US20080139083A1 - Toy set with sensor and controller or actuator - Google Patents

Toy set with sensor and controller or actuator Download PDF

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Publication number
US20080139083A1
US20080139083A1 US11983403 US98340307A US2008139083A1 US 20080139083 A1 US20080139083 A1 US 20080139083A1 US 11983403 US11983403 US 11983403 US 98340307 A US98340307 A US 98340307A US 2008139083 A1 US2008139083 A1 US 2008139083A1
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Prior art keywords
sensor
section
state
toy
toy set
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Abandoned
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US11983403
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Steven Lampert
David A. Barr
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KidKraft Inc
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KidKraft LP
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    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A63SPORTS; GAMES; AMUSEMENTS
    • A63HTOYS, e.g. TOPS, DOLLS, HOOPS, BUILDING BLOCKS
    • A63H19/00Model railways
    • A63H19/24Electric toy railways; Systems therefor

Abstract

A toy or play set is provided that includes one or more components having a sensor with a state, and an actuator coupled to the sensor. The sensor is capable of sensing an action of a user/object in the play area or a proximity of the object and setting the state of the sensor in accordance with the sensed action or proximity. A controller determines the state of the sensor and performs or initiates an action in accordance with the state of the sensor.

Description

    CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
  • The present application is related to and claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/857,624, entitled “Toy Set with Sensor and Remote Controller,” filed on Nov. 8, 2006, and U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/858,074, entitled “Toy Set with Sensor and Remote Controller,” filed on Nov. 10, 2006. The subject matter disclosed in Provisional Patent Application Ser. Nos. 60/857,624 and 60/858,074 are hereby incorporated by reference into the present disclosure as if fully set forth herein. The present application hereby claims priority under 35 U.S.C. §119(e) to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. Nos. 60/857,624 and 60/858,074.
  • TECHNICAL FIELD OF THE INVENTION
  • The present invention relates to toy trains and other toy sets and, in particular, to a toy set with a sensor and a remote controller or actuator.
  • BACKGROUND
  • A toy set such as a wooden or plastic train set or doll house typically requires that a person playing with the toy set physically manipulate an object in the toy set to change its position or state or cause some other activity. For example, a switch in a train track to select a section of track for a train to follow must typically be manually changed from one section to the other. Similarly, a light in a doll house typically includes a light bulb, power source and on-off switch in a single housing, requiring that the person playing with the house reach to the light fixture itself, rather than to a switch on the doll house wall, to turn the light on or off. As such, there is a need for a toy set in which objects may be remotely actuated in response to some interaction by an object or a person.
  • Many other problems and disadvantages of the prior art will become apparent to one skilled in the art after comparing such prior art with the present invention as described herein.
  • SUMMARY
  • In view of the foregoing disadvantages inherent in the known types of toy sets now present in the prior art, the present invention provides a toy set with a sensor and a remote controller or actuator.
  • Aspects of the invention are found in a toy set that includes a movable toy object, a play area having a sensor with a state, and an actuator coupled to the sensor. The sensor senses a proximity of the toy object to the sensor and sets the state of the sensor in accordance with the sensed proximity. The actuator determines the state of the sensor and performs an action in accordance with the state of the sensor.
  • Other aspects of the invention are found in a toy set including a play area having a sensor with a state, and an actuator wirelessly coupled to the sensor. The sensor senses an action of a user in the play area and sets the state of the sensor in accordance with the sensed action. The actuator determines the state of the sensor and performs an action in accordance with the state of the sensor.
  • Yet other aspects of the invention are found in a method that includes sensing an object at a first location and storing a status indicating the sensing of the object in a sensing system at the first location. The method also includes wirelessly interrogating the sensing system and wirelessly receiving a value of the stored status. The method further includes sending a signal to actuate a device, based upon the received value.
  • Still other aspects of the invention are found in a toy set section that includes a sensor having a state, a sound controller coupled to the sensor, and a sound actuator coupled to the sound controller. The sensor senses passage of a toy object over the toy set section and sets the state of the sensor in accordance with the sensed passage. The sound controller determines the state of the sensor and causes the sound actuator to produce a sound in accordance with the state of the sensor. The toy set section has an external physical configuration that enables operational cooperation with other toy set sections.
  • Other aspects of the invention are found in a toy set that includes a first section and a second section. The first and second sections include features capable of cooperating to mechanically couple the first section and the second section. The first section is substantially solid. The second section includes a first piece and second piece, the first piece coupling to the second piece to form an outer surface and an interior cavity.
  • Yet other aspects of the invention are found in a toy set that includes a first section and a second section. The first section includes a sensor having a state. The second section includes an actuator that is wirelessly coupled to the sensor. The sensor senses a proximity of a toy object to the sensor and sets the state of the sensor in accordance with the sensed proximity. The actuator determines the state of the sensor and performs an action in accordance with the state of the sensor. The first and second sections have external physical configurations that enable operational cooperation with other toy set sections.
