MODULAR REFRIGERATOR

Various embodiments of the present disclosure include, in combination, a modular refrigerator having a door and providing at least one refrigerated compartment accessible when the door is open, and one or more removable food shipping containers configured to be received within the refrigerated compartment, the refrigerated compartment comprising a plurality of container bays corresponding to each of a multiplicity of food shipping container delivery times, each of the plurality of container bays being configured to hold a food shipping container; the food shipping container further being configured to comply with a postal or courier regulation and to contain food items selected to remain comestible before a food item expiry date; the food shipping container or the container bay including indicia for designating a food shipping container delivery time, or the food item expiry date.

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Description

BACKGROUND

This application relates to a refrigerating apparatus and, more particularly, to a modular refrigerator including a refrigerator compartment having a plurality of removable food shipping containers or modules adapted for being received therein. In one example, the removable shipping containers comply with US Postal regulations and can be used as part of a food delivery service.

SUMMARY

The present inventors have recognized, among other things, that a problem to be solved can include the inconvenience of conventional food delivery and the waste of stale or expired food.

The present subject matter can help provide a solution to these problems, such as by providing a modular refrigerator which includes a refrigerator compartment having a plurality of removable food shipping containers or modules adapted for being received therein. The removable food shipping containers may comply with US Postal (or other delivery) regulations and can be used as part of a postal or courier food delivery service.

In one example, a modular refrigerator has removable sections that slide out entirely. The sections themselves can be used as shipment containers for food delivery services. A user can order food, and the food can come to the user's door organized in a modular configuration allowing it to be inserted or slid into the refrigerator with ease. Because of this, a user can more easily keep track of where the food is located in the refrigerator, and, more importantly, which modular sections hold food that will expire sooner. The food that the user does not eat can be picked up when the user leaves the modular section out for a delivery service to pick up. This food can be sent to food banks or others that could benefit from unused, stale, or expired food.

Further advantages and solutions can include those discussed further below in this specification. These and other examples and features of the modular refrigerator will be set forth in part in the following Detailed Description. This Summary is intended to provide non-limiting examples of the present subject matter. It is not intended to provide an exclusive or exhaustive explanation. The Detailed Description is included to provide further information about the modular refrigerator.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

In the drawings, which are not necessarily drawn to scale, like numerals can describe similar components in different views. Like numerals having different letter suffixes can represent different instances of similar components. The drawings illustrate generally, by way of example, but not by way of limitation, various embodiments discussed in the present document.

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a modular refrigerator with the doors closed, according to an example embodiment.

FIG. 2 is a front elevation view of the modular refrigerator of FIG. 1 with the doors open, according to an example embodiment.

FIG. 3 is a front view of a compartment within the modular refrigerator, the compartment including container bays, according to example embodiments.

FIG. 4 is a side view of the compartment shown in FIG. 3.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Referring now to the accompanying drawings, FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a modular refrigerator 10 which includes a front door 12 opening into a lower freezer compartment, an upper door 14 opening into an upper freezer compartment, and a narrower door 16 opening into a cooling compartment for maintaining foods in an unfrozen condition. The modular refrigerator 10 is of an upright configuration, but other configurations are possible, such as a chest freezer configuration.

The modular refrigerator 10 is specially configured to receive shippable food shipping containers 78 described more fully below. In one example, the food shipping containers 78 are, in one aspect, unlike conventional food storage containers in that they are specially configured to conform to or comply with postal regulations, for example US Postal Service or other regulations.

Turning now to FIG. 2, the modular refrigerator 10 includes container bays 76. The configuration and general dimensions of the container bays 76 within the modular refrigerator 10 are such that each container bay 76 can accommodate one or more food shipping containers 78. The food shipping containers 78, and/or the container bays 76, can be marked with the receipt dates of the food shipping containers 78, or the times at which the food shipping containers 78 are placed in the container bays 76. The dates and times may be updated automatically based on a detected entry of a food shipping container 78 into a container bay 76. Alarm means may be incorporated into the modular refrigerator 10 such that the approach of a food expiry date, based on a receipt date of a food shipping container 78, may be flagged visually or audibly to a user. In some examples, the calculation and flagging of food expiry dates is carried out by processors within the modular refrigerator 10, or in other examples in association with a personal electronic device, such as a smart phone, paired with the modular refrigerator 10 or a user.

The modular refrigerator 10 has a left-hand freezer section including a lower section 18, which is closed by the front door 12, and an upper section 20, to which access is gained through the upper door 14.

