Title:
Digitally synchronized animated talking doll
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Disclosed herein is animated talking toy figure feasible for digital actuation control and synchronization. Novel methods and apparatus are provided for control of and for coordinating the toy figure's sound and animation. Said toy figure has at least one articulated movable portion for providing animation effect, with the actuation thereof being provided by a two-phase actuation device, such as a solenoid, disposed therein. The toy figure's actuation-control circuitry includes logic switch means, and is adapted to be digitally controlled by a computing device. A computer-implemented method for controlling and synchronizing the toy figure's sound and animation includes, (i) creating actuation-control signal based on detailed textual content of the toy figure's audio speech, and (ii) synchronously transmitting to the toy figure the actuation-control signal, for control of said actuation-control circuitry, and a sound signal for playback through the toy figure's audio output device.



Inventors:
Maa, Shalong (Dallas, TX, US)
Application Number:
10/441890
Publication Date:
07/07/2005
Filing Date:
05/20/2003
Assignee:
MAA SHALONG
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63H3/28; (IPC1-7): A63H3/28
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
RADA, ALEX P
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
SHALONG MAA, PhD / STEWPOT (DALLAS, TX, US)
Claims:
1. A physical toy figure adapted to be controlled by a digital actuation-control signal and a sound signal representing a selected audio sound, said actuation-control signal being separate from said sound signal, said toy figure comprising: a body including at least one movable portion, said movable portion having an open and a default closed states; audio output means for reproducing said selected audio sound in response to the toy figure receiving said sound signal; an electromagnetic actuation device situated within said body for actuating said movable portion, said actuation device having a first and a second phases; and an actuation-control circuitry for controlling said actuation device in response to receiving said actuation-control signal; said sound signal being transmitted to said audio output means in synchronization with transmission of said actuation-control signal to said actuation-control circuitry.

2. The toy figure as set forth in claim 1, wherein said first and second phases of said actuation device are associated with said open and closed states of said movable portion respectively, and wherein said actuation-control signal contains a signal sequence comprising a sequence of a first and a second logic signals for representing a first and a second predefined binary values respectively, said first and second logic signals being associated with said open and closed states of said movable portion respectively.

3. The toy figure as set forth in claim 2, wherein said actuation-control circuitry includes logic switch means having a logic input, whereby said actuation-control circuitry causes said actuation device to be in said first phase for actuating said movable portion in response to said logic input receiving said first logic signal and causes said actuation device to be in said second phase for returning said movable portion to said default closed state in response to said logic input of the logic switch means receiving said second logic signal.

4. The toy figure of claim 1, further comprising a second movable portion and a second electromagnetic actuation device situated within said body for actuating said second movable portion, the two actuation devices being independently controlled by said actuation-control circuitry in response to receiving said actuation-control signal so as to cause independent movements of the two movable portions of the toy figure.

5. The toy figure as set forth in claim 1, wherein said actuation device is a solenoid.

6. The toy figure as set forth in claim 1, wherein said first and second phases of said actuation device are associated with said open and closed states of said movable portion respectively, and wherein said actuation-control signal contains a logic-switch-control signal comprising a sequence of a first and a second logic signals for representing a first and a second predefined binary values respectively, said first and second logic signals being associated with said open and closed states of said movable portion respectively.

7. A toy figure comprising: a body for simulating an appearance of a living being; at least one movable body part for simulating an animation effect of the living being; and a two-phase actuation device situated within said body for actuating said movable body part; said actuation device including a coil and a magnetic plunger.

8. The toy figure of claim 7, further comprising an actuation-control circuitry for selectively connecting electric power to said coil in response to receiving an digital actuation-control signal so as to control the actuation of said two-phase actuation device and hence said toy figure's movable body part.

9. The toy figure of claim 8, further comprising audio output means for playing back a selected audio sound in response to the toy figure receiving a sound signal, said sound signal being separate from said actuation-control signal.

10. The toy figure as set forth in claim 8, wherein said two-phase actuation device has an energized and a de-energized states, wherein said actuation-control signal contains a signal sequence comprising a sequence of a first and a second logic signals for representing a first and a second predefined binary values respectively, said first and second logic signals being directly associated with said energized and de-energized states respectively.

11. The toy figure as set forth in claim 8, wherein said actuation-control circuitry is situated within said toy figure's body.

12. The toy figure as set forth in claim 8, wherein said actuation-control circuitry is situated outside said toy figure's body.

13. The toy figure as set forth in claim 8, wherein said actuation-control circuitry includes logic switch means, and whereby control of actuation of said two-phase actuation device and hence said toy figure's movable body part is provided by said logic switch means selectively switching electric power to said coil of the two-phase actuation device in response to said actuation-control circuitry receiving said actuation-control signal.

14. The toy figure as set forth in claim 8, wherein said two-phase actuation device includes an energized and a de-energized states, wherein said actuation-control signal contains a logic-switch-control signal comprising a sequence of a first and a second logic signals for representing a first and a second predefined binary values respectively, said first and second logic signals being associated with, respectively, said energized and de-energized states of said two-phase actuation device, and wherein said actuation-control circuitry includes logic switch means having a logic input, whereby said logic switch means controls the actuation of said two-phase actuation device according to said logic-switch-control signal received at said logic input.

15. The toy figure as set forth in claim 14, wherein said actuation-control circuitry causes said two-phase actuation device to be in said energized state, so as to actuate said movable body part of the toy figure, in response to said logic input receiving said first logic signal, and causes said two-phase actuation device to be in said de-energized state, so as to return said movable body part of the toy figure to a default position, in response to said logic input receiving said second logic signal.