  • The foregoing has outlined rather broadly the features and technical advantages of the present invention so that those skilled in the art may better understand the detailed description of the invention that follows. Additional features and advantages of the invention will be described hereinafter that form the subject of the claims of the invention. Those skilled in the art should appreciate that they may readily use the conception and the specific embodiment disclosed as a basis for modifying or designing other structures for carrying out the same purposes of the present invention. Those skilled in the art should also realize that such equivalent constructions do not depart from the spirit and scope of the invention in its broadest form.
  • Before undertaking the DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION below, it may be advantageous to set forth definitions of certain words and phrases used throughout this patent document: the terms “include” and “comprise,” as well as derivatives thereof, mean inclusion without limitation; the term “or,” is inclusive, meaning and/or; the phrases “associated with” and “associated therewith,” as well as derivatives thereof, may mean to include, be included within, interconnect with, contain, be contained within, connect to or with, couple to or with, be communicable with, cooperate with, interleave, juxtapose, be proximate to, be bound to or with, have, have a property of, or the like. Definitions for certain words and phrases are provided throughout this patent document, those of ordinary skill in the art should understand that in many, if not most instances, such definitions apply to prior, as well as future uses of such defined words and phrases.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • For a more complete understanding of the present invention, and the advantages thereof, reference is now made to the following descriptions taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, wherein like numbers designate like objects, and in which:
  • FIG. 1 is a top view of a section of a train track in accordance with the present invention;
  • FIG. 2 is a top view of the train track shown in FIG. 1 with part of the train track moved to a different position;
  • FIG. 3 is a side view of a bridge for a train track according to the present invention, where the bridge is in a closed position;
  • FIG. 4 is a side view of the bridge shown in FIG. 3 in an open position;
  • FIG. 5 is an overall block diagram of a sensor and controller system in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 6A illustrates a section of train track incorporating a sensing system that may be used in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 6B illustrates an alternative embodiment similar to FIG. 6A;
  • FIG. 7 is an overall block diagram of a sensor and controller system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIGS. 8A and 8B illustrates a typical section of conventional train track;
  • FIGS. 9A and 9B illustrates a section of train track in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;
  • FIG. 10 is an exploded view of the interior of the embodiment of the present invention shown in FIGS. 9A and 9B; and
  • FIG. 11 is an overall block diagram of a sensor and controller system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
  • The present invention provides a toy or play set that includes a sensing system for sensing or detecting an object or activity and for communicating to a controller such sensing or detection which actuates or causes another device to activate or perform a function. The controller may interrogate or poll the sensing system, such as periodically, to determine a current state of the sensing system (or sensor). Alternatively controller may receive signaling or communication directly from the sensing system without a specific inquiry from the controller. Based upon the state of the sensor, the controller may perform or cause to perform an action within or around the play set.
  • FIG. 5 is an overall block diagram of a toy activity sensing system 200. The system 200 includes three main components: a sensing system 202, a controller 212, and an actuating (or actuated) device 214. In the embodiment shown, the sensing system 202 include a sensor 204 and an RFID transponder (commonly referred to as an RFID tag) 206. The sensing system 202 communicates to the controller 212 that the sensing system 204 has detected or sensed the proximity of an object 210 or determined that some other activity. This will be referred to as a “sensed activity”. A sensed activity may include any type of activity capable of sensing, including sensing the proximity or presence of the object 210 or some type of mechanical occurrence or contact (such as a button being pushed or set).
  • In the embodiment shown, the controller 212 is coupled to the sensing system 202 by one or more wires or wirelessly. As noted, the controller may actively poll or interrogate the sensing system to determine its state or passively receive signals from the sensing system identifying its state.
  • In a specific embodiment utilizing physical conductors connecting the sensing system 204 (without utilizing an RFID transponder 206) to the controller 212, the sensor 204 may be a physical switch actuated by a wheel or other body part of a moving toy object or physical actuation or contact caused by a person. The sensor 204 may also be a photocell or other light sensitive device that senses proximity of an object by sensing a reduction in ambient light entering the photocell or light sensitive device. Similarly, the sensor 204 may be a magnetic or capacitive device that senses proximity of a metal component of a moving object. Though several examples of the sensor 204 have been provided, any device that is capable of sensing contact by, or proximity of, an object is contemplated. It will be understood that the sensor 204 and/or sensing system 202 may include additional circuitry or components to perform the desired functioning as described herein.
  • Optionally, the sensing system 202 may further include a power source 208 (such as a small battery, a photovoltaic cell, or other source of electric power), in the event that the controller 212 does not provide sufficient operating power to the sensing system 202.
