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US005812102A

Ulllted States Patent [19] [11] Patent Number: 5,812,102


Sprole, Jr. et al. [45] Date of Patent: Sep. 22, 1998

[54] VITAL MONITORING SYSTEM FOR SEVEN- 5,515,390 5/1996 Benton ................................. .. 371/57.1
SEGMENT DISPLAY USED IN RAILROAD . .
APPLICATIONS Primary ExamznerSteven J. Saras
Assistant ExaminerVincent E. Kovalick
[75] Inventors: Bernard J. Sprole, Jr., Cranberry Attorney Agent Or FlrmKeVm A Sembrat
Township, Butler County; David E. [57] ABSTRACT
Cichowski, Lower Burrell, both of Pa.
A system and method of monitoring light emitted from a
[73] Assignee; Union Switch & Signal Inc light emitting diode (LED) display device, Which typically
Pittsburgh, Pa has a plurality of selectively energiZable display segments
Which are grouped to form desired shapes and/or alphanu
[21] APPL NO, 815 249 meric characters, is provided, particularly for use in an
_ Aspect Display Unit (ADU) that requires vitality When
[22] Flledi Mall 12, 1997 utilized in the railroad industry as a component of an

[51] Int. Cl.6


Cl- ..............................
......................................................
.. .. G06F 3/14 $311133?nTga?612;:finggsggfntgningjjg
ment of the device is independently monitored

[58] Fleld 0f Search .............................. .. 345/3254, 117, by an accompanying independent dual photo_transistor Cir_
345/207; 340/815'44 cuit When a non-vital output periodically drives each seg
56 R f Ct d ment to a knoWn electrical state and then back to the original
[ ] e erences l e state. A ?rst and a second photo-transistor is used for each
U_S_ PATENT DOCUMENTS segment of the LED display. Each segment and the accom
panying ?rst and second phototransistor is surrounded by a
3,573,814 4/1971 Lang '..................................... .. 340/381 Shield Which prevents light from other Segments from being
379O946 2/1974 Henflncks ' 340/336 detected by the particular ?rst and second photo-transistor.
4,095,217 6/1978 Tani et al. ............................. .. 340/324 . . . .
4, 242, 677 12/19s0 Jonath ................................... .. 340/715
The ?rst photo-transistor
_
is directed toWard the particular
_ _ _

472477852 1/1981 Utzinger 34O/715 segment to sense light emitted therefrom and ambient light
472977692
4,311,993
10/1981 Maier
1/1982 Strobel ............ ..
340/715
340/641
thereabout, hWhile thelsecond photo-transilstor 1E~d1r61CIi1d
away Tom t e Parnell ar Segment Sense on y am lent 1g t
4,408,869 10/1983 Tomosada et a1. ..................... .. 355/14 thereabout that segment. The ?rst and second photo
4,420,748 12/1983 Jurgen ................................... .. 340/715 transistors generate electrical signals Which are representa
4,541,066 9/1985 Lewandovfski 364/580 tive of the light detected by each of the ?rst and second
475927003 5/1986 Kobayashl et al' 364/579 photo-transistors. The generated electrical signals drive a
4644341 2/1987 Warner """""" " 340/753 monitoring circuit Which generates error signals represen
4,734,688 3/1988 Adams .... .. 340/715 t t. f lfu t. . LED d. 1 t b d
4,847,606 7/1989 Beiswenger 340/712 a We 0. ma nc gonlgg 1 15? aydifgmen 5. asel on a
479517037 8/199O Goossen 34O/715 comparison to a Xe vo tage o a 1 CIGIICC'III vo tages
571607920 11/1992 Hams 340/765 provided from the ?rst and second photo-transistors.
5,406,301 4/1995 Ravid . ... ... ... .. . . . . .. 345/34

5,446,564 8/1995 Mawatari et a1. ...................... .. 359/72 20 Claims, 5 Drawing Sheets


U.S. Patent Sep. 22, 1998 Sheet 1 of5 5,812,102

Q, Fig. 1
PRIOR ART

31

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DlSRIuVLAEY 71
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61
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Fig. 2
PRIOR ART
U.S. Patent Sep. 22, 1998 Sheet 2 of5 5,812,102
U.S. Patent Sep. 22, 1998 Sheet 3 of5 5,812,102

