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The present disclosure is directed generally to puzzles and toys. More particularly, the present disclosure is directed to construction toys for building stable two and three-dimensional structures utilizing various construction elements, at least some of which have luminescent characteristics.
Individuals often find enjoyment in the challenge of building aesthetic structural designs and/or functional structural models. Frequently, the utility associated with constructing such structures is found in the creative and/or problem-solving process required to achieve a desired structural objective. It is customary to provide construction kits having various connecting elements including, for example, a number of node or joint connectors that are cooperative with a complementary number of strut or truss connectors. Examples of such construction kits may be found in, for instance, U.S. Pat. Nos. 2,709,318; 3,148,539; 3,455,049; 3,458,949; 5,049,105; 5,474,025; 5,938,498, 6,491,563 and Re. 33,785. Other connecting elements may also be provided. For instance, these construction kits may further include a number of panel or sheet connectors. The identified connecting elements, as well as other like elements, may be expanded into any of a variety of structural profiles by appropriate interconnection thereof. Such construction profiles are demonstrated in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,129,975; 6,004,182 and 6,089,941. Thus, conventional construction kits are appealing to persons of all ages in that they allow for both aesthetic and geometric creativity.
A shortcoming associated with conventional construction kits, such as those disclosed in the above-noted patents, involves inherently restrictive and, at times, penalizing design alternatives provided thereby. For example, it is often the case that these traditional construction kits have only a limited number of component parts, which can be uninteresting with reticent visual appeal. Thus, despite efforts to date, a need remains for a construction kit that provides greater flexibility in both aesthetic and geometric design, and, moreover, that provides an additional degree of design/construction sophistication, by utilizing construction elements having inherent light-emitting properties and enhanced visual appeal. Accordingly, the present invention addresses the above-noted need and others associated with known toy construction kits.
The present invention overcomes disadvantages and shortcomings of the prior art devices identified above by providing a new and improved construction kit which includes construction elements having light-reflecting and/or light-emitting attributes.
In a preferred embodiment of the present invention, the construction kit includes both truss connectors and joint connectors with each truss connector being suitable to emit light and each joint connector being connectable to an energy source and suitable to operatively connect two or more truss connectors so as to be expandable into any of a variety of structural profiles by appropriate interconnection of the truss and joint connectors. The truss and joint connectors thus advantageously cooperate to provide an attractive visual display which may be varied with each constructed structural profile.
Another preferred feature of the present invention involves the truss connectors being operatively connectable to various panel or sheet connectors so as to provide further design/construction flexibility. Furthermore, each of the connecting elements associated with the construction kit of the present invention may, in another aspect of the present invention, independently have light-emitting and/or light-reflecting attributes.
Additional features and advantages of the invention will become apparent with reference to the following detailed description of an exemplary embodiment thereof.
For a better understanding of the present invention, reference is made to the following detailed description of various exemplary embodiments considered in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, in which:
FIG. 1 is a plan view of a construction module which typifies an exemplary embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 2 is a perspective, partial cross-sectional view of a truss connector employed by the module of FIG. 1;
FIG. 3 is an exploded view of the truss connector of FIG. 2 and a joint connector employed by the module of FIG. 1;
FIG. 4 is a perspective, cross-sectional view of the truss and joint connectors of FIG. 3 in an assembled condition;
FIGS. 5a is a plan view of a panel connector employed by the module of FIG. 1;
FIGS. 5b to 5d are plan views of three alternative panel connectors; and
FIG. 6 is a perspective schematic illustration of a three-dimensional structure made from the truss and joint connectors of FIGS. 2-4.
Referring initially to FIG. 1, a 10 construction module 10 includes a plurality of strut or truss connectors 12, a plurality of node or joint connectors 14, and a sheet or panel connector 16. Additional and/or alternative connecting elements also may be used. Such connecting elements are suitable to expand into any of a variety of structural profiles by way of appropriate interconnection thereof.