  • Upon receiving a signal or other communication from the sensing system 202, the controller 212 actuates or activates another device 214 within or around the play set, as determined or desired. The types and examples of such devices 214 (and the activities that they may perform) are virtually unlimited (e.g., switching tracks, controlling a train engine, activating lights, or sounds, railroad crossings, drawbridges, displays, and the like, etc.). As will be appreciated, the controller 212 and the actuating (or actuated) device 214 may be integrated together, in close proximity, or remote from each other.
  • The controller 212 and the device 214 are coupled/connected via wired connections or wirelessly. The controller 212 sends an activation signal to the device 214 (which results in activation of the device 214) in response to detecting/sensing an activity by the sensing system 202. It will be understood that in one embodiment the device 214 is located remotely and/or separate from the sensing system 202. In another embodiment, the device 214 is separate from the sensing system 202, but may be located in at or very near the location of the sensing system. For example, the device 214 may be a powered train engine that is sensed by the sensing system 202 (in a track section), which transmits a detection signal (wire or wirelessly) to the controller 218, which in turn, transmits an activation signal to the engine/device 214 (wirelessly).
  • Though it will be understood that the specific configuration and components of the controller 212 (not shown) may be chosen as desired, the controller 212 may include a processor or processing circuitry (with software and/or firmware), memory, a power source (such as an AC adapter, a battery, a photovoltaic cell, or other type of power source), and one or more interfaces (not shown). The interfaces will be operable for communicating with the sensing system 202 and the devices 214, and the controller 212 may include a wireless transmitter and receiver, and/or an RFID tag reader.
  • In an alternative embodiment, in which the RFID transponder 206 is included within the sensing system 202, upon detection of the sensed activity by the sensor 204 (similar to that described above) one or more memory locations within the RFID tag 206 may be set to a specific value or state. This may be as simple as setting a single bit location to a desired value of logic zero or one. It will be understood by those skilled in the art that additional circuitry or components may be included within the sensing system 202 to provide the functionality described herein.
  • The controller 212, which includes an RFID reader, operates as understood by those skilled in the art, to interrogate or read the RFID tag 206. This polling may be performed periodically (e.g., every 1 to 10 milliseconds, or at some other rate). Upon reading the tag and the memory location(s), the controller 212 knows that the sensing system 202 detected a sensed activity at the sensing system 202 location. Based on this, the controller 212 may activate (or send signals to cause activation of) another device 214.
  • It will be understood that additional sensing systems 202 (in similar or different configurations) may be located at various locations within or about the play or toy set, and the controller 212 may interrogate/poll or read each RFID tag 206 within each sensing system 202. The RFID tags 206 may provide a unique identification that distinguishes each RFID tag 206 from each other (e.g., unique serial number, unique pattern of bits set in memory based on the location of the sensing system, or other method to assist the controller 212 in identifying which sensing system 202 was triggered or sensed an activity).
  • When the controller 212 communicates with the RFID tag 206 it generally provides power to the RFID tag, and may also provide power for the sensor 204 (for sensor types that require electrical power). Alternatively, the sensing system 202 (or only the sensor 204) may be powered by the power source 208. Receiving power as a result of the reading of the RFID tag 206 may also provide power for the sensor (such as a photo cell) to detect the activity (and communicate this information for storage in the RFID tag), and thus report the state of the sensor 204 back to the controller 212 (it is possible that two read/poll cycles may be utilized or necessary—one to power the sensor 204 for detection and storage in the memory of the RFID tag 206, and another cycle to read the memory of the RFID tag). Upon successful reading, the relevant memory in the RFID tag 206 (to allow subsequent detection) will be reset (at the same time, or by a subsequent action). Other configurations and methods of reading/writing memory within the RFID tag 206 in conjunction with the controller 212 may be utilized.
  • Alternatively or additionally, the sensing system 204 may also include a capacitor or other power storage device that may be charged up during a period in which the controller 212 is communicating with the sensing system 202. The charged power storage device provides power to the sensor 204 for monitoring the status of the sensor during a period between interrogations/polls by the controller 212. In this case, the RFID transponder 206 may be able to report not only the current state of the sensor 204 (i.e., a sensed activity), but also the sensor's state since the last interrogation/poll.
  • It will be understood that the sensor 204 may include a mechanical switch or button, or other mechanism that detects contact—such as a pushbutton or the like. For example, one or more sensing systems 202 may be positioned at different locations about the play or toy set. When a person, such as a child, pushes or makes contact with the sensor 204, the sensing system 202 will transmit wirelessly a signal to the controller 212—this will usually be done in conjunction with the RFID tag 206 (as described herein). As a result, various positions around the toy or play set may be provided with the sensing systems 202 and various devices 214 remote from the sensing systems 202 can be activated as a result of detection/sensing by the sensing system 202.
