Title:
Clutch and detection means for paintball marker loader
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A drive system for a paintball loader has a motor driven shaft rotatable about a central axis, a drive mechanism attached to the drive shaft, a feed mechanism carrier adjacent the drive mechanism and rotatable about the drive shaft. The drive shaft and the feed mechanism are engaged through a slip clutch and a sensor detects any slippage between them, and sends a corresponding disabling signal to the motor.



Inventors:
Bell, David (Mullica Hill, NJ, US)
Application Number:
11/520329
Publication Date:
03/22/2007
Filing Date:
09/13/2006
Assignee:
National Paintball Supply, Inc. (Sewell, NJ, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
124/49
International Classes:
F41B11/02
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
RICCI, JOHN A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Volpe Koenig (PHILADELPHIA, PA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A drive system for a paintball loader comprising: a motor that drives a drive shaft rotatable about a central axis; a clutch plate engaged to the drive shaft; a drive cone that rotates about the central axis; a controller that controls the motor; wherein the clutch plate drives the rotation of the drive cone in a clutch-driven engagement; wherein when the clutch plate slips against the drive cone, the controller receives a signal, and in turn transmits a signal to the motor that disables the motor.

2. A drive system for a paintball loader comprising: a motor that drives a drive shaft rotatable about a central axis; a clutch plate engaged to the drive shaft and that drives a drive cone about the central axis in a clutch-driven engagement, the drive cone configured to direct paintballs from the loader to a paintball marker; a controller that controls the motor; wherein in response to the clutch plate slipping against the drive cone, the controller disables the motor for a predetermined time period.

3. The drive system of claim 2, further comprising a sensor on the clutch plate that detects when the clutch plate slips against the drive cone and upon detection of the slippage, sends a corresponding signal to the controller.

4. The drive system of claim 2, further comprising a sensor on the drive cone that detects when the clutch plate slips against the drive cone and upon detection of the slippage, sends a corresponding signal to the controller.

5. The drive system of claim 2, further comprising a sensor that detects torque on the drive shaft, and upon detection of a predetermined amount of torque, sends a corresponding signal to the controller.

6. The drive system of claim 2, further comprising a sensor that detects torque on the drive shaft, and upon detection of a predetermined change in torque, sends a corresponding signal to the controller.

7. The drive system of claim 2, further comprising a sensor that detects torque on the motor, and upon detection of a predetermined amount of torque, sends a corresponding signal to the controller.

8. The drive system of claim 2, further comprising a sensor that detects torque on the motor, and upon detection of a predetermined change in torque, sends a corresponding signal to the controller.

9. A drive system for a paintball loader comprising: a motor that drives a drive shaft rotatable about a central axis; a clutch plate engaged to the drive shaft and that drives a drive cone about the central axis in a clutch-driven engagement, the drive cone configured to direct paintballs from the loader to a paintball marker; a controller that controls the motor; wherein in response to the clutch plate slipping against the drive cone, the controller operates the motor in reverse for a predetermined period of time.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION(S)

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application 60/716,478 filed Sep. 13, 2005 which is incorporated by reference as if fully set forth.

FIELD OF INVENTION

This invention relates to the sport of paintball and equipment for playing paintball games. Specifically, it is a device for use with a paintball loader that rotates a feeder, allows the feeder to operate despite a paintball jam and significantly reduces the likelihood that the feeder, loader or paintballs will be damaged if paintballs jam.

BACKGROUND

Paintball is played on a field by two teams. The object of most games is to “capture” the opposing team's flag before they capture yours. Each player is armed with a paintball marker, which is generally, a gun that shoots spherical gelatin capsules filled with a non-toxic paint, called “paintballs” under the force of compressed gas. If a player is hit with a paintball fired by a marker of a player on the opposing team he or she is eliminated from the game.

