Title:
Chute counter
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An object counting and collecting device having a number of chutes mounted in an array on a frame that can be hung on a fence. Each individual chute is identifiable by a unique color and/or number and includes a counter for counting objects dropped therein. A basket can be optionally attached to the frame below the chutes to catch the counted objects as they exit the chutes by gravitational force. A game can be played using the counting chutes wherein one or more players are assigned to a specific chute and the number of objects, e.g., balls, collected by the player are counted as the player deposit the objects into the chute. A winner of this game may be determined by the most number of objects collected.



Inventors:
Lake, Andy (Plantation, FL, US)
Lake, Kristen (Plantation, FL, US)
Application Number:
11/210802
Publication Date:
06/22/2006
Filing Date:
08/25/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B69/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
HAUPT, KRISTY A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
NIXON PEABODY, LLP (799 Ninth Street, NW SUITE 500, WASHINGTON, DC, 20001, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An apparatus for counting and collecting a number of objects, comprising: a frame; a plurality of gravity-fed chutes attached to the frame; a counter associated with each of the chute for counting a number of object passing therethrough; identification means for distinguishing each of the plurality of chutes from one another; and a receptacle removably attached to the frame for collecting and storing counted objects.

2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein each of the plurality of chutes includes a top orifice located at a top end portion for receiving the object and a bottom orifice located at a bottom end portion for the object to egress.

3. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein each of the plurality of chutes is of a cylindrical shape having a substantially constant diameter throughout the entire chute.

4. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein the identification means is colorized.

5. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein the identification means is numbered.

6. An apparatus of claim 2, wherein the top orifice of each of the plurality of chutes is flared like a funnel so as to facilitate the reception and guidance of objects into the chute.

7. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein each chute is a curvilinear tube having a bent portion at a lower end portion such that all the bottom orifices of the plurality of chutes converge to allow all counted objects to fall into approximately the same area such that a compact receptacle may be used to catch and store the counted objects; and the plurality of the chutes are in a linear array and are substantially equally spaced apart at the top portion end portion.

8. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein each of the chute is a linear tube; and the plurality of the chutes are in a linear array.

9. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein the frame is foldable for facilitating transport and storage.

10. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the counter includes a reset for resetting the counter to zero.

11. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising hook means attached to the frame for suspending the apparatus.

12. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the receptacle being height-adjustable relative to the plurality of chutes.

13. A game using an apparatus for counting and collecting objects, the apparatus having a frame, a plurality of gravity-fed chutes attached to the frame, a counter associated with each of the chute for counting a number of object passing therethrough, identification means for distinguishing each of the plurality of chutes from one another, and a receptacle removably attached to the frame for collecting and storing counted objects, said game comprising: assigning each of a number of players to one of the plurality of chutes; signaling the commence of gathering objects and placing gathered objects in the assigned chute; and recording the number of counted object collected by each player after all the objects are collected or after a predetermined period of time has lapsed.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention is directed to a system and method for collecting and counting the number of items. In particular, the present invention is directed to such a system and method that provides means for tracking the count of the number of balls collected by one or more individuals.

2. Description of the Related Art

U.S. Pat. No. 5,340,179 to Rubin discloses a ball retriever having a counter and an upstanding collection tube. The ball retriever allows a golf ball to enter through its bottom end having a checking assembly to allow balls to travel only in one direction. The balls are finally collected in a flexible fabric cover positioned at an upper end of the collection tube. The counter may be a mechanical counter actuated by a user or an electrical counter automatically actuated as a ball enters the collection tube.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,063,769 to Zimmer and U.S. Pat. No. 3,558,170 to Stanworth disclose golf ball retrievers that operate in similar manner to that of Rubin but without a counter.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,188,410 to Summers discloses a deformable ball retrieving, retaining and dispensing device including an elongated tubular member. Summers does not disclose a ball counter.

U.S. Pat. No. 3,834,701 to Hashimoto relates to a basketball game amusement device. This device includes a mechanism for keeping track of the number of balls passing through the opposing baskets. The device is fully enclosed and is of a small scale to allow for its tabletop application and fingertip play.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,246,225 to Matherne et al. discloses an arcade game apparatus including a plurality of baskets or apertures for receiving balls and means for counting the number of balls passing through each basket or aperture. The balls are returned to the player after passing through the basket to be re-shot as often as possible within a predetermined time period.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,575,081 to Cavanagh discloses a tennis ball recovery system which utilizes an elastic screen extending the width of the back fence of the court and suspended from a back fence and is joined to a trough that lies on the ground. A feed screw is provided at the bottom of the screen which feeds the balls retrieved by the screen to a central point where they are discharged into a bucket.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

One advantage of the present invention is to provide at least one counting means for counting the number of objects (e.g., balls) being collected by one or more individuals and automatically placing the objects in a container by gravity.

Another advantage of the present invention is provide color coding for a counting means to facilitate the identification thereof.

Another advantage of the present invention is provide number coding for a counting means to facilitate the identification of each counting means.

Yet another advantage of the present invention is to provide a game in involving collecting balls by one or more individuals, wherein the number of balls collected by each individual is counted by one or more chute counters.