  • The play or toy set (not shown) will generally include one or more components or pieces, such as a toy train track or set, a doll house, multiple activity set, or other structure or toys. A specific example, for illustration purposes only, is described below. The system 100 may be beneficially used in conjunction with various types and configurations of toy and play sets.
  • Now referring to FIG. 1, there is shown a top view of a section 100 of a toy train (or vehicle) track as part of a toy train set that includes the activity sensing system 200 in accordance with the present invention. The toy track may include track sections 102 and 108 (which each may comprise separate sections). The section 100 may be part of a toy set that includes other track sections, roadways, buildings, crossing gates, signal lights, track switches, and other elements of a model or toy railway. The track sections 102 and 108 may be of the wooden or plastic type that present two grooves in which the wheels of powered or unpowered trains, automobiles or other vehicles ride. Such wheel grooves are not shown in FIG. 1. FIG. 3 is a side view of the section 100 of the toy track of FIG. 1, where bridge sections 114, 116 are shown in a closed position.
  • The track section 102 includes sensing systems 104 and 106 (same or similar as the sensing system 202). The track section 106 includes sensing systems 110 and 112 (same or similar as the sensing system 202) and the bridge sections 114 and 116. The section 100 of the toy track may also include an actuator device 120 coupled to the bridge sections 114 and 116 and a controller 118 (same or similar as the controller 212). The actuator device 120, by itself or in combination with the bridge sections 114 and 116, constitute or is equivalent to the device 214 (as shown in FIG. 5). The controller 118 is coupled to sensing systems 104, 106, 110 and 112 and operable and capable of determining a state of the sensing system (and/or the sensor 204 therein). The actuator device 120 raises and lowers the bridge sections 114 and 116, in the style of a drawbridge, under control of the controller 118, responsive to the state of one or more of the sensing systems 104, 106, 110 and 112.
  • It will be understood that track sections 102 and 108 may be formed of multiple separate sections having standard external physical configurations that allow the sections to be coupled interchangeably to form tracks of many desired layouts. As such, the system 100 may include four track sections having a standard physical configuration and housing sensing systems 104, 106, 110 and 112. The system may further include a bridge track section that includes actuator device 120 and bridge sections 114 and 116 and has standard coupling elements to permit coupling of other track sections. The controller 118 may be included in the bridge track section or may be a separate element of the system 100.
  • In operation, when the bridge sections 114, 116 are in a lowered position, as shown in FIG. 1, the controller 118 may be generally in communication or connection with the sensing system 104. Assume that a train car is moving along the track 102 (moving toward the bridge sections) and passes over/near the sensing system 104. Upon sensing contact or proximity of the object by the sensing system 104 and receiving a detection signal therefrom, the controller 118 signals or activates the actuator 120 to move the bridge sections 114, 116 to a raised position. Similarly, if the train car was moving in the opposite direction along the track 106. Upon sensing contact or proximity of the object by the sensing system 106 and receiving a detection signal therefrom, the controller 118 signals or activates the actuator 120 to move the bridge sections 114, 116 to a raised position. FIG. 2 is a top view of the section 100 after the bridge sections 114, 116 have been raised. FIG. 4 is a side view of the section 100 of the toy track of FIG. 2, where the bridge sections 114 and 116 are in the raised position.
  • As will be appreciated, in another embodiment, as the train car continues along the track section 102 through the raised bridge sections, it may pass over the other sensing system on the track 102. The controller 118 will receive a detection signal, and knowing it recently opened the bridge section, may now 106 activate the actuator 120 to lower the bridge sections 114 and 116, returning the section bridge sections to the lowered state.
  • Similarly, when the bridge sections 114, 116 are in a raised position, as shown in FIGS. 2 and 4, the controller 118 may be generally in communication or connection with the sensing systems 110 and 112. Depending on the direction of the train movement along track 108, either the sensing system 110 or 112 will initially detect the train. Upon sensing contact or proximity of the object by the sensing system 110 or 112 and receiving a detection signal therefrom, the controller 118 signals or activates the actuator 120 to move the bridge sections 114, 116 to lowered raised position.
  • As will be appreciated, different combinations of sensing systems and detection signals (spatial and temporal), the actions that may be taken can be different and programmed into the controller 118, as desired.
  • In one embodiment of the present invention, the sensors 104, 106, 110 and 112 are photocells or other light sensitive devices that sense a proximity of an object by sensing a reduction in the magnitude of light entering the photocell. When the object passes over the photocell or photodetector, the ambient light entering the sensor will be reduced, thus providing a detection mechanism. In another embodiment, a sensor may be a magnetic or capacitive device that senses proximity of a metal component of a moving object. In yet another embodiment, a sensor may be a physical switch that is actuated by a wheel or other body part of a moving toy object.
