Title:
Apparatus And Method of Detecting And Tracking Objects In Amusement Games
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An amusement game and method that tracks the movement of a game object utilizing an image sensing device that communicates with a control unit for the amusement game. The amusement game includes an image sensing device, such as a CCD or CMOS camera, that is positioned to view the playfield of the amusement game and track the movement of a game object along the playfield. The control unit receives a series of sequential image scans from the image sensing device and determines the position of the game object along the playfield. Based upon the detected position of the game object, the control unit modifies the operation of the game or awards player points.



Inventors:
Kotlarik, John J. (Green Bay, WI, US)
Myus, David A. (Green Bay, WI, US)
Anghelo, Python (Lawrence, MI, US)
Application Number:
11/847746
Publication Date:
03/05/2009
Filing Date:
08/30/2007
Assignee:
BAY TEK GAMES, INC. (Pulaski, WI, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
SHAH, MILAP
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Andrus Intellectual Property Law, LLP (100 EAST WISCONSIN AVENUE, SUITE 1100, MILWAUKEE, WI, 53202, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A method of operating an amusement game, the method comprising the steps of: positioning an image sensing device in view of a playfield of the amusement game; defining at least one target area on the playfield; operating the image sensing device to track the movement of a game object relative to the playfield; comparing the movement of the game object to the at least one target area on the playfield; and controlling at least one operating parameter of the amusement game based upon the movement of the game object relative to the target area.

2. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of operating the image sensing device to capture a plurality of sequential image scans after the beginning of the game play, wherein the movement of the game object is tracked over the plurality of image scans.

3. The method of claim 2 further comprising the steps of: recording a reference image of the playfield from the image sensing device; defining at least one target area on the reference image; and comparing the movement of the game object to the at least one target area for each image scan.

4. The method of claim 2 further comprising the steps of: recording a reference image of the playfield from the image sensor before the beginning of game play; and subtracting the beginning image from each image scan to determine the position of the game object relative to the playfield.

5. The method of claim 1 wherein the image sensing device is a CCD or CMOS camera.

6. The method of claim 2 further comprising the step of defining the at least one target area on the image scans from the image sensing device, wherein the location of the game object is compared to the target area for each image scan.

7. The method of claim 6 wherein the target area is the same for each image scan.

8. The method of claim 1 wherein the operating parameter is a score.

9. A method of controlling the operation of an amusement game having a playfield and a game object, where the game object is directed at the playfield by a player as part of the game play, the method comprising the steps of: positioning an image sensing device in view of the playfield, the image sensing device being operable to generate an image scan of the playfield; operating the image sensing device to capture a plurality of sequential image scans after the beginning of the game play; defining at least one target area on the playfield; tracking the movement of the game object relative to the playfield over the plurality of sequential image scans; determining the position of the game object relative to the target area; and controlling at least one operating parameter of the game play based upon the position of the game object relative to the target area.

10. The method of claim 9 wherein the image sensing device is a CCD or CMOS camera.

11. The method of claim 9 further comprising the steps of: recording a reference image of the playfield from the image sensing device before the beginning of game play; and subtracting the reference image from each of the plurality of sequential image scans to determine the position of the game object relative to the target area.

12. The method of claim 9 wherein the position of the game object relative to the at least one target area is determined for each of the image scans.

13. The method of claim 9 further comprising the step of: defining a plurality of target areas on the playfield; and determining the position of the game object relative to the plurality of target areas for each image scan; and controlling the operating parameter of the game play based upon the position of the game object relative to the target areas.

14. The method of claim 13 further comprising the steps of: recording a reference image of the playfield from the image sensing device before the beginning of game play; subtracting the reference image from each of the plurality of sequential image scans to determine the position of the game object relative to the target areas; and controlling the operating parameter of the game play based upon the position of the game object relative to the target area for each of the image scans.

15. An amusement game comprising: a playfield; at least one game object selectively directable onto the playfield by a player during game play; an image sensing device positioned to view the entire playfield and operable to create a plurality of sequential image scans of the playfield during game play; and a control unit in communication with the image sensing device to receive the plurality of sequential image scans, wherein the control unit is operable to define at least one target area on the image scan and determine the position of the game object relative to the target area for each image scan.

16. The amusement game of claim 15 wherein the image sensing device is a CCD or CMOS camera.

17. The amusement game of claim 15 wherein the playfield includes an image projecting device operable to create a playfield image including a visual representation of the target areas.

