Title:
Virtual Batting Range
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A virtual batting range such for engaging in sporting activities, the virtual batting range comprising one or more individual batting areas for user to hit, bat, throw or kick balls; a reactive system with sensors linking to a feedback system which generates various corresponding audio and visual effects; a display unit portions to generate audio and visual effects for an overall ambiance; and a ball dispensing device to deliver balls to users.



Inventors:
Chu, Jeffrey (Hillsborough, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/419739
Publication Date:
12/21/2006
Filing Date:
05/22/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B69/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
CHAN, ALLEN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Ray K. Shahani, Esq. (South San Francisco, CA, US)
Claims:
I claim:

1. A virtual batting range for engaging in sport activities, the virtual batting range comprising: one or more individual batting areas for user to hit, bat, throw or kick balls; a reactive system with sensors linked to a feedback system which generates various corresponding audio and visual effects; a display unit portions to generate audio and visual effects for an overall ambiance; and a ball dispensing device to eject balls to users.

2. The virtual batting range of claim 1 in which the reactive can be positioned in specific locations for different sport skills.

3. A virtual batting range for use in training or recreation, the virtual batting cage comprising: a batter's box area, the batter's box area comprising a home plate and a control panel; an automatic pitching mechanism located at a pitcher's position for delivering or pitching balls into the batter's box area essentially across the home plate; and a target zone reactive to impact by a ball, such that depending on the location of impact, a unique sound or light response is produced identifying the general area of impact in the target zone.

4. The virtual batting range of claim 3, wherein the target zone comprises a sensor.

5. The virtual batting range of claim 3, wherein the target zone comprises a plurality of sensors.

6. The virtual batting range of claim 5, wherein the plurality of sensors provide unique sounds and/or lights upon impact by a projectile.

7. The virtual batting range of claim 5, wherein the plurality of sensors provide unique sounds and/or lights as a function of the location of the sensor impacted by the projectile.

8. The virtual batting range of claim 3, wherein the target zone comprises a sensor array.

9. The virtual batting range of claim 3, further comprising a display zone.

10. The virtual batting range of claim 9, in which the display zone indicates a virtual score.

11. A virtual batting range for engaging in a sport hitting game and a sport throwing game, the virtual batting range comprising: a hitting game having a ball delivery device, a virtual pitcher synchronized to the ball delivery device, controller for controlling the speed, height and angle of delivery of balls across a home plate, a target zone having one or more sensors, and associated feedback dependent upon the location and force of impact of balls successfully hit into the target zone, the feedback being one or more of the types selected from the group consisting of visual LED user game score display, visual LED tournament data display, virtual sportscaster's randomly generated audio announcement, virtual sportscaster's uniquely generated audio announcement, visual background lighting effects, visual foreground lighting effects, visual stroboscopic and laser generated effects, generation of steam, smoke or fog, video imaging, holographic imaging, and video-enhanced imaging; and a throwing game having a ball delivery device, a target zone having one or more sensors, a controller for controlling delivery of balls and scoring, and associated feedback dependent upon the location and force of impact of balls successfully thrown into the target zone, the feedback being one or more of the types selected from the group consisting of visual LED user game score display, visual LED tournament data display, virtual sportscaster's randomly generated audio announcement, virtual sportscaster's uniquely generated audio announcement, visual background lighting effects, visual foreground lighting effects, visual stroboscopic and laser generated effects, generation of steam, smoke or fog, video imaging, holographic imaging, and video-enhanced imaging.

12. The virtual batting range of claim 11, further comprising automatic ball return system, the automatic ball return system comprising sloped ground surface, ball capture mechanism and ball lifting device.

13. The virtual batting range of claim 11, further comprising enclosure for preventing loss of balls.

14. The virtual batting range of claim 13, in which the enclosure consists of safety netting.

15. The virtual batting range of claim 13, in which the enclosure consists of impact-resistant rigid sections, the impact-resistant rigid sections composed of one or more materials selected from the group consisting of tempered glass, plastic.

16. The virtual batting range of claim 13, in which the enclosure separates the hitting game and the throwing game.

17. The virtual batting range of claim 13, in which the one or more sensors for the target zone for the hitting game and the one or more sensors for the target zone for the throwing game are of the type selected from the group consisting of electric circuit switch sensors, electrical contact switch sensors, optical switch sensors, electric eye sensors, optical beam curtain sensors, and photographic sensors.