  • In another embodiment of the invention, where the sensor 206 is a light sensitive device coupled to a radio frequency identification (RFID) transponder within the sensing system 202. Such RFID transponders or tags are well known in that art, including RFID tags manufactured by Texas Instruments. The controller 118 may include an RFID tag reader or other device capable of communication with an RFID tag, which devices are well-known in that art. When the controller 118 communicates with the sensing system, it may provide power to the RFID transponder, allowing the transponder to read the photo cell, determine whether an moving toy object is present over the photo cell, and report the state of the photo cell back to the interrogator 118. Other embodiments are contemplated, as described herein.
  • In yet another embodiment, a sensor may be located in some other portion of a toy set than a track segment. For example, a sensor may be mounted in a base or stand supporting and surrounding the section 100 and may sense a user's activation of a switch, the switching on or off of a light illuminating the toy set, or a passage of a toy vehicle along a painted roadway.
  • In still another embodiment, the sensor interrogator may be coupled to a signal light or crossing gate, rather than to bridge sections 114, 116. In such an embodiment, a passing of a train car over a sensor may cause a toy traffic light to change from green to red or a crossing gate to raise or lower to allow or block toy traffic across a track section.
  • In accordance with another embodiment, the toy or play set may be a doll set or house that includes the system 200. The sensing system 202 may include a sensor 206 that is a switch mounted on a wall of the doll house near a door (for example). The system would include the RFID transponder 206 coupled to the switch for sensing and storing an indication that a person playing with the doll house has pressed the switch. A remotely located light fixture (located remote from the sensing system 202) in the doll house may include a light source, a power source (such as a battery) and a controller 212 including an RFID tag reader. The RFID tag reader will periodically interrogate or communicate with the RFID transponder to determine whether the sensor has been activated and, in response to such activation, turn on or off the light source (such as the device 214 shown in FIG. 5) or cause/perform some other function.
  • In some embodiments of the present invention, the sensing system 202 (including the sensor 206 and RFID transponder 206) are stationary or relatively fixed relative to the controller 212 (including the RF reader device). In other embodiments, such stationary sensors may be combined with movable sensors and wireless communicators that allow the device interrogating/polling a sensor to determine a current state of both stationary and moving sensors.
  • Now turning to FIGS. 6A and 6B, there are illustrated two embodiments of a section of train track 600 a, 600 b illustrating the sensing system 202 therein. The sensing system 202 (in one or more of the various embodiments and structure as described above) is contained in or embedded within a sensor insert 220. In the embodiment shown, the insert 220 has a circular shape (having radius and thickness), though other shapes may be used. A circular shape may be preferred due to the ease of construction and insertion into a section of track or other component (circles are easier to form than other shapes). The sensor insert 220 may be constructed of any type of materials, but may be plastic.
  • Though not specifically illustrated, the cross-sectional shape of the sensor insert 220 substantially matches the cross-sectional shape of the track 600 a, 600 b at the insert location. Further, as illustrated, a portion of the insert 220 functions to provide the grooved track within which wheels of various vehicles may run on the track.
  • In the embodiment of the track 600 a, the sensing system 202 included within the insert 220 may typically include a light sensitive device, mechanical contact sensor, RF sensor, magnetic sensor or other sensing device. As described above, the sensing system 202 may include only the sensor 204, or may include the sensor 204 and the RFID transponder 206, depending on the desired embodiment.
  • In the embodiment of the track 600 b, the sensing system 202 included within the insert is shown as including the RFID transponder 206 (and perhaps some additional circuitry, if needed to perform the described functionality) and a mechanical sensor, such as the members 230 a and 230 b. A single member may be used. The members 230 a, 230 b detect contact by the wheels of an object traversing the track grooves. This detection is then ascertained by the RFID transponder 206—for eventual transmission to a controller (as described above). The member 230 a may be a mechanical sensor, requiring physical contact with an object, and the member 230 b a light, capacitance or magnetic sensor that senses an abject without physical contact.
  • FIG. 7 is an overall block diagram of a toy activity sensing system 700 in accordance with the present invention. An actuating device 714 may be under control of a controller 712. The controller 712 may be in wireless communication with a sensing system 702. The sensing system 702 may include an RFID tag 706 and the controller 712 may include an RFID tag reader.
  • The RFID tag 706 may have an input 716 that enables or disables its operation. In the embodiment of the invention shown in FIG. 7, the input 716 includes two conductors. When an electrical connection is made between the two conductors, operation of the RFID tag 706 may be enabled. When the electrical connection between the two conductors is broken, operation of the RFID tag 706 may be disabled.
  • The electrical connection to enable the RFID tag 706 may be made by a sensor 704. When the sensor 704 detects or senses the proximity of an object 710 or determines some other activity, the sensor 704 may make the electrical connection and enable the RFID tag 706. The absence of the activity or the object 710 may result in the sensor 704 breaking the electrical connection and disabling the RFID tag 706.