121
552

508

\\
\\ 141

\
\ r142
U.S. Patent Sep. 22, 1998 Sheet 5 of5 5,812,102

CPS / 720
701 700
S II 714
CONTROL f CPU

MONITORING V6
CIRCUIT
'\600
111

MONITORING V7
CIRCUIT
121

MONITORING V8
CIRCUIT

MONITORING V9
CIRCUIT
; 141

MONITORING V10
CIRCUIT
1

MONITORING V11
CIRCUIT
F 161

MONITORING
CIRCUIT
; 171
5,812,102
1 2
VITAL MONITORING SYSTEM FOR SEVEN As is knoWn in the art, the problem With a seven-segment
SEGMENT DISPLAY USED IN RAILROAD LED display is that if one segment Were to fail or to be
APPLICATIONS turned off inadvertently, the displayed alloWable speed
shoWn could actually increase in value. For instance, if 80
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION MPH is the intended speed to be displayed With tWo seven
1. Field of the Invention segment displays, and the left bottom element in the seven
segment display for the eight fails or is turned off, the
The present invention relates generally to displays Which seven-segment display Would shoW a 9 instead of an 8 and
utiliZe a plurality of individually energiZable segments to the speed shoWn Would become 90 MPH instead of the
form a digit or other symbol and, more particularly, to a intended 80 MPH. In other Words, if a segment or its
system and method for monitoring the fail safe operation of 1O
connection is damaged, a Wrong number could be displayed.
such displays When utiliZed in the railroad industry. For example, an 8 could be displayed as a 6, 0, or a
2. Description of the Related Art 9. For this reason, the fact that the output driving a
In the related art, monitoring of segment type indicators particular LED is in the on state does not necessarily
is particularly important, since failure of a particular seg 15
indicate that the LED is emitting light and shoWing a correct
ment may result in a false indication Which may not be display.
recognizable as such. In the case of light/emitting diodes US. Pat. No. 4,734,688 issued in the name of Adams
(LEDs), the solution to this problem has been to monitor describes an LCD system in Which malfunction in the drive
voltage across and the current flowing through the segments. circuit causes one or more segments of the display to ?icker.
For liquid crystal displays (LCDs) such a method is not Each segment of the display is driven by a drive circuit and
practical, since the currents to be monitored are very small. a test circuit. The drive circuit generates a strong drive signal
Referring noW to FIGS. 1 and 2, a seven-segment LED Which is applied to a display segment. The test circuit
display 1 typically comprises segments 11, 21, 31, 41, 51, 61 generates a Weak checking signal Which is superimposed on
and 71 Which are selectively and independently driven by a the strong signal. The Weak signal has no discernible effect
display driver 90, in accordance With the prior art. As shoWn 25 on the display segments so long as the strong signal is
in FIG. 2, diode segments 11, 21, 31, 41, 51, 61 and 71 are present. HoWever, any defect in the drive circuit or betWeen
typically independently coupled betWeen the display driver the drive circuit and the contact to the display segment
90 and electrical ground through respective current-limiting suppresses the strong signal and alloWs the Weak signal to be
resistors 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96 and 97. Although only one discerned in the form of a ?icker and the relevant segment
seven-segment display is shoWn in FIGS. 1 and 2, it is electrode. The patent does not detect failures in the display
understood that a plurality of seven-segment displays may segments.
be arranged adjacent to each other in a manner knoWn in the US. Pat. No. 4,311,993, issued in the name of Strobel,
art, thereby to display a plurality of alphanumeric characters describes an LCD system having circuits Which use the
and/or shapes. capacitive properties of the segments to indicate malfunc
In the railroad industry, vital is a term applied to a 35 tioning of the segments.
product or system that performs a function that is critical to US. Pat. No. 5,160,920, issued in the name of Harris,
safety, While non-vital is a term applied to a product or describes a segmented LCD Which is energiZed to transmit
system that performs a function that is not critical to safety. light through selected ones of its display segments to seg
Additionally, fail-safe is a design principle in Which the mented photovoltaic cells disposed beneath the LCD. The
objective is to eliminate the haZardous effects of hardWare or photovoltaic cells become the background for the segmented
softWare faults, usually by ensuring that the product or the LCD. Each segment of the display coacts With a separate one
system reverts to a state knoWn to be safe. of the photovoltaic cells. The voltage that is developed by
In the railroad industry, one of the components Which is each photovoltaic cell is proportional to the amount of light
included Within an Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system Which it receives from a related display segment. When the
is an Aspect Display Unit The ATP receives signals 45 segment is energiZed, ambient light is alloWed to pass