18. The amusement game of claim 17 wherein the image projection device is a flat screen video monitor.

19. The amusement game of claim 18 wherein the video monitor is coupled to the control unit to display the visual representation of the target areas as generated by the control unit.

20. The amusement game of claim 19 wherein the control unit operates to vary the visual representation of the video monitor.

21. The amusement game of claim 17 wherein the control unit determines the position of the game object relative to the visual representation of the target areas.

22. The amusement game of claim 15 wherein the amusement game includes a plurality of image sensing devices each positioned to view the playfield and operable to create a plurality of sequential image scans during game play, wherein the image scans from the plurality of image sensing devices are combined by the control unit.

23. The amusement game of claim 17 wherein the control unit is operable to record the plurality of sequential image scans and to selectively replay the plurality of image scans on the image projecting device.

24. The amusement game of claim 15 wherein the amusement game includes at least two playfields and at least two image sensing devices, wherein at least one of the image sensing devices is positioned to view each of the plurality of playfields.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention generally relates to a method of operating an amusement game. More specifically, the present invention relates to a method of operating an amusement game that utilizes an image sensing device to monitor the movement of a game object relative to a playfield and adjusts the operation of the amusement game based upon the movement of the game object.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Presently, many different types of amusement games exist that allow the user to direct a game object onto a playfield such that the amusement game awards the player with points, tickets or prizes based upon the skill of the player. The playfield typically includes a plurality of various different target areas that are assigned point values.

One type of popular amusement game includes a series of balls that are rolled by the player along an alley and onto a ramp. The ramp directs the ball upward into the air and toward a playfield that includes a series of defined scoring targets. Each of the scoring targets is assigned a point value that is based upon the difficulty of directing the ball into the scoring target. In this type of amusement game, a switch or sensor is associated with each of the scoring targets such that the amusement game can detect which scoring target received the ball. In some embodiments, the alley bowler game may include 5-10 individual sensors or switches to determine where the ball contacted the playfield.

In another type of common game, the user directs a rolling coin across a playfield and toward a series of scoring targets that may be holes or slots in a stationary wall or may be slots in a rotating wheel. In either case, a series of infrared emitters and detectors are required to locate the rolling coin as the coin passes through the fixed or moving targets. Based upon the slot through which the coin rolls, the player is awarded points and/or tickets based upon the skill level of the player.

Another common type of amusement game is an electronic dart board. In an electronic dart board, the playfield includes a series of sensors assigned with each section of the dart board such that the amusement game can determine which section of the playfield a dart contacted. Based upon the determined position of the dart contact, the amusement game assigns a point value to the player or modifies the game operation. In such an electronic dart board, the playfield includes a large number of individual sensors for each section of the dart board.

As can be understood above, each of the amusement games described includes a large number of sensors or switches for the amusement game to track the movement of a game object and assign point values or adjust the operation of the game based upon the movement of the game object. The large number of sensors required for these games increases the cost and complexity of the game. Therefore, a need exists for a method of operating the amusement game that reduces or eliminates the large number of sensors required to control the operation of the amusement game. Further, a need exists for a sensing system that enhances the operation of the amusement game while reducing the number of components required for the game play.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to an amusement game and a method of operating an amusement game that includes an image sensing device that is used to monitor game play and modify the game play or award points based upon the skill level of the user. The image sensing device allows the elimination of multiple sensors and/or switches that are typically used to award player points during game play of an amusement game. The amusement game includes an image sensing device that is positioned such that the image sensing device can view the entire playfield of the amusement game. The image sensing device is in operative communication with a control unit and generates image scans of the playfield at a determined frame rate. During operation of the game, each of the image scans may include a visual representation of the game object as the game object moves over the playfield. Based upon the position of the game object on the playfield, the control unit can control the at least one operating parameter of the game. The operating parameter may be related to the actual operation of the game or may be a point or scoring value awarded to the player based upon the success level of the player.

In one embodiment, the control unit records a reference image of the playfield prior to the beginning of the game play. The reference image shows the playfield before any game object is present.

Once the reference image has been acquired, the control unit defines a series of target areas on the reference image. The target areas typically align with the physical scoring targets on the playfield. Preferably, each of the target areas are defined by x, y coordinates on the image scan from the image sensing device.

After game play begins, the control unit records a series of sequential image scans and determines whether the game object is present within the current image scan. Preferably, the control unit subtracts the reference image from the current image scan to determine the position of the game object. The position of the game object is then compared to the target areas defined by the control unit. If the game object is within one of the target areas, the control unit modifies the operation of the amusement game, which may include awarding a determined point value to the player. Alternatively, other methods of image processing can be utilized while operating within the scope of the present disclosure.

