Title:
Game With Remotely Controlled Game Vehicles
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A game has one or more remotely controlled game vehicles that are each controlled by an operator interface. The game includes a visually controlled computer that senses the remotely controlled game vehicle or vehicles visually and controls each remotely controlled game vehicle using visually sensed input and input from its operator interface.



Inventors:
Ciavaglia, Michael A. (Dearborn, MI, US)
Johnson, Joseph M. (Huntington Woods, MI, US)
Tedder, Maurice (Detroit, MI, US)
Timpf Jr., Thomas J. (Detroit, MI, US)
Application Number:
11/795931
Publication Date:
05/15/2008
Filing Date:
04/18/2006
Assignee:
ROBOTIC AMUSEMENTS, INC. (Huntington Woods, MI, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
273/108, 446/456
International Classes:
A63H30/04; A63F9/24
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
RADA, ALEX P
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Reising, Ethington Barnes Kisselle P. C. (P O BOX 4390, TROY, MI, 48099-4390, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A game having at least one remotely controlled game vehicle that is controlled by an operator interface characterized in that the game includes a control computer that senses the remotely controlled game vehicle visually and controls the remotely controlled game vehicle using visually sensed input and input from the operator interface.

2. The game as defined in claim 1 wherein the control computer senses the position and orientation of the remotely controlled game vehicle.

3. The game as defined in claim 2 having a plurality of remotely controlled vehicles each of which are controlled by a respective input device and wherein the control computer senses each of the remotely controlled game vehicles visually and controls each of the remotely controlled vehicles using visually sensed input and input from its operator interface.

4. The game as defined in claim 3 wherein the control computer senses the position, orientation and identify of each of the remotely controlled vehicles.

5. The game as defined in claim 1, 2, 3 or 4 having a playing field for the remotely controlled vehicle or vehicles.

6. The game as defined in claim 5 wherein the remotely controlled vehicle or vehicles have active lighting to facilitate the control computer sensing the remotely controlled vehicle or vehicles visually.

7. The game as defined in claim 5 wherein the control computer includes a vision system having a camera, wherein the game includes a light source near the camera and wherein the remotely controlled vehicle or vehicles have retro-reflective surfaces to facilitate the camera of the control computer sensing the remotely controlled vehicle or vehicles.

8. The game as defined in claim 5 wherein the control computer includes a vision system having a camera, wherein the game includes a special light source below the camera and wherein the game includes a filter between the special light source and the camera to facilitate the camera of the control computer sensing the remotely controlled vehicle or vehicles.

9. The game as defined in claim 5 wherein the playing field in on a platform that raises and lowers.

10. The game as defined in claim 9 wherein the game includes a storage area for the remotely controlled vehicle or vehicles that is beneath the platform.

11. The game as defined in claim 10 wherein the remotely controlled vehicle or vehicles have on-board batteries and the game has battery recharging means in the storage area.

12. A game vehicle that is generally round with a low center of gravity and that has a pair of driving wheels.

13. The game vehicle of claim 12 wherein the game vehicle has two arms that pivot.

14. The game vehicle of claim 14 wherein the two arms are of sufficient length to right the game vehicle when it is overturned by more than ninety degrees.

15. The game vehicle of claim 13 or 14 wherein each arm has an upper arm that pivots about two axes.

16. The game vehicle of claim 13 or 14 wherein each upper arm has a longitudinal axis, a first joint for pivoting the upper arm about a first axis in a first plane containing the longitudinal axis of the upper arm, and a second joint for pivoting the upper arm about the longitudinal axis of the upper arm.

17. The game vehicle of claim 16 wherein each arm has a forearm that is at an angle with respect to the upper arm.

18. The game vehicle of claim 16 wherein each arm has a forearm that is fixed at an angle with respect to the upper arm.

19. A game booth for the game of claim 1 comprising a cabinet, an upper area supported on the cabinet, and a viewing area between the cabinet and the upper area.

20. A method for playing a game having a remotely controlled vehicle that is controlled by a operator interface and a control computer that senses the remotely controlled vehicle visually and controls the remotely controlled vehicle using visually sensed input and input from the operator interface comprising: operating the operator interface to provide the input from the operator interface to the control computer.