from the rails Which indicate the current maXimum alloW through the segment to generate a voltage by the photovol
able speed at Which the locomotive can proceed. The ATP taic cell located there beneath. The generated voltage is
can then indicate this speed to the operator by controlling compared With a secondary voltage generated by additional
lights, called aspects, on the ADU Which is typically located photovoltaic cells positioned beloW the non-segmented sec
betWeen the tWo front WindoWs or in the dash. tion of the display. As such, the invention claimed by this
In many systems, the ADU is a non-vital element, that is, reference monitors LCD segments by comparing a ?rst
not safety critical, since the ATP Will keep the locomotive voltage against a second voltage that is generated by ambi
operating at or beloW the maXimum alloWable speed at all ent light located aWay from the monitored segment. As a
times by removing pressure from the brake system, thereby result, the invention claimed by this reference Will not
applying emergency brakes. In some systems, hoWever, the 55 monitor properly When ambient light is non-existent aWay
ADU is a vital element since the ability of the system to from the segment, such as When a train is passing through a
control the brakes is either not available or can be selectively tunnel. Moreover, the invention claimed by this reference
bypassed. The aspects are normally bulbs or blocks of LEDs monitors liquid crystal displays rather than light emitting
Which can be controlled using vital outputs Whose failure diode displays, Which may be preferable in situations Where
modes result in removing voltage from across the LEDs. ambient light may be loW or non-existent. Additionally, the
Conceptually, removing voltage from across the LEDs is geometry of light emitting diode displays is not conducive to
easy to do since removing poWer ensures that the aspects layering described by this invention. Further, the invention
Will be dark, Which has the same meaning as a Zero claimed by this reference does not force a state change of
mile-per-hour (MPH) alloWable speed indication. knoWn states of each segment, thereby to monitor and to
Additionally, if the bulb or LEDs fail or burn out, the aspect 65 detect a fault occurring Within each period.
Will go dark and thereby provide a safe Zero MPH alloWable Consequently, a need has been felt for providing a system
speed indication. and method Which overcomes the problem of monitoring a
5,812,102
3 4
seven-segment display of the light emitting diode (LED) play various shapes and/or alphanumeric characters, in
style With a periodic check of each segment, thereby to accordance With the prior art;
detect a failure of a segment Within a predetermined period, FIG. 2 shoWs a circuit diagram of a typical display driver
particularly in railroad applications requiring fail-safe Which selectively and separately drives seven independent
operations. light emitting diodes, in accordance With the prior art;
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION FIG. 3 is a top perspective vieW of a single light emitting
diode segment from FIG. 1 With a ?rst and a second
It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide photo-transistor arranged relative to the light emitting diode
a vital aspect display unit (ADU) of the light-emitting diode segment to detect light in accordance With a preferred
style, to be used With an automatic train protection (ATP) embodiment of the present invention;
system in the railroad industry.
FIG. 4 is a top perspective vieW of the light emitting diode
It is another object of the present invention to provide segment and photo-transistors of FIG. 3 being surrounded
fail-safe features in the ADU.
by a light-preventive shield in accordance With a preferred
It is another object of the present invention to provide a embodiment of the present invention;
seven-segment LED display With a novel structure. 15
FIG. 5 is a top vieW of the seven-segment display of FIG.
It is a feature of the present invention to monitor each 1 With each individual segment provided With a ?rst and
segment of the seven-segment LED display independently second transistor and light preventive shield in accordance
by sensing light emitted and ambient to each particular With a preferred embodiment of the present invention;
segment When each particular segment is periodically forced
to a knoWn electrical state.
FIG. 6 is a circuit diagram Which monitors a particular
light emitting diode segment in accordance With a preferred
Brie?y described according to one embodiment of the embodiment of the present invention; and
present invention, a non-vital output drives each particular
segment of the LED display to a knoWn electrical state While FIG. 7 is a functional block diagram of a preferred
each particular segment is monitored independently by an embodiment of the present invention Wherein a central
25 processing unit (CPU) operates a control block and a con
accompanying dual photo-transistor circuit. A ?rst and a
second photo-transistor is used for each segment of the ditional poWer supply (CPS) based on a closed monitoring