In another embodiment, the physical playfield of the amusement game can be replaced with an image projecting device, such as a flat panel monitor. The image projecting device is operatively coupled to the control unit such that the control unit can selectively create a target image utilizing the image projecting device. The target image can include a visual representation of the target areas on the image projecting device. During game play, the player directs the game object toward the target image and the image sensing device determines whether the game object contacts the target area. In this embodiment, the control unit can vary the target image or can create a moving target image.

Various alternatives and embodiments are contemplated as being within the scope of the following claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter regarded as the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The drawings illustrate the best mode presently contemplated of carrying out the invention. In the drawings:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an amusement game that utilizes an image sensor to detect the movement of a game object relative to a playfield;

FIG. 2 is the reference image of the playfield as recorded by the image sensing device;

FIG. 3 is the reference image with a series of target areas superimposed over the reference image;

FIG. 4 is an image scan from the image sensing device illustrating the position of the game object relative to the playfield;

FIG. 5 is a composite view of the game object with the reference image of the playfield removed;

FIG. 6 is a flow chart illustrating the operation of the control unit utilizing the image sensing device to track the game object during game play;

FIG. 7 is a perspective view of a second type of amusement game operating in accordance with the present disclosure;

FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a third embodiment of an amusement game operating in accordance with the present disclosure;

FIG. 9 is a perspective view of a fourth embodiment of an amusement game operating in accordance with the present disclosure;

FIG. 10 is a perspective view of a fifth embodiment of an amusement game operating in accordance with the present disclosure;

FIG. 11 is an alternate embodiment of the amusement game shown in FIG. 1 in which the 3-D playfield is replaced with an LCD screen projecting an image representing the playfield; and

FIG. 12 is a section view of the amusement game showing the LCD screen in front protection device that protects the LCD screen as the game objects are directed toward the visual playfield representation.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

FIG. 1 illustrates one embodiment of an amusement game 10 that operates in accordance with the present invention. The amusement game 10 shown in FIG. 1 is a commonly available alley bowler 12 that allows a player to direct a series of game objects 14, such as bowling balls, along a lane 16 and onto an inclined ramp 18. As one of the balls travels over the inclined ramp 18, the ball is directed toward a playfield 20 that includes a series of scoring targets 22. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 1, the scoring targets 22 are assigned different point values based upon the size of the area directing the balls to the scoring target 22 and the amount of skill required for the player to direct one of the game objects 14 into the scoring target 22. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 1, the playfield 20 has seven different scoring targets 22 that award different levels of points depending upon the difficulty level required to achieve the target. However, it is contemplated that a different number of scoring targets or a different orientation of the scoring targets is contemplated as being within the scope of the present disclosure.

Although the amusement game 10 shown in FIG. 1 includes bowling balls as the game object 14 and defines scoring targets 22 on the playfield 20, it should be understood that various different types of game objects 14 and playfields 20 could be utilized while operating within the scope of the present disclosure. The embodiment shown in FIG. 1 is for illustrative purposes only and is not meant to limit the scope of the present disclosure.

In the embodiment shown in FIG. 1, the amusement game 10 includes a score display 24 and a payment validator 26 that are each coupled to a control unit 28 for the amusement game 10. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 1, the control unit 28 is contained within the outer cabinet 30 of the amusement game 10 and is operable to control the entire operation of the amusement game, from receiving payment from the payment validator 26 to releasing the series of game objects 14 from within the outer cabinet 30. Further, the control unit 28 controls the calculation and display of the players score on the display 24 and controls the operation of the ticket dispenser 32.

As illustrated in FIG. 1, the amusement game 10 further includes an image sensing device 34 that is mounted within the top end 36 of the outer cabinet 30 such that the viewing angle of the image sensing device 34 is directed downward onto the playfield 20. The image sensing device 34 is operable to create a series of sequential image scans that are relayed through a communication line 38 to the control unit 28. As will be described in much greater detail below, the image sensing device 34 replaces the plurality of sensors/switches that are currently utilized in each of the scoring targets 22 to determine whether the game object 14 has passed through the target 22. The use of the image sensing device 34 reduces the amount of wiring and components required for operating the amusement game 10.