18. The virtual batting range of claim 13, in which virtual pitcher synchronized to the ball delivery device can be switched from left-handed to right-handed and back again, as desired.

19. The virtual batting range of claim 18, in which the user can assume a playing position for the hitting game without passing through the path of the delivery of the ball, thereby eliminating the chance that either a left-handed user or a right-handed user will be struck by a ball being delivered down the virtual batting range.

20. The virtual batting range of claim 13, in which the target zone is 3-dimensional, thereby creating a more realistic, life-like virtual batting range.

Description:

RELATED APPLICATIONS

This Application is related to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/683,275 filed May 20, 2005 entitled VIRTUAL BATTING CAGE, which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety, and claims any and all benefits to which it is entitled therefrom.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to a virtual sport practice facility, and more specifically to an interactive reactive target system that allows practice of sport activity that involves hitting, batting, throwing and/or kicking of a ball.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Many sport activities involve batting (baseball, tennis), kicking (soccer) and/or throwing (football) an object, such as a ball, to specific targets. Targets can be a region or goal structure (football, soccer), a teammate (football) or combinations of various subjects. In order to improve one's skills, repetitions in the form of practice are frequently employed.

The present invention provides an interactive and virtual environment for users to practice their batting, kicking and/or throwing skills. Users can control target difficulties, format feedback for their preferences, and engage in types of activities which cater to their practice objectives.

The standard baseball/softball batting range only offers one pitch speed per cage. Pitching machines in the present invention of virtual batting range will be able to change between three or more different speeds as well as a random speed option and pitch height adjustment. The present invention consists of the selection console behind the batter's back stop whereas users can select their choices of speed, patterns, activities, varieties of responses etc. A standard batting range usually is only equipped with a basic token box and a “start” button in each cage with only one ball speed.

The present invention also consists of an “LED ball counter” near the LED image to allow the users to see how many pitches remain in the round. As the present invention offers more options from each cage, the design proves to be more efficient in space and equally more effective for training and amusement.

The present invention also combines the batting game and the pitching game that offers more options to users.

ADVANTAGES AND SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

An object and advantage of the present invention is to provide a virtual, controlled environment for practice. Users can set their own practice goal and cater for their own skills.

Another object and advantage of the present invention is to allow individual practice. Users can use the facilities anytime without scheduling with others.

Another object and advantage of the present invention is to allow actual indoor practice for outdoor sports like baseball, golf etc. through use of a virtual sporting environment.

Another advantage of the present invention is to provide a virtual sporting experience for users with instantaneous feedback to users and other participants.

Another advantage of the present invention is to provide versatility in types of sports practice.

Another advantage of the present invention is to provide varieties in speed, angle, spin and pitching sequence of the incoming balls.

Yet another advantage of the present invention is to provide easy control of various parameters of practice through an individual multi-functional selection console. As the virtual batting range offers more options from each cage, it's design proves to be more efficient in space and equally more effective for training and amusement.

Further objects and advantages of the present invention will be come apparent through the following descriptions, and will be included and incorporated herein.

In an embodiment, a target reactive system responds when the target is hit by a baseball or other projectile, different target zones having different reactions depending on the location of impact. For example, in a four target zone, if the top zone is hit with the projectile, then a voice such as that provided by a real announcer would play or sound something like “HOME RUN!” shouted at high volume and utilizing a sportscaster's or announcer's virtual tone, pitch and camber. In an embodiment, strobes would go off, and the sounds of crowds cheering would be heard. If a second target zone was hit, a voice might say “It's a triple!” and a few strobes would go off and some emulated or virtual crowd approval could be heard. A third zone would say something like “It's a double! ” with a couple of virtual crowd claps or applause. A fourth zone might correspond with an in-field single. Behind the batter there may also be a zone with a sensor such that when the ball struck the zone behind the batter a voice says “Ball 1” or “Ball 2”, etc., if the batter didn't swing. If the batter did swing and misses the ball, a voice may project a loud “Strike 1”, “Strike 2”, “Strike 3” or “You're Out!”, etc.

The design of the overall virtual batting cage 100 of the present invention can be made to re-create or emulate, copy or appear similar to famous football or baseball fields anywhere in the world, including SBC/Pac Bell Park in San Francisco, Wrigley Field in Chicago, etc. Such virtual batting cage 100 would appear similar in design and general appearance to the actual stadium or ballpark. Thus, any sort of field could be emulated, including baseball and football stadiums, soccer and cricket fields, golf courses, frisbee or other sporting events.