A still further advantage of the present invention is to provide a game to motivate ball players, such as golf, tennis, baseball, etc., to pick up balls used during their game or practice.

Still another advantage of the present invention is to provide an accounting means for keep track of the number of balls available.

Yet another advantage of the present invention is to provide a simple and easy method to collect, count and store items such as balls, hockey pucks, toys, etc.

These and other advantages and features of the present invention will become more apparent from the following detailed description of the preferred embodiments of the present invention when viewed in conjunction with the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The patent application file contains at least one drawing executed in color. Copies of this patent or patent application publication with color drawings will be provided by the Office upon request and payment of the necessary fee.

FIG. 1 is a front view of the chute counter of the present invention in an operative position;

FIG. 2A is a front view of the embodiment shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 2B is a side view of the chute counter of FIG. 2A;

FIG. 3A is a front view of a plastic molding for the chute counter of FIG. 2A;

FIG. 3B is a profile view of the plastic molding for the chute counter of FIG. 2A

FIG. 4 is an example of color coding and number coding a chute;

FIG. 5 is an expanded partial view of a chute counter of the present invention; and

FIG. 6 is a front and expanded view of the chute counter of the present invention;

FIG. 7A illustrates a chute counter of the present invention with a storage basket for catching counted balls;

FIG. 7B illustrates side view the a ball chute counter of FIG. 7A;

FIG. 8 illustrates a basket for catching and holding items counted by the chute counter of the present invention; and

FIG. 9 illustrates a chute attachment for hanging a basket at different heights on the chute counter.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

FIG. 1 is an exemplary embodiment of a chute counter of the present invention. As shown, the chute counter 1 is a counting and collecting device with means for attaching itself to a fence 6. The chute counter includes a number of individual chutes 2 mounted on a frame, which includes a backing 8 to which the chutes 2 are attached, hooks 5 for hanging the chutes 2 on a fence 6, and a basket attaching means 3 to which an optional basket 7 can be attached to the chute counter 1 for catching and storing counted objects. Backing 8 may be of a flexible material or a sectionalized rigid board so as to allow the chute counter to be rolled or folded up into a compact size for easy transportation and storage.

As shown in FIG. 1, tennis balls, as an example, are being counted as they are dropped through the chutes. Although tennis balls are shown as being counted by the chute counter 1, other objects may also be counted. Objects that may be counted include golf balls, hockey pucks, baseballs, softballs, or the like.

FIGS. 2A and 2B illustrate an exemplary embodiment of the present invention which is directed to a tennis chute having a built-in counter for counting the number of tennis balls entering the chute 2. A number of these chutes are combined together and hung on a wall or fence 6 via hooks 5, such as those shown in FIG. 6. A basket 7, such as shown in FIGS. 6-9, is optionally provided below the chutes to catch the tennis balls that have entered the chutes at the top and fall into the collecting container below by gravitational force.

Each of the chutes may be assigned a color and/or number for easy identification such as by identification 4, as shown in FIG. 1. FIG. 4 illustrates an example of applying a color and a number to each chute. As shown, adhesive labels 41 and 42 are easily attached to the chute 2. Adhesive labels may be printed with numbers, letters, names, etc. with desirable colors or patterns. An alternative to using adhesive labels is to apply paint or dye directly onto the chute via silk-screening or spray painting, etc.

FIG. 5 illustrates a chute 2 with a built-in counter 50. The counter may be mechanical or digital and preferably with a means for resetting the counter. As shown, the counter is preferably located near the top of the chute. However, other locations may be used to attach the counter 50.

The optional basket attached to the counting chute may be adjustably positioned heightwise, as shown in FIGS. 7A, 7B and FIG. 9 via attachment posts 3 with protruding notches 11 for which to hang latticed basket 7 at different heights. FIG. 9 shows posts 3 in an expanded view showing a frontal view 10 and side profile view 9.

The counting chute may be manufactured using a mold for molding plastic, such as that shown in FIGS. 3A and 3B. The final product may be a one-piece device made of plastic having a number of chutes 2 ganged together. Other material, such as metal, paper, or a composite of paper and plastic may also be used. Each chute 2 may be curvilineared, i.e., curved or bent (not shown), rather than linear and tubular as shown in FIGS. 1-9. An advantage of having curvilinear chutes is that the opening through which objects are fed into the chutes may be spread apart from each other but still have their exiting orifice positioned closer to each other so that a compact basket or container could be used to catch the objects being counted.

A significant purpose of the chute counter is to turn the chore of collecting tennis balls, for example, into a game for young tennis players who may not be motivated to pick up tennis balls at practice sessions. Each player is assigned a tube having a particular color or number, and he/she must put the tennis balls that he/she collects in the assigned tube. As the chore is made into a game, the player who collects the most number of balls wins. Of course, the built-in counter keeps track of the number of balls each player collects.

The above described system and method may be implemented in any appropriate manner. In particular, the present invention may advantageously be implemented in a foldable format so that a compact footprint is achieved for storage and transport.

While various embodiments in accordance with the present invention have been shown and described, it is understood that the invention is not limited thereto. The present invention may be changed, modified and further applied by those skilled in the art. Therefore, this invention is not limited to the detail shown and described previously, but also includes all such changes and modifications.





 
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