  • Where the sensor 704 is a physically actuated switch, it may operate without external power. Where the sensor 704 is a photodiode, magnetic or capacitive sensor, a power source 708 may be included to power the sensor 704.
  • In operation, the RFID tag reader in the controller 712 may periodically attempt to read the RFID tag 706. When the object 710 is not sensed by the sensor 704, the electrical connection across the input 716 of the RFID tag 706 will not be made and the RFID tag 706 will not be enabled. As a result, the RFID tag 706 will not respond to interrogation by the controller 712. However, when the object 710 is sensed by the sensor 704, the sensor 704 may make an electrical connection across the input 716, enabling the RFID tag 706 to respond to interrogation by the controller 712. In this way, the controller 712 may determine whether the object 710 is proximate to the sensing system 702 based upon the responsiveness of the RFID tag 706 and may control the actuating device 714 accordingly.
  • FIGS. 8A and 8B illustrates a typical section 800 of conventional train track. FIG. 8A shows a generally smooth and solid upper surface of the section 800 and FIG. 8B shows a generally smooth and solid bottom surface of the section 800. The section 800 includes a male coupling feature 804 and a similarly shaped female coupling feature 806. Grooves 802 a and 802 b may be formed in the track section 800 to guide the wheels of a model train, car or other vehicle. Such a vehicle may be self-powered using a battery and electric motor or other system.
  • Such a vehicle may also be moved by hand along the track formed by the section 800 and other similar sections.
  • Typically a toy train track is formed by connecting a plurality of track sections having male and female coupling features such as features 804 and 806 one to another. Curved track sections and track sections that incline to a higher level (thereby operating to form a bridge or arch) allow the track to loop back to form a complete circuit. Such track sections typically have a standard cross-section to permit trains and other toy vehicles to pass from section to section in traveling around the track. That is, the height and width of track sections, the depth, width and separation of wheel grooves, and the size of male and female coupling features are typically substantially the same in all conventional track sections.
  • Conventional track section 800 is typically made of wood or other durable material and is solid throughout.
  • The male coupling feature 804 may be fabricated as a separate piece and attached to the track section 800.
  • Where it is desired to have a train passing over a track section trigger a switch, the switch is typically mounted on a separate structure that is placed beside the track section 800. As the train engages the switch while passing over the track section, forces are applied to the separate structure that may cause the structure to move or rotate if not attached to the surface on which the track section 800 is placed. The separate structure also occupies some of the space in the volume surrounding the track section 800 that might otherwise be used for architectural, landscaping, and other modeling materials.
  • FIGS. 9A and 9B illustrates a section 900 of train track in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention. As will be described further with reference to FIG. 10, track section 900 is hollow and may have mounted within it one or more switches, a sound controller 930, a battery 928, and a transducer 932. Positioned in grooves 902 a and 902 b in a top surface of the section 900 are switch actuators 910 a and 910 b, which may be mechanically coupled to the one or more switches in the interior of the section 900. The transducer 932 may be located near slots 914 to allow sounds emitted by the transducer 932 to be heard by a user of the track section 900. A bottom side of the section 900 may include an access panel 916 to provide access to the battery 928 powering the switches, the sound controller 930 and the transducer 932 in the interior of the section 900.
  • As a train or other vehicle passes along the track section 900, its wheels or other support structures travel through grooves 902 a and 902 b and over switch actuators 910 a and 910 b, thereby actuating the one or more switches inside the track section 900. The sound controller 930 senses the change in state of the switches and generates a sound using the transducer 932.
  • The sound controller 930 may include a programmable delay period before it will again respond to actuation of a switch. In this way, repeated actuation by successive wheel of a train or other vehicle may be avoided. The delay may be programmable to adapt to an expected length of the vehicle or to delay re-activation until the sound has played through to its completion.
  • The switch actuators 910 a and 910 b extend into the grooves 902 a and 902 b by an amount that provides only a small amount of interference with the passage of the wheels of the vehicle along the grooves 902 a and 902 b. Preferably, the switch actuators 910 a and 910 b extend into the grooves 902 a and 902 b by 1/32 inch. In some embodiments, the portions of the switch actuators 910 a and 910 b that extend into the grooves 902 a and 902 b may have a profile designed to minimize the interference they provide to the wheels of a passing vehicle.
  • A decal, sticker, painted symbol or other visual marker may be provided on the exterior of the track section 900 to indicate what sound the sound controller 930 in the track section 900 will make when the switch actuators 910 a and 910 b are activated. A recessed feature 912 may be provided in the top surface of the section 900 to receive the visual marker. Where track sections containing sensors 104, 106, 110 or 112 in FIGS. 1 and 2 produce a predefined action in the actuator device 120, similar provisions may be made to provide a visual marker on the track section to indicate the predefined action to be performed.