In the preferred embodiment of the invention, the image sensing device 34 is a digital image sensor, such as either a CCD or CMOS image sensor. In the embodiment shown, a CCD or CMOS image sensor is utilized to generate the image scans that are relayed to the control unit 28 through the communication line 38. However, it is contemplated that various other digital image sensors, or other types of analog image sensors, could be utilized while operating within the scope of the present disclosure. As an example, it is contemplated that the image sensing device can process the images prior to sending information to the control unit 28. In such an embodiment, the image sensing device would send results, such as the x, y coordinates of the ball location, rather than the entire raw video image, thereby reducing the bandwidth requirements of the communication line between the image sensing device and the control unit and reducing the processing requirement for the control unit.

In the case of the image sensing device 34 shown in FIG. 1, the image sensor 34 is disposed in a position a specified distance above the center of the playfield 20 with the image sensing surface of the image sensing device 34 facing downward so that the entire area of the playfield 20 can be covered within the field of view of the image sensing device 34. As is well known, the CCD or CMOS camera utilized as the image sensing device 34 includes a multitude of electrical conversion elements as solid state image pickup devices arranged in a matrix. A CCD or CMOS camera picks up an image at a selective specified period. In the embodiment described, the CCD or CMOS camera is operated to capture 10 images per second, although other frame rates are contemplated as being within the scope of the present disclosure.

During operation of the CCD or CMOS camera, electrical signals are generated that have levels corresponding to the amount of light received by the respective photo electric conversion element of the CCD or CMOS camera. The electrical signals are received by the control unit 28 and analyzed as will be described below.

Although the embodiment describes utilizing only a single image sensing device 34, it is contemplated that multiple CCD or CMOS cameras could be combined to operate as the image sensing device, depending upon the size of the playfield 20 and resolution required by the amusement game. Further, the use of multiple image sensing devices 34 allows the concept of the present disclosure to be utilized in various different types of games, such as multiple player games that include separate and distinct playfields for each player. In such an embodiment, each playfield may include its own image sensing device and a single control unit could receive the visual images and conduct the game accordingly.

Alternatively, multiple image sensing devices may be required when the size of the playfield is much larger than the viewing field of any individual image sensing device. Likewise, the use of multiple cameras for a single playfield allows for “stereo” images and/or three dimensional tracking for the movement of the game object. The use of multiple image sensing devices allows the concept to be utilized with other types of amusement games.

Referring now to FIG. 2, thereshown is an image view received by the control unit from the image sensing device. The image view of FIG. 2 is of the entire playfield 20 before the operation of the game play. Specifically, FIG. 2 illustrates a reference image 40 created by the image sensing device 34 of the entire playfield 20 before the game play begins and before one of the game objects is positioned over the playfield. The image from the image sensing device includes a resolution of 352×288 (CIF) (x=288, y=352), although other resolutions such as 640×480 (x=480, y=640) (VGA) are clearly contemplated as being within the scope of the present disclosure.

As illustrated in FIG. 2, the reference image 40 is a visual image of the playfield 20 and includes the physical scoring targets 22a-22g. In the embodiment of the alley bowler shown in FIG. 2, each of the scoring targets 22a-22g is a physical hole formed in the back surface of the playfield that allows the game object, such as a ball, to pass through the back surface of the playfield. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 2, each of the scoring targets 22a-22g is assigned a different point value and is surrounded by a protruding wall 42 that directs the game object into one of the scoring targets.

The image sensing device of the present disclosure creates the electronic image scan shown in FIG. 2 at a rate as low as 10 frames per second during game play. In one embodiment of the disclosure, it is contemplated that frame rates between 30 and 60 frames or more per second can be utilized to resolve high speed object motion and to reduce or eliminate blurring. These frame rates are well within current imaging and processing technology capability. The reference image 40 shown in FIG. 2 is taken prior to game play and is used to define the general layout of the playfield 20. The reference image 40 shown in FIG. 2 is received by the control unit 28 (FIG. 1) and is used by the control unit 28 as a reference image for comparison to subsequent image scans to identify the movement of a game object on the playfield.

FIG. 3 illustrates the same reference image 40 of FIG. 2 with a series of electronic target areas 44 defined on the reference image. The target areas 44 are each aligned with one of the physical scoring targets that exist within the physical playfield 20. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 3, the playfield includes five target areas 44a-44e aligned along the center of the reference image 40 and a pair of upper target areas 44f, 44g positioned on either side of the center line of targets. Although the target areas 44a-44g are shown in the embodiment of FIG. 3, it should be understood that various different types of playfields can include different types of target areas.

