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This invention is included in the field of electronics applied to sports.
More specifically, the object of the invention is an electronic device to be used in a racket or a paddle, which is able to count the hits and the time intervals between them, count the rallies, and supply additional data such as game and ball speed.
Racket and paddle sports attract millions of people all over the world. Most of the players (no matter what competition level they have) are likely to be eager to improve their technical skill. However, they face several problems in assessing their weaknesses and strengths, and in making progress in the technique. The results of the matches are undoubtedly a good way of measuring the player's level. However, this measurement is not ideal to measure their own advances since results also depend on other players and on their own emotional fluctuations.
Consistency is perhaps the most important virtue that a player should have in this kind of sport. That's why so many efforts are made to improve it. In tennis for example, you can win just by hitting the ball one time more than the opponent. Achieving consistency with speed and accuracy is the goal of those who intend to reach a high level in this type of game. Measuring consistency enables the players to compare based on certain standards, their performance with other players or with their previous performances in order to assess the progress of their games.
Problems and Objectives
There are five-typical problems that players face, regarding measuring and making progress in the game.
The first problem is to quantify the hits, that is, how many times the player passes or hits the ball without throwing the ball beyond the boundaries of the court (quantity of hits in the rally).
A second problem consists of measuring the game speed, which is related to the speed at which the ball travels and particularly, the quantity of hits per unit time that the ball is in play. This is a demonstration of the demanding level of the game. Obviously, the necessary skill to hit the ball ten times in one minute is not the same as the skill necessary to do so in thirty seconds.
A third problem is to keep motivation during training. This is a big challenge in any sport both for players and instructors. This situation is adversely impacted when what is training is consistency, since the very term implies certain monotony. The key seems to be the creation of new elements of competition that keep the player motivated.
The fourth problem is to find a way to evaluate a match or training. Evaluation is vital in order to improve performance in any activity. It enables us to identify weaknesses and strengths. Therefore, it is necessary to measure objective elements in order to evaluate the performance. These elements need to indicate not only the score, but also statistic data that show the player's performance.
The fifth problem is to keep the score and to be able to evaluate its evolution at the end of the match. This can represent certain difficulties to some players. It is especially difficult to remember the evolution of the score for a further analysis, particularly in sports with complex scoring such as tennis. To have this information adds a new objective element to analyze performance.
To summarize, the 5 specific problems are: 1.) Count: hits and rallies, 2.) Speed: measure game speed, 3.) Motivation: keep high motivation in training, 4.) Evaluation: obtain objective elements to evaluate performance, and 5.) Score-keeping: remember the evolution of the score.
Prior Patents and Solutions
To solve these problems, methods such as counting by the player (to measure elements such as the quantity of hits or the score) or tracking timing (to measure the game speed or game time) have been used. However, these methods can be inaccurate and they require a level of attention that can cause the player to lose concentration on the game itself.
The methods involving third-parties participation (for example, analysts or people filming the game), have also been used. But they turn out to be impractical and expensive.
The following are some inventions that tried to solve the above-mentioned problems:
U.S. Pat. No. 6,527,655 (Sims et al.), refers to a racket that is able to count and tell the hits that the player gives to the ball. The advantage is that the player does not need to concentrate on counting. Consequently, he can devote all his attention to hit the ball. Furthermore, this accurate counting can be a motivation so players exceed certain quantity of hits (expected goals). The disadvantages are the fact that counting is only devoted to each individual rally (no information regarding totals is given). Consequently, it is not useful for evaluating performance or training. Furthermore, the speaker can distract players; and it requires manual activation at the beginning of each rally (the user has to press a button).
An additional disadvantage is the fact that the invention does not give any information regarding the game speed. Nor does it solve the problem of keeping a score that is useful as an element for analysis at the end of the game.
U.S. Pat. No. 6,409,616 (Lin) refers to a racket that counts calories, and includes an acceleration sensor, a microprocessor, a display and buttons. The invention allows the estimation of calories, consumed by the player. Consequently, it provides a way to evaluate the intensity of the game. The disadvantage is that it does not focus on other aspects related to the game.