seven segment LED display. Each segment and the accom test loop Which provides feedback from each independently
panying ?rst and second phototransistor is surrounded by a monitored segment.
shield Which prevents light from other segments from being DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED
detected by the particular ?rst and second photo-transistor. EMBODIMENTS
The ?rst photo-transistor is directed toWard the particular
segment to sense light emitted therefrom and ambient light 1. Detailed Description of the Figures
thereabout, While the second photo-transistor is directed In accordance With a preferred embodiment of the present
aWay from the particular segment to sense only ambient invention, FIG. 3 shoWs a top perspective vieW of a light
light. In this manner, the ?rst and second photo-transistors emitting diode segment 111 positioned betWeen a primary
are both sensitive to ambient light emanating Within the photo-transistor 112 and an ambient photo-transistor 113.
particular shield about the segment but the ?rst photo The primary photo-transistor 112 is positioned adjacent the
transistor is more sensitive to light from the segment than is light emitting diode segment 111 such that a light sensor 114
the second photo-transistor Which is directed aWay from the is directed toWard the light emitting segment 111, thereby to
segment. The ?rst and second photo-transistors generate receive light emitted from the segment 111. The ambient
electrical signals Which are representative of the light photo-transistor 113 is positioned adjacent an opposing side
detected by each of the ?rst and second photo-transistors. of the segment 111 such that a light sensor 115 is directed
The generated electrical signals drive a differential ampli?er aWay from the segment 111, thereby to minimiZe the receipt
circuit Which outputs the difference (APT) betWeen the ?rst 45 of light emitted from the segment 111, but to sense ambient
and second photo-transistor output voltages. APT is then light about the segment 111.
compared to a ?Xed constant voltage, thereby to generate FIG. 4 shoWs a perspective vieW of a shield 402 built
error signals representative of malfunctioning LED display about and around a perimeter of the segment 111 and
segments. photo-transistors 112,113 of FIG. 3. In a preferred
An advantage of the present invention is that LED display embodiment, the shield 402 is manufactured of a Water-jet
units may be monitored for vital fail-safe conditions. cut opaque non-metallic material, such as a plastic
Another advantage of the present invention is that the component, for instance, thereby to absorb light and mini
monitoring system for LED segments operates Without miZe re?ection therefrom. In another preferred embodiment,
regard to the presence of ambient light. the shield is cut by a laser or other suitable cutting means.
Another advantage of the present invention is that the 55 In a preferred embodiment the shield 402 is placed in close
monitoring system determines Whether light is actually proXimity to the segment 111 and the photo-transistors 112,
being emitted by each segment of the LED display When 113 thereby to shield the segment 111 and photo-transistors
light is eXpected to be emitted. 112, 113 Within a minimal de?ned area 404. This shield 402
is intended to prevent light external to the shield from
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS entering thereWithin, thereby to permit light emitted Within
The advantages and features of the present invention Will the area 404 to be sensed only by the light sensors 114, 115.
become better understood With reference to the folloWing In a preferred embodiment, a cover (not shoWn) is placed
more detailed description and claims taken in conjunction over a plurality of segments. The cover permits light to eXit
With the accompanying draWings, in Which like elements are therethrough from the de?ned area 404.
identi?ed With like symbols, and in Which: 65 FIG. 5 shoWs a top vieW of a seven-segment display 502
FIG. 1 is a top vieW of a typical light emitting diode With each segment 111, 121, 131, 141, 151, 161 and 171
seven-segment display With the segments arranged to dis having respective primary photo-transistors 112, 122, 132,
5,812,102
5 6
142, 152, 162, 172 and respective ambient photo-transistors is knoWn in the art, thereby to de?ne a ?Xed voltage V4
113, 123, 133, 143, 153, 163, 173 enclosed Within a respec supplied to the inverting input 606b. The voltage V4 pro
tive independent de?ned area 504, 506, 508, 510, 512, 514, vided is dependent on the LED siZe, color, and type, for
516 by a respective shield 550, 552, 554, 556, 558, 560, 562, instance, but in a preferred embodiment, the voltage V4 is
in accordance With a preferred embodiment of the present 0.83 volts.
invention. In a preferred embodiment, the reference voltage V3
FIG. 6 shoWs a schematic diagram of a preferred embodi provides +5 volts, the resistor R7 has a resistance of 10K
ment of a monitoring circuit 600 that is used to monitor an Ohms, and the resistor R8 has a resistance of 2K Ohms,
output voltage PT1 and PT2 from the primary phototrans thereby to provide a suitable ?Xed voltage V4 at the invert