In the embodiment shown in FIG. 3, the reference image 40 includes a series of individual pixels aligned along the x and y axis of the reference image 40. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 3, the lower left corner of the image has an x, y location of (0, 0) while the upper right corner has an x, y location of (288, 352). Based upon these screen parameters, the target areas 44 for the embodiment shown are defined as:

if (x>90 and x<150) and //(two horizontal parallel lines at center of image)
if (y>6 and y<55) this_score = 50;
if (y>90 and y<125) this_score = 40;
if (y>180 and y<210) this_score = 30;
if (y>230 and y<270) this_score = 20;
if (y>290 and y<320) this_score = 10;
else if (y>290) and //(top of playfield to check for hundreds)
if (x>199 and x<250) this_score = 100;
if (x>5 and x<50) this_score = 100;

In each of the scoring definitions set forth above, each target area is assigned a point value that the control unit utilizes during the operation of the game program. As described previously, although different target areas 44a-44g are shown in the embodiment of FIG. 3, it should be understood that various different types of target areas and playfields can be utilized while operating within the scope of the present disclosure. Preferably, the target areas 44a-44g are defined within the control unit prior to beginning of the game play. Once the target areas 44a-44g are defined within the control unit, the control unit compares each image scan from the image sensor to the defined target areas to determine what action is to be taken during game play.

Referring now to FIG. 4, thereshown is an image scan 46 from the image sensor during game play. In the image scan 46, the game object 14 is shown about to enter one of the physical scoring targets 22 along the center of the playfield. In the embodiment shown, the player has successfully completed the game task and will be awarded a point value assigned to the scoring target. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 4, the player will be awarded 20 points for successfully directing the game object 14 into the scoring target 22.

For the control unit of the amusement game to assign a scoring value based on the position of the game object 14, the control unit must utilize image processing techniques to identify the position of the objects 14 relative to the playfield. Although various types of image processing techniques are known that could be utilized to isolate the position of the game object relative to the playfield, in the embodiment of the invention shown in the Figures, the system utilizes an image subtraction method. Specifically, the control unit records the image scan 46 shown in FIG. 4 and subtracts the reference image 40 shown in FIG. 2. When the reference image 40 is subtracted from the current image scan 46, the resulting image 50 includes only the game object 14, as shown in FIG. 5. The position of the game object 14 on the resulting image 50 can then be analyzed to determine the position of the game object relative to the target areas previously defined. Once the resulting image 50 has been created for the current image scan, the control unit utilizes a standard image processing algorithm to determine the center of the game object and color identification from previously defined offset values as described below.

For each frame:

  • Capture (h=288,v=352)[r,g,b] where r,g,b are 8 bit values (0-255) of red, green and blue data at each pixel
  • Initialize segmented image grid GridResult(H=16,V=16)[MajorColor,R,G,B,Y]=0
    For each pixel (h,v) in each GridResult (H,V):

If r>g+20 and r>b+20 Then r=255 g=0 b=0 and Increment
GridResult(H,V)[R]
If g>r+20 and g>b+20 Then r=0 g=255 b=0 and Increment
GridResult(H,V)[G]
If b>r+20 and b>g+20 Then r=0 g=0 b=255 and Increment
GridResult(H,V)[B]
If r>g+20 and g>b+20 and |r−g|<25 Then r=255 g=255 b=0 and Increment
GridResult(H,V)[Y]
Next pixel

For each GridResult (H,V):

If GridResult(H,V) R>G+30 and R>B+30 then
GridResult(H,V)[MajorColor]=R
If GridResult(H,V) G>G+30 and R>B+30 then
GridResult(H,V)[MajorColor]=G
If GridResult(H,V) B>G+30 and R>B+30 then
GridResult(H,V)[MajorColor]=B
If GridResult(H,V) R>G+30 and G>B+30 and |R−G|>20 then
GridResult(H,V)[MajorColor]=Y
Next GridResult
Initialize CarBlock (Color=R,G,B,Y)[LL,LR,UL,UR][H,V]]=−1
//LL,LR=Lower Left;Right; UL,UR=Upper Left;Right

For each Color:

Find_GameObjectBlocks//horizontal & vertical bounding box detection of adjacent grids w/same color

Next Color

Once each pixel of the entire screen image has been classified as described above, the control unit determines the position of the game object by defining an area by color. Once the color block has been located, the control unit calculates the x, y coordinates of the center of mass of the game object. The x, y coordinates of the tracking point such as the center of mass. Typically the center of mass, top, bottom or a series of similar colored pixels indicates the tracking point of the game object in the resulting image 50, shown in FIG. 5. Once the tracking point has been calculated, the tracking point is compared to the electronic target areas 44a-44g defined in the control unit and shown in FIG. 3. If the tracking point is within a target area, the control unit increments the game count in a conventional manner based upon the score associated with the position of the tracking point.