There are various patents that focus on the problem of keeping the score. Many of them are intended to be used by players and others to be used by third-parties. The former are generally mechanical devices that adapt to rackets, and permit the player to take notes of the score during the match. The latter are intended to be used by instructors, parents, or journalists in order to keep a complete record of the score, unforced errors and winners, for a further analysis. The disadvantage is that they depend on a third person available during all the game.
Additional patents regarding this topic are for example: U.S. Pat. No. 3,730,131 (Tennis Score Computer), U.S. Pat. No. 5,489,122 (Personal tennis score keeper), U.S. Pat. No. 6,210,296 (Portable tennis scorekeeper device), U.S. Pat. No. 6,170,878 (Nosava tennis scoring system), U.S. Pat. No. 5,898,751 (Electronic tennis analyzer), and U.S. Pat. No. 5,134,565 (Electric scoring device for tennis competitions). A disadvantage of these patents is that they do not inform the players (after each point) that they need to register the score. Therefore they may forget to do so (especially when concentrating on the game), and consequently the score supplied by the device can have discrepancies with the player's opinion.
The invention consists of an electronic device that is installed on any racket or paddle (such as, tennis, paddle, squash, beach, table-tennis racket or paddle, etc.). It transmits the hits to a micro-controller (herein MC) through a vibration sensor. It counts the hits to the ball, the rallies and the time elapsed (between each hit, of the rallies, of the game and the idle time). With the measure of the elapsed time between each hit, the game speed is calculated. It is preferably expressed as quantity of hits per minute. In addition, through a prior configuration of the distance between players or between the player and the wall, the approximate average speed of the ball is calculated for each rally (Distance/Time). All this information is shown on a small display (similar to a digital wrist-watch).
The device also has a micro transmitter-receiver (hereinafter, MTR)) that enables communication with the racket of another player so that both devices can share the information and simultaneously calculate the data with a lower error margin. The MTR allows the interchange of information of the hits sensed between several players. As a result, the device is able to detect the hit on its racket and on its partner and/or opponents rackets. In a game between 2 people (singles), if there is no communication with the other player, the counting of hits has an error margin of 2, whereas, if there is communication, the error margin is reduced to 1. Likewise, in the first case the calculated speed would be the average speed of the 2 players, and in the second case is possible to calculate the speed of each player. The same MTR can also be used to supply information in real time or when the game is over, to a computer or PDA to process and analyze the game.
In addition the device can also keep the score of the game and classify the rallies or points. The software installed on the device is designed to keep the score of the match (according to the diverse ways of recording it: linear, tennis, squash, etc). The device can also display the score during the game and all data is stored in the memory for further analysis.
The device is small and portable, therefore, it can be installed at many locations of the racket or paddle except for the area where the ball hits. However, taking into account the balance and aerodynamics of the racket and paddle, the preferred location is the cap of the racket handle (1) or between the handle and the area where the balls hit (2).
There follows a brief description of the drawings:
FIG. 1 is a view of a racket indicated preferred locations for installing the device.
FIG. 2 is a front view of the preferred embodiment of the device.
FIG. 3 is an electronic diagram of the components of the device. The mark “+B” above some components means that the battery supply power to them.
FIG. 4 is a graph of a typical acoustic wave caused by a strike on a racket. The abscissa corresponds to time and the ordinate corresponds to the intensity.
The following are some of the terms that may need an explanation as well as the abbreviations that were used:
|Definition List 1|
|PDA:||Short for Personal Digital Assistant, a|
|Rally:||Sequence of ball hits between players. It|
|finishes when one of the players fails to|
|respond or hits the ball beyond the|
|boundaries of the court.|
|By default:||Value or data used by a program or|
|software in the cases when the user|
|omits to enter it.|
|End of Rally:||When timer and counter of the rally|
|Alert rules:||Rules or conditions that the user sets, so|
|that in case of compliance with said|
|rules, the device warns or notifies with|
|an alert signal such as a sound.|
A detailed description of the preferred embodiment of the invention is disclosed below. Said embodiment shall not be considered restrictive of its scope. The device is typically comparable in size to that of a wristwatch. It can be manufactured in light materials similar to those of a watch. Plastics and steel are preferred. The device can be sold separately or can be manufactured with the racket. When sold separately, it must be supplied with fastening means for attachment to the racket. The preferred places to install the device are points 1 and 2 in FIG. 1, more preferably, in position 1.