It will be understood that emulated voices of famous sporting event announcers, including John Madden, Howard Cosell, etc., could also be utilized, so as to give the virtual batting cage invention an air of reality. In addition to sounds of fans, announcers, scoring, etc., it is also possible to provide virtual scents and odors such as identified with or created by steaming hot dogs, fresh popcorn, frothing beer, sweating players, etc.

In a more comprehensive and another embodiment, a virtual batting range 100′ for engaging in sport activities, the virtual batting range comprises one or more individual batting areas for user to hit, bat, throw or kick balls, a reactive system with sensors linked to a feedback system which generates various corresponding audio and visual effects, a display unit portions to generate audio and visual effects for an overall ambiance and a ball dispensing device to eject balls to users. In an embodiment, the reactive of the virtual batting range 100′ can be positioned in specific locations for different sport skills.

The virtual batting range 100′ for use in training or recreation, in an embodiment, the virtual batting cage comprises a batter's box area, the batter's box area comprising a home plate and a control panel, an automatic pitching mechanism located at a pitcher's position for delivering or pitching balls into the batter's box area essentially across the home plate and a target zone reactive to impact by a ball, such that depending on the location of impact, a unique sound or light response is produced identifying the general area of impact in the target zone. In an embodiment, the target zone of the virtual batting range 100′ comprises a sensor. In an embodiment, the target zone of the virtual batting range 100′ comprises a plurality of sensors. The virtual batting range 100′, in an embodiment, the plurality of sensors provide unique sounds and/or lights upon impact by a projectile. In an embodiment, the plurality of sensors of the virtual batting range 100′ provide unique sounds and/or lights as a function of the location of the sensor impacted by the projectile. In an embodiment, the target zone of the virtual batting range 100′ comprises a sensor array and further comprises a display zone. In an embodiment, the display zone of the virtual batting range 100′ indicates a virtual score.

In an embodiment, the virtual batting range 100′ for engaging in a sport hitting game and a sport throwing game, the virtual batting range comprises a hitting game having a ball delivery device, a virtual pitcher synchronized to the ball delivery device, controller for controlling the speed, height and angle of delivery of balls across a home plate, a target zone having one or more sensors, and associated feedback dependent upon the location and force of impact of balls successfully hit into the target zone, the feedback being one or more of the types selected from the group consisting of visual LED user game score display, visual LED tournament data display, virtual sportscaster's randomly generated audio announcement, virtual sportscaster's uniquely generated audio announcement, visual background lighting effects, visual foreground lighting effects, visual stroboscopic and laser generated effects, generation of steam, smoke or fog, video imaging, holographic imaging, and video-enhanced imaging and a throwing game having a ball delivery device, a target zone having one or more sensors, a controller for controlling delivery of balls and scoring, and associated feedback dependent upon the location and force of impact of balls successfully thrown into the target zone, the feedback being one or more of the types selected from the group consisting of visual LED user game score display, visual LED tournament data display, virtual sportscaster's randomly generated audio announcement, virtual sportscaster's uniquely generated audio announcement, visual background lighting effects, visual foreground lighting effects, visual stroboscopic and laser generated effects, generation of steam, smoke or fog, video imaging, holographic imaging, and video-enhanced imaging. In an embodiment, the virtual batting range 100′ further comprises automatic ball return system, the automatic ball return system comprising sloped ground surface, ball capture mechanism and ball lifting device. In an embodiment, the virtual batting range 100′ further comprises enclosure for preventing loss of balls. In an embodiment, the enclosure of the virtual batting range 100′, consists of safety netting. In an embodiment, the enclosure of the virtual batting range 100′ consists of impact-resistant rigid sections, the impact-resistant rigid sections composed of one or more materials selected from the group consisting of tempered glass, plastic. In an embodiment, the enclosure the virtual batting range 100′ separates the hitting game and the throwing game.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1A is a representative schematic view of an embodiment of the virtual batting cage 100 of the present invention.

FIG. 1B is a representative front view of an alternative embodiment of target zone 92 of the present invention 100.

FIG. 2 is a representative schematic top view of another embodiment of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention.

FIG. 3A is a representative schematic left side view of an embodiment of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention.

FIG. 3B is a representative left side view of an embodiment of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention showing the ball retrieval mechanism.

FIG. 4 is a representative side view of an embodiment of the selection console 105 of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention.

