Category Archives: technology

Inventions in Everything: The Beerbrella

With record hot temperatures this summer, the IIE team has been inspired to seek out inventions that promise to deliver the one thing many on the team crave this time of year: a cool, refreshing beverage!

Better still, what we want is something that will help keep our canned or bottled beverage cool enough, long enough so we can enjoy consuming its contents at a leisurely pace. Because when it is as hot as it has been, the last thing we want to do is expend more energy to consume our drink of choice at a rushed pace before it gets too warm to be worth consuming.

That brings us to today's featured invention, for which inventors Mason McMullin, Robert Bell, and Mark See were issued U.S. Patent 6,637,447 on 28 October 2003. Here's Figure 1 from the patent, which illustrates not just what the invention is, but also acts as an instruction manual for how to install it in the field, so to speak.

U.S. Patent 6,637,447 Figure 1

In case it is not clear from the figure, here is the description of the invention from the patent's abstract:

The present invention provides a small umbrella ("Beerbrella") which may be removably attached to a beverage container in order to shade the beverage container from the direct rays of the sun. The apparatus comprises a small umbrella approximately five to seven inches in diameter, although other appropriate sizes may be used within the spirit and scope of the present invention. Suitable advertising and/or logos may be applied to the umbrella surface for promotional purposes. The umbrella may be attached to the beverage container by any one of a number of means, including clip, strap, cup, foam insulator, or as a coaster or the like. The umbrella shaft may be provided with a pivot to allow the umbrella to be suitably angled to shield the sun or for aesthetic purposes. In one embodiment, a pivot joint and counterweight may be provided to allow the umbrella to pivot out of the way when the user drinks from the container.

That latter capability is key, because otherwise, one would have to expend excess energy to constant detach and reattach the invention while drinking.

At this point, you might think an invention like the Beerbrella is somewhat redundant. After all, haven't there been any number of inventions whose purpose is to keep a can or bottle of beer colder for longer after being removed from a refrigerated environment through the miracle of insulation?

Alas not, according to the Beerbrella's inventors, who describe where previous inventions have fallen short by providing incomplete coverage.

For example, the popular insulated beverage sleeve known as a "coozie" may be provided, manufactured of soft expanded polyurethane foam. These beverage sleeves are typically provided with an applied graphic advertising a beverage brand or the name of the company giving away the device as a promotion. A can, glass, or bottle may be inserted into the sleeve. The sleeve acts as an insulator to prevent ambient heat as well as heat from the user's hands, from warming the beverage.

Similar devices are known for use specifically with bottles beverages. In this variation, a tailored expanded polyurethane jacket may be provided, replete with zipper, to encapsulate substantially all of a bottle.

Various devices are known for supporting beverages, such as coasters and the like as well as beverage stands, trays, and supports. One example is illustrated in Foley et al., U.S. Pat. No. 5,823,496, issued Oct. 20, 1998 and incorporated herein by reference. Foley provides an outdoor stand with a stake or pole which may be inserted into the ground to support a beverage container.

Similia, U.S. Pat. No. 4,638,645, issued Jan. 27, 1987 and incorporated herein by reference, discloses a beverage container cooler for receiving a single beverage container (e.g., can) and providing a location for ice or the like to cool the beverage.

One problem with these Prior Art devices is that although they do provide insulation for beverages, they do not shield the beverage from the direct rays of the sun. A beverage left out in the sun, even if insulated or cooled with ice, quickly warms due to the effect of the intense infrared radiation from the sun, particularly on hot, sunny summer days.

Thus, it remains a requirement in the art to provide a means for shielding a beverage from direct sunlight.

They convinced a U.S. patent examiner with this irrefutable logic, who proceeded to award them with a U.S. patent for their invention of the Beerbrella.

Unfortunately, we could find no examples of where the Beerbrella could be purchased today, over 17 years after its patent was issued. It would appear consumers have settled on the alternative strategy of simply drinking their beverages slightly faster whenever their drinks are at risk of becoming too warm for optimal consumption when exposed to direct sunlight.