Although the embodiment described above utilizes the center of mass of the game object as the tracking point, different portions of the game object could be utilized as the tracking point. As an example, in an embodiment in which the image scan is analyzed in rows from the top of the image to the bottom of the image, the top of the game object can be utilized as the reference or tracking point to reduce the computational requirements of the control unit. In such an embodiment, no further geometric attributes of the game objects are needed, such as the ball diameter or object center. However, these other attributes of the game object may be useful in other ways, such as to determine whether the game object is of proper size.

In addition to utilizing the image scan to determine scoring for a game object, the control unit can also determine the color of the game object based upon the individual pixel analysis described above. The use of color analysis for the game object allows the control unit to determine whether the game object is a valid game object or whether the player has utilized a game object that is not authorized. As an example, in an alley bowler game, each of the authorized balls may have a bright red color. If the control unit does not recognize the red color of the game object, the control unit will not increase the score for the player, since the player has utilized an unauthorized game object.

As described above, the CCD or CMOS image sensor is operated to generate image scans at a rate of ten frames/second using a segmented image on a 352×288(CIF) or 640×480 (VGA) at 24 bits/pixels (8 bits each for RGB) with majority pixel color determination (e.g. red must be at least 20 greater than green and blue to be counted as a red pixel; yellow must have both red and green at least 20 greater than blue) and a count is kept of RGBY pixels by block. Pixel binning is used for higher resolution cameras. Once the color of each pixel has been determined, a bounded box is defined and the x, y coordinates of the tracking point is determined by the control unit. Other object and color detection schemes that are commonly used in image processing techniques can be utilized, which may result in additional color recognition or geometric identification.

In the above description, RGB values are the actual camera-generated pixel values for each of the three colors. The RGBY values include Y, which is an image processing example of the ability to distinguish more than three object colors using only three captured image input color data values. Other types of color measurement formats other than RGB, such as CMYK or HSV can accomplish the required image processing tasks as well.

As described above, although image subtraction is described as being one type of image processing technique utilized to identify the position of the game object, various other types of image processing techniques can be utilized while operating within the scope of the present invention. Specifically, any type of imaging processing technique that can identify the tracking point of the game object can be utilized to determine the position of the game object relative to target areas defined on the playfield.

Although the preferred type of image sensor is a CCD or CMOS image sensor, it is also contemplated that a low cost, infrared camera can also be utilized while operating within the scope of the present disclosure. A low cost infrared camera can be utilized to determine differences between play objects and playfields to determine the location of a game object. In another alternate embodiment, a linear sensor array could be utilized where two dimensional resolution is not required. Although various other embodiments, such as an IR camera and a linear array, are specifically set forth, it should be understood that various other types of image sensing devices could be utilized while operating within the scope of the present disclosure.

FIG. 6 is a flowchart generally setting forth the method utilized by the control unit to operate the amusement game utilizing the single image sensing device 34 to monitor game play and modify game play based upon the ability and success of the player. Initially, the control unit activates the image sensing device to view the playfield, as shown in step 52. Once the playfield has been viewed, the control unit records the image of the playfield as a reference image in step 52. The reference image for the playfield is shown in FIG. 2 and includes a series of physical scoring areas 22a-22g that provide targets for a player using the amusement game.

Referring back to FIG. 6, after the reference image has been recorded and stored by the control unit, the control unit defines a series of target areas over the reference image, as shown in FIG. 3. The target areas are ranges of x, y values based on the reference image. Each of the target areas 44a-44g are aligned with one of the physical scoring targets. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 3, each of the target areas 44a-44g are assigned a point value that is awarded to the player when the player successfully directs the game object into one of the target areas 44a-44g. However, it is contemplated that the target areas 44 could be utilized to affect other aspects of the game rather than just awarding point values. As an example, if the game object contacts different types of target areas, the difficulty level of the game could increase, additional tickets could be awarded, or the method of playing the game could be altered.

Referring back to FIG. 6, once all of the target areas have been defined on the reference image, the control unit releases the game objects and allows the game play to begin. Once the game play has begun, the control unit operates the image sensing device to create a series of sequential image scans of the playfield at a predefined rate, as shown in step 58. In the embodiment of the invention described, the image sensor operates to generate ten images per second. However, it is contemplated that a higher or lower frame rate could be utilized while operating within the scope of the present invention.