The invented device comprises the following components:
A small sensor that detects the vibration caused by the hit of the ball on the racket and transmits this information to the MC. The sensor can be a vibration or acoustic sensor that is installed on the interior of the racket or paddle in a location where vibrations are properly detected.
Sensors can be selected to only send single pulse (digital) or to send information corresponding to the level of vibrations (analog). A digital sensor is selected such that it will detect a vibration beyond a level corresponding to a slight stroke. With an analog sensor, the level to correspond to a hit can be adjusted by the MC.
Micro-Controller (MC) (3)
The micro-controller (MC) or microprocessor is designed to carry out specific programmed tasks. This MC also includes its own memory, input and output ports, and timers. Such MCs are widely known in modern electronics. The MC memory allows data to be stored for later retrieval. The data collected regarding strikes is initially stored here, processed and then supplied to the main Memory. Input and output ports are the MC means of communication with other components of the device: control buttons, sensor, MTR, display, and micro-speaker. Timers are able to measure the time that elapses from the starting command until the end command. The MC is programmed with software to enable control and processing of operations deriving from external events or stimuli (buttons that are pressed, hits detected by the sensor, or signals received by the MTR).
Micro-transmitter-receiver (MTR) (7)
The MTR consists of a device that transmits a signal to another similar device located in the racket of the opponent(s) or a partner, or to an external device used by an instructor or spectator. The signal can derive from a sensed strike or from pressing a button. MTR are components that are also well-known in electronics, for example, they are commonly used to operate car remote controls, gates, etc.
The MTR can receive or transmit signals through any suitable means. In particular, it can receive or transmit through infrared or radio-frequency. Preferably, this MTR operates utilizing radio-frequency. The MTR could perfectly operate in a wide range of frequencies, such UHF band, ISM band (used for Bluetooth technology), or others.
Bluetooth technology which operates in the range of 2.402 and 2.48 GHz, is especially suitable for its low consumption in short distances communications and the possibility of establishing personal networks (piconets) between devices.
Main Memory (5)
A flash Memory or Memory IC (which are both widely known electronic components) is electronically connected to the MC. All the data of the game is stored here (hits, rallies, score, timers, etc.) as a data-base compiling the statistics of the game. Preferably, the main memory is a removable flash memory (for example an XD or SD Card) that allows backing up or transferring all the data easily.
A small display is provided for displaying information of interest to the user according to the data processed by the software of the MC. The display is electronically connected to the MC and can be of any composition. A liquid crystal display (LCD) is preferred (similar to a digital watch), with numeric and alphanumeric characters to display the information such as time, speed and hits. The preferred display (6) is divided into two areas: a lower area (15) that contains numerical data and a higher area (16) that contains alphanumerical data. The display can be of any type. It can utilize (for its low price) a 7 segment display for the lower area, and a dot matrix for the alphanumeric area.
Control buttons (8 to 13 as shown on FIG. 2) are connected to the MC and enable the user to input the score or classification of the rallies, set up his/her preferences, and switch between the diverse ways of displaying the processed information.
The power source that is preferably used is a battery (similar to a digital watch battery).
Speaker or Buzzer (14)
Provides an alternative means to notify the player of an event without looking at the display.
Count of Hits and Timing
During the game or training, the sensor (4) registers the hit of the ball against the racket and sends a signal to the MC(3). When detecting the first strike, the MC activates the timers and starts counting the hits and the rallies. The MC has 4 timers: the hit timer (counts the elapsed time between each strike), the rally timer (from the serve or first strike till the end of the rally), the game timer (during the game), and the idle timer (starts at the end of the rally and stops when the next starts). The detection of each strike increases the hit counter and restarts the hit timer.
Calculation of Speed
Utilizing the hit timer data, the MC calculates the game speed preferably expressed as quantity of hits per minute. If the average distance between players was previously entered, the MC can also calculate the average speed of the ball (according to the equation Speed=distance/time between hits). The average distance is entered through the Setup menu by pressing button 8. The device will store and display the average speed of each player for each rally and those accumulated during all the game.
