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United States Patent Application 20170127858
Kind Code A1
Teh; Keng Soon ;   et al. May 11, 2017

A SYSTEM FOR NECK SUPPORT

Abstract

There is provided a neck support with a plurality of independently controlled airbags. This may have the advantage that the tilt, comfort and/or support of the user's neck can be adjusted to reduce neck strain and/or the user's sleeping/waking state can be managed according to the journey progress.


Inventors: Teh; Keng Soon; (Singapore, SG) ; Lin; Wei Liang; (Singapore, SG) ; Lai; Sep Riang; (Singapore, SG) ; Wang; Xingyu; (Singapore, SG)
Applicant:
Name City State Country Type

TWare Pte. Ltd.

Singapore

SG
Assignee: TWare Pte. Ltd.
Singapore
SG

Family ID: 1000002434036
Appl. No.: 15/321843
Filed: July 3, 2015
PCT Filed: July 3, 2015
PCT NO: PCT/SG2015/050196
371 Date: December 23, 2016


Current U.S. Class: 1/1
Current CPC Class: A47G 9/1027 20130101; A47C 7/383 20130101; A47G 9/1081 20130101; A47G 9/1045 20130101
International Class: A47G 9/10 20060101 A47G009/10; A47C 7/38 20060101 A47C007/38

Foreign Application Data

DateCodeApplication Number
Jul 3, 2014SG10201403838V

Claims



1. A system for neck support comprising: a neck support collar, a plurality of independent airbags distributed around the collar, and a controller module configured to adjust the tilt, comfort and/or support of a user's neck by adjusting the pressure in one or more of the plurality of airbags.

2. The system according to claim 1, further comprising a plurality of sensors configured to detect the tilt of the user's neck, wherein the controller module is configured to adjust the pressure based on one or more sensor outputs.

3. The system according to any preceding claim, further comprising a user interface configured to communicate with the controller module according to claim 1.

4. The system according to any preceding claim, wherein the controller module is configured to sense the resting state of the user and adjust the pressure accordingly.

5. The system according to claim 4, wherein the resting state of the user is sensed based on the sensor outputs.

6. The system according to claim 4, wherein the controller module is configured to provide music to the user depending on the resting state of the user.

7. The system according to any preceding claim, wherein the controller module is configured to adjust the pressure to move the user's neck towards an upright position.

8. The system according to claim 7, wherein the plurality of airbags comprises a pair of support airbags configured to support different parts of the back of the user's neck and wherein upon detecting the tilt of the user's neck towards a part, the controller module is configured to inflate the support airbag configured to support the part.

9. The system according to claim 7, wherein the plurality of airbags comprises a pair of tilt correction airbags configured to support different sides of the user's neck and wherein upon detecting that the tilt of the user's neck towards a side is greater than a predetermined amount, the controller module is configured to inflate the tilt correction airbag configured to support the side and deflate the other tilt correction airbag.

10. The system according to claim 9, wherein upon detecting that the tilt of the user's neck towards a side is less than the predetermined amount, the controller module is configured to deflate both the tilt correction airbags by different amounts.

11. The system according to any preceding claim, wherein the controller module is configured to detect that a user's neck is in an upright position for a predetermined amount of time and upon said detection, to adjust the pressure to allow the user's neck to move away from the upright position.

12. The system according to any preceding claim, wherein a circumference of the neck support collar is adjustable to fit the user's neck.

13. The system according to any preceding claim, wherein the neck support collar comprises: a main support unit; and an outer sleeve covering the main support unit, wherein the outer sleeve comprises height adjustment pads adjustable to fit the user's neck length.

15. The system according to claim 2, wherein each of the sensors is a six DOF MEMS.

16. The system according to claim 15, further comprising a frame incorporated with the neck support collar, the frame being configured to allow mounting of at least two six DOF MEMS.

17. The system according to claim 16, wherein the frame is configured to maintain a constant alignment of the at least two six DOF MEMS.

18. The system according to claim 13, wherein the main support unit is configured to be adjustable during use.

19. The system according to claim 13, wherein the outer sleeve further comprises a plurality of magnets and a fastener device.

20. The system according to claim 13, wherein the main support unit includes air channels.

21. A user interface configured to communicate with the controller module according to claim 1.
Description



FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0001] The present invention relates to a system for neck support (neck support system).

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0002] Typically, for travellers trying to sleep during travel there are a limited number of choices for neck support. For example inflatable or soft U shaped neck pillows may be used although they may not provide adequate support. This may cause neck strain, because the head rolls to the side and/or falls forward, and premature waking if the pain becomes unbearable.

[0003] Current neck pillows also do not vary the support provided to the user in relation to travel circumstances. This aspect is important given the large variety of travel circumstances which are available to users, and given that using existing neck pillows is typically viewed to be a hassle.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0004] In general terms, the invention proposes a neck support with a plurality of independently controlled airbags. This may have the advantage that the tilt, comfort and/or support of the user's neck can be adjusted to reduce neck strain and/or the user's sleeping/waking state can be managed according to the journey progress.

[0005] There is provided a system for neck support comprising: a neck support collar, a plurality of independent airbags distributed around the collar, and a controller module configured to adjust the tilt, comfort and/or support of a user's neck by adjusting the pressure in one or more of the plurality of airbags. The system can further comprise a plurality of sensors configured to detect the tilt of the user's neck, whereby the controller module is configured to adjust the pressure based on one or more sensor outputs. The system can also further comprise a user interface configured to communicate with the controller module. It is preferable that a circumference of the neck support collar is adjustable to fit the user's neck. Each of the sensors can be a six DOF MEMS.