For each of the image scans created by the image sensor, the control unit compares the image scan to the reference image in step 60. As described previously with reference to FIGS. 4 and 5, one method of comparing the image scan to the reference image is to subtract the reference image from the current image scan. Once the reference image has been subtracted, the only remaining element in the resulting image is a view of the game object. In step 62, the control unit determines whether a game object is present in the current image scan. If the game object is not present, the control unit returns to step 58 and continue to receive image scans from the image sensor.

However, if a game object has been detected in step 62, the control unit determine whether the tracking point of the game object is within one of the defined target areas defined in step 56. If the system determines in step 64 that the game object is within the target area, the control system modifies the operation of the game accordingly, as shown in step 66. As previously described, the modification to the operation of the game may be an increased point value or a change in the difficulty level of the game operation.

During the operation of step 64 shown in FIG. 6, it is contemplated that the control unit for the amusement game assigns only a single point value for each game object. In the embodiment shown in FIGS. 1-4, the game object 14 is a ball that passes through one of a series of physical scoring targets 22 defined on the playfield. As the ball passes through the scoring target, the ball will disappear from the image scan of the playfield. Thus, the last location of the game object on the playfield will indicate that the game object has passed through one of the scoring targets. In a preferred embodiment of the invention, the control unit will assign a point value to the game object based upon the last position of the game object on the image scan. Thus, although the game object may be within the target area for a number of sequential image scans, the control unit will not assign a point value to the game object until the game object disappears from the image scans.

Although the embodiment shown in the Figures includes only a single game object on the playfield at a time, the control unit can determine the position of multiple game objects on the playfield at the same time. Thus, the amusement game can be played with more than one game object simultaneously since the control unit can award points for each game object independently.

Although the present invention has been described in FIGS. 1-6 as being utilized with an alley bowler, it is contemplated that the method could be utilized with various other types of amusement games. As an example, FIG. 7 illustrates a conventional dart board 68 that has a series of different scoring sections 70. Each of the scoring sections 70 includes a different point value such that when a game object, such as a dart, contacts the scoring section, the player is awarded with the point value assigned to the scoring section 70. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 7, the image sensing device 34 is positioned such that the image sensing device has a full view of the entire dart board 68. As the player throws a dart 72 onto the playfield, the image sensing device 34 records an image scan which is directed to a control unit for the amusement game. Based upon the location of the dart 72 relative to the scoring sections 70, the control unit awards the player the required point value.

FIG. 8 illustrates another type of amusement game in which a game object, such as a coin 74, is directed along a coin path 76 into contact with a rotating scoring wheel 78. The rotating scoring wheel 78 includes a series of scoring sections 80 each of which include an opening 82. Each of the scoring sections 80 is assigned a different point value and the size of the scoring opening 82 varies depending upon the points assigned to the scoring section 80. Typically, the greater the number of points assigned to the scoring section 80, the smaller the scoring section 82. As the wheel 78 rotates, the player times the release of the coin 74 such that the coin passes through an opening 82 having the largest number of points. As shown in FIG. 8, the image sensing device 34 can be positioned such that the entire wheel 78 is within the viewing angle of the image sensing device. The image sensing device 34 generates sequential image scans that can be analyzed to determine which of the openings 82 in the scoring section 80 the coin 74 passes through. Based upon the determined scoring section, the control unit for the amusement game can assign a player the desired number of points. Preferably, each of the scoring sections 80 could be assigned a different color value such that the control unit can identify the different scoring sections from the image scans received from the image sensing device 34.

FIG. 9 illustrates yet another type of amusement game that can utilize the method of the present disclosure. In the amusement game shown in FIG. 9, a game object, such as the coin 74, is directed across a rotating playfield 84 toward a scoring board 86. The scoring board 86 has a series of scoring slots 88 that allow the coin 74 to pass through. The size of each of the scoring slots 88 is based upon the number of points awarded to a player. As an example, the smaller the scoring slots 88, the greater number of points are awarded to the game player. As shown in FIG. 9, the image sensing device 34 is positioned above the rotating playing field 84 and can view the scoring board 86 and scoring slots 88. The control unit for the game can analyze the image scans from the image sensing device 34 to determine which scoring slot 88 the coin 74 passes through. The use of the single image sensing device 34 eliminates the large number of sensors that typically need to be positioned behind each of the scoring slots 88 in the game board 86.

