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Patents are a virtue: an energy harvester, a backpack on wheels and surveillance with a difference

AJ Park patent specialists Anton Blijlevens and Jillian Lim touch on some interesting patents to look out for on the shelves.

Energy from air

As patent attorneys, we are always wary of two things: perpetual motion machines, and devices which harvest energy from nothing. So at first glance, the molecular energy harvester claimed in patent US 8,742,648 seems a little bit suspicious.

After all, it is powered by air – air molecules to be precise. But the patentee does not make outrageous claims to the amount of energy harvestable; instead suggesting that the small amount of energy generated could be used for ‘trickle charging low powered devices such as wireless sensors’.

The patent claim requires a plate with holes in it for receiving molecules, an impacting structure, such as turbine blades, and a substrate layer having a conducting coil for collecting electrons released on impact. Essentially, a wind turbine in nano-scale.

So how does it work? According to the description in the patent specification, air molecules travel between 700 to 1000 metres per second. This would be an enormous energy source, if the molecules were normally entrained. However, because air molecules travel in random directions, there is no net flow at a macroscopic level.

In general, each molecule travels in a straight line for approximately 90 molecular diameters before colliding with another molecule. Although the direction is random, there is a small percentage – ‘the random occurrence’ – when a molecule travels in a particular direction.

This energy harvester relies on this random occurrence of molecules travelling in a common direction. In one example, the holes in the plate are approximately the diameter of a molecule (including the free space around each molecule), and approximately 90 molecular diameters long. In those random occurrences when a molecule travels in the exact direction of the hole, it will enter the hole, travel through the hole without encountering other molecules, and exit at the end to impact the turbine blade.

Small amounts of power can therefore be generated. It will be interesting to see if this device will actually work to generate sufficient power.

Surveillance van

We’re not talking about a private investigator’s car, or those vehicles with a camera mounted on the top, like the one Google Maps uses to capture street views. Instead, patent US 8,706,359 is about a vehicle with a surveillance container that accommodates the user and can be raised up from the top of the vehicle.

The patent has been granted to Terrahawk LLC, and claims a vehicle with a first portion for accommodating a user operating the vehicle (eg, the driver’s seat), an enclosed module accessible through the first portion, and a lifting mechanism to move the module from a retracted position to an extended position.

An important feature is that the surveillance container/module is accessible from within the vehicle, for example from the driver’s seat. This obviously improves the safety of the user as he does not have to exit the vehicle to enter the container. Unlike the camera mounted surveillance trucks, though, this one can only be used when stationary. The vehicle may also include jacks 24 for increasing stability, especially on uneven terrain.

Wheeled backpack

Look closely, it’s not your standard wheeled luggage bag. It’s a backpack with a central wheel that can be deployed while the user is carrying the backpack, so that the wheel contacts the ground and helps support at least part of the weight of the backpack.

Of course the user could also pull the backpack along on the ground, but the important feature is that the rod attaching to the wheel can be extended long enough so that the wheel can contact the ground while the bag is on the user’s back.

This patent, US 8708206, was recently issued to Onessimo, S., and Overstreet, W. Perhaps one useful embodiment would be to a wheeled golf bag – for those times when there’s no caddy to lug those clubs around for you.

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