by rotation to set its label against an appropriate value on a scale. Each dial is appropriately connected (mechanically or electrically) to appropriate parts or components within the housing of the electronic cigarette that operate to effect an alteration in the corresponding operating parameter.

Also apparent in Figure 3 are circumferential grooves or recesses 43 between each dial 40, 41 , 42 and the adjacent dial or section 20, 30, as mentioned above.

Figure 4 shows a simplified longitudinal cross-sectional view through the electronic cigarette of Figure 2. Arranged in sequence along the longitudinal axis (dotted line) are the battery section 20 housing the battery 5 and control circuitry 28, the flavour user control 42, the airflow user control 41 , the nicotine level user control 40, and the cartridge section 30 housing the source liquid in a reservoir or tank 3. Each of the user controls 40, 41 , 42 in the form of a cylindrical dial, is mounted by a central aperture on a shared spindle or axle 45 which is aligned along the longitudinal axis. Hence, each dial is rotatable about the same axis. In addition to supporting the dials 40, 41 , 42, the spindle 45 may be configured to make or contribute to the mechanical and electrical connection between the battery section 20 and the cartridge section 30. Also, the spindle 45 may be hollow or have an opening therein so as to define part of the airflow channel through the electronic cigarette 10.

The electronic cigarette 10 may be configured as a unitary device, not intended to be separated into components by the user after purchase. In such a case, the device may be intended to be disposable after the source liquid is used up or the battery charge expires, or as reusable by refilling the reservoir 3 and recharging the battery 5. Alternatively, the electronic cigarette 10 may be configured as separable components, to allow replacement of the battery section 20 and/or the cartridge section 20. In this case, the point of separation may be located so that the dials 40, 41 , 42 are comprised as part of the battery section 20, as part of the cartridge section 30, or shared between the two sections. The dials may be configured in any preferred manner to have the required effect on the associated operating parameter of the electronic cigarette, by changing an electric connection, sending a particular control signal to control circuitry, or reconfiguring mechanical (moving) components, or a combination of these approaches, for example. Appropriate configurations will be apparent to the skilled person. Also, more or other dials/ controls might be provided to control additional or different parameters. The dials may be arranged in a single group as in Figure 2, or spaced apart along the longitudinal axis, or arranged in two or more spaced apart groups along the axis. These remarks apply also to other formats of user control, discussed further below.

Figure 5 shows a schematic exploded perspective view of part of the electronic cigarette according to the present example, showing an option for using a dial to alter an electrical connection. An end of the cartridge 30 is shown with the adjacent dial 40 for adjusting nicotine level, mounted on the axle 45. The cartridge 30 has an end face 30a which abuts a face 40a of the dial 40 when the two parts are assembled as in Figure 4. The end face 30a has provided thereon a plurality of electrical contacts 46, each of which is connected to the circuitry of the electronic cigarette 10 so as to activate a different power from the battery, such as by connecting to differently valued resistors, for example. The end face 40a of the dial 40 has a single electrical contact 47. Rotation of the dial 40 about the spindle 45 (indicated by the arrow) brings the single electrical contact 47 into alignment with one of the set of contacts 46, to select a particular power level and corresponding nicotine level. One or more stops (comprising engaging or abutting features for example) may be provided on the faces 30a, 40a to limit the rotation of the dial to the angular range occupied by the contacts 46, if, as shown, the contacts do not extend the full perimeter of the end face 30a. An opposite arrangement might be used, in which the end face 30a of the cartridge 30 has a single contact, and a set of contacts is located on the face 40a of the dial 40.

A similar arrangement might be used for the dial 42 for controlling flavour, at the other end of the set of controls. If electrical control is used to determine the coupling of a particular reservoir or reservoirs to the heater for flavour mixing, such as by electrical operation of valves on the reservoir outlets, a set of contacts and a single contact may be provided respectively on the abutting end faces of the dial 42 and the battery component 20 (or vice versa). Adjustments of other parameters under electrical control could also be effected in the same or similar way.

Figure 6 shows a plan view of an example of a dial for adjusting airflow, such as the dial 41 . In the event that the central axle 45 is used also as the airflow channel, the dial may support one or more impeding sections 47 that protrude into the airflow channel 48 by an amount that depends on the rotational position of the dial 41 . For example, the sections 47 may be configured to open and close across the channel 48 in the manner of a camera shutter iris. In this way, the bore of the channel 48 can be altered and the amount of airflow adjusted.

These are examples only of ways in which mechanical and electrical configurations can effect control of operating parameters of the electronic cigarette; other possibilities will be apparent that enable the provision of multiple user controls that have the same actuation method, and possibly external appearance.

The user controls are not limited to a set of rotatable dials arranged as in the Figure 2 example. Other control formats with other actuating characteristics are contemplated, and other positional relationships for the controls can be used.

Figure 7 shows a schematic side view of an electronic cigarette 10 configured in a "side by side" arrangement in which the battery section 20 and the aerosol forming section 30 are arranged in parallel, next to one another, instead of the linear "end to end" arrangement of the previous examples. The two sections are demarcated by a dotted line, but may or may not be separable, or may be contained within a single exterior housing into which the sections are received for later removal for refilling or replacement. A mouthpiece 50, sometimes known as a "drip tip" is provided on the aerosol forming section. This shape of electronic cigarette offers a larger, potentially flatter external surface for the mounting of user controls compared to a linear configuration. User control arrangements different from the adjacent dials of the Figure 2 example may readily be accommodated. In this example, the user controls again comprise a set of rotatable dials 51 , 52, 53, sharing a rotation actuation characteristic, but these are each mounted for rotation about a different axis, each axis being orthogonal to the surface of the e-cigarette housing (the plane of the page in the illustrated orientation), and in this example also parallel to the other two rotational axes. The dials are grouped in a line across a lower part of a face of the housing, so are conveniently near to each other for efficient user adjustment. The dials might be differently located on the housing however, and may or may not be adjacent. Each dial 51 , 52, 53 is provided with a corresponding scale marked on the housing, and a marker on the dial to show the position of the control relative to the scale. Labelling similar to that in the Figure 2 example might be used to indicate the function of each dial to the user.