As shown in FIG. 1, each truss connector 12, in a preferred aspect of the invention, has an elongated body 15 with opposed connecting ends 20, 22, each of which is suitable to operatively connect to a corresponding one of a plurality of sockets 24 provided in an associated one of the joint connectors 14. In addition, the body 15 of each truss connector 12 can connect to or support at least one panel connector 16 via one or more fasteners 28 associated with the panel connector 16. Further, the body 15 and/or the connecting ends 20, 22 of the truss connector 12 can have any of a variety of different geometries suitable to effectively connect with various corresponding sockets 24 and/or fasteners 28, which likewise may have any of a variety of different geometries.
Still referring to FIG. 1, each joint connector 14 is preferably spherical with the sockets 24 thereof being located at a multiplicity of positions thereabout. However, any one or more of the joint connectors 14 equally may have any of a variety of alternative geometries (e.g., rectilinear, ovular, polygonal, etc.). Each joint connector 14 can be formed from any of a variety of materials, or a combination of materials, having properties suitable for the present invention (e.g., elasticity, durability, ease of manufacture into a desired shape, etc.). As noted above, each socket 24 is sized, shaped and/or configured so as to effectively receive and accommodate one of the connecting ends 20, 22 of an associated truss connector 12. In a preferred aspect, therefore, the joint connector 14 may be fitted onto a connecting end 20, 22 of a truss connector 12 such that the elasticity of the material constituting the walls of each socket 24 permits sufficient stretching to insure a firm yet releasable engagement between the joint connector 14 and the truss connector 12 (i.e., a friction-fit connection). In other aspects of the invention, alternative connection types may be used, including for example, snap-fit and/or threaded-fit connection types.
Each panel connector 16 preferably has a relatively thin, flat body 18 constructed of a material of adequate strength and integrity for its intended use, as well as an appropriate degree of resiliency and flexibility. As shown schematically is FIG. 1, the body 18 has substantially rectilinear edges 26 with fasteners 28 associated therewith. Each fastener 28, as shown, has a channel 30 suitable for receiving and accommodating the body 15 of an associated truss connector 12. In one aspect of the invention, the channel 30 is open to facilitate releasable friction-fit or snap-fit connection types. In other aspects, the channel 30 is closed to form a hollow tube facilitating a sliding connection type. The edges 26, as shown, are attenuated with corner areas defined by concave arcuate notches 32. Each notch 32 is arranged for cooperative association with a corresponding one of the joint connectors 14. As will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art from the discussion herein, the panel connector 16 may have any of a variety of different geometries including, for example, the geometries shown in FIGS. 5a through 5d. In addition, the body 18 of the panel connectors 16 may define apertures therein for decorative enhancement of the kit. The apertures may, for example, be in the shape of various indicia, including alphanumeric characters, wherein illumination of the connector elements (as described hereinafter) will cause light to shine through the aperture in the shape and pattern of the indicia. Another variation includes small apertures in the body 18, into which translucent plastic pieces may be inserted, thereby creating a “backlight” effect using the illumination of the connector elements.
With reference to FIG. 2, in a preferred aspect of the present invention, each truss connector 12 is self-illuminating. This self-illuminating feature can be accomplished in different ways. For example, each truss connector 12 can be provided with a light source such as an electroluminescent (EL) element that emits light upon the application of an appropriate amount of energy. More particularly, in a preferred embodiment, each truss connector 12 has a core 34, which serves as an electrode. The core 34 has a coating 36 (e.g., a phosphor material) and an electrically conductive element 38 (e.g., a metal wire or sleeve) associated therewith. Overlying the core 34 is a shield or insulating layer 40, which in turn is surrounded by a translucent cover 42 (e.g., a transparent plastic). At each end 20, 22 of the truss connector 12 and/or the core 34, there is provided one or more conductive connecting elements 44 suitable to facilitate the transfer of energy through the truss connector 12. Of course, variations in the placement and structure of the electroluminescent element and its components are possible.
As will be apparent to those skilled in the art based on the teachings herein, additional and/or alternative light sources may also be used. For example, a chemiluminescent liquid material may be utilized wherein such liquid material is disposed within the body 15 of each truss connector 12 so as to be sealed to the ambient atmosphere. Suitable chemiluminescent materials and various components thereof are well known. In application, agitating the chemiluminescent liquid material may increase its effectiveness and enhance the illumination effect provided thereby. The use of chemiluminescent material advantageously eliminates the need for a remote energy source. Other suitable light sources include those based on LED technology, as well as incandescent technology.