istor 112 and the ambient phototransistor 113, respectively. 10 ing input 606b of the comparator 606. A resistor R9,
Although the monitoring circuit 600 is shoWn only for the preferably 1K Ohm, is electrically coupled betWeen the
phototransistors 112, 113 that are monitoring the segment output 606c and a poWer supply V5, Which preferably
111, it is understood that a similar monitoring circuit is provides +5 volts.
provided for monitoring each other segment in the seven In this manner, as is knoWn in the comparator art, the
segment display 502, for instance. 15
comparator 606 is used as a level detector, Wherein the
A terminal 112a of the primary phototransistor 112 is output 606c provides an output voltage V6 in the 1 or on
electrically coupled to a poWer supply V1 that provides a state When the gain APT is compared to the ?Xed voltage V4
suitable source of dc. voltage. In a preferred embodiment, and is greater than the ?Xed voltage V4, and Wherein the
the poWer supply V1 provides +5 volts. A load resistor R1 output 606c provides an output voltage V6 in the 0 or off
is electrically coupled betWeen a terminal 112b of the state When the gain APT is compared to the ?Xed voltage V4
primary phototransistor 112 and electrical ground, thereby to and is less than the ?Xed voltage V4.
de?ne an output voltage PT1 at the terminal 112b. In a FIG. 7 is a functional block diagram of a preferred
preferred embodiment, the resistor R1 has a resistance of embodiment of the present invention. A central processing
20K Ohms, although one skilled in the art Will recogniZe unit (CPU) 700 operates a control block 701 and a condi
25
other resistance values relative to the poWer supply V1. tional poWer supply (CPS) 702 based on a closed monitoring
Similarly, a terminal 113a of the ambient phototransistor test loop Which provides feedback from each independently
113 is electrically coupled to a poWer supply V2 that monitored segment. The CPU 700 receives as feedback
provides a suitable source of dc. voltage. In a preferred output voltages V6, V7, V8, V9, V10, V11 and V12,
embodiment, the poWer supply V2 provides +5 volts. A load respectively supplied from monitoring circuits 600, 703,
resistor R2 is electrically coupled betWeen a terminal 113b 704, 706, 708, 710 and 712, Which monitor respective
of the ambient phototransistor 113 and electrical ground, segments 111, 121, 131, 141, 151, 161 and 171. The CPU
thereby to de?ne an output voltage PT2 at the terminal 113b. 700 generates a conditional signal 720 that is required in
In a preferred embodiment, the resistor R2 has a resistance order for the CPS 702 to provide poWer to the control block
of 20K Ohms, although one skilled in the art Will recogniZe 35
701. In a preferred embodiment, the conditional signal 720
other resistance values relative to the poWer supply V2. is a square Wave With frequency of about 500 HertZ. The
A differential ampli?er circuit 602 (also knoWn in the art CPU also generates display data (not shoWn) through a bus
as a subtractor or a common-mode circuit), Which comprises 714 to the control block 701 Which independently drives
an operational ampli?er 604, and resistors R3, R4, R5 and each of the segments 111, 121, 131, 141, 151, 161 and 171.
R6, is electrically coupled to the terminals 112b and 113b In a preferred embodiment, the CPS 702 is a vital con
such that the output voltage PT1 is provided at a non ditional poWer supply that is designed as a fail-safe hard
inverting input 604a, and the output voltage PT2 is provided Ware component Which receives input from a battery (not
at an inverting input 604b. A preferred embodiment of the shoWn) and the conditional signal 720 from the CPU 700,
operational ampli?er 604 is a standard operational ampli?er, preferably via dedicated hardWare (not shoWn). The control
Model No. LM124, LM224, or LM324, for instance, manu 45 block 701 sWitches the display data received through the bus
factured by National Semiconductor of Santa Clara, Calif., 714 to the segments 111, 121, 131, 141, 151, 161 and 171 as
USA. The resistors R3, R4, R5 and R6 typically have the long as the CPU 700 provides the conditional signal 720 to
same resistance value, preferably 10K Ohms in the present the CPS 702, thereby to indicate that the segments are
invention, and they are connected as shoWn to provide a operating properly based on feedback received from each
standard differential ampli?er circuit, as is knoWn in the art. monitoring circuit of each respective segment. The condi
In this manner, the differential ampli?er circuit 602 provides tional signal 720 provided by the CPU 700 veri?es that a
a gain APT that is equal to the difference betWeen the output fault-free condition Was determined by the CPU 700 and that
voltage PT1 and the output voltage PT2. This difference may each segment is functioning properly based on feedback
be expressed as the mathematical equation: APT=PT1PT2, received from each respective monitoring circuit. If the CPU
as is knoWn in the art. The gain APT is provided at an output 55 700 stops providing the conditional signal 720, thereby
604c, Which is electrically coupled to a non-inverting input indicating that the segments are not operating properly, then
