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Patent Searching and Data


Title:
VENDING MACHINE
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2007/129291
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A vending machine (10) for dispensing individual portions of a frangible food product, such as eggs, has a housing (11) in which a plurality of lockable compartments (13) is arranged. A coin input mechanism (17) and an LCD screen (23) are mounted in a panel (16) on the front section (12) of the housing (11). When money is inserted into the machine (10), in use, a programmable logic controller (not shown) unlocks the next compartment (13), containing a portion of food product. The next time money is inserted in the machine (10) the next compartment (13), in a pre-set sequence, is unlocked. When only a few compartments (13), containing food, remain, the programmable logic controller (not shown) sends a text message to the owner alerting him to the situation.

Inventors:
MUCKIAN, Patrick, Gerard (Stonefield House, KilcurryDundalk, County Louth, IE)
Application Number:
IE2007/000053
Publication Date:
November 15, 2007
Filing Date:
May 08, 2007
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
MUCKIAN, Patrick, Gerard (Stonefield House, KilcurryDundalk, County Louth, IE)
International Classes:
G07F11/62; G07F5/26
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ANNE RYAN & CO. (60 Northumberland Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, IE)
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Claims:
Claims: -

1. A vending machine for dispensing individual portions of a food product, the vending machine comprising a housing, a coin-input mechanism, a control unit, a communications module, and a plurality of lockable compartments, all arranged within the housing, with each compartment having an associated locking mechanism, the control unit being connected to the coin input mechanism, the locking mechanisms and the communications module such that, in use, a particular compartment, containing a portion of food, is unlocked when an amount of coins is introduced into the coin input mechanism, and such that the control unit gathers data relating to the operation of the machine and sends the data to a remote receiver, through the communications module.

2. A vending machine according to Claim 1, wherein the communications module is an SMS (Short Message Service) texting module, which sends the data as a text message.

3. A vending machine according to Claim 1 or 2, wherein the text message indicates the number of compartments containing food product at a particular time.

4. A vending machine according to any preceding claim, wherein the text message indicates the usage of the machine over a given period.

5. A vending machine according to any preceding claim, wherein each associated locking mechanism is a spring-loaded solenoid,

which, when activated, releases a door on a corresponding compartment, allowing a portion of the food product to be removed by a purchaser.

6. A vending machine according to any preceding claim, wherein the control unit is a programmable logic controller.

7. A vending machine according to any preceding claim, wherein means for identifying the particular compartment, which has been unlocked, is located on the housing in view of the purchaser.

8. A vending machine according to Claim 7, wherein the identifying means is a display screen.

9. A vending machine according to any of Claims 1 to 7, wherein the identifying means is an individual illuminating indicator associated with each compartment.

10. A vending machine according to Claim 1 for vending individual portions of a food product, substantially as hereinbefore described with particular reference to and as illustrated in the accompanying drawings.

Description:

Description

Vending machine

Technical Field

This invention relates to a vending machine and, in particular, to a vending machine, which dispenses individual portions of a food product.

Background Art

Vending machines are used for the dispensing of a variety of food products. For items such as chocolate bars, packets of sweets and the like, the customer selects the product that he wishes to purchase, places the appropriate amount of coins in the machine and the product is delivered through a chute to a collection bin at the bottom of the machine. This system is fine for sturdy products but is not suitable for fragile or frangible food products.

Such vending machines are used in a variety of locations. In some cases, such as public houses and shops, the owner/manager of the machine is working in the same location and he can thus keep an eye on the machine and ensure that it is kept topped up with product.

However, where a vending machine is sited in a location, remote from the owner/manager, management of the machine is more difficult. Although the vending machine may be positioned in a food outlet, if the personnel on the site are not responsible for it problems can arise. It is

particularly important to have in-date product in such a machine at all times, to keep the customer satisfied.

It is an object of the present invention to overcome the disadvantages of the vending machines hereinbefore described.

Disclosure of Invention

Thus, the invention provides a vending machine for dispensing individual portions of a food product, the vending machine comprising a housing, a coin input mechanism, a control unit, a communications module, and a plurality of lockable compartments, all arranged within the housing, with each compartment having an associated locking mechanism, the control unit being connected to the coin-input mechanism, the locking mechanisms and the communications module such that, in use, a particular compartment, containing a portion of food, is unlocked when an amount of coins is introduced into the coin-input mechanism, and such that the control unit gathers data relating to the operation of the machine and sends the data to a remote receiver, through the communications module.

By coin herein is meant all forms of money, namely coins and banknotes.

An advantage of the vending machine according to the invention is that it can be used to dispense frangible portions of a food product such as a tray of hen eggs or pastries as the portion can be removed from its individual compartment directly by the user, without it first having to be

moved to a collection opening in the machine. This reduces the danger of the portion being damaged before removal by the user.

Another advantage of the vending machine according to the invention is that the data collected by the control unit can be accessed by the machine owner without him having to visit the machine location. This is particularly useful when the owner has a number of machines situated at different locations.

Preferably, the communications module is an SMS (Short Message Service) texting module, which sends the data as a text message.

Text messaging is cheap and fast and where the message is sent to a mobile phone the owner of the machine can access the information while on the move, possibly saving time and money thereby.

Further, preferably, the text message indicates the number of compartments containing food product at a particular time.

The ability to receive such a message means that the machine owner can schedule a visit to the machine in order to refill it.

Suitably, the text message indicates the usage of the machine over a given period.

