News Column

Patent Issued for Multiple Location Load Control System

September 3, 2014



By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Electronics Newsweekly -- From Alexandria, Virginia, VerticalNews journalists report that a patent by the inventors Steiner, James P. (Royersford, PA); Baby, Cyril (Conshohocken, PA); Buck, Christopher (Bethlehem, PA); Carmen, Daniel F. (Schnecksville, PA), filed on July 3, 2012, was published online on August 19, 2014.

The patent's assignee for patent number 8810154 is Lutron Electronics Co., Inc. (Coopersburg, PA).

News editors obtained the following quote from the background information supplied by the inventors: "The present invention relates to multiple location load control systems having multiple smart load control devices, and more particularly, a multiple location dimming system that includes a smart dimmer and one or more remote dimmers for controlling the amount of power delivered to a lighting load, where all of the smart dimmers and the remote dimmers are operable to display a present intensity level of the lighting load on a visual indicator.

"Three-way and four-way switch systems for use in controlling electrical loads, such as lighting loads, are known in the art. Typically, the switches are coupled together in series electrical connection between an alternating-current (AC) power source and the lighting load. The switches are subjected to an AC source voltage and carry full load current between the AC power source and the lighting load, as opposed to low-voltage switch systems that operate at low voltage and low current, and communicate digital commands (usually low-voltage logic levels) to a remote controller that controls the level of AC power delivered to the load in response to the commands. Thus, as used herein, the terms 'three-way switch', 'three-way system', 'four-way switch', and 'four-way system' mean such switches and systems that are subjected to the AC source voltage and carry the full load current.

"A three-way switch derives its name from the fact that it has three terminals and is more commonly known as a single-pole double-throw (SPDT) switch, but will be referred to herein as a 'three-way switch'. Note that in some countries a three-way switch as described above is known as a 'two-way switch'.

"A four-way switch is a double-pole double-throw (DPDT) switch that is wired internally for polarity-reversal applications. A four-way switch is commonly called an intermediate switch, but will be referred to herein as a 'four-way switch'.

"In a typical, prior art three-way switch system, two three-way switches control a single lighting load, and each switch is fully operable to independently control the load, irrespective of the status of the other switch. In such a three-way switch system, one three-way switch must be wired at the AC power source side of the system (sometimes called 'line side'), and the other three-way switch must be wired at the lighting load side of the system.

"FIG. 1A shows a standard three-way switch system 100, which includes two three-way switches 102, 104. The switches 102, 104 are connected between an AC power source 106 and a lighting load 108. The three-way switches 102, 104 each include 'movable' (or common) contacts, which are electrically connected to the AC power source 106 and the lighting load 108, respectively. The three-way switches 102, 104 also each include two fixed contacts. When the movable contacts are making contact with the upper fixed contacts, the three-way switches 102, 104 are in position A in FIG. 1A. When the movable contacts are making contact with the lower fixed contact, the three-way switches 102, 104 are in position B. When the three-way switches 102, 104 are both in position A (or both in position B), the circuit of system 100 is complete and the lighting load 108 is energized. When switch 102 is in position A and switch 104 is in position B (or vice versa), the circuit is not complete and the lighting load 108 is not energized.

"Three-way dimmer switches that replace three-way switches are known in the art. An example of a three-way dimmer switch system 150, including one prior art three-way dimmer switch 152 and one three-way switch 104 is shown in FIG. 1B. The three-way dimmer switch 152 includes a dimmer circuit 152A and a three-way switch 152B. A typical, AC phase-control dimmer circuit 152A regulates the amount of energy supplied to the lighting load 108 by conducting for some portion of each half-cycle of the AC waveform, and not conducting for the remainder of the half-cycle. Because the dimmer circuit 152A is in series with the lighting load 108, the longer the dimmer circuit conducts, the more energy will be delivered to the lighting load 108. Where the lighting load 108 is a lamp, the more energy that is delivered to the lighting load 108, the greater the light intensity level of the lamp. In a typical dimming operation, a user may adjust a control to set the light intensity level of the lamp to a desired light intensity level. The portion of each half-cycle for which the dimmer conducts is based on the selected light intensity level. The user is able to dim and toggle the lighting load 108 from the three-way dimmer switch 152 and is only able to toggle the lighting load from the three-way switch 104. Since two dimmer circuits cannot be wired in series, the three-way dimmer switch system 150 can only include one three-way dimmer switch 152, which can be located on either the line side or the load side of the system.