[0006] It is preferable that the controller module is configured to sense the resting state of the user and adjust the pressure accordingly, whereby the resting state of the user is sensed based on the sensor outputs.

[0007] Preferably, the controller module is configured to provide music to the user depending on the resting state of the user, and the controller module is configured to adjust the pressure to move the user's neck towards an upright position.

[0008] It is also preferable that the plurality of airbags comprises a pair of support airbags configured to support different parts of the back of the user's neck and whereby upon detecting the tilt of the user's neck towards a part, the controller module is configured to inflate the support airbag configured to support the part.

[0009] Preferably, the plurality of airbags comprises a pair of tilt correction airbags configured to support different sides of the user's neck and whereby upon detecting that the tilt of the user's neck towards a side is greater than a predetermined amount, the controller module is configured to inflate the tilt correction airbag configured to support the side and deflate the other tilt correction airbag. Upon detecting that the tilt of the user's neck towards a side is less than the predetermined amount, the controller module is configured to deflate both the tilt correction airbags by different amounts.

[0010] It is preferable that the controller module is configured to detect that a user's neck is in an upright position for a predetermined amount of time and upon said detection, to adjust the pressure to allow the user's neck to move away from the upright position.

[0011] Preferably, the neck support collar comprises a main support unit; and an outer sleeve covering the main support unit, whereby the outer sleeve comprises height adjustment pads adjustable to fit the user's neck length. The main support unit is preferably configured to be adjustable during use and can include air channels.

[0012] The system can preferably also further comprise a frame incorporated with the neck support collar, the frame being configured to allow mounting of at least two six DOF MEMS and also to maintain a constant alignment of the at least two six DOF MEMS.

[0013] The outer sleeve can preferably further comprise a plurality of magnets and a fastener device.

[0014] In another aspect, there is provided a user interface configured to communicate with the controller module as mentioned in the preceding paragraphs.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0015] FIG. 1 is a photo showing a neck support collar of a neck support system according to a first embodiment of the present invention,

[0016] FIGS. 2(a) to 2(r) are schematic views of the neck support collar of FIG. 1 and alternative embodiments,

[0017] FIGS. 3(a) to 3(i) are a series of screen shots of the Powernapp application for controlling the neck support collar of FIG. 1,

[0018] FIG. 4 are screen shots of the Powernapp application in a variant of the embodiment,

[0019] FIG. 5 illustrates a method of operation for the neck support system,

[0020] FIGS. 6(a) to 6(c) are photos showing alternative embodiments of a neck support collar,

[0021] FIG. 7 illustrates an exploded view of the neck support collar,

[0022] FIGS. 8(a) to 8(c) are schematic views of an alternative configuration of sensors used in the neck support collar of FIG. 1,

[0023] FIGS. 9(a) to 9(b) illustrate how movement of the sensors of FIG. 8 is analysed,

[0024] FIGS. 10(a) to 10(b) illustrate how the sensors in FIG. 8 are used in the neck collar of FIG. 1,

[0025] FIG. 11 illustrates positions of the sensors of FIG. 8 in relation to a user's body during use, and

[0026] FIG. 12 illustrates a detailed version of how the sensors in FIG. 8 are used in the neck collar of FIG. 1.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0027] The present invention provides a neck pillow which is portable and looks like a scarf, and also intelligently adapts the support provided to the user in relation to travel circumstances. The support can also provide relief for static/strained necks.

[0028] An example embodiment includes a neck support collar 200 as shown in FIG. 1 and a user interface in the form of a smart phone having a Bluetooth antenna. The user interface may alternatively be a system integrated into the vehicle the user is travelling on. The neck support collar 200 comprises a controller module (which will be elaborated later). This controller module comprises a Bluetooth antenna configured to communicate with the Bluetooth antenna of the smart phone. In use, the user runs an application (Powernapp application) on the smart phone to control the neck support collar 200 via the Bluetooth communication between the antennas.

[0029] FIGS. 2(a)-2(i) illustrate the neck support collar 200 in greater detail.

[0030] As shown in FIG. 2(a), the neck support collar 200 comprises a main support unit 201 with an adjustable clip 252 connected to one of its ends. The main support unit 201 can be bent to form a generally circular structure and when the main support unit 201 is in this bent state, the adjustable clip 252 is engageable with the other end of the main support unit 201. The clip 252 can be adjusted to secure the neck support collar 200 around a user's neck so as to provide sufficient support for the user's neck.

[0031] A part of the main support unit 201 is formed of compressible material 201a. An elastic strap 203 is arranged through the compressible material 201a, with each end of the elastic strap 203 connected to an airbag (either the left support airbag or the right support airbag to be discussed later on). A portion of the elastic strap 203 forms a loop (held by an adjusting element 204) at the back of the main support unit 201. When the loop of the elastic strap 203 is pulled (while holding onto the adjusting element 204), the compressible material 201a is compressed, thereby decreasing the length of the main support unit 201 (or in other words, decreasing the circumference of the generally circular structure when the main support unit 201 is in the bent state). When the loop of the elastic strap 203 is released through the adjusting element 204 (while holding on to the adjusting element 204), the compressible material 201a expands, thereby allowing the circumference of the generally circular structure to increase. In this embodiment, the circumference of the generally circular structure can be adjusted by .+-.150 mm.