16. The toy figure as set forth in claim 9, wherein said audio output means is situated inside said body.

17. The toy figure as set forth in claim 9, wherein said audio output means is situated outside said body.

18. The toy figure as set forth in claim 7, wherein said two-phase actuation device is a solenoid.

19. A device adapted to control and synchronize the sound and animation of an animated talking toy figure, said toy figure comprising a body having at least one movable body part, audio output means, and an actuation system, said device comprising: an actuation-control component for transmitting an actuation-control signal to said toy figure; and a audio component for transmitting a sound signal representing a selected audio sound to said audio output means for playback; said actuation-control signal being separate from said sound signal and associated with said selected audio sound, and being transmitted to said actuation system of the toy figure for control of said toy figure's movable body part in synchronization with the transmission of said sound signal to said audio output means of the toy figure.

20. The device as set forth in claim 19, wherein text content of said toy figure's selected audio sound is predetermined, and wherein said actuation-control signal contains a sequence of logic-switch-control signal that are related to the arrangement of vowel letters in said text content of the toy figure's selected audio sound.

Description:

This is a continuation-in-part application of application Ser. No. 08/833,342 filed Apr. 04, 1997.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention pertains generally to animated talking toy figure, and in particular, to digitally-controlled animated talking doll of the type that the actuation of the doll's movable body portion, such as its mouth, is digitally synchronized with its own sound and/or with the sound/visual effects of a multimedia entertainment system.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

It is well known in the art to employ advanced electronic devices for control of and for coordinating the sound and animation of a physical toy figure. However, the entertainment and educational values of the prior art is largely restricted by the lack of digital actuation control and digital synchronization means. As a result thereof, the sound and animation of the prior art animated talking dolls can not be digitally synchronized with the sound and/or visual effects of a multimedia entertainment system. These drawbacks are caused in part by the employment in the prior art of rotary-type actuation devices, such as DC or servo motors, that are not feasible for digital control and require rather complex gearing means for coupling with the articulated body parts of the doll. Thus, it would be desirable to provide apparatus and methods for digitally synchronizing the sound and animation of an animated talking toy figure.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

To remedy the foregoing and other drawbacks of the prior art, there is provided a novel arrangement of animated talking toy figure, which is adapted to be controlled or synchronized by digital actuation-control signals. According to one aspect of the present invention, a digital animated talking toy figure includes a physical doll having at least one articulated movable body part for providing animation effect therefore; Disposed therein is a sounding device, such as a sound speaker, and a two-phase actuation means for actuating the articulated body part of the toy figure. Said actuation means comprises a two-phase or multi-phase electromechanical device, such as a solenoid, and an actuation-control circuitry for controlling said electromechanical device according to a digital actuation-control signal received. Said digital actuation-control signal is separated from and is transmitted to the toy figure in synchronization with the sound signal transmitted to said sounding device. It is preferred that, said sound signal and said digital actuation-control signal be provided by and transmitted from a conventional multimedia computer.

In accordance with another aspect of the present invention, in order to synchronize the animation of a toy figure with its audio output, the computer system employed therefore and/or connected thereto is provided with synchronization system to create or provide digital actuation control signals for transmitting to the actuation-control circuitry of the toy figure in synchronization with the transmission of the sound signals to the doll's sounding device. The digital actuation-control signal may be created according to the arrangement of vowel letters in the textual content of the toy figure's speech synthesized by said computer.

The foregoing is intended to be merely a summary and not to limit the scope of the specification. The features of the present invention, which are believed to be novel, are set forth with particularity in the annexed claims. The invention, however, together with further objects and advantages thereof, may best be appreciated by reference to the following detailed description taken in conjunction with the drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 illustrates an exemplary interactive home entertainment system for implementing the synchronization methods of the present invention.

FIG. 2 is a functional block diagram illustrating an exemplary multimedia computing system for implementing the sound-animation and multimedia synchronization methods of the present invention.

FIG. 3 is a schematic illustration of a cross-section view of the interior arrangement of the toy figure of the present invention, which is adapted to be connected to the computing system of FIGS. 1-2.

FIG. 4 schematically illustrates the transmission of a media data stream through the Internet in synchronization with the transmission of a TV broadcasting signal stream according to the multimedia digital synchronization methods of the present inventions.

FIGS. 5-6 are schematic functional block diagrams illustrating the interior arrangements of the toy figure of FIG. 3, wherein two exemplary arrangements of sound-animation control circuitries are depicted respectively.

FIG. 7 is a functional block diagram depicting the actuation-control circuitry of FIGS. 5-6.

FIGS. 8-10 are illustrations of three exemplary computer-implemented methods, in accordance with the present invention, for creating or sequencing binary logic-switch-control (or synchronization) signals based on the textual content of the toy figure's audio speech so as to provide digital actuation control for the toy figure of FIG. 3.

FIGS. 11-12 illustrates the methods of using the remote control and the computer of FIG. 1 to control an electronic appliance according to another aspect of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Referring to FIGS. 1-12, there are shown new and improved digitally synchronized animated talking toy figure and interactive home entertainment systems and synchronization methods embodying the concepts of the present inventions. While the present inventions are susceptible to embodiments in various forms, there are in the drawings and will hereinafter be described presently preferred embodiments, with the understanding that the present disclosure is to be considered as exemplifications of the inventions, and does not limit the invention to the specific embodiments illustrated. In some instances, for purposes of explanation and not for limitation, specific numbers, diagrams, dimensions or materials, etc. may be set forth in order to provide a thorough understanding of the inventions. In other instances, detailed descriptions of well-known mechanical elements, electronic circuitry, or computer or electronic network components are omitted so as to not obscure the depiction of the present invention with unnecessary details. In case when alternate arrangements of a device or component are described or displayed, like parts or components may be assigned with the same numerical reference numbers.