"A four-way switch system is required when there are more than two switch locations from which to control the load. For example, a four-way system requires two three-way switches and one four-way switch, wired in well known fashion, so as to render each switch fully operable to independently control the load irrespective of the status of any other switches in the system. In the four-way system, the four-way switch is required to be wired between the two three-way switches in order for all switches to operate independently, i.e., one three-way switch must be wired at the AC source side of the system, the other three-way switch must be wired at the load side of the system, and the four-way switch must be electrically situated between the two three-way switches.

"FIG. 1C shows a prior art four-way switching system 180. The system 180 includes two three-way switches 102, 104 and a four-way switch 185. The four-way switch 185 has two states. In the first state, node A1 is connected to node A2 and node B1 is connected to node B2. When the four-way switch 185 is toggled, the switch changes to the second state in which the paths are now crossed (i.e., node A1 is connected to node B2 and node B1 is connected to node A2). Note that a four-way switch can function as a three-way switch if one terminal is simply not connected.

"FIG. 1D shows another prior art switching system 190 containing a plurality of four-way switches 185. As shown, any number of four-way switches can be included between the three-way switches 102, 104 to enable multiple location control of the lighting load 108.

"Multiple location dimming systems employing a smart dimmer and one or more specially-designed remote (or 'accessory') dimmers have been developed. The remote dimmers permit the intensity level of the lighting load to be adjusted from multiple locations. A smart dimmer is one that includes a microcontroller or other processing means for providing an advanced set of control features and feedback options to the end user. For example, the advanced features of a smart dimmer may include a protected or locked lighting preset, fading, and double-tap to full intensity. The microcontroller controls the operation of the semiconductor switch to thus control the intensity of the lighting load.

"To power the microcontroller, the smart dimmers include power supplies, which draw a small amount of current through the lighting load when the semiconductor switch is non-conductive each half-cycle. The power supply typically uses this small amount of current to charge a storage capacitor and develop a direct-current (DC) voltage to power the microcontroller. An example of a multiple location lighting control system, including a wall-mountable smart dimmer switch and wall-mountable remote switches for wiring at all locations of a multiple location dimming system, is disclosed in commonly assigned U.S. Pat. No. 5,248,919, issued on Sep. 28, 1993, entitled LIGHTING CONTROL DEVICE, which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety.

"Referring again to the system 150 of FIG. 1B, since no load current flows through the dimmer circuit 152A of the three-way dimmer switch 152 when the circuit between the AC power source 106 and the lighting load 108 is broken by either three-way switch 152B or 104, the dimmer switch 152 is not able to include a power supply and a microcontroller. Thus, the dimmer switch 152 is not able to provide the advanced set of features of a smart dimmer to the end user.

"FIG. 2 shows an example multiple location lighting control system 200 including one wall-mountable smart dimmer 202 and one wall-mountable remote dimmer 204. The dimmer 202 has a hot (H) terminal for receipt of an AC source voltage provided by an AC power source 206, and a dimmed-hot (DH) terminal for providing a dimmed-hot (or phase-controlled) voltage to a lighting load 208. The remote dimmer 204 is connected in series with the DH terminal of the dimmer 202 and the lighting load 208, and passes the dimmed-hot voltage through to the lighting load 208.

"The dimmer 202 and the remote dimmer 204 both have actuators to allow for raising, lowering, and toggling on/off the light intensity level of the lighting load 208. The dimmer 202 is responsive to actuation of any of these actuators to alter the intensity level or to power the lighting load 208 on/off accordingly. In particular, an actuation of an actuator at the remote dimmer 204 causes an AC control signal, or partially rectified AC control signal, to be communicated from that remote dimmer 204 to the dimmer 202 over the wiring between the accessory dimmer (AD) terminal of the remote dimmer 204 and the AD terminal of the dimmer 202. The dimmer 202 is responsive to receipt of the control signal to alter the dimming level or toggle the load 208 on/off. Thus, the load can be fully controlled from the remote dimmer 204.