[0032] As shown in FIGS. 2(b) and 2(c), the main support unit 201 is covered with an outer sleeve 205. The outer sleeve 205 is designed to provide height adjustment features to cater for different neck lengths. This is done by inserting height adjustment pads 206 into the outer sleeve 205 as shown in FIGS. 2b and 2c. These height adjustment pads 206 increase the thickness of a part of the neck support collar 200, thereby adjusting the height of the neck support collar 200. In particular, a user can insert these height adjustment pads 206 into the outer sleeve such that when the neck support collar is wrapped around his/her neck, these pads 206 abut his/her chin, providing greater comfort for the user. The outer sleeve 205 also comprises embedded headphone speakers (not shown) and an audio jack for connecting these speakers to the smart phone via a wire. Alternatively, the headphones can be connected via the Bluetooth connection with the smart phone. This allows music from the smart phone to be played to the user from the embedded headphone speakers.

[0033] As shown in FIGS. 2(d)-2(g), the main support unit 201 comprises a power switch 207 located on the adjustable clip 252. The power switch 207 has a length of 35 mm and a width of 14 mm, and comprises a top casing and a bottom casing. The bottom casing includes an extended portion that is arranged to go through the adjustable clip 252 to engage with the top casing. The switch 207 is preferably as slim as possible and in this embodiment, the bottom casing (including the extended portion) has a thickness of 3 mm whereas the top casing has a thickness of 10 mm.

[0034] On a surface of the top casing, there is located an ON/OFF switch and embossed plus/minus signs. A user can use these plus/minus signs to increase or decrease the air pressure in one or both of the left and right support airbags.

[0035] Referring to FIGS. 2(h) and 2(i), the main support unit 201 further includes a controller module 202 (which may be turned off using the above-mentioned power switch 207 when not in use to conserve battery power). The controller module 202 comprises a casing with a battery module, a Bluetooth antenna, a processor, a memory in it. The main support unit 201 further comprises two left diaphragm pumps 206 and two right diaphragm pumps 208, two left solenoid valve pairs 210, two right solenoid valve pairs 212 (each pair comprises a valve A and a valve B). Each valve 210, 212 comprises air pressure sensors. Four independently controlled airbags are distributed about the neck support collar 200. These include a left support airbag 214 and a right support airbag 216, a left tilt correction airbag 218 and a right tilt correction airbag 220. The left and right support airbags 214, 216 are used for supporting the back of the user's neck whereas the left and right tilt correction airbags 218, 220 are used for supporting the sides of the user's neck. Sensors in the form of a left accelerometer 222 and a right accelerometer 224 are located in the upper bladders of the neck support collar 200 to detect the neck tilt. The main support unit 201 also includes a further sensor in the form of a center accelerometer (not shown in FIG. 2(h) or 2(i)) positioned such that when a user wears the neck collar 200, this center accelerometer is located at the back of the user's neck. The center accelerometer serves to measure a tilt angle of the body so as to compensate the measurement of the neck tilt angles. More specifically, when a user wearing the neck support collar 200 tilts his/her neck towards the left accelerometer 222, the left accelerometer 222 measures the angle of this left neck tilt with respect to the longitudinal axis of the user whereas the center accelerometer measures the angle at which the user's body is tilted relative to the longitudinal axis. Similarly, when the user tilts his/her neck towards the right accelerometer 224, the right accelerometer 224 measures the angle of this right neck tilt with respect to the longitudinal axis of the user whereas the center accelerometer measures the angle at which the user's body is tilted relative to the longitudinal axis. In each case, the measured angle of the neck tilt (either left or right neck tilt) is offset by the measured angle of the user's body tilt to provide a compensated neck tilt angle. In particular, the compensated neck tilt angle is obtained by subtracting the measured angle of the neck tilt from the measured angle of the body tilt. This offset is performed as the controller module 202 is configured to adjust the pressure level based on the user's neck tilt alone.

[0036] Referring to FIG. 8, an alternative configuration of sensors which can be used in the neck support collar 200 is shown. Instead of the left accelerometer 222, the right accelerometer 224 and the center accelerometer, only an upper six degree of freedom (DOF) MEMS (includes tri-axis accelerometer and tri-axis gyroscope) 802 and a lower six DOF MEMS 804 is deployed in the configuration.

[0037] With regard to each six DOF MEMS, when in a static mode, the tri-axis accelerometer defines a coordinate system with reference to gravity and the sensor chip orientation. It is able to measure movement angles between x, y, z axes defined by an accelerometer sensor chip and gravity direction accurately. By adding a tri-axis gyroscope to the tri-axis accelerometer, it is able to measure the movement angles even when the sensor chip is moving.

[0038] Typically, a six DOF MEMS can output gravity vector or quaternion, which can describe the coordinate system the MEMS is forming. By comparing the difference of coordinates of the same vector (gravity vector) of two MEMS, an angle between the two sensors is obtainable. Thus, when two MEMS are attached along a plane of an object, an extent of depth and direction of bending can be obtained.

[0039] FIG. 11 shows respective positions of the upper six DOF MEMS 802 and the lower six DOF MEMS 804 when used in the neck support collar 200 (not shown).

[0040] Referring to FIG. 9, there are illustrations of a coordinate system XYZ being rotated to coordinate system X'Y'Z' by the following two steps:

[0041] a) Rotate around the y-axis of system XYZ for angle .beta. (XYZ to X''Y''Z''); b) Rotate around the z-axis of system XYZ for angle .alpha. (X''Y''Z'' to X'Y'Z').

[0042] The respective angles .alpha. and .beta. may be determined in the following manner.