With reference to FIG. 1, a home entertainment system includes a physical toy figure 1, a large-screen display such as a television set 900, a conventional multimedia personal computer 30, and a hand-held remote control device 710 for control of all other elements of the entertainment system. In addition, said home entertainment system may also include other entertainment or electronic devices, such as a sound system 706 and a DVD player 702, etc. The computer 30 is connected to a web site 300 via the Internet 800. A TV broadcast center 208 provides the conventional TV programs or streaming video signal 270 to the TV set 900 and/or to the computer 30. The streaming video signal 270 may also be transmitted from the web site 300 to the computer 30 through the Internet 800. The toy control data 260 for controlling the sound and animation of the toy figure 1 may be transmitted from the web site 300 to the computer 30 via the Internet or be created by the computer 30. According to one aspect of the present invention, the sound and animation of the toy figure 1 are digitally controlled and are synchronized with the audio/video effects or the contents of an associated TV program or streaming video transmitted from the TV station 208 to the TV set 900. As a result thereof, the toy figure 1 controlled by the computer 30 can be part of a live TV show or TV program displayed on the TV set 900 and talk to or communicate with an actor or character in said TV show.

As shown in FIG. 1, the Web site 300 and the TV broadcasting system 208 are provided with synchronization systems 202 and 210 respectively. In order for the Web site 300 to send Web content or data stream 260 to the client computer 30 in synchronization with the transmission of TV program signals 270 from the TV station 208 to the home TV 900, there is provided synchronization signals 214 for transmitting between the two synchronization systems 202 and 210. The synchronization signals 214 may be wireless signals or transmitted via physical wiring connections. The synchronization signals 214 may be transmitted, preferably, from the system 210 to the system 202, or vice versa, or it could be two way signals exchange between the two synchronization systems 210 and 202. As a result of such synchronization control, the toy FIG. 1 controlled by the computer 30 can be part of a TV show or TV program displayed on the TV set 900 and talk to or communicate with an actor or character therein.

One synchronization method, according to the present invention, is to divide the streaming TV video signals 270 into a stream of small segments based on the desired Web content or data stream to be received by the client user computer 30 while broadcasting said TV program 270, which could be done at the production stage of said TV program. The TV video segmentation information may be stored in conjunction with and on the same storage media as the TV program itself. The function of the TV station synchronization system 210 is to retrieve said TV video segmentation information and, in accordance therewith, send synchronization signals 214 to the synchronization system 202 of the Web site 300. The function of the Web site synchronization system 202 is to receive said synchronization signals 214, and, in accordance therewith, instruct the Web site 300 to send the desired data or media stream or content to the client computer 30. The Web site may employ the so-called “PUSH” technology or other commonly used technologies to sent the desired content or data to the client 30.

The synchronization process described above may be used to only synchronize the starting moment of a data stream 260 transmitted from the Web site 300 to the computer 30 with the starting of a TV program signals stream 270 transmitted from the TV station 208. However, it is preferred that the synchronization is conducted throughout the flow of said two data/signal streams. As shown in FIG. 4, the TV signal stream 270 is divided into a sequence of signal segments 270A, 270B, 270C . . . , which are generally represented by the reference number 270I; In association and in accordance therewith, the data stream 260 transmitted from the Web server 300 to the client 30 is divided into a stream of digital segments 260A, 260B, 260C . . . , which are generally represented by the reference number 260I. Each segment 270I of the TV signal stream 270 is sequentially associated with a specific segment 260I of the Web content data stream 260 so as to coordinate the transmission of the data stream segment 260I from the Web site 300 to the client computer 30 in synchronization with the broadcasting of the respective TV program segment 270I from the TV station 208. To facilitate such an synchronization, a synchronization signal 214I is provided for each segment pair 260I-270I of the two data-signal streams 260 and 270. For examples, as shown in FIG. 11, the segment pairs 260A-270A, 260B-270B, and 260C-270C are provided with synchronization signals 214A, 214B, and 214C respectively, etc.

The synchronization signals 214I are to be transmitted between the two synchronization systems 202 and 210 of FIG. 1. During a one-way synchronization process, the synchronization signals 214I are to be transmitted from the synchronization system 210 of the TV station 208 to the synchronization system 202 of the Web site 300. When the synchronization system 202 receives the signal 214I, it will instruct the Web site 300 to send the associated Web content or data stream segment 260I to the client computer 30. In this way, the Web site 300 can control the timing of sending a specific content or data to a client computer 30 in response to receiving a synchronization signal 214I from said TV station. Similarly, the synchronization system may also be designed to allow the TV broadcast unit 208 to control the timing of broadcasting a specific segment 270I of the TV program 270 according to the synchronization system 210's receiving of a signal 214I from said Web site 300.

One skilled in the art would understand that, the above-described synchronization method could be used to synchronize the transmission of any type of video contents or data stream, and that, other type of synchronization methods or systems may also be employed. For examples, (1) the data stream or Web contents 260 of FIG. 11 may be a sequence of toy control data for controlling the talking and animation of the toy figure 1 of FIG. 1 through the computer 30 or through other computing devices; (2) The Web content data stream 260 may also be comprised of just a few Web pages (thus the data stream 260 may not be a continuous data stream) that are associated with the TV program 270's specific section, such as an advertisement section therein; (3) the toy figure 1 may be controlled by other type of digital devices, and the synchronized sound and actuation-control signals for control of the toy figure may be provided by two separate sources. [Note that, the synchronization system and the digital toy-control system described herein are disclosed, in part, in the patent application Ser. No. 10/040,924 filed Dec. 29, 2001]

In FIG. 1, the physical toy figure 1 is adapted to be connected to a multimedia computer 30. The “body” of the toy figure 1 may be a doll or the like, as depicted in the drawing as exemplifications, and it may represent a physical puppet animal or human or other type of living being or the like or a selected body portion thereof, or it may be in form of any other type of commonly known three dimensional physical entertainment figure or puppet. The “body” of the toy FIG. 1 may be made of any type of feasible materials known to those in the field. The toy figure 1's body has at least one movable portion for providing animation effect. It is preferred that said movable portion of the toy figure 1 be its mouth or the like for simulating the voicing, talking or sounding of a living being, although other body portion of the toy figure 1 may also be animated simultaneously.