Referring now to FIGS. 3 and 4, an exemplary coupling between a truss connector 12 and a joint connector 14 is demonstrated according to an exemplary aspect of the present invention. As best illustrated in FIG. 3, the joint connector 14 has a conductive nucleus 46 with a number of electrically conductive pin elements 48 operatively associated therewith and an inner electrically insulative shell 50 thereabout. The pins 48 may also be formed integrally with the nucleus 46. Each pin 48 preferably projects radially outward from the nucleus 46 so as to traverse the inner shell 50 via a respective number of inner apertures 52 defined by the inner shell 50. About the inner shell 50 is an outer electrically conductive shell 54 defining a number of outer apertures 56. Each of the outer apertures 56 is preferably axially aligned with a respective inner aperture 52 of the inner shell 50 so as to cooperate with the corresponding electrically conductive pins 48 and to thereby define the sockets 24 into which the connecting ends 20, 22 of each truss connector 12 may be inserted as demonstrated by FIG. 4.
As shown in FIG. 3, each connecting end 20, 22 includes a prong 58 with an electrically conductive sleeve 60 and an electrically insulative sleeve 62 thereabout, wherein the conductive sleeve 60 surrounds the prong 58 and is disposed concentrically within the insulative sleeve 62. Preferably, a connecting sleeve 64 is also provided about the insulative sleeve 62 for cooperating with a connecting collar 65 operatively associated with a corresponding socket 24. The connecting sleeve 64 and the connecting collar 65 preferably cooperate to accomplish a releasable mechanical connection (e.g., friction-fit, snap-fit, thread-fit, etc.) between the individual sockets 24 and the respective connecting ends 20, 22 of each truss connector 12.
Referring now to FIGS. 3 and 4, a protective cover 66 defining a plurality of openings 67 is provided about the outer shell 54. Preferably, each opening 67 is axially aligned with a corresponding one of the sockets 24 so as to allow access thereto. The cover 66 can be made from any of a variety of electrically non-conductive materials (e.g., plastic). The material used to form the cover 66 can be translucent, reflective and/or have self-illuminating properties associated therewith (e.g., light energized phosphors). Further, the cover 66 can define any of a variety of surface contours (e.g., curvilinear, rectilinear, etc.) suitable to provide different optical effects.
With reference to FIG. 6, when a power source 68 (e.g., a battery or transformer) is operatively connected to one or more of the joint connectors 14, via one or more of the sockets 24 thereof, the joint connector 14 may be energized. Once energized, the joint connector 14 can serve to feed energy to any one or more of the truss connectors 12 connected thereto, so that such engaged truss connectors 12 emit light and thereby provide an attractive visual display which may be varied with each structural profile 70. Further, each additional joint connector 14 and/or truss connector 12 that is operatively connected to the structural profile 70 is likewise energized so as to glow and/or define an energized circuit.
As will be readily apparent to those of skill in the pertinent art from the teachings herein, additional power sources may be provided as needed for larger construction profiles. The brightness or intensity of the emitted light provided by the various construction elements may be varied as desired in a number of ways including, for example, providing such construction elements with additional and/or alternative light sources, modifying the size and/or shape of the construction elements, or manipulating the amount of energy provided to the light source(s) associated with each construction element. The color of the emitted light may also be varied such as, for example, by forming the various construction elements from materials having different optical characteristics, or by using light source materials having varied optical properties.
Having identified and discussed various advantageous features of the construction kit of the present invention, it will be understood by those skilled in the pertinent art based on the present disclosure, that additional and/or alternative features may be provided. For example, in other aspects of the invention, the joint connectors 14 may be suitable to store energy and thereby energize any of the truss connectors 12 operatively connected thereto independent of a separate power source. In further aspects of the invention, the power source 68 may be directly connected to the truss connector 12. In still other aspects, each of the connecting elements associated with the construction module 10 can be independently luminescent and/or translucent. That is, each construction element can be made from materials having emissive or reflective properties or, alternatively, can be associated with a light source that provides the requisite optical effects.
It will be understood that the embodiments, aspects and features described herein are merely exemplary and that a person skilled in the art may make many variations and/or modifications without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention. All such variations and modifications are intended to be included within the scope of the invention as defined in the appended claims.