A right-hand section, generally designated 22, for containment of food items at non-freezing temperatures, is accessible by the narrower door 16. The right-hand section 22 may include a conventional crisper drawer 24 such as for containment of vegetables and the like, and may include a lower drawer 26 for containment of fruits and the like. An array of shelves 28 permits storage of sundry food items and a larger cavity 30 can receive taller items such as milk bottles, soda drinks, and the like. The narrower door 16 is provided with shelves 32 for receipt of smaller items, such as jam jars, condiments, and the like, and includes egg trays 34 and a butter compartment 36.

Similarly, at the bottom of the lower section 18, a frozen meat drawer 38 is provided, with a generalized frozen food drawer 40 for frozen vegetables and the like. The upper section 20 includes an icemaker 42, ice cube storage 44, an ice cream maker 46, and additional space 48 for receipt of smaller frozen items, such as ice cream cartons, desserts, and the like. The front door 12 is provided with shelves 50, while the upper door 14 similarly includes shelves 52, for the conventional purpose of storing smaller frozen items.

A relatively large modular area in the form of a rectangular compartment 54 is provided in the frozen food section of the modular refrigerator 10. Further compartments 54′ could be appropriately configured and located in other locations within the modular refrigerator 10. In some examples, one compartment 54 is located in the frozen food section of the modular refrigerator 10, while another compartment 54′ (not shown) is located in the cooling (non-freezing) section of the modular refrigerator 10.

The illustrated compartment 54 is configured to define an array of container bays 76, each of which can receive a correspondingly sized food shipping container 78. While the container bays 76 are shown in the accompanying drawings to be of regular and consistent size, other variations in the size and spacing of the container bays 76 are possible. This allows receipt and storage of food shipping containers 78 of varying sizes and delivery configurations.

In the illustrated example, the compartment 54 is of rectangular configuration and of relatively greater height than width, and has several container bays 76 for receiving a number food shipping containers 78. A food shipping container 78 can be inserted into a container bay 76 with relatively little clearance at its top, bottom, and sides.

FIGS. 3 and 4 of the accompanying drawings show respective front and side views of an example compartment 54. For clarity, other parts of the modular refrigerator 10 are not shown. It will be seen that the interior of the compartment 54 is divided by a central wall 72 into left and right halves, each of which is provided with shelves 74. The shelves 74 as well as the wall 72 may be formed from a tough plastic material of the type used in conventional molded parts of conventional refrigerators. The wall 72 and shelves 74 define an array of container bays 76. Each of the container bays 76 may have associated indicia 80 indicating dates and/or times of receipt of respective food shipping containers 78. The dates and/or times indicated by the indicia 80 may be updated automatically by the detection of the insertion of a food shipping container 78 into a respective container bay 76. In further embodiments, the identification of a date and/or time of receipt of a food shipping container 78 is based on a detection of a proximate mobile device associated with a user of the modular refrigerator 10, or carried by a food delivery person.

As mentioned above, a food shipping container 78 may be configured to be shipped readily by a courier or postal service, such as the US Postal Service. As such, each food shipping container 78 can be placed for delivery, without further intervention of a user, by a postal service. The food shipping containers 78 comply with weight and dimension regulations and are fully sealed. This allows immediate transportation by a postal service without further user intervention, or other actions such as wrapping, packaging, and the like. In some examples, a food shipping container 78 is insulated, which allows the delivery of frozen food items. In other examples, a food shipping container 78 includes a non-metallic material, such as a temperature resistant synthetic resin material, permitting heating of food items within the food shipping container 78 by microwave oven heating.

The example modular refrigerator 10 thus includes removable sections in the form of food shipping containers 78 that can slide in and out of appropriately sized container bays 76 within the freezing or non-freezing sections of the modular refrigerator 10.

In using the system, a user can order food to be delivered by a conventional postal or courier service (by dint of the special postal compliance configuration of the food shipping containers 78), and the received food shipping containers 78 can be stored and dated conveniently in the modular refrigerator 10. In order to avoid food wastage, the indicia 80 allow ready visual inspection or calculations of food expiry dates, and the convenient postal configuration of the food shipping containers 78 allows the re-collection of expired food in the same food shipping container 78 in which it was sent for delivery, for example, to a food bank or other facility that can benefit from the receipt of unused food.

While the inventive subject matter has been described with reference to specific embodiments, it will be understood by those skilled in the art that various changes may be made and equivalents may be substituted for the elements thereof without departing from the true spirit and scope of the claims. In addition, modifications may be made without departing from the teachings disclosed herein. Moreover, each of the non-limiting examples described herein can stand on its own, or can be combined in various permutations or combinations with one or more of the other examples.