606a of a comparator 606. As knoWn in the art, the com the CPS 702 stops supplying poWer to the control block 701
parator 606 has the non-inverting input 606a, an inverting and therefore to each segment, thereby forcing all segments
input 606b, and an output 606c. A preferred embodiment of to the fail-safe condition of not emitting light. When all
the comparator 606 is a standard operational ampli?er, segments are dark and do not emit light, then the Aspect
Model No. LM139, manufactured by Motorola Inc. of Display Unit is not emitting an incorrect display that may
Schaumburg, 111., USA. otherWise be unsafe.
A load resistor R7 is electrically coupled betWeen the 2. Operation of the Preferred Embodiment
inverting input 606b and a poWer supply V3 that provides a In operation, each segment 111, 121, 131, 141, 151, 161,
suitable source of dc. voltage. A resistor R8, electrically 65 171 is independently and selectively energiZable to an
coupled betWeen the inverting input 606b and electrical energiZed (on) state Wherein the segment emits light, and to
ground, operates With the resistor R7 as a voltage divider as a non-energiZed (off) state Wherein the segment does not
5,812,102
7 8
emit light. FIG. 6 shows a schematic diagram of a dual What is claimed is:
photo-transistor circuit 602 Which rejects ambient light and 1. A monitoring system for a display unit carrying a
drives a non-vital input Which is then monitored by a plurality of selectively energiZable light-emitting segments,
processing unit (not shoWn) in order to close the test loop. each segment having an energiZed and a non-energiZed state,
It is understood that the primary photo-transistor 112 and the Wherein said light emitting segments emit light in said
ambient photo-transistor 113 and related circuitry shoWn in energiZed state, and Wherein said monitoring system com
FIG. 6 correspond to the monitoring circuitry for segment prises:
111 and that each other segments, 121, 131, 141, 151, 161, ?rst photovoltaic means directed toWard each segment of
171 each have a separate circuit Which is similar to that in
the plurality of light emitting segments, for generating
FIG. 6 but not shoWn. As mentioned, tWo photo-transistors a primary electrical signal upon detection of light
are used for each segment. The primary photo-transistor 112 emitted from each segment of said light emitting seg
is directed toWards the segment 111 and the ambient photo
transistor 113 is directed aWay from the segment 111. The ments;
photo-transistors 112, 113 are both sensitive to ambient second photovoltaic means directed aWay from each
light, but the primary photo-transistor 112 is much more segment of the plurality of light emitting segments, for
15 generating a secondary electrical signal upon detection
sensitive to the segment 111 than is the ambient photo
transistor 113. A differential op-amp circuit 602 outputs the of ambient light;
difference betWeen the output voltages of the primary photo shielding means for surrounding each segment of the
transistor 112 and the ambient photo-transistor 113. plurality of light emitting segments and said ?rst and
For vitality in operation, each segment is subjected to a second photovoltaic means of each segment of the
?ip test Wherein each segment is independently sWitched plurality of light emitting segments, such that only light
from its current on or off state to the opposite off or emanating Within said shielding means is detectable by
on state, preferably for about 1 microsecond, and then said ?rst and second photovoltaic means;
returned to its current on or off state. During the period monitoring means for generating a comparison signal for
that each segment is independently sWitched to its opposite 25
each segment of the plurality of light emitting
state, each of the primary and ambient phototransistors Will segments, Wherein said comparison signal is represen
sense light emanating Within each area de?ned by each tative of a comparison betWeen a predetermined refer
shield supplied for each segment, and each monitoring ence voltage and a voltage difference betWeen said
circuit provided for each segment Will provide to the central primary electrical signal and said secondary signal of
processing unit a respective output that is representative of each segment of the plurality of light emitting seg
a malfunctioning segment, based upon the comparison to the ments;
?xed voltage of the difference betWeen the voltages pro conditional energiZing means electrically coupled to each
vided by the primary and ambient phototransistor that is segment of the plurality of light emitting segments for
sensing light for each segment. In this manner, each par conditionally energiZing each segment of the plurality
ticular segment is monitored relative to ambient light that is 35 of light emitting segments;
associated With each particular segment that emits or does processing means for receiving and processing said com
not emit light, rather than relative to ambient light that is parison signal and generating display data and an
generally available to all of the plurality of segments. As energiZing signal to operate said conditional energiZing