The user controls are not restricted to a dial format, however.

Figure 8 shows a schematic side view of a further example electronic cigarette 10 having four user controls which are configured as sliders or sliding switches. Hence, user actuation comprising a sliding motion is required to adjust each control, where sliding comprises pushing or pulling a control within a plane substantially parallel to the surface on which the control is mounted. Hence, the shared actuation characteristic is sliding. Each control comprises a handle, knob or similar graspable protrusion 56 which is movable by sliding along a slot 55 in the housing of the electronic cigarette (which has a box-like side-by-side configuration). The slot 55 confines the movement of the handle portion 56. Movement of the handle 56 to different positions along the slot (indicated by the arrow) may either bring the handle 56 into positions that make different electrical connections or trigger different electrical signals for adjustment of an electrical control, or may produce movement of a mechanical part directly or indirectly coupled to the handle 56. For example, the handle 56 may be joined to a sliding or hinged shutter portion that is movable into and out of the airflow channel to alter the bore size of the channel and hence allow adjustment of air flow.

Sliding controls may operate within a straight slot as in the Figure 8 example, or the slot may be curved or have some nonlinear shape. The controls may be situated differently that illustrated, in one or more groups or separately. More than one control may slide within a single slot.

Buttons may also be provided as user controls for an electronic cigarette, having an actuation characteristic of pressing, pushing or touching.

Figure 9 shows a schematic side view of another example electronic cigarette 10, this time having a linear end-to-end configuration, and provided with four user controls (57, 58, 59, 90) having a button format. Buttons are operable by a pushing, pressing or touching actuation by the user, by applying a force inwardly towards the body, substantially perpendicular to the surface on which the button is mounted. For example, the buttons (57, 58, 59, 60) may be configured as traditional push buttons, where physical movement of the button in response to pressure is readily apparent to the user. Such a button may have two steady state positions, one depressed and one protruding, between which the button moves when pressed. This typically provides switching between two levels of the associated operational parameter. Alternatively, the button may return to a rest position after each press, but each press makes a signal or connection within the device to advance the associated parameter to a next value on a scale. A series of presses cycles the parameter along the scale. A mechanical push button of this kind may be protected under a flexible protective membrane or skin (formed from flexible polymer, plastic, rubber or the like, for example) to give a smoother surface appearance and/or to make the control impervious to penetration by moisture or foreign matter. A group of buttons may share a membrane, giving a neater appearance and more compact configuration.

Alternatively, the buttons (57, 58, 59, 60) may be touch-sensitive buttons, operable by capacitive or resistive technology. In this case, the pushing or pressing actuation can be minimal, requiring only a touch by the user. Repeated touching of the button area can cycle the control through a range or scale of control values. However, touch-sensitive controls are more vulnerable to accidental actuation than push buttons, so it may be preferred to locate such controls on a part of the electronic cigarette's surface which is less likely to be touched during normal usage, or to provide a cover over the controls, or to provide some form of lock that must be operated to place the buttons in an actuable state.

Unlike a dial, slider or other control that has a range of movement and can hence be provided with a scale or other markings, the operational condition selected by actuation of a button can be hard for the user to determine. Hence, for user controls with a button format, it may be desirable to provide a display 61 on the electronic cigarette housing which can present to the user an indication of the value of each operational parameter selected by each control. The display may take the form of a screen (liquid crystal display, or full colour pixel display, for example) for displaying numerical values for each parameter, or may comprise one or more lights (comprising light emitting diodes, for example) which are illuminated corresponding to the various parameter values, for example. For touch controls, the touch sensitive areas and the value indicating areas may be embodied in a single touch-sensitive screen. Further in this regard, note that a set of lights or a display may replace a written or other graphical scale for a dial or slider.

Embodiments of the invention are not limited to the formats and configurations of user control described thus far. Other types of control which can be structured to allow user adjustment of operating parameters may also be used. Other examples include rocker switches, which may have two or more steady state positions each corresponding to a different value for the associated parameter, or touch-sensitive controls that require an action other than pressing, such as swiping.

The user controls may be included as part of an aerosol producing component

(reusable or disposable) for detachable coupling to a battery section to form an electronic cigarette or other vapour provision device (electronic or non-electronic), or may be included as part of a battery section (reusable or disposable) for detachable coupling to an aerosol producing component (variously known by terms including cartomiser and cartridge), or may be incorporated directly into an electronic cigarette or other vapour provision device (electronic or non-electronic) that does not comprise detachable or separable components.

The various embodiments described herein are presented only to assist in understanding and teaching the claimed features. These embodiments are provided as a representative sample of embodiments only, and are not exhaustive and/or exclusive. It is to be understood that advantages, embodiments, examples, functions, features, structures, and/or other aspects described herein are not to be considered limitations on the scope of the invention as defined by the claims or limitations on equivalents to the claims, and that other embodiments may be utilised and modifications may be made without departing from the scope of the claimed invention. Various embodiments of the invention may suitably comprise, consist of, or consist essentially of, appropriate combinations of the disclosed elements, components, features, parts, steps, means, etc., other than those specifically described herein. In addition, this disclosure may include other inventions not presently claimed, but which may be claimed in future.




 
Previous Patent: VIRTUAL REALITY

Next Patent: IMPROVEMENTS TO A BOARD