Paintball loaders sit atop the markers and feed paintballs into the marker. They are comprised of a hopper (the terms “hopper” and “loader” are used interchangeably herein) which stores paintballs, and has an outlet or exit tube. The outlet tube is connected to an inlet tube of a paintball marker, which is in communication with the breech of the paintball marker. Many hoppers also contain an agitator or drive system, which is usually performed by an impeller, projection, drive cone, agitator, paddle, arm, fin, carrier, or any other mechanism, such as those shown and described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,954,042, 6,213,110, and 6,792,933, all incorporated by reference as if fully set forth herein. In a gravity feed type hopper, the agitator mixes paintballs so that no jams occur at the exit tube. In a force feed drive system hopper, the agitator forces paintballs through the exit tube. Because it is desirable to eliminate as many opposing players as possible, paintball markers are capable of rapid fire. To accommodate this, paintball hoppers hold a large amount of paintballs and the agitators are capable of feeding these paintballs to the marker rapidly.

While this allows for rapid fire, it also increases the likelihood that paintballs will jam in the outlet and/or inlet tubes and thereby “back-up” into hopper. In the loaders currently known in the art, the feeder or agitator continues to rotate despite the jam. Thus, the impellers of the feeder or agitator continue to try to drive paintballs through the jammed tubes. This often stops the feeding of paintballs, damages the paintballs and sometimes renders the feeder or loader inoperable. Thus, there is a need for a drive system for a paintball loader that controls the rotation of a feeder or agitator when paintballs jam, and shuts off the motor driving the agitator. There is also a need for a device frees up the jam and begins rotating immediately once the jam is cleared so that a player may resume play quickly. The present invention satisfies these needs.

SUMMARY

The present invention is a drive system for a paintball loader comprising a motor driven shaft rotatable about a central axis, a drive mechanism attached to the drive shaft, a feed mechanism carrier adjacent the drive mechanism and rotatable about the drive shaft, wherein the drive shaft and the feed mechanism are engaged through a slip clutch.

The present invention is a drive system for a paintball loader comprising a stepper motor driven shaft rotatable about a central axis, a drive mechanism attached to the drive shaft, a feed mechanism carrier adjacent the drive mechanism and rotatable about the drive shaft, wherein the drive shaft and the feed mechanism are engaged through a slip clutch.

In every embodiment disclosed below, the present invention is easily “retrofitted” so that it can be used with all existing styles of paintball loaders, including, but not limited to “force feed”, “active feed”, and “agitating” loaders.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is an elevation view of a loader attached to a paintball marker.

FIG. 2 is a bottom isometric view of a paintball feed mechanism according to the present invention.

FIG. 3 is a top isometric view of a paintball feed mechanism according to the present invention.

FIG. 4 is a bottom isometric view of a paintball feed mechanism according to the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

As used herein, the term “paintball feeder”, “feed mechanism”, “feeder”, or “paintball impeller” refers to any apparatus that impels paintballs from a hopper into a gas gun breech.

FIG. 1 is a side elevational view of a rapid feed paintball loader 40 operatively attached to a representative paintball gun 20 illustrated in phantom. The paintball gun 20 includes a main body 22, a compressed gas cylinder 24, a front handgrip 26, a barrel 28, and a rear handgrip 30. The paintball gun also includes an inlet tube 32 leading to a firing chamber (not shown) in the interior of the main body and a trigger 34. The front handgrip projects downwardly from the barrel and provides an area for gripping by an operator of the paintball gun. The compressed gas cylinder is typically secured to a rear portion of the paintball gun. The compressed gas cylinder normally contains carbon dioxide, although any compressible gas may be used.

In operating the paintball gun 20, the trigger 34 is squeezed, thereby actuating the compressed gas cylinder to release bursts of compressed gas. The bursts of gas are used to eject paintballs 53 outwardly through the barrel 28. The paintballs are continually fed by the paintball loader 40 through its outlet tube 52 to the inlet tube 32, and then to the firing chamber. The actual feed is done by gravity, but jams in the outlet tube 52 are discouraged by a motorized feed assembly 140 located within the loader 40, which is shown in more detail in FIGS. 2 and 3.