such, each segment is independently monitored and tested means When said comparison signal of each segment
Without regard to Whether ambient light is sensed, because con?rms that each segment is operating fault-free; and
any ambient light is sensed by both the primary and ambient control means electrically coupled to said conditional
phototransistors and then subtracted out before comparison energiZing means and said processing means for selec
to a ?xed voltage. This test is provided periodically, pref tively gating said display data from said processing
erably once per second, thereby to provide a closed loop test means to each segment of the plurality of light emitting
in order to provide an early fault detection so that corrective 45 segments.
action, such as removing poWer supplied to the segments, 2. The system according to claim 1, Wherein said pro
may be taken immediately upon detection of a fault. cessing means cooperates With said conditional energiZing
The foregoing description of the preferred embodiment of means to sWitch each segment in said energiZed state to said
the present invention has been presented for purposes of non-energiZed state for a predetermined period and then
illustration and description. It is not intended to be eXhaus back to said energiZed state, and to sWitch each segment in
tive or to limit the present invention to the precise form said non-energiZed state to said energiZed state for said
disclosed, and obviously many modi?cations and variations predetermined period and then back to said non-energiZed
are possible in light of the above teachings. For instance, state, during said predetermined period said monitoring
other light emitting sources, such as incandescent bulbs or means generates said comparison signal for each segment of
?ber optic displays, for instance, Would be feasible in light 55 the plurality of light-emitting segments.
of the above teachings. In addition, it is understood that the 3. The system according to claim 2, Wherein each segment
CPU 700 and the control block 701, for instance, may of the plurality of light-emitting segments is sWitched peri
provide inputs to, and receive outputs from, other compo odically.
nents not shoWn in the above teachings. 4. The system according to claim 2, Wherein each segment
The preferred embodiment Was chosen and described in of the plurality of light-emitting segments is sWitched about
order to best eXplain the principles of the present invention once per second.
and its practical application to those persons skilled in the 5. The system according to claim 3, Wherein said prede
art, and thereby to enable those persons skilled in the art to termined period is about one microsecond.
best utiliZe the present invention in various embodiments 6. The system according to claim 4, Wherein said prede
and With various modi?cations as are suited to the particular 65 termined period is about one microsecond.
use contemplated. It is intended that the scope of the present 7. The system according to claim 1, Wherein said pro
invention be broadly de?ned by the claims Which folloW. cessing means cooperates With said conditional energiZing
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means to switch each segment in said energized state to said ing means to sWitch each segment in said energiZed state to
non-energiZed state for a ?rst predetermined period and then said non-energiZed state for a predetermined period and then
back to said energized state, and to sWitch each segment in back to said energiZed state, and to sWitch each segment in
said non-energiZed state to said energiZed state for a second
said non-energiZed state to said energiZed state for said
predetermined period that is different than said ?rst prede
termined period, and then back to said non-energiZed state, predetermined period and then back to said non-energiZed
during said ?rst and second predetermined periods, state, during said predetermined period said monitoring
respectively, said monitoring means generates said compari means generates said comparison signal for each segment of
son signal for each segment of the plurality of light-emitting the plurality of light-emitting segments.
segments. 14. The system according to claim 13, Wherein each
8. The system according to claim 7, Wherein each segment segment of the plurality of light-emitting segments is
of the plurality of light-emitting segments is sWitched peri sWitched periodically.
odically. 15. The system according to claim 13, Wherein each
9. The system according to claim 7, Wherein each segment
of the plurality of light-emitting segments is sWitched about segment of the plurality of light-emitting segments is
15 sWitched about once per second.
once per second.
10. The system according to claim 8, Wherein said pre 16. The system according to claim 14, Wherein said
determined period is about one microsecond. predetermined period is about one microsecond.
11. The system according to claim 9, Wherein said pre 17. The system according to claim 15, Wherein said
determined period is about one microsecond. predetermined period is about one microsecond.