[0043] The coordinate transfer matrix from system XYZ to system X'Y'Z' is:

v = M v ' T ##EQU00001## M = [ cos .alpha. cos .beta. sin .alpha. cos .beta. sin .beta. - sin .alpha. cos .alpha. 0 - cos .alpha. sin .beta. - sin .alpha. sin .beta. cos .beta. ] ##EQU00001.2##

[0044] By defining a vector with coordinate (a, b, c) in XYZ and (a', b', c') in X'Y'Z', in order to evaluate the rotation angle .alpha. and .beta., we can substitute in the transfer equation:

{ a = cos .alpha. cos .beta. a ' + sin .alpha. cos .beta. b ' + sin .beta. c ' b = - sin .alpha. a ' + cos .alpha. b ' c = - cos .alpha. sin .beta. a ' - sin .alpha. sin .beta. b ' + cos .beta. c ' ( 1 ) ##EQU00002##

[0045] By letting q=a' cos .alpha.+b' sin .alpha. (2), we get:

{ q 2 + b 2 = a '2 + b '2 a 2 + c 2 = q 2 + c '2 ##EQU00003##

[0046] From the equations directly above, we can determine q. (Compared to actual sensor readings, the resultant q using the equations directly above may be different, thus an accuracy of q may depend on the actual situation.)

[0047] Subsequently, from equation (1) and (2) it is possible to obtain the angle .alpha. and the angle .beta. using the other equations. Referring to FIG. 11, when two six DOF MEMS are attached at different locations of an object, and the object undergoes bending, the two six DOF MEMS are measuring the same vector--gravity vector in two different coordinate systems. By applying the mathematical equations described in the preceding paragraphs, it becomes possible to define rotational steps according to a desired application, and correspondingly obtain the rotation angles that are desired. In the context of the present invention, particularly determining tilting of a user's neck, neck tilting is defined as a two-step rotation from a neutral spine position of neck:

[0048] a) Rotate front or back by an angle .beta.;

[0049] b) Define an axis horizontally pointing from back of the user's head to a front of the user's head and rotate around this axis by an angle .alpha..

[0050] Correspondingly, both .alpha. and .beta. are able to be determined in the manner as described in the preceding paragraphs.

[0051] It should be appreciated that when the alternative configuration of two six DOF MEMS are used in the neck support collar 200, it is imperative for the two six DOF MEMS to be aligned with each other and with the user's spinal column. However, attaching devices on an airbag or on cloth brings forth some difficulty in relation to alignment of the devices even when exact alignment is not required. That is the reason why a frame 1000 is used in the neck support collar 200. The material of the frame 1000 should be light weight, flexible (so that it will not restrict motion of tilting), and resistant to breakage (because the frame 1000 is expected to undergo regular twisting). Polypropylene (PP) is one of the possible material that can be used for the frame 1000.

[0052] The upper six DOF MEMS 802 and the lower six DOF MEMS 804 are attached to the frame 1000, preferably using respective mounts/holders. The frame 1000 is configured to be located at a position where the upper six DOF MEMS 802 and the lower six DOF MEMS 804 are aligned with each other and with the user's spinal column. As such, the frame 1000 is attached to a central portion of the neck support collar 200. The neck support collar 200 is attached at an inner side of an outer scarf. When the neck support collar 200 is not in use, the frame 1000 can be kept in a flat configuration which also keeps the upper six DOF MEMS 802 and the lower six DOF MEMS 804 aligned to each other.

[0053] When the user putting on the neck support collar 200, the neck support collar 200 will consequently undergo stretching, thus correspondingly aligning the upper six DOF MEMS 802 and the lower six DOF MEMS 804 to the spinal column of the user. During use of the neck support collar 200, a design and material of the neck support collar 200 enables, the frame 1000 to wrap around user's neck whilst maintaining the alignment of the upper six DOF MEMS 802 and the lower six DOF MEMS 804 to each other.

[0054] It should be appreciated that by using the frame 1000 in the neck support collar 200, positions of the upper six DOF MEMS 802 and the lower six DOF MEMS 804 are maintained at the user's upper neck and back, and this facilitates accurate determination of neck tilting in a dynamic situation. Furthermore, the middle part of the frame 1000 provides a flexible structure for rotation, which advantageously provides a large measuring range. FIG. 12 shows in detail how the frame 1000 is used in the neck support collar 200.

[0055] The neck support collar 200 uses a 4-channel embedded pneumatic system whereby a first tubing connects a right diaphragm pump 212 and a right solenoid valve pair 208 with the right support airbag 216, a second tubing connects a left diaphragm pump 210 and a left solenoid valve pair 206 with the right tilt correction airbag 220, a third tubing connects a right diaphragm pump 212 and a right solenoid valve pair 208 with the left support airbag 214 and a fourth tubing connects a left diaphragm pump 210 and a left solenoid valve pair 206 with the left tilt correction airbag 218. Each solenoid valve pair 206, 208 comprises a valve A and a valve B. The valve A serves to open the channel to pump air into the corresponding airbag whereas the valve B serves to release the air from the corresponding airbag. The tubings comprise springs so that bending of the tubings will not substantially block the passing of air through the tubings. Further, the tubings are preferably as long as possible (in view of the amount of space available in the neck support collar 200) as having longer tubings help to reduce pump noise. The pumps 206, 208 and valves 210, 212 are comprised in a casing that helps to protect the wires of the pumps and prevent sharp edges of the pumps from impacting the user. The pumps are operated by a DC voltage but may alternatively be operated by a PWM voltage.