Description:

REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Ser. No. 60/673,290 filed on Apr. 20, 2005.

FIELD OF INVENTION

This invention relates generally to games and more particularly to games with remotely controlled vehicles, to vehicles for such games, to recharging systems for such vehicles and to an arcade booth for such games.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Games with remotely controlled vehicles, such as the televised Battle Botts, are already known. These known games, however, do not include a central computer control that supervises the game process.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In one aspect, this invention provides a game with remotely controlled game vehicles that includes a central computer control for supervising the game process.

In another aspect, this invention provides a remotely controlled game vehicle.

In still another aspect this invention provides a game with remotely controlled vehicles that have on-board batteries and with recharging stations for the on-board batteries.

In still another aspect, this invention provides a game booth for a game having remotely controlled game vehicles and a central computer control for supervising the game process.

In still yet another aspect this invention provides a method for playing a game having remotely controlled vehicles and a central computer control for supervising the game process.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIGS. 1 and 2 are front and side views, respectively of an arcade booth for a game embodying the invention.

FIGS. 3a, 3b, 3c and 3d are front, top, side and isometric views, respectively, of a remotely controlled vehicle for the game associated with the arcade booth shown in FIGS. 1 and 2.

FIGS. 4a and 4b are front and side views of the remotely controlled vehicle shown in FIGS. 3a, 3b, 3c and 3d showing the range of arm motion.

FIGS. 5a and 5b are isometric and top views of the remotely controlled vehicle shown in FIGS. 3a, 3b, 3c, 3d, 4a and 4b with an upper shell removed to shown internal detail.

FIG. 5c is a diagram showing joint saver torque versus angle.

FIG. 6 is an elevation schematic illustrating a game with remote control vehicles embodying the invention.

FIG. 7 is a top schematic of the game shown in FIG. 6.

FIG. 8 is a top schematic of the game shown in FIG. 6 with an example of patterns for the remotely controlled vehicles.

FIG. 9a is a legend for the pattern examples shown in FIG. 8.

FIG. 9b is a vehicle identification table for the range of pattern examples shown in FIG. 8.

FIG. 10 is a top schematic of the game shown in FIG. 6 with another example of patterns for the remotely controlled vehicles.

FIG. 11 is a partial elevation schematic of the game illustrated in FIG. 6 showing possible external light sources.

FIG. 12 is a partial elevation schematic of the game illustrated in FIG. 6 showing remotely controlled vehicles with optional active lighting.

FIG. 13 is a partial elevation schematic of the game illustrated in FIG. 6 with an optional special stationary light source.

FIG. 14 is a partial elevation schematic of the game illustrated in FIG. 6 with optional retro-reflective surfaces on the remotely controlled vehicles and an optional stationary light source near a camera for sensing the remotely controlled vehicles visually.

FIG. 15 is a top schematic of the game illustrated in FIG. 6 with optional charging stations.

FIG. 16 is a schematic of a simplified charging circuit for the charging stations shown in FIG. 15.

FIG. 17 is a schematic of a more complex charging circuit for the charging stations shown in FIG. 15.

FIGS. 18 and 19 are elevation schematics of a game of the invention having an optional lifting platform.

FIGS. 20 and 21 are top and elevation schematics of the game shown in FIGS. 18 and 19.

FIGS. 22 and 23 are top and elevation schematics of the game shown in FIGS. 18 and 19 with the optional lifting platform in a storage position.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

Arcade Booth for Game

A typical arcade booth 10 for a game of the invention is shown in FIGS. 1 and 2. The arcade booth comprises a cabinet 12, an elevated signage area 14 and a viewing area 16 between the cabinet and the signage area. The cabinet typically houses the controls for the arcade. It also provides space for a coin door or doors 18 that accept money or credits or tokens. A playing surface 20 for game vehicles 22 is on an upper surface of the cabinet. The cabinet 12 has operator interfaces 24 (game pads, joysticks, buttons) that allow the players of the game to provide inputs that allow the players to control the game vehicles remotely. The game vehicles drive on the playing surface 20 of the cabinet during the game. The playing surface 20 is sometimes referred to as the game field.