From the Inventions in Everything Archives

The IIE team has previously covered the following related inventions:

Say, What’s this Bitcoin Thing We Keep Hearing About in the News?

Bitcoin made big news within the last several weeks, as El Salvador became the first nation to pass a law allowing the electronic currency to be accepted as legal tender within that country.

It became bigger news a little over a week later, when the World Bank declined to support El Salvador's use of the cryptocurrency.

All these actions raise some basic questions. Namely, what is Bitcoin and how exactly does it work? For the answer to those questions, we turned to Grant Sanderson's 26 minute 3Blue1Brown video to find out:

Meanwhile, if you want a real flash from the past, here's the first analysis we saw from an economist on the topic of bitcoin. Here's an excerpt from their recent e-mail on the topic of Bitcoin's adoption by El Salvador.

Bonus Update: What's the future for blockchain ledger transactions? It could be cryptographic proofs, which would be an interesting way to 'compress' Bitcoin ledger transactions into a more resource efficient process (HT: Tyler Cowen).

Inventions in Everything: George Dempster’s Innovation

Inventions in Everything often features unusual inventions, but today we're featuring an innovation that has become so commonplace, our modern world would not exist without it.

That invention is defined in U.S. Patent 2,150,821, which was issued to George Dempster on 14 March 1939, which you may recognize immediately by its patent title, the Transporting and Dumping Vehicle. Here's Figure 1 from the patent illustrating the basic invention:

U.S. Patent 2,150,821 Figure 1

Don't recognize it yet? Perhaps the description of the invention will provide more clues about Dempster's innovation:

This invention relates to transporting and dumping vehicles provided with a container for the load to be transported. In many cases it is desirable to supply a number of containers to the end that while one container is being transported to the point of delivery, others may be filled and ready for transportation when the carrying vehicle returns. With this end in view, it is common in the art to mount on a vehicle, such as a truck, a track, or way provided with suitable means for raising and lowering the container down and releasing it from transporting means at the point where is to be loaded....

One of the objects of the present invention is to prvoide a transporting vehicle of the usual or any suitable type, and supply the same with a container which can be readily loaded at a decreased expense, in time and labor, and which can be readily dumped by the operator of the vehicle, the container being automatically returned to transporting position after the dumping operation.

The invention went on to become so successful that all such containers are known by the name that Dempster trademarked for his invention, which he branded as Dempster's "Dumpster", a portmanteau of his name and the function of his invention.

Meanwhile, George Dempster had quite a legacy:

George Dempster's 1964 obituary described him as one of Knoxville's "most controversial figures" who, in addition to hitting a "financial jack-pot" with his most famous invention, also served as mayor.

The Henley Bridge, sewer disposal system and certain city parks all owe thanks to George Dempster, the obituary said.

George Dempster was nearly 50 years old in 1935 when he came up with the Dempster Dumpster concept while working alongside his brothers for their very own construction company. The company built highways, railroads and water supply dams across the southeast, according to writings from Dempster in the Knox News archives.

The dumpster was designed to be used in rock quarries and in road construction. It wasn't until later on that the Dempster brothers realized it also could be used for trash.

Construction competitors took notice of the receptacles, even asking George Dempster to create similar devices for their jobs, according to the writings.

That's where most people encounter George Dempster's invention today, where versions the scene shown in the following short video of Dempster's concept in action plays out thousands of times a day all around the world:

For inventors, the ultimate success occurs when the branded name of their product becomes the generic name for similar products. For the Dumpster, that happened in 2014 when the trademark for his invention expired. When that happened, what had been the Dumpster simply became the dumpster, the everyday name for a thing that no longer needs to be capitalized according to U.S. copyright law.

If only all inventions were so successful enough for their names to become part of human language.

Inventions in Everything: Motorcyclist Airbag Suit

The purpose of patent illustrations is very straightforward. They are intended to visually convey the novel features of an invention. Consequently, they tend to make for pretty dull, static presentations, even for inventions that themselves are dynamic in operation.