FIG. 5A is a representative front view of the combination of pitching machine 113 and LED virtual pitcher display device 108 of the present invention 100′ in a right-handed pitcher mode.

FIG. 5B is a representative electric wiring diagram 550 associated with the ball pitching mechanism 112 of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention.

FIG. 6A is a representative schematic front view of interactive score board 204 in the pitching game portion 300 of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention.

FIG. 6B is the schematic front side view of interactive pitching target 224 in the pitching game portion 300 of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention.

FIG. 6C is a representative schematic logical control diagram 300′ of the pitching game 300 of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

The description that follows is presented to enable one skilled in the art to make and use the present invention, and is provided in the context of a particular application and its requirements. Various modifications to the disclosed embodiments will be apparent to those skilled in the art, and the general principals discussed below may be applied to other embodiments and applications without departing from the scope and spirit of the invention. Therefore, the invention is not intended to be limited to the embodiments disclosed, but the invention is to be given the largest possible scope which is consistent with the principals and features described herein.

It will be understood that in the event parts of different embodiments have similar functions or uses, they may have been given similar or identical reference numerals and descriptions. It will be understood that such duplication of reference numerals is intended solely for efficiency and ease of understanding the present invention, and are not to be construed as limiting in any way, or as implying that the various embodiments themselves are identical.

FIG. 1A is a representative schematic view of an embodiment of the virtual batting cage 100 of the present invention. In an embodiment, the virtual batting cage 100 of the present invention consists of playing field 101, one or more individual batting booths 103, a target zone 110, a display zone 114, one or more LED pitcher display devices 108 and one or more ball dispensers 112.

As shown in FIG. 1A, playing field 101 is a confined area where sport activities are carried out. In an embodiment, playing field 101 can be barricaded or caged, netted or otherwise enclosed to avoid balls flying out of the present invention 100. One or more batting booths 103 are installed at one end of the virtual batting cage 100 of the present invention. In an embodiment, each individual batting booth is separated by partitions 106. Each individual batting booth 103 (as best shown in FIG. 2) further consists of a virtual “home plate” or batting patch or mound 102 where user(s) should position and control panel 104. In an embodiment, users can preset various parameters such as different sport module, ball speed, angle, target size, speed, display, feedback or other virtual effects intensity r type, etc., at control panel 104 to specify requirements for their individual practice or entertainment.

In an embodiment, corresponding to individual batting booths 103, there is a LED display device 108 and ball dispenser 112. Users can pick different visuals such as pitching motion of a baseball pitcher or visual of a goal keeper to emulate a real sport environment. In an embodiment, ball dispenser 112 will throw ball to user according to their input at the control panel 104. It will be understood that the virtual pitcher can be left-handed or right-handed, as preferred. Settings can be specific or random.

In an embodiment, display zone 114 is an area where visuals such as stadium crowd, music, score board, advertising, etc., can be displayed to further emulate the actual environment of a sports game. The display zone 114 may emulate or re-create the bleachers full of fans, indicia or signage typically found in a real baseball or other sporting field, score signs, pictures of blue sky with pretty clouds, airplanes, occasional birds, etc. The display zone 114 may also consist of moving images and changing images, such that the display is a virtual display of an actual sporting arena, gamepark, stadium, etc.

In an embodiment, target zone 110 is situated facing users at individual batting booths 103. In an embodiment, sensors should be installed on the surface of target zone 110. Users can bat, hit, kick or throw an object into the target zone 110. When an object makes contact with target zone 110, it will trigger the target reactive system according to the position, speed, angle, force, etc., of the incoming object. A preset predetermined, random or variable feedback will be triggered. For example, in a baseball batting module, if the ball makes contact at the upper part of target zone 110 with enough speed and upward angle, a home run response feedback effect will be triggered. In an embodiment, the feedback could be sportscaster, crowd cheering sound, visual of roaring crowd, home run visuals etc. In alternative embodiments, target zone 110 can be placed at anywhere, or even moving and random positions, to suit different sport training requirements and emulate different sport situations.

FIG. 1B is a representative front view of one alternative embodiment of target zone 110 or 110′ of the present invention 100. In a soccer training module, target zone 110 or 110′ can be preset to be the goal. A goal-scoring feedback will only be triggered if user manage to kick a ball to the shaded area. The shaded area can be further reduced or move to practice more advanced skills.