The viewing area 16 is preferably covered by glass or clear plastic panels on several sides which prevent the game vehicles from leaving the playing surface of the cabinet and also prevent the game vehicles from being removed. There are typically doors or access panels in the side panels of the viewing area that allow for the vehicles to be serviced.

The upper signage area 14 provides a place to have signs but also allows for a convenient place to mount lighting for the arcade booth as well as for mounting cameras, projectors, etc. that are needed for the game. The signage area is often backlit to attract users.

Game Vehicles

The game typically has two remotely controlled game vehicles 22 but may include more or less than two remotely controlled game vehicles. FIGS. 3a, 3b, 3c and 3d show four views of a typical game vehicle 22, more specifically the front, top, side and isometric views of the typical game vehicle, respectively. The particular game vehicle shown is specialized for the purposes of playing a pushing game where the intent is to push an opponent vehicle or vehicles off the game field 20 in a “Sumo Wrestling” or “King of the Hill” style game.

The typical vehicle 22 preferably has two non-marking drive wheels 26 generally near the center of the vehicle when viewed from the side and on the left and right of the center when viewed from the front. The drive wheels 26 have separate drive axles which are preferably collinear, however, the drive axles can be offset. The drive wheels 26 are powered by respective motors which allow the vehicles to be driven around the field. The steering is “tank style,” meaning the vehicle is turned to the left by driving the right drive wheel faster than the left drive wheel or to the right by driving the left drive wheel faster than the right one. This drive method is both simple and effective. It allows for good control of the vehicle. It also enables “zero turning radius” turns which enhances the drivability of the vehicle as well as the interest of the game.

The typical game vehicle 22 also preferably has two undriven caster wheels 28 that reduce sliding friction. The caster wheels 28 can be replaced with a sliding pad if higher friction is acceptable. It is also possible to use four drive wheels or tracks similar to a tank. Both of these alternatives have the advantage of increasing drive force under certain conditions. However, these alternative may be more expensive and may make turning more difficult.

The typical game vehicle 22 preferably has a generally round shape with a center of gravity below the “belt line” to provide a self righting feature. If the vehicle is not tipped beyond 90 degrees from upright, the vehicle will right itself automatically. The drive vehicle 22 is preferably equipped with two arms 30 that accommodate situations where the vehicle may get tipped far enough so that it will not automatically right itself. Arms 30 need only be long enough to get the vehicle partially upright, that is, close to the self righting angle of about 90 degrees.

Each of the two arms 30 of the vehicle preferably has two joints that have two degrees of freedom, typically pivotal motion about two orthogonally related axes. FIGS. 4a and 4b show the range of arm motion while FIGS. 5a and 5b show the internal parts for the arm motion. The first typical joint range of pivotal motion of each arm 30 is about a lateral or X-axis as best shown in FIGS. 4b and 5b while the second typical joint range of pivotal motion of each arm about a longitudinal or Z-axis, as best shown in FIG. 4a and 5b. Each of the two joints of each arm is powered by a motor/gearbox. The first joint motor/gearboxes 32 are stationary with respect to the chassis of the vehicle 22 while second joint motor/gearboxes 34 are mounted on the output of the first joint motor/gearboxes. The configuration of the joints and associated motor/gearboxes are cleverly arranged to hide the drives from the outside of the game vehicle 22 for both damage avoidance and for aesthetic appearance while still enabling the limited range of the motor/gearboxes 32, 34 to allow the arms 30 to be useful during a pushing contest and to help right the vehicle should self righting assistance be necessary.

FIGS. 5a and 5b show the upper outer shell 36 of the game vehicle 22 removed so that it is clear that the first joint motor/gearboxes 32 are stationary with respect to the chassis of the vehicle and pivot the arms 30 about their respective lateral or X-axes. It is also clear that the second joint motor/gearboxes 34 are mounted on the output of the first joint motor/gearboxes 32 and pivot the arms 30 about their respective longitudinal or Z-axes.