[0056] FIGS. 2(j)-2(h) illustrate aspects of an alternative embodiment of the main support unit 201 which relate to user comfort adjustments of the neck support collar 200. To allow for comfort adjustability of the neck support collar 200, at least one size adjustment strap 150 is looped through the main support unit 201 in a manner that when pulled, the airbags in the main support unit 201 will move towards the center. An L-shaped feature 160 at the ends of the at least one adjustment strap 150 aid in preventing a lower portion 170 of the main support unit 201 from slipping outwards, while maintaining a slimness of the at least one adjustment strap 150.

[0057] Furthermore, a plurality of V-shaped troughs 180 provided along a top edge 185 of the main support unit 201 also enable size adjustment/comfort of the neck support collar 200. An adjustment buckle 190 for the at least one size adjustment strap 150 is also shown. The adjustment buckle 190 is positioned in a manner which enables easy user access for adjustment of the neck support collar 200.

[0058] Referring to FIGS. 2(l) to 2(m), a plurality of magnets 50 which are embedded within the outer sleeve 205 are used to secure ends 52, 54 of the neck support collar 200 during use. The ends 52, 54 are easier to attach together using the magnets 50 compared to using zips or fasteners, particularly when the area of attachment is at the neck area where visibility of the area is limited without use of a mirror. In addition, the magnetic attractive forces are strong enough to secure the ends of the neck support collar 200 together when the airbags are inflated and weight is applied on the airbags. The magnets 50 are configured for the ends 52, 54 to attach to each other when the user brings the ends 52, 54 together. Visual indicators 56 can be used to indicate the ends 52, 54. Once the ends 52, 54 are attached to one another, the user can move the attached ends 52, 54 to a fastener device 58 to secure the attached ends 52, 54 to the outer sleeve 205 (as shown in FIG. 2(n)). A switch module 20 protrudes out at for easy access by users to view/control/toggle the pressure levels of the airbags.

[0059] FIG. 2(o) shows how the casings are clamped onto the airbags along its center parting line, so that a portion of the casings are embedded within the inflated airbags. This aids in reducing an overall thickness of the airbag when integrated with electronics. FIG. 2(p) shows how an alternative configuration of pump 30 and valve 32 modules are separately mounted near the ends 53, 55 of the main support unit 201 so as to evenly distribute the weight and size of the electronics mounted on the airbag for comfort of the user. It should be noted that the housings are mounted on the airbag such that there is an airbag channel 25 to provide cushioning so that the user will not feel the hard casing pressing against their body. Furthermore, the casings are also wrapped with a soft foam sleeve layer to provide cushioning against the body and to minimise the amount of hard plastic felt by the user during use/when holding it (FIG. 2(q)).

[0060] Referring to FIG. 2(r), an airbag portion of the main support unit 201 is configured to provide comfort and support to the head of the user when the head is tilted backwards, forward, leftward or rightward. Specifically, air channels are specifically designed to support back of head, area behind ears, side of face and the chin. It should be appreciated that neck support pillows currently in the market typically do not comfortably support the users chin and prevent the user's head from falling forward. Furthermore, the air channels also include heat seals which are configured to allow the air channels to flex out more when closer to the user's head so that it is more comfortable. In addition, the main support unit 201 is provided with space allocations for mounting of the casings as mentioned earlier. A center portion of the airbag is designed to not inflate so as to allow the size adjustment fold.

[0061] Referring to FIG. 7, it should be appreciated that the main support unit 201 is configured to hold/conceal the tubings and cables in the neck support collar 200. Without the main support unit 201, the tubings and cables may have to run along the airbags, which would create issues with regard to storing the neck support collar 200 as it would be difficult to fold/deflate the airbags without bending (ie. producing kinks) the tubings.

[0062] FIGS. 3(a)-3(i) illustrate the "Powernapp application" in this document) in greater detail.

[0063] FIGS. 3(a)-3(i) pieced together form a complete picture. FIG. 3(a)-FIG. 3(i) may be pieced together using the alphabets associated with the lines and arrows in these figures.

[0064] In particular, FIGS. 3(a)-3(i) illustrates how the Powernapp application establishes a connection with the neck support collar 200. As shown in FIGS. 3(a)-3(i), the Powernapp application home screen 302 comprises a connection icon 304 at the top-left hand corner. When a user turns on the Powernapp application, a check is performed to determine if the Bluetooth connection of the smart phone is on. If the Bluetooth connection is not on, the user is prompted to turn this connection on. If the Bluetooth connection is on, the smart phone scans for the presence of neck support collars 200 within the range of the connection. As shown in FIGS. 3(a)-3(i), more than one neck support collar 200 may be found (in particular, the neck pillows are named "Powernapp1", "Powernapp2", etc. in FIGS. 3(a)-3(i)). A user then selects his/her neck support collar 200 from the list of neck support collars 200 found by tapping on the name of his/her neck support collar. Upon the user's selection, a pop-up screen appears prompting the user to enter the password or PIN associated with his/her neck support collar 200. If the password or PIN entered by the user is incorrect, an error message appears. Otherwise, the Powernapp application connects (i.e. is paired) with the user's neck support collar 200. With this connection, the user can rename his/her neck support collar 200 or disconnect (un-pair) this neck support collar 200 from the Powernapp application.

[0065] FIGS. 3(a)-3(i) shows how a user can control the music played to him/her via the headphone speakers embedded in the neck support collar 200 using the Powernapp application. As shown in FIGS. 3(a)-3(i), the Powernapp application home screen 302 also comprises a MUSIC control. When the user taps on this MUSIC control, a MUSIC CONTROL screen 306 appears. This MUSIC CONTROL screen 306 comprises a plurality of control buttons allowing the user to select the song to be played, pause the playing of the music or perform other actions to control the music. When the user no longer wishes to adjust the settings of the music, the user can hide the MUSIC CONTROL screen 306 by tapping anywhere outside the MUSIC CONTROL screen 306.