That's why the Inventions in Everything team gets excited whenever we come across a patent with illustrations that tell how an inventor conceives their invention will function through a sequence of illustrations. Or as we're about to see with U.S. Patent Number 5,781,936, which was issued to Jacob Alaloof on 21 July 1998, where a single figure from a patent tells an entire story. In this case, how the invention of an airbag suit for motorcyclists would function to protect their lives in an accident. The story is told from right to left....

U.S. Patent 5,781,936: Figure 1

Here is the background of the invention describing the problem the invention is intended to solve:

It is generally recognized that there is a greater risk of serious injury to motorcyclists in the case of an accident than to automobile passengers. This is due, inter alia, to the fact that, unlike automobiles, motorcycles are not equipped wiht protective systems which enclose users thereof. Accordingly, apart from injuries that may be caused to a motorcyclists by his colliding directly with a moving vehicle or stationary object, there is also a very high risk that, in the event of a collision between a motorcycle and either another vehicle or a stationary object, he will be thrown from the motorcycle. When this happens, the motorcyclist is liable to sustain fatal injuries or, at least, very serious damage to vital parts of the body, especially to the back, spine, neck and pelvis. This can result in very serious injurty thereto, if not paralysis or death.

And here's the description of the invention itself:

The present invention seeks to provide a protective system for riders of nonenclosed vehicles. The protective system is in the form of a garment which is automatically inflated to a force dissipating or deflecting shape in response to unintentional separation of the rider from his vehicle.

We would say the patent illustration ably captures both the scenario of the problem the invention is intended to solve and the solution.

Motorcyclist airbag suits are a real thing, which though not yet widely in use, have become more so during the past two decades as the technology has evolved toward greater practicality. FortNine's Ryan Kluftinger does a fantastic job of explaining the physics and the psychology of using an inflatable airbag suit while riding a motorcycle in the following under 10 minute video, which also provides a nice survey of today's state of the art in this invention category:

From the Inventions in Everything Archives

Here's a selection of previous inventions the IIE team has covered involving related technologies:

"Fishing for Boats" presents our animation of the patent illustrations provided in U.S. Patent 7,744,313.

Inventions in Everything: Patented Improvements in Cat Toys

There's a saying about inventions:

"If you build a better mouse trap, the world will beat a path to your door."

As we all know, the mousetrap was perfected in 1882, so inventors since have been forced to turn their attention to solving other problems. Namely, how to entertain their cats because the mouse problem had been solved [1].

That's why today's edition of Inventions in Everything is focusing on the progressive improvements several inventors have patented in the field of feline entertaiment methods and devices. Starting with the patent that revolutionized the cat entertainment world and the subsequent inventions intended to solve the remaining problem that original invention left unsolved. Let's jump straight that revolutionary invention:

U.S. Patent 5,443,036 Method of Exercising a Cat

In many ways, this patent redefined what U.S. patent examiners were willing to accept in deciding to issue a U.S. patent. While some have called it either obvious or covered by prior art, others have heralded the achievement of inventors Kevin T. Amiss and Martin H. Abbott in successfully obtaining the issuance of this patent in 1995. They addressed that prior art in the patent:

Cats are not characteristically disposed toward voluntary aerobic exercise. It becomes the burden of the cat owner to create situations of sufficient interest to the feline to induce even short-lived and modest exertion for the health and well-being of the pet. Cats are, however, fascinated by light and enthralled by unpredictable jumpy movements, as for instance, by the bobbing end of a piece of hand-held string or yarn, or a ball rolling and bouncing across a floor. Intense sunlight reflected from a mirror or focused through a prism, if the room is sufficiently dark, will, when moved irregularly, cause even the more sedentary of cats to scamper after the lighted image in an amusing and therapeutic game of "cat and mouse." The disruption of having to darken a room to stage a cat workout and the uncertainty of collecting a convenient sunbeam in a lens or mirror render these approaches to establishing a regular life-enhancing cat exercise routine inconvenient at best.