As shown in FIGS. 3a, 3b, 3c, 3d, 4a, 4b, 5a and 5b, arms 30 have upper arm parts 30a that pivot about their respective X-axes to move in respective planes that are perpendicular to their respective X-Axes. Arms 30 also have forearm parts 30b that are fixed at an angle with respect to their respective upper arm parts 30a so that the forearms 30b move in paths outside of these respective perpendicular planes when upper arm parts 30 pivot about their respective z-axis.

Also, because small gear teeth are subject to damage via impact loads, each joint of each arm 30 is preferably protected via a “saver” joint. These savers are spring loaded self centering devices 38 (that are clearly shown in FIGS. 5a and 5b) with joint saver torque versus angle, that is the torque transferred versus the relative angle shown in FIG. 5c. During normal operation, the torque output of the motor/gearbox is such that the torque is less than the torque needed to wind up the spring inside the coupling. But, when an impact load exceeds the “knee” of the Angle/Torque curve, the spring winds up, limiting the load that is transferred to the gear teeth inside the gearbox, thereby saving the gear teeth from damage.

The typical game vehicle 22 preferably has a digital microprocessor 49 inside to manage control tasks and a communication link 40 with a main control computer 42 as schematically illustrated in FIG. 6. The communication link is preferably a radio link but other links are possible.

The typical game vehicle 22 preferably has lights on its top side that cooperate with a vision system 46 to track its position and orientation as explained below.

The typical game vehicle 22 also preferably has a “tilt sensor” inside (not shown). The tilt sensor may comprise two accelerometers mounted in the horizontal plane. By using well know methods, the two accelerometer readings can be used to calculate tilt angle. One alternative to sense tilt comprises a single accelerometer mounted vertically but this method is less sensitive to measuring tilt angle than the method using two horizontal accelerometer measurements). Another alternative is to use three acceleration measurements which is more expensive but can be effective. Additional method to sense tilt include mechanical g switches/sensors with 1D or 2D pendulums, “Standing Man”, Steel ball held in place by a magnet, and others.

The motors of the game vehicle 22 are controlled by the main control computer 42. These motors are controlled via well know techniques, for instance, using H-bridges and/or relays depending on the level of control needed. The first and second arm joints each have feedback circuits that allow the arms 30 to be accurately positioned.

The typical game vehicle 22 draws power from an onboard battery or batteries 48 and thus have a connector or pad that enables the batteries to be charged.

The battery circuit to engage zero, one or more batteries is explained below. Alternatively, a game vehicle could draw power via the floor as is well know from bumper cars or in a method similar to that shown in U.S. Pat. No. 6,044,767 entitled “Slotless electric track for vehicles”.

The typical game vehicle 22 preferably has lights for “eyes” that can be turned under program control (for example the eye could “watch” opponent vehicle). These eyes help to aid in the fun of the game. The eyes also help to give the vehicles an anthropomorphic appeal, helping the drivers to associate personalities to the vehicles they are driving.

Game with Remote Control Vehicles

The game comprises one, two or more remote control game vehicles 22 that are driven by players that operate one of the game vehicles. FIGS. 6 and 7 show a game with three game vehicles 22 labeled A, B and C. There could be more or less game vehicles 22 depending on the particulars of the game being played.

Players input their desired control inputs to their respective game vehicles 22 labeled A, B and C via operator interfaces 24 such as joysticks, switches, buttons, etc., that are also labeled A, B and C in FIG. 6 to correspond to their respective game vehicles. The inputs from the operators are monitored by the main or central control computer 42.

A camera 50 is mounted generally above the game field 20. For example, camera 50 can be mounted in the elevated signage portion 14 of an arcade booth 10 shown in FIGS. 1 and 2. Returning to FIGS. 6 and 7, camera 50 is part of a vision system 46 that provides the main control computer with images of the game field 20 and game vehicles 22. The computer processes the image data to determine the positions (X and Y coordinates) and orientations (Θs) of the game vehicles and any additional game pieces (not shown) that might be used, such as balls, moveable goals, etc.) at each point in time.