In an embodiment, the target zone 110 consists of an array of sensors, such that depending on the exact location of impact of the baseball or other ball, the sound and lights correspond uniquely to the precise location of impact. Said sensor array can provide different sounds and lights responsive to impact at different locations on the target zone.

FIG. 2 is a representative schematic top view of an embodiment of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention. In an embodiment, virtual batting range 100′ consists of the virtual batting cage portion 100 and pitching game portion 300. In alternative embodiments, other sport practice range such as tennis hitting, golf putting can be incorporated.

As shown in FIG. 2, the entire virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention is surrounded on four sides by safety netting 208 to keep flying balls within the perimeter of the present invention. Safety net 208 is extended from the ground to the ceiling and are connected by another safety netting 208 suspended from the ceiling that cover the entire area of the virtual batting range 100. When balls 120 make contact with safety netting 208, they will be bounced back and fall on playing field 101. In an embodiment, the virtual batting cage portion 100 and pitching game portion 300 are separated by separating netting 220 which main function is to keep balls of each game in their respective area. Fewer or more portions of netting can be suspended as desired in order to section or divide the area into more or fewer separate, discrete or different shaped areas.

One or more individual batting booth(s) 103 are installed at one end of the virtual batting cage portion 100 of the present invention. In an embodiment, each individual batting booth 103 is separated by partition 106 and there is an approximately 6″ step ledge 152 separating and reminding users not to step on to the playing field 101. Each individual batting booth 103 further consists of batting patch or “first base” 102 where user(s) should position and selection console 105. As shown in FIG. 2, each selection console 105 is protected from incoming balls 130 by batter's back stop 206 so users can operate selection console 105 without being hit by incoming balls.

In an embodiment, the selection console 105 replaces control panel 104 with similar and more functionality selections. Moreover, selection console 105 offers the exact operation selections on both sides of the fixture. Users therefore won't cross the path of incoming balls and risk accidents. Instead, both right-handed or left-handed users can simply walk from their respective batting box 140 and 142 to behind back stop 206 and operate on respective sides of selection console 105.

As shown in FIG. 2 and FIG. 3A, corresponding to each individual batting booth 103, there is a LED display device 108, pitching machine 113 and ball dispenser 112. In an embodiment, their function is to emulate a real pitching action by physically producing pitches of ball towards users at corresponding batting booth 103 while generating synchronized pitcher in motion display at LED display device 108.

As shown in FIG. 2, each set of LED display device 108, pitching machine 113 and ball dispenser 112 is protected inside protective cage 150. In an embodiment, protective cage 150 is made of steel or other building materials that are sturdy enough to sustain impact from flying balls 130. There are cut outs in the protective cage 150 to allow the pitched ball 130 to be ejected and to allow all LED visuals display on the LED display device 108 to be visible as well. The top of protective cage 150 must have netting or tarp and be sloped at a minimum of a range of approximately 6% to the back or to the front. It will be understood that the slope of the top of the protective cage 150 may fall within a range of about 3% to about 9%, or more or less. Balls 130 that land on top of protective cage 150 will roll back on playing field 108. Each set of LED display device 108, pitching machine 113 and ball dispenser 112 can optionally be raised on individual stands or one big stand. In an embodiment, the protective cage 150 with all the machines enclosed in it may sit in a range of 4 feet to 20 feet in front of 3D mural backdrop 400 and/or in the range of 50 feet to 55 feet, or more or less, from individual batting booth 103.

In an embodiment, users can preset various parameters such as different sport module, ball speed, angle, target size, speed, right-handed/left-handed display, feedback effects etc., at selection console 105 to specify requirements for their individual practice. In an embodiment, each selection console 105 is connected to respective control console 109 behind pitching machine 113.

As shown in FIG. 2, a ball retrieval system including inclined troughs 250, ball well 302 and ball elevator tower 320 (shown best in FIG. 3B) is located behind inside protective cages 150. In an embodiment, the main function of the ball retrieval system is to pick up and redistribute used balls 130 to pitching machines 113 in the virtual batting cage portion 100 and/or tossing machine 226 in the pitching game portion 300 of the present invention 100′.

As best shown in FIG. 2 and FIG. 3A, display zone 114 in the form of a 3D mural backdrop 400 is either suspended on the wall or erected vertically on the opposite end of virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention facing users at individual batting booths 103. In an embodiment, 3D mural backdrop 400 should be outside safety netting 208 for protection from impact of flying balls 130.