The above Detailed Description includes references to the accompanying drawings, which form a part of the Detailed Description. The drawings show, by way of illustration, specific embodiments in which the inventive subject matter can be practiced. These embodiments are also referred to herein as “examples.” Such examples can include elements in addition to those shown or described. However, the present inventors also contemplate examples in which only those elements shown or described are provided. Moreover, the present inventors also contemplate examples using any combination or permutation of those elements shown or described (or one or more aspects thereof), either with respect to a particular example (or one or more aspects thereof), or with respect to other examples (or one or more aspects thereof) shown or described herein.

In the event of inconsistent usages between this document and any documents incorporated by reference, the usage in this document controls.

In this document, the terms “a” or “an” are used, as is common in patent documents, to include one or more than one, independent of any other instances or usages of “at least one” or “one or more.” In this document, the term “or” is used to refer to a nonexclusive or, such that “A or B” includes “A but not B,” “B but not A,” and “A and B,” unless otherwise indicated. In this document, the terms “including” and “in which” are used as the plain-English equivalents of the respective terms “comprising” and “wherein.” Also, in the following claims, the terms “including” and “comprising” are open-ended; that is, a system, device, article, composition, formulation, or process that includes elements in addition to those listed after such a term in a claim are still deemed to fall within the scope of that claim. Moreover, in the following claims, the terms “first,” “second.” “third,” etc. are used merely as labels, and are not intended to impose numerical requirements on their objects.

The above description is intended to be illustrative, and not restrictive. For example, the above-described examples (or one or more aspects thereof) may be used in combination with each other. Other embodiments can be used, such as by one of ordinary skill in the art upon reviewing the above description. The Abstract is provided to comply with 37 C.F.R. §1.72(b), to allow the reader to quickly ascertain the nature of the technical disclosure. It is submitted with the understanding that it will not be used to interpret or limit the scope or meaning of the claims. Also, in the above Detailed Description, various features may be grouped together to streamline the disclosure. This should not be interpreted as intending that an unclaimed disclosed feature is essential to any claim. Rather, inventive subject matter may lie in less than all features of a particular disclosed embodiment. Thus, the following claims are hereby incorporated into the Detailed Description as examples or embodiments, with each claim standing on its own as a separate embodiment, and it is contemplated that such embodiments can be combined with each other in various combinations or permutations. The scope of the disclosure should be determined with reference to the appended claims, along with the full scope of equivalents to which such claims are entitled.

Claims

1. For use with a modular refrigerator having a door and providing at least one refrigerated compartment accessible when the door is open:

one or more removable food shipping containers configured to be received within the refrigerated compartment, the refrigerated compartment comprising a plurality of container bays corresponding to each of a multiplicity of food shipping container delivery times, each of the plurality of container bays being configured to hold a food shipping container;
the food shipping container further being configured to: comply with a postal or courier regulation; and contain food items selected to remain comestible before a food item expiry date;
the food shipping container or the container bay further including indicia for designating a food shipping container delivery time, or the food item expiry date.

2. The food shipping container of claim 1, wherein the food shipping container is slidable within the container bay in the modular refrigerator.

3. The food shipping container of claim 1, wherein the food shipping container is insulated, or includes insulation material.

4. The food shipping container of claim 1, wherein insertion of the food shipping container into the container bay in the modular refrigerator generates an identification of the food shipping container delivery time, and/or the food item expiry date.

5. In combination, a modular refrigerator having a door and providing at least one refrigerated compartment accessible when the door is open, and one or more removable food shipping containers configured to be received within the refrigerated compartment, the refrigerated compartment comprising a plurality of container bays corresponding to each of a multiplicity of food shipping container delivery times, each of the plurality of container bays being configured to hold a food shipping container; the food shipping container further being configured to comply with a postal or courier regulation and to contain food items selected to remain comestible before a food item expiry date; the food shipping container or the container bay including indicia for designating a food shipping container delivery time, or the food item expiry date.

Patent History

Publication number: 20160176568
Type: Application
Filed: Dec 23, 2014
Publication Date: Jun 23, 2016
Inventors: Dane Glasgow (Los Altos, CA), Matthew Bret MacLaurin (Santa Cruz, CA), Corinne Elizabeth Sherman (San Jose, CA), David Ramadge (San Jose, CA)
Application Number: 14/581,495

Classifications

International Classification: B65D 5/42 (20060101); F25D 25/00 (20060101); F25D 23/02 (20060101);