The vision system 46 provides the positions, (X and Y coordinates) and orientations (Θs) of the game vehicles 22 to the control computer 42. This information is desirable because it allows the control computer 42 to make the game function more smoothly and more autonomously and ultimately more profitably.

The information also allows for automatic scoring of games that require position detection (for example variations on games “King of the Hill” or “Musical Chairs”).

The information also allows for “referee calls” like “three second lane violations” in basketball, “clipping” in football, and “off sides” as in soccer/hockey.

Furthermore, the information allows for the control computer 42 to drive the game vehicles 22 from point to point which enables (among other things): automatic driving to charging stations, “Attract Mode” demonstration games to increase paid playing, playing against the computer when not enough paying players are available, and automatic field reset.

This information also enables “Virtual Fences” (areas where vehicles are forbidden to drive) which can enhance play and protect game vehicles from damage. Among other things this enables damaged game vehicles to be protected from future hits or attacks, prevents malicious operators from driving vehicles into a “brick wall” or “off a cliff” with the intent of damaging vehicles, prevents “Demolition Derby” type behavior by operators, and allows computer 42 to aid novice operators by preventing them from driving too far astray.

Computer 42 analyzes the operator inputs and the data from the vision system 46 to decide what commands to give the game vehicles 22.

Computer 42 may modify an operator's inputs based on the situation. For example, an operator may be requesting an input that will cause a game vehicle to run into a wall or other obstacle. In this case, the computer would perhaps modify the request to avoid the crash.

Computer 42 has a communication link 52 with the game vehicles 22. This communication link 52 is preferably a radio system, but it could be implemented in a number of ways, infrared light, ultraviolet light, sound waves, even potentially via a ground link through the floor as is done in U.S. Pat. No. 6,044,767 entitled “Slotless electric track for vehicles”.

Communications link 52 could be one way, that is from a stationary computer transmitter to remote controlled vehicle receivers. However, a two way communications link with transceivers at each end is preferable so that the stationary computer 42 can have diagnostic information from the game vehicles, such as battery voltage, tilt information, motor currents, fault information, etc.

The game vehicles 22 preferably each have an onboard computer 49. The onboard computer helps to manage the local control tasks required for each vehicle (communications, motor control, battery monitoring/management, fault diagnostics, etc.). Alternatively all control tasks could be managed via the stationary main computer 42.

FIG. 7 shows a top schematic of the playing field 20. The game vehicles 22 are playing on the field 20 on the left. Three game vehicles 22, labeled A, B and C are shown but there could be more or less game vehicles. A storage area 54 is located to the right of the playing field 20. It is desirable for the computer 42 to know the positions (X and Y coordinates) and orientations (Θs) of the game vehicles shown in this FIG. 7.

FIG. 8 illustrates one example of a scheme for a vision system to determine the position and orientation of each of the game vehicles 22. This scheme is based on a pattern of dots as shown in FIG. 9a which is a legend for a possible pattern example. As shown in FIG. 9a there are six dots with two shades of dots. The darker shade dot 56 is used to determine the position (coordinates X and Y) of each game vehicle. The other “near by” dots 58, 60, 62, 64 and 66 that are a lighter shade are used to determine each particular vehicle and the orientation of that particular vehicle. The “farthest away” nearby lighter shade dot 62 is used to determine orientation (Θ)). The four remaining nearby lighter shade dots are optional and used to identify the particular vehicle. For instance, game vehicles A, B and C in FIG. 8, each have a distinctive pattern of optional lighter shade dots. Vehicle A has only one lighter shade optional dot 58 while vehicle B has one optional lighter shade dot 60 in a different position. Vehicle C on the other hand has both lighter shade optional dots 58 and 60. FIG. 9b is a table showing how four optional lighter shade dots can be used to identify 16 different game vehicles or objects. It is to be understood that colors can be used in place of shades if a color camera is used.

FIG. 10 illustrates another example of a scheme for a machine vision system to determine the position and orientation of each of the game vehicles. This scheme is based on combinations of shapes and sizes that can be used to provide position and orientation information rather that than the preferred method shown in FIGS. 8, 9a and 9b. In this example “house” shape indicia 68 provides location and orientation information while the shade of the “house” provides the particular vehicle identification information.