Having struck down the argument against their invention not being sufficiently novel given the state of prior art, we can now describe their invention: a hand-held laser device operated by a person for the purpose of shining its light on surfaces where the cat might chase after it. Here's Figure 1 from the patent to illustrate the conceptual leap:

U.S. Patent 5,443,036 Figure 1

Having solved the fundamental challenge, inventors since have focused solving the remaining problem the introduction of lasers into the world of cat entertainment devices left untouched: the need for a human operator of the laser device.

U.S. Patent 5,934,223 Pet Toy

This patent is one of the first to identify the need to eliminate the person to entertain a cat:

In practically every pet store and other stores there may be purchased a wide variety or toys for domestic animals such as cats and doge. Different types of balls, bones, toys which squeak etc. can be purchased. In almost every case, each of the toys is passive. The only way that any of the toys can become movable is through the toy being thrown by a human being or upon the toy being moved by the animal itself.

It is well known that domestic animals love to chase anything that moves. One objective of the present invention is to construct a pet toy which automatically projects a randomly moving light image of a prey, such as an image of a mouse or bird, thereby freeing the owner from the sometimes onerous and time consuming duty of entertaining a bored, unhappy pet, and at the same time providing the pet owner with the pleasurable entertainment of watching his/her active pet. It is the unique utilization of this chase instinct in most animals by this pet toy that makes it especially attractive and useful as a pet toy.

More particularly, the pet toy of the present invention is a pet toy that projects a moving image into a room, as determined by a computer chip, so that a pet may be entertained by the moving image without requiring a person to be in the room to move the image. The pet toy comprises an upright housing containing batteries and supported by a heavy base with a ball bearing unit at the top of the housing. The ball bearing unit has a lamp unit attached thereto. A plurality of glass units with various cut-outs that may be removably attached to the lamp unit so that the glass units may be used to change the image projected by the lamp unit. A control unit contained in the housing controls the speed of the rotatable ball bearing unit to control the speed of the moving light image.

This patent shares an important bit of inventive philosophy shared by the innovators of all the remaining patents we're featuring today. See if can pick out what that is before we get to the end!...

U.S. Patent 6,505,576 Pet Toy

This patent represents an incremental improvement over the invention introduced in U.S. Patent 5,934,223:

The present invention relates to a pet toy and, more particularly, to a new and improved automated pet toy that projects a moving light beam in various directions to entertain a pet. The present invention finds particular application as a timer-controlled, switch-activated automated moving light beam and is described herein with particular reference thereto. However, it is to be appreciated that the present invention is also amenable to other applications.

It is well known that domestic pets enjoy chasing moving objects. For example, cats are known to chase a piece of moving string and dogs are known to chase a ball. Similarly, cats and dogs are known chase the projected red dot of a laser pointer when the red dot projected by the laser pointer is moved across a room or area by a person. Although such an activity may entertain pets for a lengthy period of time, heretofore, a person was required to continuously move the laser pointer around the room or area to keep the red dot moving.

The present invention provides a new and improved automated moving light beam for entertaining pets that only requires a person to initially actuate the device.

Advancing with inventive progress....

U.S. Patent 6,557,495 Laser Pet Toy

This patent focuses on solving the problems a human laser device operator might encounter:

Many pet toys involve motion because it is a known fact that pets, particularly cats, are attracted to moving objects. It is also a known fact that cats are attracted to LASER (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) beams. Unfortunately, to operate most pet toys, the owner must use repetitive motions over long periods of time to keep the interest of the cat. These repeated movements over an extended time can cause soreness, strain and even pain for the owner's fingers, wrists, elbow and hand. Prior art of this type is described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,443,036.

To operate the laser pet toy disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,443,036 the owner must continuously press the trigger switch with his/her fingers while, at the same time, move his/her hand, wrist and elbow in a repeated motion so that the cat will chase the laser beam around the room. Since such movement is strenuous and hurtful to the owner's ligaments, the cat's activity is usually stopped long before the cat wants the activity to end. This results in an unused toy....