  • FIG. 10 is an exploded view of the interior of the track section 900 shown in FIGS. 9A and 9B. The track section 900 includes a first part 920 and a second part 922. The second part 922 may be coupled to the first part 920 with screws or other fasteners, with glue or other adhesive, by welding or other bonding technique, or by another method of coupling. The first part 920 and the second part 922 of the track section 900 may be fabricated from wood, plastic, metal or other material.
  • The first part 920 may include the back sides of the grooves 902 a and 902 b, the switch actuators 910 a and 910 b, and the slots 914. The second part 922 may include the access panel 916.
  • When the first part 920 and the second part 922 of the track section 900 are coupled, an interior space 924 is formed. Mounted within the cavity 924 of the track section 900 is a circuit carrier 926, on which are mounted the battery 928, the sound controller 930, the transducer 932 and mechanical switches (not shown in FIG. 10).
  • In some embodiments, the circuit carrier 926 may be a printed circuit board. In other embodiments, the circuit carrier 926 may provide only mechanical mounting for one or more of the circuit elements, with electrical coupling provided by wires. In still other embodiments, the switches, the switch actuators 910 a and 910 b, the battery 928, the sound controller 930, the transducer 932 may be individually mounted to the first part 920 or to the second part 922 and electrically connected by wires.
  • As shown in FIG. 10, the switch actuators 910 a and 910 b are separate pieces that are located in openings in the first part 920 and engage separate switches on the circuit carrier 926. Such a configuration provides redundant switches and redundant switch actuators so that breakage or loss of either a single switch or single actuator does not prevent the track section 900 from sensing the passage of a vehicle and producing the desired sound. In other embodiments, a single piece may be formed that protrudes through both the openings 910 a and 910 b and actuates both switches on the circuit carrier 926. In still other embodiments, such a single piece may actuate a single switch on the circuit carrier 926.
  • In some embodiments, the sound controller 930 may be manufactured with the ability to make more than a single sound. In such embodiments, a configuration circuit or switch on the circuit carrier 926 may be set to select which sound the sound controller 930 produces. In other embodiments, modifications may be made directly to the sound controller 930 to select which sound it produces.
  • The height and width of the track section 900, the depth, width and separation of the wheel grooves 902 a and 902 b, and the size of male and female coupling features 904 and 906, respectively, are preferably selected to conform to the standard used in manufacturing conventional track section 800. In this way, the track section 900 is capable of coupling with the conventional track section 800 and permitting a train or other toy vehicle to pass from one track section to the other. That is, the track section 900 cooperates with track section 800 in operation of the track and a vehicle operating on the track.
  • While the track section 900 is a straight section of track, it will be understood that a track section according to the present invention may be made curved, inclined, or in any other configuration that permits it to couple with other track sections according to the present invention or with conventional track sections.
  • A track section according to the present invention may be fabricated as part of a model environment in which the train track is located. In one embodiment, the first part 920 may be molded as a part of a mountain through which the train runs. The circuit carrier may be mounted to the back side first part 920 and the second part 922 attached to the first part 920 to cover the circuit carrier 926. In another embodiment, the second part 922 may be fabricated as a part of a base of an architectural structure such as a train station and the first part 920 fabricated as a separate piece that forms a track surface in the station. In either embodiment, the circuit carrier 926 may mount to either the first part 920 or the second part 922 before the first and second parts are joined to form a complete track section.
  • FIG. 11 is an overall block diagram of a sensor and controller system 1000 in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention. The system 1000 includes a sensor 1004 that detects the proximity of an object 1010. In one embodiment, the sensor 1004 is the one or more mechanical switches mounted in the track section 900 of FIGS. 9 and 10. In other embodiments, the sensor 1004 is a photocell or other light sensitive device, a magnetic or capacitive device, or some other sensor.
  • The sensor 1004 is coupled to a sound controller 1012, which includes a sound generator 1030 and a sound storage unit 1032. The sound generator 1030 may be a digital or analog electrical device. The sound storage unit 1032 may store sound in electronic memory, disk memory, magnetic or optical tape, or any other sound storage medium.
  • The sound controller 1012 is also coupled to a power source 1034, which may be AC power, a battery, a photocell, or any other source of power to operate the circuit elements of the system 1000. The sound generator 1030 is coupled to a transducer 1014, which is capable of producing audible sounds generated by the sound generator 1030.
  • As described with reference to FIGS. 5, 7 and 9, the sound controller 1012 is capable of sensing a state of the sensor 1004 and, in response to sensing the proximity of the object 1010, activating the sound controller 1030 to actuate the transducer 1014 to produce a desired sound.