There are a number of other possible characteristics that can be used by themselves or in combination to provide the position, orientation, and identification information including color/shade, size, perimeter, “Moments” (for example Ixx, Iyy, Ixy, Jzz, etc.) and other so called “hu invariant” properties (see any text on machine vision systems).

FIG. 11 demonstrates the problem with uncontrolled external light sources. External light from the sun 71, nearby lights 73 or other sources can reflect off the game field 20 and game vehicles 22 and reach the camera 50 of the vision system as indicated by arrows 75. This uncontrolled light can cause great difficulty with machine vision algorithms used to track objects. Most machine vision applications require measures to prevent unwanted light sources from affecting the image seen by the camera. Uncontrollable light pollution from outside sources cause machine vision system problems. The problem in industrial machine vision systems requires controlled lighting conditions in order to robustly determine the location and orientation of objects.

Games with remote controlled vehicles are likely to be played at different locations and in a variety of lighting conditions even for a single location, for example, sunlight entering from nearby windows may cover the entire game field 20 at times and different parts of the field at other times. Lighting variations from location to location may be significant, for example, a home recreation room setting vs. a neighborhood bar setting vs. a well lit entryway of a grocery store. These lighting variations require a unique solution for well know algorithms used in machine vision applications to be utilized in a machine vision controlled game with remote control vehicles that is used in many variable environments.

FIG. 12 shows a unique solution in which active lighting is used to improve the performance of the vision system. Using active light sources 70 on the game vehicles 22, for instance in the dot pattern explained above in connection with FIGS. 8, 9a and 9b improves vision system performance. Thus, the image viewed by the computer can be simplified greatly. For instance the image exposure can be set so that only the brightest parts of the image are seen at all. This filtering can be done in many ways including iris control of the lens or by programmable exposure in the camera or by software filters during image processing.

When active lighting is used, the exposure can be reduced to the point that essentially only the active lights remain in the image with all other light being filtered out, even light from strong nearby sources.

This makes the tracking algorithm much more robust and it makes ambient lighting control unnecessary. The pattern example shown in FIGS. 8, 9aand 9b is easily implemented using active lighting.

Another unique solution to deal with ambient light causing problems with the vision system is shown in FIG. 13. In this unique solution, a special light 72 is used to illuminate the game field 20 and game vehicles 22. A filter 74 mounted in front of the lens of camera 50 blocks the reflected light from the sun 71 and light source 73 as indicated by the arrows 75 while allowing passage of the reflected light from the special light 72 as indicated by the arrows 77.

The features of the “special light” that make them useful in games of this type is that the “special light” is not present in large quantities in the ambient lighting that is the source of the pollution and that a filter is available to allow passage of this special light but not other light. Examples of possible special light sources include ultraviolet light, infrared light, and polarized light.

The game vehicles 22 still need to have unique shapes and or patterns as already described in order for the computer determine the position, orientation and identification of each one of the multiple game vehicles.

Another unique solution to deal with ambient light causing problems with the vision system is shown in FIG. 14. In this solution, a stationary light source 76 located near the lens of camera 50 is used to illuminate the playing field 20 and game vehicles 22 and “retro-reflective” surfaces 78 are mounted on the game vehicles 22. Retro-reflective surfaces have the property that they reflect light back toward the source of the light. In this case, since the light source 76 is near the camera lens, the light will be reflected back toward the camera lens as indicated by arrow 77. Light from any outside source, such as sun 71 or light source 73 will be reflected away from the camera lens as indicated by arrows 75. In this way, this solution works very much like the active lighting solution. Due to the light source 76 near the lens of the camera 50, the retro-reflective surfaces 78 appear very bright regardless of the ambient lighting conditions. Just as in the active lighting case described in the early preferred solution shown in FIG. 12, this relative brightness provides the opportunity to allow for filtering to remove the light from outside sources. The game vehicles 22 still need to have unique shapes and or patterns as already described in order for the computer determine the position, orientation and identification of each of the multiple game vehicles.