Each of these disclosures is subject to the limitations discussed above, thereby making none of the prior art pet toys entirely satisfactory. Thus, there exists a need for an improved laser pet toy that overcomes, in combination, all of the limitations heretoforementioned above. Accordingly, a need exists for an improved laser pet toy that entertains pets, especially cats, without causing soreness and strain to the owner's ligaments. There is a further need for a stand alone pet toy which appears self-animated and does not require the device to be within the pet's reach thereby addressing safety concerns. And yet a further need exists for a low cost laser pet toy that provides both a circular and linear randomness motion in a range that is beneficial to a cat's natural predatory instinct as well as environmentally suitable to the pet owner.

We omitted the portion of the background that identified several potential deficiencies in the invention described in U.S. Patent 5,934,223, which these inventors believed their new device would solve. But there was still room for improvement, as we're about to find out.

6,651,591 Automatic laser pet toy and exerciser

This invention is a more general improvement over the devices described in the previous patents.

The present invention exploits the recognized characteristic of an animal, such as a cat or a dog, to be attracted to, and to chase after, the intense focused coherent light of a laser beam. The invention concerns an automatic multidimensional moving virtual laser target that induces animals to follow and chase a virtual prey, thereby obviating the need-for human intervention, activity or manual stimulation.

It is an object of the invention to provide an automatic device, which does not employ conventional motors, for moving a laser beam target through three dimensions so as to provide animal stimulation and exercise without the need for human expenditure of effort or energy.

It is also an object of the invention to automatically, at user-selected intervals, power up the device periodically for short intervals and to thus stimulate and exercise the pet without owner involvement or presence.

Generally speaking, the present invention comprises a miniaturized, silent, projected moving laser target generator which does not use conventional motors.

Have you picked up on the common wisdom being passed down from inventor to inventor yet? You'll have one last chance!...

U.S. Patent 6,701,872 Method and apparatus for automatically exercising a curious animal

This invention is special because it solves a second problem, this time related to improving the quality of the cat's physical environment:

This invention relates to apparatus for exercising curious animals, especially pet cats. This invention is an improvement over the invention described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,443,036 issued Aug. 2, 1995. Laser pointers are known and in particular it is known that cats are attracted by and stalk the spot of a laser pointed in their vicinity. It is also known that cats are attracted to the air movement of a fan, often to be cooled by such air movement. Heretofore the method for inducing exercise in a cat has been to manually move the spot beam in an arbitrary manner to stimulate exercise.

It has been found that the prior art exercise method is limited my the need for manual intervention, which may not always be desirable. An example is in a cage in a zoo, where large curious animals may need exercise. What is needed is an exercise apparatus which eliminates the need for manual intervention.

So how can the two problems be solved within the same patent?

According to the invention, an apparatus for exercising a curious animal such as a pet housecat comprises a laser pointer mounted on a shaft driven by a motor mounted on a pedestal. The rotatable shaft is preferably vertically disposed and the direction of the pointer is preferably obliquely downward so that activation of the motor causes the spot beam of the laser to track a vector of motion to attract a cat into interaction with the spot beam. In a further specific embodiment, the laser pointer may be mounted on the head of an oscillatory air circulation fan with a pedestal. The oscillation of the spot beam, together with the air movement of the oscillatory fan, further stimulates activity in a cat while conveniently inducing convective cooling.

These concepts are illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 of the patent:

U.S. Patent 6,701,872 Figures 1 and 2

What have we learned from all these patents? First, we've learned that cats are attracted to moving objects and/or lights, because they all reference this indisputable fact of nature. Second, we learn there is still a lot of room for inventive improvements in cat entertainment devices!


[1] This is a tongue-in-cheek claim on our part! In truth, better mousetraps have continued to be invented and patented in the years since 1882, with the latest example at this writing having been patented in 2019!