The data of the game (time, quantity of hits, quantity of rallies and game speed) is transmitted to the display so that the player can check this data any time.
Each time the number of hits of the rally, time elapsed of the rally, or game speed exceed the values set by the player, the MC sends a signal to the micro-speaker in order to give an alert sound to the user. Without having to look at the display, the user will be notified that he has exceeded a certain quantity of hits, time or speed. The alert rules are set up through the setup menu, accessed by continuously pressing button 8 until this function is reached.
Connection Among Devices
Before starting the game, it is necessary that the device itself identifies the devices of a partner or opponent(s). For doing so, “Menu” button (8) is pressed until the display shows “Send recognition signal”, and is confirmed with button 10. The MC will send through the MTR a signal to the nearby devices. The nearby devices will show on their display the player's name (the player that made the invitation). The invited players may accept him as a partner, with button 10 (yes), accept him as an opponent with button 13 (No) or turn down the invitation by pressing button 12 (Cancel). Once the devices are connected, each hit detected by the sensor will be transmitted to other devices through the MTR. So, the timers and counters are activated through hit signals coming indifferently from either the sensor or the MTR. The devices will also share the marks of the score, what means that both players can divide the work of marking and get the complete results of the score.
The MTR can also send information of the match as a batch process, from the data stored in the main memory. In this way, the data can be transferred to another racket (in case it breaks, for example) or to a PDA or computer to make the evaluation of the match or training.
Automatic Ending of the Rally
Each time the “hit timer” exceeds the maximum time between hits (value entered through set up), the MC will stop the timer of the previous rally, restart the idle time, and wait until the first hit of the next rally. This automatic procedure divides the match in rallies, even though the user doesn't press any buttons. If it was previously configured, it simultaneously sends to the speaker a signal to give an alert sound, to help the player remember to mark the score (if it is a match) or to classify the rally.
For the MC to ignore a hit, the sensor sensitivity must be calibrated. This calibration is carried out by pressing the menu key (8) until the calibration function appears. Afterwards, the user hits the ball softly with the racket and presses the confirmation button (10). Once configured, the MC will ignore any hit of a lower intensity than the calibrated one. The calibration intensity will depend on the hit given by the user to the ball. If the player wants to recalibrate the device, he just needs to repeat the described procedure: the MC will replace the previous data with the new data. The MC can be calibrated at the factory and the user can modify it as described above. A typical acoustic or sound wave is depicted on FIG. 4.
When two opposing devices are connected, if two hits of the same player are repeated (without a hit of the opponent), the device will automatically ignore it as it will consider it as an invalid hit in the game.
When there is no connection (that is, only the hits detected by the sensor are counted), the hits that occur without elapsing a minimum natural period, will be ignored. That is, when the “hit timer” is less than the minimum time of one hit (value which is pre-programmed by the manufacturer or the user), the hit will be invalid and ignored. This is useful to avoid misinterpretation of common practices such as when players bounce the ball with the racket before serving. An ignored hit doesn't stop or restart any of the timers. The ignoring of hits is applicable in match and rally modes, but not during the strike training mode.
How the Device is Operated
The buttons are the interface through which the user enters the information and parameters desired. Typically, the keyboard has six buttons. The Menu button (8) turns on the device and allows access all the various menu options. The device shuts down automatically after a period of time without pressing any buttons or registering any hits through the sensor. In this preferred embodiment, the menu options would be: Select the Game, send a recognition signal to another device, Toss (choose the server at random), Set up the device and transfer data to a computer.
In the Select Game option, the user can choose a predefined game or a new one. In addition, in case of selecting a new game, the player can select the type of game (for example: tennis, squash, paddle, Table-tennis), one of the three game modes (match, rallies or strike practice), who play with (solo, single, double, two against one), if he keeps a score or not (applicable only in match mode), the average distance (which can be confirmed from preset values), the maximum time between two consecutive strikes (for the automatic ending of the rally) and the game name (optional: if this data is intended to be saved as a predefined game to reused it in the future). A pre-set game is a commonly used combination of the above-mentioned attributes to facilitate configuring the device before beginning to play.