As shown in FIG. 2, pitching game portion 300 is separated from virtual batting cage portion 100 of virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention by separation netting 220. The main function of the pitching game portion 300 of the present invention is to allow users to practice pitching techniques with immediate and interactive responses. In an embodiment, one or more individual pitching booth 218 is separated from each other and/or adjacent individual batting booth 103 by partition 106. As shown in FIG. 2, pitching score board 204, coin or token box 202 and pitching console 209 are installed inside individual pitching booth 218. In an embodiment, tossing machine 226 is in playing field 101 facing user at individual pitching booth 218. The main function of tossing machine 226 is to eject and deliver balls 130 to user so they can throw/pitch to pitching target 224. Understandably, the tossing machine mechanism 226 should not interfere or cross the vision or flight path from user to pitching target 224.

FIG. 3A is a representative schematic left side view of an embodiment of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention. As best shown in FIG. 2 and FIG. 3A, display zone 114 in the form of a 3D mural backdrop 400 is either suspended on the wall or erected vertically on the opposite end of virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention facing users at individual batting booth 103. In an embodiment, 3D mural backdrop 400 is of a baseball stadium with bleachers and a scoreboard and background images can be skylines of select, well-known or anonymous cities. In alternative embodiments, 3D mural backdrop 400 can be designed specifically to reflect sport environment combining with landmark of hosting cities and marketing/branding opportunities for sponsors.

In an embodiment, sensors such as mechanical, visual, laser etc. can be installed on the surface of target zone 110. In another embodiment, a target system 500 with one or more individual targets 502 is suspended in front of the safety netting 208 that is in front of 3D mural backdrop 400. When target system 500 is struck, it will activate a series of pre-set responses in accordance to target 502 being struck. In an embodiment, sensors on the target 502 can activate sounds such as crowd noise and announcers broadcasting around the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention. Other responses include the scoreboard lighting up on 3D mural backdrop 400, strobes flashing, fog or mist, etc. The objective is to bring a new dimension and novelty to batting ranges with the virtual aspect, drawing the casual fan as well as the avid, serious competitor.

In an embodiment, users can bat, hit, kick or throw an object to the target system 500. When an object makes contact with any target 502, it will trigger the target reactive system according to the position, speed, angle, force etc. of the incoming object, a preset feedback will be triggered. For example, in a baseball batting module, if the ball makes contact with certain target 502 with enough speed and upward angle, a feedback of home run will be triggered. In an embodiment, the feedback could be crowd cheering sound, visual of roaring crowd, home run visuals etc. In alternative embodiments, target 502 can be placed at anywhere or even moving to suit different sport training requirements and emulate different sport situations. It will be understood that any contact-type circuit element can be used to trigger a score, and when the balls 130 strike a target portion 500/502, a score will be generated. It will further be understood that the target 500/502 can comprise an optical switch, any other type of mechanical/electrical switch, or other which can be used to record location of impact, force of impact, etc.

In an embodiment, each selection console 105 is connected to respective control console 109 behind pitching machine 113 that controls both pitching machine 113 and its pairing LED display device 108. As best shown in FIG. 3A and FIG. 5A, pitching machines 113 are 3-speed arm-style or other styles that are known in the art. Every pitching machine 113 is paired with a LED display device 108 mounted in front of the pitching machine 113 thereof. In an embodiment, their collective main function is to emulate a real pitching action by physically producing pitches towards users at corresponding batting booth 103 while generating synchronized pitcher in motion display at LED display device 108. In an embodiment, each LED display device 108 should be able to generate real-life virtual or animated, full-colored and life-size pitcher image. In baseball pitching mode, images are of a baseball pitcher in pitching motion. The pitching movement of the animated pitcher from LED display device 108 is synchronized with the dispatching of balls from the paring pitching machine 113, such that a virtual video or animated ball leaves the hand of the virtual or animated pitcher from LED display device 108 at the exact same time real ball 130 leaves the pitching machine 122. In so doing, this gives user an illusion that a pitcher is actually pitching the ball 130 to him/her while the ball 130 is in fact catapulted by the pitching machine 113 in unison with the virtual or animated image generated by LED display device 108. In an embodiment, the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention may have a combination of one pitching machine 113 and one LED display device 108. To make simulated pitching motion more realistic and have more variety, in an alternative embodiment, pitching machines should be set up on the right side of LED display device 108 that left-handed pitching images are displayed. In yet another embodiment, pitching machines should be set up on the left side of LED display device 108 that right-handed pitching images are displayed. In yet another alternative embodiment, virtual batting range 100′ of present invention may also feature a combination of one LED display device 108 pairing with one pitching machine 113 on either side of the LED display device 108. In this case, pitching machine 113 on the left hand side will pitch in unison with the left-handed pitching image in the LED display device 108 and the other pitching machine 113 does the same with the right-handed pitching image. This alternative embodiment allows users to practice batting balls from both left-handed pitchers and right-handed pitchers.