The multimedia computer system 30 may be of any type of market-available conventional multimedia home computer. Alternatively, the computer system 30 may also be of any other type of digital computing devices with Internet or networking capability, such as an Internet-/Web-TV or the like, an electronic video game console or the like, a TV set-top box or the like, or other computing system configurations. The transmitting means for connecting the toy FIG. 1 to the computer may be a connection cable or the like, or it may be, preferably, wireless or remote transmitting devices installed in both the computer 30 and the toy figure 1's body.

One skilled in the art would understand that, the “body” of the toy figure 1 may take any of the usual form and construction of a physical entertainment figure, and may include element(s) for representing or simulating any body part(s) of a living being or the like. In the examples of FIGS. 1-3, the toy figure 1's “body” is characterized by a torso portion 3 and a head member 2 mounted thereon; The toy figure 1' body shown in the drawings also includes a pair of legs for supporting said torso portion 3; Attached to the two sides of the torso portion 3 are a pair of arms 4; The head member 2 includes a mouth portion 12 and a pair of eyes 20; The entire toy figure 1's body may be mounted onto and being removable from a base member 54.

It is appreciated that the animation effect of the toy figure 1 is provided, preferably, by movement of its mouth portion 12 for simulating sounding or talking behavior or the like of a living being. The toy figure 1 may be configured for digital control of movement of its other body portions, such as the two arms 4, the two eyes 20, or the entire head member 2, etc. In one example, the arm 4 may move relative to the torso portion 3, and/or may bend at a pivotal juncture between its upper arm and forearm 26. More than one body part of the toy figure 1 may be set to move at the same time.

In FIG. 2 is illustrated the toy figure 1's interior structure in which includes an “audio output means” 44, such as a loudspeaker or the like, mounted at an appropriate position inside the toy's body, for providing audio output, an “actuation device” 40 disposed at an appropriate position inside the toy figure's body for providing actuation means for the movable part of the mouth 12, an “actuation-control circuitry” 36 for controlling the actuation device 40 according to an “actuation-control signals” received from the computer 30, and a “power supply means” 52 for providing electric power for the actuation-control circuitry 36 and the actuation device 40. The combination of the actuation device(s) 40, the actuation-control circuitry 36, and the power supply means 52 may be regarded collectively as the “actuation system” of the toy figure 1. The interior of the toy figure 1 may also include an “audio input means” 46, such as a microphone, for receiving and transmitting external sound received by the toy figure 1 to the computer 30. It is understood that, said audio input means 46 and/or audio output means 44 may be, preferably, mounted inside the body of the toy figure 1 (FIG. 6); and that, alternatively, the member(s) 44 and/or 46 may be placed at an appropriate position outside the toy figure 1's body (FIG. 5). Also alternatively, the entire actuation-control circuitry 36 may be placed at an appropriate position outside toy figure 1's body, as shown in FIG. 5, and connected to the toy figure 1 via a suitable connection means.

Should it be desired that other body part of the toy figure 1 be movable for providing animation effect, more actuation devices shall be provided therefore, and the actuation-control circuitry 36 shall be modified accordingly. In the example of FIG. 3, additional actuation devices 38 and 42 are provided for moving, respectively, an eye 20 and an arm 4 of the toy figure 1. It is preferred that these actuation devices (e.g., 40, 38, and 42) are two-state or multi-state actuation devices, such as solenoids.

It is appreciated that the actuation devices 38, 40, and 42 and the actuation-control circuitry 36 of the toy figure 1 are feasible for digital control and multimedia synchronization. It is preferred that the actuation devices 38, 40, and 42 are of two-phase or multi-phase type electromagnetic actuation device such as a solenoid. One skilled in the art would understand that, there exists various type of commonly used solenoid that can be employed in the present invention, such, for examples, as DC (or AC) type solenoid or the like, rotary type solenoid or the like, and push or pull type solenoid or the like, etc.; and that, multi-coil type solenoid may also be used. Different type of solenoid may be used for simplifying the mechanical structure of the toy figure 1's interior. For examples, it is preferred that, (i) a pull-type or a push-type solenoid 40 may be employed for actuating the toy figure 1's arm 4 and mouth 12; and that (ii) it may be more convenient to use a rotary solenoid to control the actuation of the moveable portions of the toy FIG. 1's eye 20; etc. Other types of rotary driving devices that are feasible for digital control may also be used for implementing the digital synchronization methods of the present invention, such, for example, as stepper motors, which may require more complex gearing-control systems and/or actuation control circuitry compared with the examples described herein.

Reference is now made to FIGS. 5-7, wherein all the solenoids (e.g., the solenoids 38, 40, 42, etc.) of FIG. 3 for actuating the toy figure 1's various body parts are designated generally with the reference number 56; the “movable body part” of the toy figure 1 is designated generally with the reference number 1X; the “body-part attachment means” for attaching said toy figure 1's movable body part 1X to its nearby stationary body portion is designated generally with the reference number 1Z; said “nearby stationary portion” is designated generally with the reference number 1Y. The solenoid 56 includes coil winding(s) 66 and a magnetic plunger 68. The “plunger coupling means” for coupling the movable body part 1X of the toy figure 1 to the plunger 68 is designated generally with reference number 69; and the “actuation-control circuitry” for providing actuation control for the solenoid 56 is designated generally with reference number 36 (see also FIG. 3). It is understood the term “magnetic plunger” 68, as used herein, represents generally a solenoid's movable magnetic element or the like and any of its extension or shaft or the like; For examples: (i) in case of FIG. 3, the term “magnetic plunger” 68 represents a plunger element in the solenoid and its upper extension or shaft; (ii) in case of a rotary solenoid, term “magnetic plunger” 68 represents the magnetic armature thereof or the like, including its extension shaft or the like. According to the present invention, the operation principle of the “actuation-control circuitry” 36 shall be understood as a “logic switch”: the circuitry 36 includes a “logic switch” circuitry 82 that is to be controlled by a digital “logic-switch-control signal” 83. The signal 83 may be transmitted, preferably, from the computer 30 or, alternatively, from other type of digital devices, or from a remote computer via the Internet. The logic switch 82 includes a logic input point (or lead or the like) 82X for receiving digital or logic control signals. The function of the logic switch 82 is to control electric power supply for the solenoid coil(s) 66 according and in response to the digital logic-switch-control signal 83 received at its logic input 82X. For examples, the logic switch 82 may connect the solenoid coil 66 to the electric power source 52 with little or no resistance in response to receiving a binary or logic signal (e.g. the “1”) at its logic input 82X, and disconnect the coil 66 from the electric power source 52 or act as a very large resistance there-between in response to receiving the other binary logic signal (i.e., the “0”) at its logic input point 82X.