In the function toss, the user sets the device to choose the server randomly. If the player selects to toss, by pressing button 10, the device choose randomly the value 0 or 1, or the name of the user or opponent or words such as Me, You, We, They, etc.; finally, the user can confirm the toss, or repeat it.
In the Set Up Option the user selects/inputs various values or data related to the game location, court, etc. For instance, you can enter the user's name, date and time, device calibration (see <<Ignored hits>>), the minimum time for a hit (also to Ignored hits), the alert rules, etc.
When the game is temporarily stopped (the rally timer is not running), the functions buttons 9 to 13 which can be different colors or shapes to facilitate the identification are the following: By pressing for two seconds the blue button (9), you can enter the visualization mode. Here the user can navigate through all the available data (for example: score, match total, the longest rally, the fastest rally, total game duration, etc.).
The green button (10) answers affirmatively the menu questions, that is, it allows to select options, enter values or confirm data transmission from the memory to the MTR (so, the MTR will transmit them immediately to other devices. The orange button (11) is used to select an alphanumerical character in the menu, e.g., to go forward to a higher letter or number. Button 12, (Cancel) is used to go back to the previous question. It is also used when selecting an alphanumerical character, allowing to go back to a lower letter or number. The red button (13) answers negatively the menu questions or options.
Scoring (Classification and Score)
For scoring the rally, we mean hereinafter both classification of a rally or point and scoring a point. When the rally timer is running, buttons 9, 10, 11 and 13 are used for scoring the rally. Just by pressing one of these buttons the rally timer will stop (Manual ending), and the display will show the marks made. The scoring can also be done after the automatic ending, at any time before the next rally starts. The scoring of the rally can be cancelled by pressing button 12, to allow corrections. There are two ways of scoring depending on if the user wants to manually register the score of the match. If you choose the mode without score, you have 4 buttons to classify the rallies (9, 10, 11 and 13). The meaning of each can be set by the user. During the idle time, the user can see in the display the number and percentage of rallies (or hits in strike training) marked in blue, green, orange or red. If you choose the mode “with score” then, you have only the blue (9) and orange (11) buttons to classify the points. With the green button (10) you score a point for you or your team, and with the red button (13) you score a point for your opponent(s).
In the preferred embodiment the meaning of the blue and orange buttons would be set as follows. Blue would correspond to mark the “winners” (offensive strikes which define the point favorably) and orange to mark the “unforced errors”. Thus, the display shows the partial or final score and the number of winners and unforced errors. The device allows diverse ways of keeping a score (in a lineal way, grouped by sets, tennis mode, with advantage, without advantage, etc.) These are pre-programmed in the MC so that the score accumulates the points according to the selected criteria.
Data Stored in the Main Memory
The main memory allows storage of the set-up data and the data processed by the MC. During the game it can store data such as the name of the opponent or opponents and partner (if applicable), average distance between players, start time, total time, total quantity of hits, average quantity of hits per rally, total average speed and per user, the fastest rally, and the quantity and average of classified rallies.
For each rally, it can store the time, quantity of hits, total average speed and per user, the marks (score and classification) entered by the user. Regarding each hit the data stored will be the user who made it, the rally in which it occurred, and the time elapsed up to the next strike (to calculate the speed). The memory will typically be selected to up to 3 complete games (rallies, strike training or matches).
The description above and accompanying figures are presented as examples of the present invention. The scope of the present invention is not limited by the exemplary embodiments. Other applications and variations of the present invention are possible to meet a particular application. For example, the number and configuration of buttons can readily be configured to fulfill other requirements. This device can be utilized on any kind of racket or paddle utilized to strike an object in a game.
The above is a detailed description of particular embodiments of the invention. It is recognized that departures from the disclosed embodiments may be made within the scope of the invention and that obvious modifications will occur to a person skilled in the art. Those skilled in the art should, in light of the present disclosure, appreciate that many changes can be made in the specific embodiments which are disclosed herein and still obtain a like or similar result without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. All of the embodiments disclosed and claimed herein can be made and executed without undue experimentation in light of the present disclosure.