FIG. 10 illustrates yet another type of amusement game that can utilize the image sensing device 34. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 10, the image sensing device 34 is positioned above a basket 90 and can detect when a ball 92 passes through the opening 94 of the basket. Based upon the detection of the ball 92 within the opening 94, the control unit can award a player points. The use of the image sensing device 34 eliminates the use of multiple switches and sensors that are typically required in a basket-type game, and can verify the size and color of the ball and that it entered the hoop from the top.

Although many different examples of amusement games are shown in the Figures of the present disclosure, it should be understood that other types of amusement games not specifically shown and described could be utilized with the image sensing device and control unit shown and described. As an example, it is contemplated that a bean bag toss game, pinball game, foosball game, puck shuffle alley, air hockey, pool and bumper table or a multi-player shooting game could be utilized within the scope of the present disclosure. In each of these embodiments, an image sensing device monitors the movement and position of a game object such that a control unit can analyze the image scans from the image sensing device and modify the operation of the amusement game. Although specific examples are set forth in the disclosure, it should be understood that various other types of amusement games could be utilized while operating within the scope of the present disclosure. The disclosure of the present invention is not meant to be limiting as to the types of amusement games possible, but rather is meant as being illustrative of currently contemplated amusement games that could operate within the scope of the present disclosure.

Referring now to FIG. 11, thereshown is an alternate embodiment of the alley bowler of FIG. 1 in which the playfield is replaced by an image projecting device 96 that is operatively connected to the control unit 28. Unlike the first embodiment shown in FIG. 1 in which the scoring targets 22 are defined by physical structure on a playfield, the embodiment shown in FIG. 11 includes an image projecting device 96 that generates a target image 100 that is viewed by the player.

The image projecting device 96 preferably includes a generally flat face surface that projects an image to the player indicating locations on the image projecting device 96 that correspond to targets for the player. The amusement game 102 further includes the image sensing device 34 that records image scans of both the target image 100 and the position of game objects 14 as the game objects contact the image projecting device 96. Based on the location of the contact between the game object 14 and the image projecting device 96, the control unit 28 determines whether the game object has contacted one of the predefined target areas. Based upon whether the game object contacts the target area, the control unit 28 awards a point value or modifies the game operation as was the case with FIG. 1.

As illustrated in FIG. 12, the image projecting device 96 is positioned behind a clear, protective wall 104. The clear, protective wall 104 prevents game objects from contacting the flat face surface 106 of the image projecting device 96 while allowing the image sensing device 34 to have a clear view of the target image created by the image projecting device 96. Although the protective wall 104 is shown in FIG. 12 as being vertical, it is contemplated that the protective wall 104 could be angled parallel to the image projecting device 96.

During game play utilizing the image projecting device 96, the control unit utilizes the image sensing device 34 to determine where the game object contacts the surface of the image projecting device in relation to the projected playfield. The location of the contact between the game object and the image projecting device can be determined by monitoring for a change in trajectory of the game object utilizing object tracking methods commonly used in image processing. Based upon the location of the game object upon a detection in the change in trajectory, the control unit can assign a point value to the user based upon the target image being projected.

Unlike the 3-D physical playfield of FIG. 1, the image projecting device 96 creates a 2-D image that the player views as the playfield. One advantage of the embodiment shown in FIG. 11 is that the control unit 28 can change the images, the target size and/or the point values on the image projecting device 96 depending upon the game conditions. Further, the control unit 28 can cause each of the target areas on the target image to move during game play as desired.

The use of the image projecting device 96 in combination with the control unit 28 allows the control unit to replay the movement of the game object to the player after the game has been completed. Since the control unit received sequential image scans from the image sensing device, the control unit can be operated to play back the images to show the movement of the game object to the player on demand.

In addition to being utilized with the alley bowler shown in FIG. 11, the image projecting device 96 could be utilized with various other types of amusement games, such as but not limited to a dart board. In an embodiment in which the image projecting device is utilized with a dart board, the flat panel or projection screen of the image projecting device can replace the standard dart board target area. In such an embodiment, a dart-capturing mesh can be positioned in front of the image projecting device that allows the images from the image projecting device to be seen by the player while still holding the tossed darts in their final resting position for view by the image sensing device. In such an embodiment, the image projecting device can display unique dart board target areas, such as moving images, photographs or other non-typical dart board configurations. Further, such an embodiment allows for animated effects and various other variations on the typical game play.