  • Although the present invention and its advantages have been described in the foregoing detailed description and illustrated in the accompanying drawings, it will be understood by those skilled in the art that the invention is not limited to the embodiment(s) disclosed but is capable of numerous rearrangements, substitutions and modifications without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims.

Claims (19)

  1. 1. A toy set, comprising:
    a movable toy object;
    a play area, comprising a sensor having a state; and
    an actuator coupled to the sensor,
    wherein
    the sensor is operable to sense a proximity of the toy object to the sensor and set the state of the sensor in accordance with the sensed proximity, and
    the actuator is operable to determine the state of the sensor and perform an action in accordance with the state of the sensor.
  2. 2. The toy set of claim 1, wherein the actuator is wirelessly coupled to the sensor.
  3. 3. The toy set of claim 2, wherein the sensor comprises a radio-frequency identification (RFID) transponder.
  4. 4. The toy set of claim 3, wherein the sensor further comprises one of a switch and a light sensor.
  5. 5. The toy set of claim 3, wherein the actuator determines the state of the sensor by interrogating the RFID transponder and is further capable of supplying the sensor with electrical power during the interrogation of the RFID transponder.
  6. 6. The toy set of claim 1, wherein the play area further comprises a second movable toy object and the action comprises moving the second toy object.
  7. 7. The toy set of claim 1, wherein the play area further comprises an indicator and the action comprises one of activating and deactivating the indicator.
  8. 8. A toy set, comprising:
    a play area, comprising a sensor having a state; and
    an actuator wirelessly coupled to the sensor,
    wherein
    the sensor is capable of sensing an action of a user in the play area and setting the state of the sensor in accordance with the sensed action, and
    the actuator is capable of determining the state of the sensor and performing an action in accordance with the state of the sensor.
  9. 9. The toy set of claim 8, wherein the sensor comprises a radio-frequency identification (RFID) transponder.
  10. 10. The toy set of claim 9, wherein the sensor further comprises a manually actuated switch.
  11. 11. The toy set of claim 9, wherein the actuator determines the state of the sensor by interrogating the RFID transponder and is further capable of supplying the sensor with electrical power during the interrogation of the RFID transponder.
  12. 12. The toy set of claim 8, wherein the play area further comprises a movable toy object and the action comprises moving the toy object.
  13. 13. The toy set of claim 8, wherein the play area further comprises an indicator and the action comprises one of activating and deactivating the indicator.
  14. 14. A toy set section, comprising:
    a sensor having a state;
    a sound controller coupled to the sensor; and
    a sound actuator coupled to the sound controller,
    wherein
    the sensor is operable to sense passage of a toy object over the toy set section and set the state of the sensor in accordance with the sensed passage,
    the sound controller is operable to determine the state of the sensor and cause the sound actuator to produce a sound in accordance with the state of the sensor, and
    the toy set section has an external physical configuration that enables operational cooperation with other toy set sections.
  15. 15. The toy set section of claim 14, wherein the toy set section includes an interior cavity in which the sensor, sound controller and sound actuator are located.
  16. 16. The toy set section of claim 15, wherein the toy set section comprises a first piece and second piece, the first piece coupling with the second piece to form an outer surface of the toy set section and the interior cavity of the toy set section.
  17. 17. A toy set comprising a first section and a second section, wherein:
    the first section and second section include features capable of cooperating to mechanically couple the first section and the second section;
    the first section is substantially solid; and
    the second section comprises a first piece and second piece, the first piece coupling to the second piece to form an outer surface and an interior cavity.
  18. 18. The toy set of claim 17, wherein the second section further comprises:
    a sensor having a state;
    a sound controller coupled to the sensor; and
    a sound actuator coupled to the sound controller,
    wherein
    the sensor is capable of sensing passage of a toy object over the toy set section and setting the state of the sensor in accordance with the sensed passage,
    the sound controller is capable of determining the state of the sensor and causing the sound actuator to produce a sound in accordance with the state of the sensor, and
    the sensor, sound controller and sound actuator are located in the interior cavity.
  19. 19. A toy set, comprising a first section and a second section, wherein:
    the first section comprises a sensor having a state;
    the second section comprises an actuator wirelessly coupled to the sensor, the sensor capable of sensing a proximity of a toy object to the sensor and setting the state of the sensor in accordance with the sensed proximity and the actuator capable of determining the state of the sensor and performing an action in accordance with the state of the sensor; and
    the first and second sections having external physical configurations that enable operational cooperation with other toy set sections.
US11983403 2006-11-08 2007-11-08 Toy set with sensor and controller or actuator Abandoned US20080139083A1 (en)

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DE102011003472A1 (en) * 2011-02-01 2012-08-02 Gebr. Märklin & Cie. GmbH A method of operating a model railway layout and digital model railway decoder
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