Remote controlled vehicles require power to operate. The game vehicles may get power from the floor as in U.S. Pat. No. 6,044,767 entitled “Slotless electric track for vehicles” which requires a special floor surface and special features on the vehicles. Alternatively, the game vehicles 22 may get power from the air waves which is difficult to make both safe and powerful enough.

However, the preferred method to provide power is an on-board battery or batteries 48 as shown in FIG. 6. Batteries, however, need to be re-charged or replaced periodically. This invention has optional special charging stations for that purpose.

The game vehicles 22 are parked in the charging stations automatically. The preferred method is to use the vision system 46 to inform the main control computer 42 (or another central computer) of the locations of the various game vehicles 22 which then determines a path for a particular game vehicle to one of the charging stations and pilot the particular game vehicles to a particular charging station. Alternatively, there are methods where a beacon (IR, visible light, radio waves, etc.) provides the vehicles with information that allow them to pilot themselves into the charging station. Yet another alternative is to program the vehicles with “maze behaviors” that allow the vehicle to eventually wander into the charge station.

FIG. 15 shows storage area 54 to the right of the playing field 20 which also serves as a plurality of charging stations where charging can take place. These charging stations provide a place where game vehicles 22 can be charged between competitions or when only a subset of the arcade's full number of vehicles are be used. For example in a game with three game vehicles, the 3rd vehicle can spend the entire match charging when only two game vehicles are being used in a match.

While the storage/charging area 54 is illustrated as next to the playing field 20 in FIG. 15, the storage and charging stations can be “below deck” by using an elevator system to get the game vehicles 22 in place for charging. This has the benefit of allowing for the field to be as large as possible.

A simplified charging circuit 80 is shown in FIG. 16. The charging circuit consists of a DC Voltage source that is higher than the battery that are being charged, a relay to start/stop charging, a current limiting resistor, a current sense resistor, the battery being charged, a thermister for sensing battery temperature, a computer to control the process, a drive transistor to activate the relay coil and a diode to protect the transistor from the voltage spike produced when the relay coils is turned off.

The computer monitors battery voltage by means of an Analog to Digital Converter (ADC). The computer monitors battery charge current by measuring voltage drop across the sense resistor using its ADC and Ohm's Law (the known V=IR equation). Battery temperature is measured by using a reference voltage, a thermister (a resistor that changes its resistance with temperature) and a voltage divider resistor, R.

The transistor, diode, and relay are used in very typical ways to allow the computer to start/stop the charging process by turning on/off the relay.

Note, relays fail open circuit—fail safe with recovery method when on charging station.

The current limiting resistor is used to keep the current an acceptable level for the battery being charged given the DC voltage and the characteristics of the batteries. It is possible that the current limiting resistor and the current sensing resistors can be combined into one unit.

The Computer monitors current, voltage and, most importantly, battery temperature to charge the batteries safety and efficiently. By monitoring these three parameters, the best battery performance can be obtained in terms of longer battery life and in terms of maximum battery charging.

There are other less sophisticated methods, in comparison to the method described above in connection with FIG. 16, for safely and effectively charging the game vehicle batteries as outlined below:

Alternative: Variable Voltage Input (slightly above nominal battery voltage) Monitor Current, Voltage, Temp; Adjust input voltage to have appropriate current flow during charge; Stop charging when battery temp starts to increase above threshold temp over ambient temp. Safe, reliable maximize performance and life of batteries. Advantage: can charge different batteries types, voltages, etc. where inline resistor is more tied to specifics of battery. Disadvantage: cost

Alternative: Do not monitor temp, have ability to remove charge voltage but measure battery voltage, stop when battery voltage peaks. Not as safe, not as good at maximizing life and performance of battery.

Alternative: Use time only, no voltage, no current, no temp. Limit current by inline resistor. Cheap, but not good for battery life, full charging, not as safe.

Alternative: Using combinations of time, current, temp and voltage measurements to charge the battery.

Alternative Current Measurement: Hall Effect based current sensors (e.g. Allegro Micro ASC750 device) Inductive sensors

Alternatively Battery Measurements: Temperature could be monitored in a number of ways including thermocouples, semiconductor based sensors, thermal switches (bi-metal, solid state, etc.) and many other well known methods.