The operation principle of the actuation-control circuitry 36 or the logic switch 82 may also be understood as that, it provides two different types of basic electronic or electrical functions (i.e. “switching”) with respect to transmitting electric power or current from the power source 52 to the coil(s) 66 of the solenoid 56 in response and according to receiving the two different digital binary signals respectively. One skilled in the art would understand that, (i) many methods and electronic circuitries might be used for implementing such two-phase “switching” functionality; For example, the actuation-control circuitry 36 may, alternatively, include means or electronic elements for changing direction of electric current passing through the coil 66 in response to receiving the two different binary digital signals (i.e., “1” and “0”); and that, (ii) the logic switch 82 may be a complex circuitry, or it may be comprised of just a single electronic device; For examples, the logic switch 82 may be a Field-Effect Transistor (FET) or the like or an Analog Transmission Gate or the like, or it may be of other type of digital transmission-control devices known to those in the art.

It is appreciated that, since all solenoid has two states, i.e., energized and de-energized states, the actuation of the solenoid 56 can be directly associated with and controlled by the two binary codes (or signals) “1” and “0” of the digital “logic-switch-control signal” 83. Referring now to FIG. 7, the actuation-control signal 83X shown is the external signal received by the toy figure 1, which may be transmitted from the computer 30 or from a remote source; The “logic-switch-control signal” 83 shown is the desired logic or binary signal directly associated with the aforementioned two states of the solenoid 56 and the two states of the toy figure 1's movable body part (e.g., “open” and “close” of the mouth 12). The “logic-switch-control signal” 83 is to be received at the logic input point 82X of the logic switch 82. Those skilled in the art would understand that the external “actuation-control signal” 83X received by the toy figure 1 might not be the same as said “logic-switch-control signal” 83. For examples, the signals 83X might be in different data format, or transmitted to the toy figure 1 via a network through a standard data-transfer protocol or the like; or the signals 83X might be wireless signals, etc. Thus, a signal receiving and data format transfer system 82R might need to be included in the actuation-control circuitry 36, as shown in FIG. 7.

One skilled in the art would also understand that other well-known electronic elements or devices or system can be added to the actuation-control circuitry 36 to provide the actuation system with more sophisticated and elaborate features. For examples, devices such as capacitor, Zener, and diode may be included in the circuitry 36 to improve the response speed of the solenoid 56 and/or to suppress arcing from the coil 66; if necessary, appropriate digital devices may be included in the circuitry 36 to transfer the external digital signal 83X received by the toy FIG. 1 to the desired “logic-switch-control” signals 83 for controlling the logic switch 82; and, the actuation-control circuitry 36 may also be designed for controlling more than one solenoids, or for controlling a solenoid having more than one coils; etc. It is well known that a solenoid may have more than one coils, and that a solenoid coil may have one or more lead at an appropriate intermediate position along the wiring coil, etc. Such alternative solenoid coil configurations are shown in FIG. 5. As shown therein, the solenoid 56's coil 66 includes three leads: 66A, 66B, and 66G, which may be understood as that, (i) the coil 66 comprises two coils, i.e., coil 66A-66G and coil 66B-66G; or that (ii) the coil 66 includes a lead 66B at an intermediate position along the coil wiring 66A-66G. Accordingly, the circuitry 36 may be adapted for controlling which coil or which portion of the solenoid wiring 66 shall be provided with electric current according to the desired movement range of magnetic plunger 68. For example, the logic switch system 82 of the circuitry 36 may include two separate logic switch devices or circuitries for controlling the current flows along the connections 66A-66G and 66B-66G respectively.

It is appreciated that, because of the two-phase or two-state nature of a solenoid (i.e., “energized” and “de-energized”) and the two-phase or two-state nature of the toy figure 1's movable body part 1X (e.g., “open” and “close”; OR, “up” and “down”; OR “left” and “right”, etc.), there is a direct correspondence among the binary codes “1”/“0”, the two states of the plunger member 68 of the solenoid 56, and the two states of the toy figure 1's movable body part 1X. Thus, the coupling means 69 does not require any type of complex rotary gearing system, and each independent movable part of the toy figure 1 may be provided with one solenoid. In regarding the body-part attachment means 1Z, it is preferred that the movable body part 1X of toy figure 1 be pivotally attached to or engaged with its nearby stationary portion 1Y, having a return spring attached thereto for urging said movable body part 1X to its default or neutral position while the respective actuation device 56 being de-energized.

It is appreciated that, the present invention provides various ways of using the computer 30 to synchronize the animation of the toy figure 1 with its audio output. Such synchronization is realized by transmitting to the toy figure 1, concurrently and separately, an audio playback sound signals 44W (FIGS. 5-6) and a properly timed sequence of actuation-control signal 83X in a coordinated manner; the total time of the control signal sequence 83 and the timing unit of each of its element are properly determined based on the desired audio output speed of the toy FIG. 1. It is appreciated that, because the actuation-control signals 83X is separate from the sound signal 44W, the synchronization methods of the present invention may be employed to provide realistic sound-animation synchronization for the toy figure 1 even if its sound does not include human speech, such as a musical type sound without lyric or noise or a background sound, etc., or even if the movable body part 1X of the toy figure 1 is not its mouth portion 12.