The feed assembly comprises several embodiments, the first of which comprises a drive cone 100, clutch plate 108, drive shaft 300, and motor 400. The drive cone 100 rotates about axis 204 and has fins 104 hold and drive the paintballs 53 towards the outlet tube 52 to prevent jamming and facilitate loading.

The motor 400 drives the drive shaft 108, which in turn drives the clutch plate 200. The clutch plate 200 engages and drives a clutch engaging surface 106 on the bottom of the drive cone 100. During a situation where the ball jams, rather than the motor 400 continuing to drive the fins 104 and crush the paintball 53, the clutch plate 200 slips against the drive cone's engaging surface 106 when the engaging surface 106 exerts a predetermined amount of resistance to the rotational force applied by the clutch plate (this resistance could be modified by the user or a predetermined setting from the factory).

When this slippage occurs, sensors 109 and/or 209 in the drive cone 100 and clutch plate 200 respectively, detect the slippage and relay a signal to a controller 500. The controller, on receipt of the signal, sends a disabling signal to the motor 400 that turns off the motor until the jam is cleared.

The sensors 109, 209 may be located at one or both of the drive cone and clutch plate. They may also be adapted to measure the torque on the driveshaft, or even the torque on the motor, so long as they send a signal to the controller that in turn disables the motor upon slippage.

In the embodiment shown in FIG. 4, the clutch mechanism is a rotary clutch 200a, it being understood that other clutches could be used, including clutches between the motor and driveshaft 108 and those built into the drive mechanism of the motor.

In another embodiment of the present invention, the motor is a stepper motor, as is known in the art. Any type of motor may be substituted for the stepper motor. A motor controller is provided, including at least one sensor. The controller may be provided as an electrical circuit, and may be a circuit including a microprocessor.

When an extension of the feed mechanism encounters a jammed paintball, a signal is sent to the controller that a jam has occurred. The controller sends a signal to the motor to cease turning the drive shaft in the direction it is initially rotating (for example, counterclockwise), and to turn in the opposite direction (i.e., clockwise) for a period of time T. The time T may be set in the controller, or may be user-selectable. Similarly, the controller may be set to turn the motor in the opposite direction for an angular distance D, which may be a portion of a rotation, a full rotation in the opposite direction, or a plurality of rotations. After time T, or distance D, the controller will send a signal back to the motor to rotate the drive shaft back in the original direction (i.e., counterclockwise). In this manner, the jam will be cleared.

The sensor may be provided, for example, as a torsion sensor adapted to measure the torque on the feed mechanism or may be provided as a sensor for detecting the position of the feed mechanism or if the feed mechanism ceases moving. For example, an optical sensor having an emitter and a receiver may be used to detect the movement of the feed mechanism, and may be position within the loader body to detect such position.

It is thus believed that the operation and construction of the present invention will be apparent from the foregoing description. While the apparatus shown and described has been characterized as being preferred, it will be readily apparent that various changes and modifications could be made therein without departing from the scope of the invention as defined in the following claims.

Having thus described in detail several embodiments of the present invention, it is to be appreciated and will be apparent to those skilled in the art that many physical changes, only a few of which are exemplified in the detailed description of the invention, could be made without altering the inventive concepts and principles embodied therein. It is also to be appreciated that numerous embodiments incorporating only part of the preferred embodiments are possible which do not alter, with respect to those parts, the inventive concepts and principles embodied therein. The present embodiment and optional configurations are therefore to be considered in all respects as exemplary and/or illustrative and not restrictive, the scope of the invention being indicated by the appended claims rather than by the foregoing description, and all other embodiments and changes to this embodiment which come within the meaning and range of equivalency of said claims are therefore to be embraced therein.