[0066] FIGS. 3(a)-3(i) shows how a user can control the support provided by his/her neck support collar 200. As shown in FIGS. 3(a)-3(i), the Powernapp application home screen 302 also comprises a SUPPORT PRESSURE control. The SUPPORT PRESSURE control includes a plus sign and a minus sign. The user can increase or decrease the air pressure in one or both of the left and right support airbags 214, 216 by tapping on the plus sign or the minus sign. Further, when the user first taps on the SUPPORT PRESSURE control, a pressure calibration screen 308 is brought up prompting the user to calibrate the embedded pneumatic system in the neck support collar 200. This calibration is elaborated below.

[0067] In order to accurately measure the neck tilt angle, the reference position, which is when the user's head is upright, has to be set. This is because the embedded accelerometers (222, 224 and the central accelerometer) in the neck support collar 200 may not be in an ideal position due to folding of the main support unit 201 after storage or usage of the neck support collar 200. This may affect the accuracy of the accelerometers and hence, it is preferable if the accelerometers are calibrated before starting the use of the neck support system. In particular, when the user first taps on the SUPPORT PRESSURE control, the user is prompted to place his/her head in an upright position and tap "Set position" on the pressure calibration screen 308 to start the calibration. The pressure calibration screen 308 includes a calibration bar 370 that displays the degree to which the user's neck is currently tilted. The calibration bar 370 is arranged with a marker and has LEFT and RIGHT signs located at each end. The positioning of the marker exactly in the middle of the calibration bar 370 between the LEFT and RIGHT signs indicates to the user that the user's head is upright. If, from the positioning of the marker, the user notices that his/her head is not upright, the user should place his/her head in an upright position before tapping on "Set position". The Powernapp application collects the accelerometer readings in real time. When the user taps on "Set Position", the Powernapp application stores the readings of the left, right and center accelerometers at that instance as left, right and center sensor offset respectively. The readings of these left, right and center accelerometers collected subsequently will then be adjusted by their respective left, right and center sensor offsets. More specifically, the offsets will be subtracted from the respective readings.

[0068] FIGS. 3(a)-3(i) shows how a user can adjust the settings of the Powernapp application. In particular, the Powernapp application home screen 302 comprises a "Settings" control 310 at the top right hand corner. Tapping on this control 310 brings up a "Settings" control screen 312. On this screen 312, the user can choose whether the audio should be decreased at deep rest, whether to wake with music and/or to wake with the smart phone vibrating.

[0069] FIGS. 3(a)-3(i) shows how a user can pre-set the wake time based on the duration he/she wants to rest. As shown in FIGS. 3(a)-3(i), the Powernapp application home screen 302 also comprises a "Sleep" control (this can alternatively be labelled as "Rest") 314.

[0070] When a user taps on this "Sleep" control 314, a wake time setting screen 316 appears with two further controls, namely, a "Destination" control and a "Duration" control. To pre-set the wake timing based on the duration he/she wants to rest, the user taps on the "Duration" control which would then bring up a further screen with a slider control. The user can then use this slider control to adjust the duration he/she wants to rest. After this is done, the user taps on the "Ok" button on the screen and the Powernapp application returns to the home screen 302. At the home screen 302, a green light together with a counter shows up on the "Sleep" control, with the counter indicating the amount of time left to the wake timing. To change the duration of sleep, the user can again tap on the "Sleep" control which will bring up the wake time setting screen 316 with the "Destination" and "Duration" controls. The user can then tap on the "Duration" control to adjust the duration of sleep as before. Alternatively, the user can delete all settings by tapping on a cross beside the "Duration" control.

[0071] FIGS. 3(a)-3(i) shows how a user can pre-set the wake time based on the destination he/she wants to go. Similarly, the user selects the "Sleep" control 314 on the home screen 302.

[0072] However, instead of selecting the "Duration" control on the wake timing setting screen 316, the user selects the "Destination" control. The user is then prompted to switch on 3G, Wifi, GPS and/or any other mobile network localization tool to improve the localization accuracy. In particular, the user is prompted via a pop-up message having a "Settings" button which when tapped, would bring the user to the phone settings screen. When this is done or if the user decides to skip this step (by tapping on the "Skip" button or by simply allowing the message to fade away after 3 seconds instead of tapping on the "Settings" button), a further screen for setting the user's destination appears. This further screen comprises a pre-loaded map and a search box. The user can search for his/her destination in the pre-loaded map by typing the name of this destination in the search box or by pressing and holding on the destination in the map. If there is only one destination that matches the user's input, a route from the user's current location to the destination is shown on the pre-loaded map. If there are multiple destinations matching the user's input, a route from the user's current location to the nearest matching destination is shown on the pre-loaded map. In this case, a "Result List" button also appears. The use can tap on this "Result List" button to access the list of all the matching destinations. From the list, the user can tap on his/her desired destination and the route shown on the pre-loaded map is updated to show the route from the user's current location to the user's desired destination. The user is then brought to another screen on which the user can set the wake time in terms of the distance from the destination (i.e. awakening distance).

[0073] The default awakening distance is 800 m but the user can adjust this via a slider control. After the user is done with this, he or she taps on the "Ok" button on the screen and is brought back to the home screen 302. At the home screen 302, a green light appears on the "Sleep" control 314 and the awakening time is indicated below the "Sleep" control 314. Similarly, the awakening time may be adjusted by tapping on the "Sleep" control 314 and then the "Destination" control or the user may delete all settings by tapping on the cross beside the "Destination" control.