The “logic-switch-control” signal sequence 83 is comprised of a sequence of “binary elements”, which may be created according to the detailed text content and the timing control of the toy figure 1's audio playback, and it may be converted to a pre-defined data/signal format for transmission (e.g., the signal 83X described above). For examples, (i) the signal sequence 83 may be created in such a way that each of its element and the timing thereof is directly associated with the arrangement of vowel letters in the text of the toy's speech or the like; the computer 30 may create or provide logic-switch-control signals 83 for use to direct the toy figure 1 to open its mouth once on every or every other utterance of a vowel letter in the text of the toy figure 1's current speech; (ii) the animation of the toy's other body part may be controlled based on the appearance of certain predefined words or phrases in said speech; etc.

The general rules for creating the logic-switch-control signal 83, according to the present invention, may be summarized as follows: (i) the number of parallel data/signal sequences (or number of rows) of the “logic-switch-control” signal 83 for direct control of the respective actuation devices or solenoids of the toy figure 1 shall be made equal to the number of solenoids within the toy figure 1, if every solenoid so employed includes only one coil; For examples, if only the mouth 12 of the toy figure 1 needs to be animated, and the solenoid 40 (FIG. 3) is a single-coil solenoid, the signal sequence 83 will have one row of data stream for controlling the solenoid 40 only; and, if the animations of the mouth 12 and the eye 20 are both desired, then two one-coil solenoids 40 and 38 are needed, and hence, the logic-switch-control signal sequence 83 will comprises two parallel rows of data/signal sequences, etc.; (ii) The length or total number of “binary element” in each row of a continuous logic-switch-control signal sequence 83 is determined based on the total number of characters, symbols, and null spaces in the textual content or text of a continuous audio speech of the toy figure 1; (iii) Each one of said “binary element” within the signal sequence 83 is assigned, for example, with either “1” or “0”, which is dependent on the respective character or letter in said textual content or text of the toy figure's audio speech or the like, and which is based on a pre-defined rule relating to the arrangement of the characters or vowel letters or alphabets in the text or textual content of the toy figure 1's speech; (iv) The timing unit of each said “binary element” is obtained by dividing the total time of said continuous audio speech of the toy figure 1 by the total number of binary elements of each row of said logic-switch-control signal sequence 83. Alternatively, the binary value of each said binary element in the logic-switch-control signal sequence 83 may also be determined according to the relative loudness of the sounding of a word in the toy figure 1's audio speech, or according to other characters of the toy FIG. 1 audio effects.

It is appreciated that, the binary elements “1” and “0” in the logic-switch-control signal 83 are directly associated, respectively, with the “energized” and “de-energized” states of the solenoid 56, and with the “open” and “closed” conditions or the like of the toy figure 1's mouth 12 or its other movable body part 1X. For examples, the code “1” represents the action of energizing the respective solenoid 56 for moving the respective movable body part 1X of the toy figure 1 by sending the signal or data “1” to the logic input 82X of the logic switch 82; and the code “0” represents de-energizing the respective solenoid 56 for returning the respective movable body part 1X of the toy figure 1 to its default or neutral position by sending the signal or data “0” to the logic input 82X of the logic switch 82. Because the solenoid 56 has a finite response time, the rules for creating the logic-switch-control signals 83 may also be dependent on the speed of playback of the toy figure 1's audio speech. According to another aspect of the present invention, certain of the toy's body parts, such as the arm 4, the entire head member 2, etc., may be set to move randomly or based on whether the current word or phrase of the toy figure 1's audio speech belongs to a predefined vocabulary groups. The principle of creating or sequencing the “binary elements” of the logic-switch-control signal 83 is exemplified by, but not limited to, the three examples shown in FIGS. 8-10, wherein the text 441 of toy figure 1's sample speech 44W is “hello(o), [w]here is the internet?”; and there are 29 letters/binary elements in each of the three examples.

In the example of FIG. 8, it is assumed that only the mouth 12 of the toy figure 1 of FIG. 3 is set to move, the solenoid 40 is a single-coil solenoid, and the speed of the audio speech is slow. Accordingly, the logic-switch-control data 83I and the signal sequence 831I are one-dimensional with 29 “binary elements” for controlling the one-coil solenoid 40. The binary code/signal sequence 83I/831I is created by, (i) assigning the code “1” to each said binary element that is associated with a vowel letter in the text 44I; otherwise, (ii) assigning the code “0” to each said binary element that is associated with a non-vowel letter/character or null space in the text 44I.

In the example of FIG. 9, it is assumed that the movable body parts 1X of the toy FIG. 1 include the mouth 12 and the arm 4, which are controlled by two single-coil solenoids respectively, and the speed of the toy's audio speech is fast. Accordingly, the logic-switch-control data/signal 83 includes two parallel sequences: the first one 83I/831I are provided for controlling the mouth 12, and the second one 83J/83J1 are provided for control of the arm 4. In creating the data/signal sequence 83I/83I1, the rule of the FIG. 8 example is modified by imposing thereon two constraint, including, (i) any two “1”s therein should be separated by at least two “0”s unless such two “1”s are next to each other, otherwise, the second “1” shall be changed to “0”; and (ii) if any of the words “the” or “a” or “in” appears, only the binary value “0” is assigned. The second logic-switch-control data/signal sequence 83J/83J1 for controlling the arm 4 is created by randomly assigning the binary code “1” to each binary element therein, provided that the total number of“1”s in the data sequence 83J is less then 30% of the total number of the binary element therein.