FIG. 3B is a representative left side view of an embodiment of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention showing the ball retrieval mechanism. As shown in FIG. 3B, playing field 101 of the present invention '100 is an one-directional downward inclined plane from step ledge 152 to the other end of the entire virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention. In an embodiment, the downward sloped floor is finished in green tile and/or green epoxy finish or other smooth floor finish which allows smooth rolling of balls 130. In an embodiment, the angles can be set at a range of approximately 3.5% slope down in direction A. It will be understood that the slope in direction A may fall within a range of about 1.5% to about 5.5%, or more or less. As shown in FIG. 3B, at the end of the sloped playing field 101 there are troughs 250 which are built with downward inclination in the range of approximately 4.5% towards ball well 302. It will be understood that the slope of troughs 250 may fall within a range of about 2% to about 6%, or more or less. In an embodiment, ball well 302 is a well like hollow structure with certain depth to hold balls 130 and ball elevator tower machine 320.

As best shown in FIG. 2, all balls 130 trapped inside the safety netting 208 and ultimately will fall on playing field 101. As shown in FIG. 3B, when any ball 130 falls on the sloped playing field 101, it will roll in direction A and eventually falls into troughs 250. Subsequently, the ball 130 will roll down in direction B inside troughs 250 and eventually stored inside ball well 302. In an embodiment, ball elevator tower machine 320 or other ball picking machines may have a slotted conveyer system that allows it to capture balls 130 from the ball well 302 and send them to pitching machines 113 in virtual batting cage portion 100 and/or tossing machines 226 in pitching game portion 300 of virtual batting range '100 of present invention. In an embodiment, all machines and units that are located in playing field 101 should be raised on stands and/or one big stand with legs that allows balls 130 to roll under them.

FIG. 4 is a representative side view of an embodiment of the selection console 105 of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention. As best shown in FIG. 2, each selection console 105 has two identical front panels to allow both right-handed and left-handed users to operate without risk accidents. As shown in FIG. 4, users can preset various parameters such as different sport module, ball speed, angle, target size, speed, display, feedback effects etc. at speed panel portion 406 of selection console 105 to specify requirements for their individual practice. In a traditional standard batting range with only one speed would only have a token box 402 and a “start” button 404 in each cage. The virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention also includes a ball counter 408 using an LED image 408 or other visual display logistics to allow users to see number of remaining pitches in the round. In one embodiment, a lock box 450 is present at the bottom portion of the selection console 105 of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention to collect tokens/coins securely. To provide security, as shown in FIG. 4, key access 452 or other security measures can be installed.

FIG. 5A is a representative front view of the combination of pitching machine 113 and LED display device 108 of the present invention 100′ in a right-handed pitching mode. As shown in FIG. 5A, pitching machine 113 is set up on the right side of LED display device 108 that right-handed pitching images are displayed. In yet another embodiment, pitching machines can be set up on the left side of LED display device 108 that left-handed pitching images are displayed. In yet another alternative embodiment, virtual batting range 100′ of present invention may also feature a combination of one LED display device 108 pairing with one pitching machine 113 on either side of the LED display device 108. In this case, pitching machine 113 on the left hand side will pitch in unison with the left-handed pitching image in the LED display device 108 and the other pitching machine 113 does the same with the right-handed pitching image. This alternative embodiment allows users to practice batting balls from both left-handed pitchers and right-handed pitchers.