[0074] In a variant of this embodiment, the user can instead set the wake time in terms of the length of time before reaching his/her destination. In this variant, the Powernapp application informs the user of the duration of the journey, the user sets a length of time (awakening duration) lower than the duration to set the wake time. For example, if the user sets the length of time to be 1 hour, the Powernapp application will wake the user up (by music or phone vibration) 1 hour before reaching the destination. This is shown in FIG. 4 where the default length of time from the destination is 15minutes but the user can adjust this via a slider control. After the user is done with this, the user taps on the "Next" button on the screen and is brought back to the home screen. Similarly, at the home screen, a green light appears on the "Sleep" control and a counter indicating the amount of time left to the wake time is located below the "Sleep" control. Similarly, the user can adjust this awakening duration or can use another way to set the wake time.

[0075] As shown in FIGS. 3(a)-3(i), after pre-setting the wake timing based on either the duration of rest or the distance from the destination, the user can change the mode of pre-setting the wake timing. This is done by tapping on the "Sleep" control on the home screen 302 and either the "Duration" control or the "Destination" control on the wake time setting screen 316. Upon the user performing these steps, a screen pops up asking the user to confirm that he/she wants to change the mode of pre-setting the wake timing. A warning message is also provided to the user. This warning message informs the user that the previous settings would be overwritten if the user proceeds. The user then performs the same steps as those described above for setting the wake timing. Upon the user doing so, the new settings would overwrite the previous settings.

[0076] FIGS. 3(a)-3(i) shows the awakening screen 350 that will appear when the wake timing is reached. This screen 350 will appear simultaneously with either the smart phone vibrating and/or the music playing depending on the user's settings. Further, the screen 350 will comprise a message with an animated background and a "Next" button. When the user taps on the "Next" button, a summary screen appears. The summary screen comprises a "Detailed Report" button which when tapped, brings up a further screen showing details of the user's sleep (e.g. duration of deep-rest etc.).

[0077] FIG. 5 illustrates a method of operation 500. Three modes are shown: non-rest mode 502, light-rest mode 504 and deep-rest mode 506.

[0078] When the Powernapp application is first turned on by the user and has paired with the controller module 202, the embedded pneumatic system is calibrated in the manner described above with reference to FIG. 3(a)-FIG. 3(i).

[0079] After the user enables the neck support collar 200 using the Powernapp application (i.e. after the user has set the wake time in the manner as described above), the user can either lock the screen of the smart phone or wait for the screen to lock automatically. Once the screen is locked, the controller module 202 enters from the non-rest mode 502 to the light rest mode 504 and the counter for the duration the user wants to rest starts. During the light rest mode, calming music is played to the user. In this embodiment, the music is only played if it is activated by the user when the controller module 202 is in the non-rest mode.

[0080] Further, in the light rest mode, the controller module 202 adjusts the pressure of the airbags to minimize and accommodate the user's neck tilt. In particular, the controller module 202 utilises the left and right accelerometers 222, 224 and the center accelerometer outputs to calculate a compensated neck tilt angle in the manner as described above. Two mechanisms, namely the just left/just right mechanism and the tilt correction mechanism start simultaneously, once the neck support collar 200 is enabled. Both these mechanisms keep increasing the pressure of one or more of the airbags until the head is in an upright position.

[0081] The just left/just right mechanism utilizes the compensated neck tilt angle obtained every 10 seconds. If the compensated neck tilt angle is greater than a threshold and the tilt is detected by the left accelerometer (i.e. the user's neck is tilting towards the left), the left support airbag 214 is inflated by a predetermined increment. If the compensated neck tilt angle is greater than the threshold and is measured by the right accelerometer (i.e. the user's neck is tilting towards the right), the right support airbag 216 is inflated by a predetermined increment. The predetermined increments are set by the user using the Powernapp application, more specifically, the user can choose a level of 1-5 where selecting different levels increases the pressure by different amounts. Inflating the left/right airbags upon detecting the tilt of the user's neck helps move the user's neck back to the upright position. If the compensated tilt angle obtained at a particular minute is less than the threshold, this indicates that the user's neck is close to the upright position and thus, none of the airbags is inflated. However, if for an extended duration, the compensated tilt angle obtained is less than the predetermined threshold, the threshold is reduced. This is because the user may also experience neck strain if his/her neck has remained close to the upright position for an extended period of time. In this embodiment, the initial threshold used is 6.75.degree. and the threshold is reduced by a predetermined amount whenever the compensated tilt angle obtained is less than the threshold for an extended duration. This continues until the threshold reaches a predetermined value.

[0082] With the tilt correction mechanism, the support pressure is adaptive to the tilt of the user's head, only providing support at where the head is tilting to while deflating the airbag at the other side. This allows the user to be more comfortable (as there is no constant enveloping feeling). This hence maximises support and comfort at the same time.

[0083] In particular, the tilt correction mechanism utilizes the compensated neck tilt angle obtained every 5 minutes. If the compensated neck tilt angle is greater than 9.degree. and is measured by the left accelerometer, the left tilt correction airbag 218 is inflated by 0.755 kPa and the right tilt correction airbag 220 is deflated completely. If the compensated neck tilt angle is greater than 9.degree. and is measured by the right accelerometer, the right tilt correction airbag 220 is inflated by 0.755 kPa and the left tilt correction airbag 218 is deflated completely.