A more complicated system 82 of charging batteries in a remotely controlled vehicle is shown in FIG. 17. The system is very like what is shown in FIG. 16 with some notable improvements. The system now shows the remote vehicles with a connector. This connection is made when the game vehicle arrives in the charging station. The system of FIG. 17 shows is a remote computer and a stationary computer. The stationary and remote computers communicate via a communication link (preferably radio, but it could be IR, acoustic, etc.). Together they split many of the functions of the system shown in FIG. 16.

A key feature of the system shown in FIG. 17 is that it has the capacity to charge multiple batteries safely and effectively. It is shown with two batteries but it could easily be extended to many batteries. The system “wakes up” with no batteries engaged. The remote computer receives power via the charging system. After some preliminary checks, the remote and stationary computers can agree to engage one battery. If this battery is behaving well, the second battery can be engaged. At any point in the “power up” procedure, the stationary computer can deactivate the relay on its side of the connector to pull power to the remote computer. In this way, bad batteries can be isolated in a safe manner and many diagnostics can be implemented.

FIG. 18 shows a game in which the playing field 20 is on a lifting platform 84 in which the object is to push opponent's vehicles off the platform. FIG. 18 is a side view of the game vehicles 22 on the lifting platform 84 before a match. The platform 84 is raised to a mid-level position. Note, the signage portion 14 of the arcade booth 10 has been removed in FIG. 18 to improve clarity.

There are many possible methods to provide the lifting platform mechanism. It is important for the platform 84 to be stable (i.e. not tilt). One method comprises ball bearing drawer glides for the platform 84 and a typical electrically driven automotive window lift mechanism to raise and lower the platform. Switches are preferably used to indicate the position of the platform while the computer 42 controls the motor to position the platform appropriately (full up, full down or mid-level).

FIG. 19 shows a side view of the game vehicles 22 on the lifting platform 84 after a match is over and vehicle 22A has pushed vehicle 22B off platform 84. The platform is raised to the mid-level position. The raised platform adds excitement to the game as well as providing a very clear visual indication of the winning game vehicle. As before, the top of the arcade booth has been removed in FIG. 18 to improve clarity.

FIG. 20 shows a top view of the game vehicles 22 in positions outwardly of the lifting platform 84 where the game vehicles are ready to be driven into a storage and charging area 86 beneath platform 84. The platform is then raised to a higher level position from the mid-level position so that the game vehicles can drive under the playing field of the platform 84 as shown in FIG. 21. FIG. 21 shows a view from the corner of the arcade with the platform 84 raised and with game vehicles 22 in a position where they are ready to be drive into the storage and charging area 86. Note also, the signage portion 14 of the arcade booth 10 has been removed in FIGS. 20 and 21 to improve clarity.

The game vehicles 22 are then driven under the raised platform 84 as shown in FIGS. 22 and 23 which are top and side views, respectively, of the game vehicles 22 in positions in the storage and charging area 86 beneath the raised platform. FIG. 23 shows a view from the corner of the arcade with the platform raised and with vehicles 22 in the storage and charging area 86. Note, the signage portion 14 of the arcade booth 10 has been removed in FIGS. 22 and 23 to improve clarity. The platform surface and/or the sides of the platform 84 are preferably transparent in order to show the game vehicles 22 in storage positions.

It will be readily understood by those persons skilled in the art that the present invention is susceptible of broad utility and application. Many embodiments and adaptations of the present invention other than those described above, as well as many variations, modifications and equivalent arrangements, will be apparent from or reasonably suggested by the present invention and the foregoing description, without departing from the substance or scope of the present invention. Accordingly, while the present invention has been described herein in detail in relation to its preferred embodiment, it is to be understood that this disclosure is only illustrative and exemplary of the present invention and is made merely for purposes of providing a full and enabling disclosure of the invention. The foregoing disclosure is not intended or to be construed to limit the present invention or otherwise to exclude any such other embodiments, adaptations, variations, modifications and equivalent arrangements, the present invention being limited only by the following claims and the equivalents thereof.