The advantage of this aspect of the invention is that the data can be used to manage the machine or a number of machines to ensure, for

example, that out of date product does not remain in an active machine. The data can also be used to coordinate visits to a number of sites in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

In one embodiment of the vending machine according to the invention, each associated locking mechanism is a spring-loaded solenoid, which, when activated, releases a door on a corresponding compartment, allowing a portion of the food product to be removed by a purchaser.

An advantage of this arrangement is that the solenoid only needs to be energised to unlock the door as it will revert to the locked position after a pre-set period.

In a further embodiment of the vending machine according to the invention, the control unit is a programmable logic controller.

Having a programmable control unit allows the functioning of the vending machine to be tailored to a particular owner's requirements.

In a still further embodiment of the vending machine according to the invention, means for identifying the particular compartment, which has been unlocked, is located on the housing in view of the purchaser.

The advantage of this aspect of the invention is that the purchaser is directed to the unlocked compartment where he can access the portion of the food product, for which he has paid. The compartment, which has been unlocked, can have an external appearance which is the same as all

the other compartments and yet the purchaser will be able to find the open compartment with the aid of the identifying means.

Preferably, the identifying means is a display screen.

A display screen, such as an LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) can be used to display the number of the compartment, which has been unlocked following the insertion of the appropriate amount of coins into the coin-input mechanism.

Alternately, the identifying means is an individual illuminating indicator associated with each compartment.

The advantage of this feature is that such individual illuminating indicators are cheap and provide a simple but effective method of identifying an unlocked compartment.

Brief Description of the Drawings

The invention will be further illustrated by the following description of an embodiment thereof, given by way of example only with reference to the accompanying drawings in which:

Fig. 1 is a perspective view of a vending machine in accordance with the invention;

Fig. 2 is an enlarged view, from the front, of part of the unlocked compartment of the vending machine, illustrated in Fig. 1; and

Fig, 3 is a schematic representation of the components of the vending machine of Fig. 1.

Mode for Carrying Out the Invention

Referring to Fig.l, there is indicated generally at 10, a vending machine for dispensing individual portions of a food product, such as standard trays of hen eggs, containing thirty eggs in an array of 5x6. The vending machine 10 consists of a housing 11 with a front section 12 in which a plurality of lockable compartments 13 are arranged in two vertical columns 14 and 15 one on either side of a central elongate panel 16. A coin-input mechanism 17 is centrally mounted in panel 16. A control unit (not shown) in the form of a programmable logic controller and an SMS texting module (not shown) are mounted behind a lockable access door 18 located below panel 16. The access door 18 is locked by a pair of locks 19, 19'.

An antenna 20, for the SMS texting module is mounted at position

21 on top 22 of the housing 11.

An LCD screen 23 is mounted in panel 16, above the coin-input mechanism 17, on which screen 23 the currently unlocked compartment is identified.

Vending machine 10 is illustrated in Fig. 1 with one compartment, shown generally at 24, in an unlocked and empty state.

Referring to Fig. 2, compartment 24 is illustrated in more detail, and has a front door 25, shown in a raised position. A hinge 26 together with a similar hinge (not shown) connect door 25 to the housing 11. A bracket 27 is attached to a side 28 of the door 25. A circular hole 29 in the bracket 27 cooperates with one of a plurality of spring-loaded solenoids 30, one per compartment 13, the spring-loaded solenoid 30 being located in a side 31 of the compartment 24. The solenoid 30 engages in hole 29, in the locked position.

Referring to Fig. 3 the arrangement of the components of the vending machine 10 is illustrated in a block diagram. The hub of vending machine 10 is a programmable logic controller 40, which is connected to the coin-input mechanism 17 and a switch unit 41. The controller 40 is also connected to the LCD screen 23 and the plurality of spring-loaded solenoids 30. Finally, the SMS texting module 42 is connected to the controller 40.

Referring to Figs. 1 to 3, in use, a standard tray, containing thirty hen eggs is loaded into each compartmentl3 and each door 25 is moved to the locked position with the solenoid 30 engaged in the corresponding hole 29. The programmable logic controller 40 is reset using the switch unit 41 and the machine 10 is now ready for the first customer.

The first customer places an appropriate amount of coins in the coin-input mechanism 17 and this triggers the programmable logic controller 40 to energise the spring-loaded solenoid 30 of a first compartment 13, in a preset sequence of compartments 13 to be opened.

At the same time, the location of the first compartment 13 is indicated on the LCD screen 23. The customer now has a set time, which is programmable, e.g. thirty seconds, in which to remove the tray of eggs from the first compartment 13. At the end of the thirty second period the spring-loaded solenoid 30 will revert to the locked position. If the tray of eggs has been removed the door 25 can be returned to the locked position, as the bracket 27 will ride over the solenoid 30 until the solenoid 30 engages the hole 29.

If the customer has not attempted to remove the tray of eggs in the thirty second interval the solenoid 30 relocks the first compartment and the coins are returned to the customer.

Assuming that the first customer has successfully paid for and removed a tray of eggs, the next customer, on inserting his coins, will be directed to the next compartment 13 in the preset sequence, and so on.

When there are only a preset number of compartments 13 containing a tray of eggs, left, e.g. four, the programmable logic controller 40 will initiate the sending of a text message, through the SMS texting module 42, to alert the owner to the situation.

The programmable logic controller 40 also gathers and records data on the usage of the machine 10, which is forwarded to the owner, as a text message, at preset times.