"The user interface of the dimmer 202 of the multiple location lighting control system 200 is shown in FIG. 3. As shown, the dimmer 202 may include a faceplate 310, a bezel 312, an intensity selection actuator 314 for selecting a desired level of light intensity of a lighting load 208 controlled by the dimmer 202, and a control switch actuator 316. An actuation of the upper portion 314A of the actuator 314 increases or raises the light intensity of the lighting load 208, while an actuation of the lower portion 314B of the actuator 314 decreases or lowers the light intensity.

"The dimmer 202 may also include a visual display in the form of a plurality of light sources 318, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The light sources 318 may be arranged in an array (such as a linear array as shown), and are illuminated to represent a range of light intensity levels of the lighting load 208 being controlled. The intensity levels of the lighting load 208 may range from a minimum intensity level, which may be the lowest visible intensity, but which may be 'full off', or 0%, to a maximum intensity level, which is typically 'full on', or substantially 100%. Light intensity level is typically expressed as a percent of full intensity. Thus, when the lighting load 208 is on, light intensity level may range from 1% to substantially 100%.

"FIG. 4 is a simplified block diagram of the dimmer 202 and the remote dimmer 204 of the multiple location lighting control system 200. The dimmer 202 includes a bidirectional semiconductor switch 420, e.g., a triac or two field-effect transistors (FETs) in anti-series connection, coupled between the hot terminal H and the dimmed-hot terminal DH, to control the current through, and thus the light intensity of, the lighting load 208. The semiconductor switch 420 has a control input (or gate), which is connected to a gate drive circuit 424. The input to the gate renders the semiconductor switch 420 conductive or non-conductive, which in turn controls the power supplied to the lighting load 208. The gate drive circuit 424 provides control inputs to the semiconductor switch 420 in response to command signals from a microcontroller 426.

"The microcontroller 426 receives inputs from a zero-crossing detector 430 and a signal detector 432 and controls the semiconductor switch 420 accordingly. The microcontroller 426 also generates command signals to a plurality of LEDs 418 for providing feedback to the user of the dimmer 202. A power supply 428 generates a DC output voltage V.sub.CC to power the microcontroller 426. The power supply is coupled between the hot terminal H and the dimmed hot terminal DH.

"The zero-crossing detector 430 determines the zero-crossings of the input AC supply voltage from the AC power supply 206. A zero-crossing is defined as the time at which the AC supply voltage transitions from positive to negative polarity (i.e., a negative-going zero-crossing), or from negative to positive polarity (i.e., a positive-going zero-crossing), at the beginning of each half-cycle. The zero-crossing information is provided as an input to microcontroller 426. The microcontroller 426 provides the gate control signals to operate the semiconductor switch 420 to provide voltage from the AC power source 206 to the lighting load 208 at predetermined times relative to the zero-crossing points of the AC waveform.

"Generally, two techniques are used for controlling the power supplied to the lighting load 208: forward phase control dimming and reverse phase control dimming. In forward phase control dimming, the semiconductor switch 420 is turned on at some point within each AC line voltage half-cycle and remains on until the next voltage zero-crossing. Forward phase control dimming is often used to control energy to a resistive or inductive load, which may include, for example, a magnetic low-voltage transformer or an incandescent lamp. In reverse phase control dimming, the semiconductor switch 420 is turned on at the zero-crossing of the AC line voltage and turned off at some point within each half-cycle of the AC line voltage. Reverse phase control is often used to control energy to a capacitive load, which may include, for example, an electronic low-voltage transformer. Since the semiconductor switch 420 must be conductive at the beginning of the half-cycle, and be able to be turned off with in the half-cycle, reverse phase control dimming requires that the dimmer have two FETs in anti-serial connection, or the like.

"The signal detector 432 has an input 440 for receiving switch closure signals from momentary switches T, R, and L. Switch T corresponds to a toggle switch controlled by the switch actuator 316, and switches R and L correspond to the raise and lower switches controlled by the upper portion 314A and the lower portion 314B, respectively, of the intensity selection actuator 314.