FIG. 5B is a representative electric wiring diagram 550 showing the ball pitching mechanism of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention. As shown in FIG. 5B, ball counter 510 and LED display device 108 are either connected in parallel or powered individually by power unit 610 that supply electricity in AC 120V. In an embodiment, control console 109 and subsequently pitching machine 113 are powered by power unit 512 that supply electricity at higher industrial voltage 208V. In an embodiment, selection console 105 and its corresponding control console 109 are connected two ways by cable 518 and cable 516. In an embodiment, cable 518 is VCTF 0.75×20c or other cable that performs similar functions and cable 516 is VCTF 0.75×5c or other cable that performs similar functions. The main function of control cable 516 and control cable 518 is to convey pitching parameters such as number of pitches (rounds) purchased, speed, height, pitch order, left-handed/right handed pitch selection etc. that are selected by users from selection console 105 to control console 109. As shown in FIG. 5B, those information is subsequently transmitted to pitching machine 113 through cable 522 and to LED display device 108. As a result, pitching machine 113 and LED display device 108 will be perfectly synchronized in pitching motion and generate the exact order (speed, height, random orders, etc.) of pitches that users inputted. In an embodiment, ball counter display 520 is also connected to control console 109. In an embodiment, ball counter display 520 should calculate number of pitches (rounds) purchased minus number of pitches generated to display number of pitches remaining to user.

FIG. 6A is a representative schematic front view of interactive score board 204 in the pitching game portion 300 of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention. As shown in FIG. 6A, interactive score board 204 displays pitching speed and the relating pitching statistics and scores. In an embodiment, target display 620 is a LED display that is corresponding to interactive pitching target 224. As shown in FIG. 6A, selected target area 622 with blinking effect that indicate the exact spot user should be targeting at their pitch. User will be rewarded by extra scores if selected target area 622 is hit. In one alternative embodiment, target area 622 can be programmed by user to remain stationary to practice certain pitch or at random sequence. In yet another embodiment, it can be programmed to allow 2 or more users to compete in the pitching game and individual scores will be calculated according to their pitching speed and accuracy in hitting target area 622.

FIG. 6B is a representative schematic front side view of interactive pitching target 224 in the pitching game portion 300 of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention. In an embodiment, the interactive pitching target 224 is made of sturdy materials such as steel to withstand impact from pitching ball 130. As shown in FIG. 6B, there are 16 or other number of target areas 622 that are corresponding to those at target display 620 on interactive score board 204. In an embodiment, motion sensors are installed at each and every target area 622 to record which target area 622 is hit by incoming pitching ball 130 by user. In an embodiment, the entire target areas 622 are protected by protective shield 612 to avoid damage. In an embodiment, protective shield 612 should be made of transparent materials that have special strength to absorb incoming impact to avoid damage but yet transmit enough localized impact to trigger the motion sensors on the exact target area 622 that is being hit. In one alternative embodiment, LED can be installed on target area 622 and will be triggered when it is hit to show pitcher which target area 622 is being hit. In an embodiment, speed measuring device such as visual senor can be installed on side panel 616 of the interactive target pitching target 224 to measure pitching speed.

FIG. 6C is a representative schematic logical control diagram 300′ of the pitching game 300 of the virtual batting range 100′ of the present invention. As shown in FIG. 6C, selection console 105, interactive score board 228, toss machine 226, interactive pitching target 224, ball retrieval mechanism 304 are all connected by cables 650 that are VCTF 1.25×2C or other cables that have similar specifications.

It will be understood that further virtual effects, including artificial wind, rain or snow, temperature control, lighting effects, rising or setting sun, vibrations and other motion or movement of the batting range 100′, and others which will be known or obvious to those skilled in the art of virtual effects, are included within the scope of this invention. It will also be known to those skilled in the art that the present invention 100′ can be used for individual or team practice, entertainment, amateur or professional competition and tournaments.

Furthermore, it will be understood that in an embodiment, the target zone of the batting range is 3-dimensional, thereby creating a more realistic, life-like virtual batting range 100′. By creating different portions of the target zone 500 located at different distances from the home plate 102, a more realistic effect is imparted to the user. Utilizing sensors located at different distances back from the home plate 102 will increase the virtual effects, and enhance user enjoyment.

Unless defined otherwise, all technical and scientific terms used herein have the same meaning as commonly understood by one of ordinary skill in the art to which the present invention belongs. Although any methods and materials similar or equivalent to those described can be used in the practice or testing of the present invention, preferred methods and materials are now described. All publications and patent documents referenced in the present invention are incorporated herein by reference.

While the principles of the invention have been made clear in illustrative embodiments, there will be immediately obvious to those skilled in the art many modifications of structure, arrangement, proportions, the elements, materials, and components used in the practice of the invention, and otherwise, which are particularly adapted to specific environments and operative requirements without departing from those principles. The appended claims are intended to cover and embrace any and all such modifications, with the limits only of the true purview, spirit and scope of the invention.