12. A monitoring system for a display unit carrying a 18. A method of monitoring a light emitting display
plurality of selectively energiZable light-emitting segments, device carrying a plurality of selectively energiZable display
each segment having an energiZed and a non-energiZed state, segments Which are grouped to form desired shapes and/or
Wherein light emitting segments are grouped to form desired alphanumeric characters, Wherein the method comprises the
shapes and/or alphanumeric characters When emitting light 25 steps of:
in the energiZed state, and Wherein said monitoring system a) de-energiZing, for a predetermined period of time, each
comprises: segment of said plurality of display segments that is in
?rst and second photovoltaic means for generating a an energiZed state and energiZing, for said predeter
primary and a secondary electrical signal that has a ?rst mined period of time, each segment of said plurality of
and a second voltage and is representative of light display segments that is in a de-energiZed state;
detected, respectively, Wherein said ?rst photovoltaic b) after said predetermined period of time, re-energiZing
means is directed toWard each segment of the plurality each of said plurality of display segments that has been
of light emitting segments to detect light emitted there de-energiZed and de-energiZing each of said plurality of
from and ambient light thereabout, and Wherein said display segments that has been energiZed; and
second photovoltaic means is directed aWay from each c) removing a poWer supply signal upon detection of a
segment of the plurality of light emitting segments to malfunctioning display segment for each of said plu
detect ambient light thereabout While minimiZing rality of display segments, thereby to de-energiZe said
detection of light emitted therefrom; plurality of display segments When a segment malfunc
shielding means for surrounding each segment of the tions.
plurality of light emitting segments and said ?rst and 19. The method according to claim 18, further comprising
second photovoltaic means of each segment of the the folloWing step before step a):
plurality of light emitting segments, such that only light d) surrounding each segment of said plurality of display
emanating Within said shielding means is detectable by
segments With a light shield.
said ?rst and second photovoltaic means of each seg 45 20. A method of monitoring a light emitting display
ment of the plurality of light emitting segments;
monitoring means for generating a comparison signal for
device carrying a plurality of selectively energiZable display
each segment of the plurality of light emitting segments Which are grouped to form desired shapes and/or
segments, Wherein said comparison signal is represen alphanumeric characters, Wherein the method comprises the
tative of a comparison betWeen a predetermined refer steps of:
ence voltage and a voltage difference betWeen said ?rst a) surrounding each segment of said plurality of display
and second voltage of each segment of the plurality of segments With a light shield;
light emitting segments; b) de-energiZing each segment of said plurality of display
conditional energiZing means electrically coupled to each segments that is in an energiZed state and energiZing
segment of the plurality of light emitting segments for 55 each segment of said plurality of display segments that
conditionally energiZing each segment of the plurality are in a de-energiZed state;
of light emitting segments; and c) generating a primary electrical signal With a ?rst
processing means for receiving and processing said com voltage that represents detection of ambient light about
parison signal and generating display data and an and light emitted from each segment of said plurality of
energiZing signal to operate said conditional energiZing display segments, While simultaneously generating a
means When said comparison signal of each segment secondary electrical signal With a second voltage that
con?rms that each segment is operating fault-free, represents detection of ambient light about each seg
Wherein said display data is selectively gated from said ment of said plurality of display segments and Within
processing means to each segment of the plurality of said light shield for each of said plurality of display
light emitting segments. 65 segments;
13. The system according to claim 12, Wherein said d) generating a comparison signal that is representative of
processing means cooperates With said conditional energiZ a comparison betWeen a predetermined reference volt
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age and a difference between said ?rst and second f) removing a power supply signal upon detection of a
voltage for each segment of said plurality of display malfunctioning display segment for each of said plu
Segments; rality of display segments, thereby to de-energiZe said
e) re-energiZing each of said plurality of display segments plurality of display segments When a segment malfunc
that is in said de-energiZed state and de-energiZing each 5 tions.
of said plurality of display segments that are in an
energiZed state; and * * * * *