In the example of FIG. 10, the movable body parts 1X of the toy figure 1 include the mouth 12 and the arm 4, provided that, the solenoid 42 employed for actuating the arm 4 is assumed to have two coils (e.g., coils 66A-66G and 66B-66G of FIG. 5). Thus, the logic-switch-control data/signal 83 includes three parallel sequences: the first one 83I/831I are provided for controlling the mouth 12; the second one 83J/83J1 are provided for controlling the first coil of the solenoid 42, and the third one 83K/83K1 are provided for controlling the second coil of the solenoid 42. The first data/signal sequence 83I/831I is an improvement of that of the FIG. 9 example by imposing thereon a constraint, i.e., the binary element associated with any word in the text 44I may only contain no more than twice the switching of “from 0 to 1”, otherwise, some of the “1”s that brake such rule shall be changed to “0”. In creating the second data/signal sequence 83J/83J1, there is provided a predefined group of words including “yes”, “good”, “great”, “here”, etc.; If any of the words in such vocabulary group appears, such as the word “here” in the present example, every binary element in association with the word “here” is assigned with the binary value “1”, otherwise, the value “0” is assigned. The third logic-switch-control data/signal sequence 83K/83K1 is created by randomly assigning the binary value “1” to each binary element therein, provided that “0” will be assigned if the corresponding or associated element in the second data sequence 83J is a“1”.

Those skilled in the art will understand that, (i) the “actuation-control signal” 83X transmitted to the toy figure 1 from the computer 30 may be the same as or different from the above-described “logic-switch-control signal” 83 desired to be transmitted to the logic input 82X of the logic switch 82; (ii) the actual data file for sound and actuation control of the toy figure 1 may be in a compressed or other standard or conventional data format; (iii) the binary data sequences 83I-K of the FIGS. 8-10 examples may well be different from the actual binary “machine code“created by or for a computing device; (iv) the timing unit of each binary element of the exemplary binary data sequences 83I-K is not intended for relating to the clock speed of a digital computing device; (v) each “1” or “0” in the FIGS. 8-10 examples may represent a continuous sequence of “1”s or “0”s respectively in an actual binary “machine code” sequence; (vi) the toy figure 1's sound signal 44W and actuation-control signal 83/83X may be synchronously transmitted from two separate and synchronized sources; (vii) each binary element of the logic-switch-control signal 83 may also be related to the relative loudness of the sounding of each word of the toy figure 1's speech; and, (viii) the signal 83X or 83 may also be prerecorded in synchronous combination with the respective sound signal sequence 44W for serving as a synchronized source file or data.

It is further understood that, additional hardware devices and/or software system may be included in toy figure 1 for providing more optional features. For examples, devices such as sound-activating sensors, thermal sensors, Light-emitting devices, and/or touch detectors, or the like, may be added to the embodiment to provided the toy figure 1 with more interactive features such as responding to the touching/talking of a user, etc. In addition, the actuation control interface and the sound interface of the computer 30 may be adapted to have multiple channels for connecting to and controlling more than one toy figure 1 of the type described above.

As shown in the FIG. 1, the control of actuation of the toy figure 1's movable body part 1X in synchronization with other multimedia components of the system is provided by the computer 30. The computer 30 is, preferably, a standard multimedia personal computer such as a standard IBM compatible PC or a Macintosh or the like, or it may be a Network Computer, an Internet-enabled TV or TV set-top box or the like, or a mainframe or workstation computer, etc., or it may be of any other type of computing devices or devices installed with multimedia systems. Alternatively, said synchronization may be provided by a remote network computer. The computer 30 has the basic functions of a conventional computer such as data processing, data storage, data movement, and operating control means, etc. FIG. 2 illustrates an exemplary computer system in form of a conventional personal computer 30 for implementing the synchronization methods of the present invention. As shown, the computer 30 includes a processing unit 100, a system memory 102, and a system bus 110 that couples various systems or components to the processing unit 100.

The exemplary computer 30 of FIG. 2 further includes a hard disk drive 104B, for reading from or writing to a hard disk 104, a magnetic disk drive 119B, for reading from or writing to a removable magnetic disk 119, and an optical disk drive 112B for reading from or writing to a removable optical disk 112 (e.g. a DVD or CD ROM). Said disk drives 104B, 119B, and 112B are connected to the system bus 110 by, respectively, a hard drive interface 104A, a magnetic drive interface 119A, and an optical drive interface 112A. A user may enter commands and information into the computer 30 through input devices, such as a keyboard 30B and a pointing device 710 (e.g., a mouse or a handheld remove-control device), etc. These input devices are often connected to the processing unit 100 through a serial port interface(s) 108 that is coupled to the system bus 110. A monitor 30C or other type of display device (e.g., a TV set 900) is also connected to the system bus 110 via a video interface subsystem(s) 708′. The computer 30 may also be provided with network connection systems, such as a network interface or adapter subsystem 115B for connecting to a Network 805, or a modem 115A for connecting to a Wide Area Network (e.g., the Internet). The modem 115A is often connected to the system bus 110 via a serial port interface 115. The computer 30 also includes a motherboard, the main circuit board on which the computer's main electronic components are installed.

The computer 30 further includes interface (hardware/software) subsystem(s) for facilitating connection and data communication with the toy figure 1's actuation-control circuitry 36 and speaker 44. As shown in FIGS. 2-3, the computer 30 controls the toy figure 1's speaker 44 via a connection 34A and via an audio interface subsystem 116, which is coupled to the system bus 110; The computer 30 controls the toy figure 1's actuation via a connection 34C and via an actuation-control interface subsystem 106, which is coupled to the system bus 110. It is preferred that, the actuation-control interface subsystem 106 is a custom-designed interface subsystem for control of the toy figure 1's animation. Alternatively, a conventional multimedia computer's standard or existing interface subsystem(s), such as the standard serial or parallel port, the game port, or the universal serial bus (USB), etc., may also be employed for controlling the toy figure 1 animation; In such a case, the interface subsystem 106 may be comprised of said standard/conventional I/O or interface components of a standard multimedia computer. The audio interface 116 may be a conventional personal computer's standard audio adapter for controlling the computer 30's built-in speaker 44X. Alternatively, a dedicated audio adapter or interface subsystem may be provided for controlling the toy figure 1's speaker 44. Also alternatively, a custom-designed integrated interface adapter subsystem 166 (FIG. 3) may be provided for providing both sound and actuation control for the toy figure 1. Apparently, appropriate software systems are to be installed in the computer 30 for supporting all necessary operations described herein.