"Closure of switch T connects the input of the signal detector 432 to the DH terminal of the dimmer 202, and allows both positive and negative half-cycles of the AC current to flow through the signal detector. Closure of switches R and L also connects the input of the signal detector 432 to the DH terminal. However, when switch R is closed, current only flows through the signal detector 432 during the positive half-cycles of the AC power source 406 because of a diode 434. In similar manner, when switch L is closed, current only flows through the signal detector 432 during the negative half-cycles because of a diode 436. The signal detector 432 detects when the switches T, R, and L are closed, and provides two separate output signals representative of the state of the switches as inputs to the microcontroller 426. A signal on the first output of the signal detector 432 indicates a closure of switch R and a signal on the second output indicates a closure of switch L. Simultaneous signals on both outputs represents a closure of switch T. The microprocessor controller 426 determines the duration of closure in response to inputs from the signal detector 432.

"The remote dimmer 204 provides a means for controlling the dimmer 202 from a remote location in a separate wall box. The remote dimmer 204 includes a further set of momentary switches T', R', and L' and diodes 434' and 436'. The wire connection is made between the AD terminal of the remote dimmer 204 and the AD terminal of the dimmer 202 to allow for the communication of actuator presses at the remote switch. The AD terminal is connected to the input 440 of the signal detector 432. The action of switches T', R', and L' in the remote dimmer 204 corresponds to the action of switches T, R, and L in the dimmer 202.

"Since the remote dimmer 204 does not have LEDs, no feedback can be provided to a user at the remote dimmer 204. Therefore there is a need for multiple location dimming system in which the remote devices include visual displays for providing feedback to a user."

As a supplement to the background information on this patent, VerticalNews correspondents also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent: "As described herein, a load control system for controlling the power delivered to an electrical load from an AC power source comprises a main load control device for controlling the electrical load and a remote load control device. The main load control device is adapted to conduct a load current from the AC power source to the electrical load. The main load control device comprises a receiver for receiving digital messages, such that the main load control device is operable to control the electrical load in response to the received digital messages. The remote load control device is adapted to be coupled in series electrical connection with the main load control device between the AC power source and the electrical load, such that the remote load control device is operable to conduct the load current from the AC power source to the electrical load. The remote load control device comprises a power supply operable to charge through the main load control device during a first time period of a half-cycle of the AC power source. The remote load control device also comprises a transmitter for transmitting digital messages. The receiver of the main load control device and the transmitter of the remote load control device are coupled together such that the transmitter of the remote load control device is operable to transmit at least a portion of a digital message to the receiver of the main load control device during a second time period of the half-cycle.

"A load control device adapted for use in a load control system for controlling the power delivered to an electrical load from an AC power source is also described herein. The load control system comprises a remote control device having a power supply. The load control device comprises a load control circuit adapted to be coupled in series electrical connection between the AC power source and the electrical load to control the power delivered to the electrical load, a controller operatively coupled to the load control circuit for controlling the power delivered to the electrical load, a switching circuit operable to be rendered conductive by the controller to allow a power supply of the remote control device to charge during a first time period of a half-cycle of the AC power source, and a receiver coupled to the controller for receiving digital messages, the receiver adapted to be coupled to the transmitter of the remote control device such that the controller is operable to receive at least a portion of a digital message from the transmitter of the remote load control device during a second time period of the half-cycle.

"A method of controlling an amount of power delivered to an electrical load from an AC power source in a load control system including a main load control device and a remote load control device comprises the steps of: (1) the main load control device rendering a switching circuit conductive to conduct a charging current of a power supply of the remote load control device during a first time period of a half-cycle of the AC power source, the first time period occurring at approximately the same time each half-cycle; and (2) the main load control device receiving digital messages from the remote load control device during a second time period of the half-cycle; and (3) the main load control device adjusting the amount of power delivered to the load in response to the digital messages transmitted by the remote load control device.

"Other features and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the following description of the invention that refers to the accompanying drawings."

For additional information on this patent, see: Steiner, James P.; Baby, Cyril; Buck, Christopher; Carmen, Daniel F.. Multiple Location Load Control System. U.S. Patent Number 8810154, filed July 3, 2012, and published online on August 19, 2014. Patent URL: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=8810154.PN.&OS=PN/8810154RS=PN/8810154

Keywords for this news article include: Semiconductor, Microcontroller, Lutron Electronics Co. Inc..

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Source: Electronics Newsweekly


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