[0084] Similar to the just left/just right mechanism, the tilt correction mechanism has features to discourage the user's neck from being close to the upright position for too long. In particular, if the compensated neck tilt angle is smaller than 9.degree. and is measured by the left accelerometer, the left tilt correction airbag 218 is deflated by 0.755 kPa and the right tilt correction airbag 220 is deflated completely. If the compensated neck tilt angle is smaller than 9.degree. and is measured by the right accelerometer, the right tilt correction airbag 220 is deflated by 0.755 kPa and the left tilt correction airbag 218 is deflated completely.

[0085] The pressure sensors of the valves 210, 212 are used to monitor the pressure in the left and right support airbags. In particular, these pressure sensors are used to measure the pressure of the airbags initially and every time an airbag is inflated or deflated, and the measured pressure values for all the airbags are stored. This allows the above mechanisms (tilt correction, just left/just right) to inflate or deflate the airbags by a specific amount as described above.

[0086] Using the pressure sensors, the pressure of the airbags are also measured continuously or periodically. If the pressure of any of the airbags is less than the respective most recently stored pressure value (this may occur due to a leak in the airbag), the pressure of the airbag is adjusted to this most recently stored value. However, such compensation measures may affect the user's comfort and therefore, these compensation measures are only carried out over a predetermined period of time e.g. 15 seconds after an adjustment of the pressure in one or more of the airbags.

[0087] Ten minutes after the light rest mode starts, the controller module 202 enters from the light rest mode 504 to the deep rest mode 506. In the deep rest mode 506, the controller module 202 continues to adjust the pressure in the airbags to minimize and accommodate the user's neck tilt as per in the light rest mode 504. However, additionally, the music is dimmed 10% per minute, so that after 10 minutes the music is completely off.

[0088] After rest or once the wake time is reached, the controller module 202 will enter the non-rest mode 502, unlocking the screen of the smart phone. As such, music will be played again (if the user has selected to wake with music). If the user has also (or instead) selected to wake with the smart phone vibrating, the smart phone will vibrate when the wake time is reached. During the journey, the controller module 202 can detect the waking states of the user, and re-enter the light rest mode. More specifically, when the user's smart phone screen is unlocked, the controller module 202 will enter the non-rest mode and upon detecting the user's smart phone screen being locked, the controller module 202 will enter the light rest mode.

[0089] The operations of the left/right mechanism, and the tilt correction mechanism can be operated on the neck support collar 200 even when the neck support collar 200 is not connected to the smartphone application.

[0090] FIG. 7 shows an exploded view of the neck support collar 200, where the main support unit 201 is coupled/engageable with the outer sleeve 205.

[0091] Various modifications would be apparent to one skilled in the art.

[0092] For example, the outer sleeve 205 covering the main support unit 201 of the neck support collar 200 can be replaced by other types of sleeves 205 such as those shown in FIG. 6. In particular, FIG. 6 shows how the outer sleeve 205 may be replaced by a fashionable and wearable scarf.

[0093] Further, there may be more or less than four airbags in the neck support collar. The sensors also need not be in the form of accelerometers. Also, more sensors may be included in the neck support collar to detect if the user's neck or body is leaning towards other directions (other than to the sides), for example, if the user's neck or body is leaning forward or backwards. These sensors may also work with further airbags to minimize the user's tilt in these other directions.

[0094] Thresholds and/or timings different from those mentioned above for the just left/just right mechanism and the tilt correction mechanism can alternatively be used for these mechanisms.

[0095] In an alternative embodiment, the pumps may be PWM (pulse width modulation)--controlled pumps operated by a PWM voltage. The speed of such pumps in pumping the airbags can be controlled and hence, the resulting air pressure of the airbags can be closer to the desired values.

[0096] During the journey, the controller module 202 can detect the waking states of the user, and re-enter the light rest mode. In one embodiment, if the user wakes up before the wake time is reached, this user's waking state can be detected using sensors in the neck support collar 200. For example, since a person tends to stretch his/her neck and/or body after waking up, the controller module 202 can monitor the sensors in the neck support collar 200 to detect unexpected rotation or motion of the user's neck and/or body as an indication that the user is awake.

[0097] Upon detecting that the user is awake (via unlocking of the smart phone, sensors or any alternative method), music may be played to help the user get back to rest.

[0098] Also, instead of entering the non-rest mode, the controller module 202 may instead enter the light-rest mode upon detecting that the user is awake.

[0099] Further, in the light-rest mode, music need not be dimmed in the manner described in the above embodiment. Instead, the controller module 202 can determine if the user is in deep rest based on the output of the sensors in the neck support collar 200. For example, if no unexpected rotation or motion is detected via the sensors after a predetermined period of time (e.g. 20 minutes), this may indicate that the user is approaching deep rest. Therefore, the music can be dimmed (or even completely turned off) after the predetermined period of time.

[0100] The pressure sensors of the valves 210, 212 are used to monitor the pressure of the left and right support airbags. Instead of using the plus/minus signs to adjust the pressure in the airbags, a user may select an airbag and input a pressure level for the airbag. The pressure in the selected airbag will then be increased until it reaches the user's input level (as determined based on the pressure sensors output).

[0101] Finally, it should be appreciated that the present invention is able to provide: [0102] reliable and customisable neck support via controls on the Powernapp application or via a smartphone app; [0103] neck support which adapts to the user's comfort and travel circumstances; [0104] functionality which is able to automatically relieve static/strained necks; and [0105] portability with desirable aesthetics which are non-obtrusive and appear like typically clothing accessories.

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