The following disclosure regarding the method of using a handheld remote-control device to control an electronic appliance is also disclosed in the U.S. application Ser. No. 10/340,429 filed Jan. 10, 2003 by the applicant of the present application.

Reference is now made to FIGS. 11-12 in conjunction with FIG. 1. According to another aspect of the present invention, “Indirect Control” method is applied when using the remote control 710 for a general-purpose remote control of other electronic devices. For example, in FIG. 1, the computer 30 is provided with software/hardware subsystem for transmitting/receiving remote-control signals, so as to simulate the functioning of a general-purpose handheld remote control device. The electronic devices, such as the devices 702/706 of FIG. 1, do not respond directly to the user's operation of the remote control device 710. If the remote control 710 is to be “adjusted” to control, for examples, the new devices 702 or 706 or the toy 1, rather than adjusting the remote control 710 itself, such an “adjustment” is made by the respective software application installed in the computer 30 such that, the desired (or adjusted) remote control signals 74B/74A be transmitted from the computer 30 to the devices 702/706 respectively in response to the user's operation of the remote control device 710, while the wireless signals transmitted from the remote control 710 to the computer 30 are not “adjusted” (thus “Indirect Control”).

As shown in FIGS. 11-12, the computer system 30 of FIG. 1 is provided with a signal transmitter/receiver subsystem 30T for interacting with the remote control 710 and with an electronic appliance 726 via wireless signals. The wireless signal employed for such remote control interaction may be, preferably, a RF signal. Alternatively, such wireless signal may be infrared (IR) or intermediate frequency (IF) signal or modulated light signal or other type of commonly used wireless signal for remote control of an electronic appliance. It is preferred that the signal transmitter/receiver subsystem 30T is provided with means for transmitting and receiving wide range(s) of commonly used signal spectrum so as to facilitate the functioning of general-purpose remote control. In addition, each one of the electronic devices feasible for remote control, such, for examples, as the device 706, 702, or the toy figure 1 of FIG. 1, may be provided with an application icon or link in the computer system 30 to be shown on the window desktop; When a user click on such application icon to activate the associated remote-control software application program, the electronic appliance associated therewith may then be control by the remote control device 710.

Apparently, the signal transmitter/receiver subsystem 30T is to be provided with a digital interface system 30Z (FIG. 12) so as to interact with other components or computing/processing unit of the computer 30. As a result, the computer 30 can be programmed to interact with the remote control device 710 or to control the electronic appliance 726 without providing the remote control device 710 and the electronic appliance 726 with complex digital interface. One skilled in the art would appreciate that such a method may also be applied generally to using the computer 30 to control an electronic appliance 726 without providing the appliance 726 with digital interface, and the interaction between the computer 30 and the appliance 726 may be either one-way or two-way interaction without providing the electronic appliance 726 with digital interface. The computer system 30 may be a mouse-window type computer system (FIG. 12) or a remote-control based computer system (FIG. 11) or other type of commonly used computer system.

The computer 30 may be connected to a network, such as the Internet, such that a user can control the electronic appliance 726 from a remote location by accessing the computer 30 from another computer at said remote location through said network. Furthermore, as shown in FIG. 12, the control of the electronic appliance 726 by the computer 30 can be synchronized with the content of a streaming video (e.g., a TV movie being broadcasted from the TV station 208 or a video transmitted from the web site 300), such that the electronic device 726 can also be part of the TV movie. For examples, computer 30 can be instructed to turn on/off the light in a living room at a specific moment of a TV movie, or to turn on the air condition when “cold weather” is to come in the current TV movie, or to activate an electronic deodorant device or the like to generate flower-type of smelling in the air when the current TV movies shows a flower garden, etc. The remote control system of FIG. 11-12 may be used to control or interact with, for examples, a clock, an exercise device such as a treadmill, an air condition system, a refrigerator, a microwave, a light bulb, a TV set, a VCR or DVD player, a sound system, a radio, or an electronic toy, etc.

Since the transmitter/receiver 30T is provided with wide-range signal spectrum capability, the computer 30 may be provided with “button identification/assignment” software-application program for identifying a button on another remote control and assign the function of such button to a selected button on the general purpose remote control device 710. For example, if the electronic appliance 726 is provided with an original handheld remote control device 710X (not shown) from the manufacture that has a button 710X-A, and a user wants to designate a button 710-A on the general-purpose remote control device 710 to replace the functioning of the button 710X-A of the remote control device 710X; The processes of identifying the buttons 710X-A and 710-A are by simply clicking on these buttons on the remote control devices 710X and 710 respectively, and the resultant wireless signals will then be received by the computer 30 and by the “button identification/assignment” application program. The button identification/assignment application program may then be used to link or associate the button 710-A to the button 710X-A such that, when the user depress or click on the button 710-A of the remote control 710, the wireless signals transmitted from the subsystem 30T of the computer 30 to the appliance 726 will be the same as the wireless signals transmitted thereto when the user depress the button 710X-A of the remote control device 710X; Similarly, the button 710X-A of the remote control device 710X may also be assigned to a display button on a toolbar or to an image icon or the like shown on the computer monitor such that when a user click on said toolbar or said display button using a computer mouse, the wireless signals transmitted from the subsystem 30T of the computer 30 to the appliance 726 will be the same as the wireless signals transmitted thereto when the user depress the button 710X-A of the remote control device 710X.

Naturally, the embodiment of the digitally synchronized animated talking toy figure and the synchronization methods/systems of the present invention are not limited to the above-described examples. While certain novel features of the inventions have been shown and described and are set out in the Claims, it will be understood that various substitutions and changes in the forms and details of the devices and software systems described throughout this disclosure and in their operation can be made by those skilled in the art without departing from the spirit of the invention.