Title:
Multi-segment animation balloon
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Animation balloon such as a toy or advertising gimmick has at least two hollow segments filled with a gas that is less dense than air and joined so as to define between proximate pairs of segments a flexible joint that lies in a substantially horizontal plane when the balloon is used. A tether anchored to an air-buoyant drive segment of the balloon allows different external pulling force components to be applied so as to pull down the at least two segments, whereupon releasing the tether allows the at least two segments to rise independently under the buoyancy of the drive segment. The tether may be anchored asymmetrically relative to a center of gravity of the balloon so as to pull down the balloon while applying a turning moment in a first direction, whereupon releasing the tether allows the balloon to rise under its buoyancy while turning in an opposite direction.



Inventors:
Carmon, Arie David (Oberrot, DE)
Application Number:
11/328262
Publication Date:
07/12/2007
Filing Date:
01/10/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63H3/06
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
HYLINSKI, ALYSSA MARIE
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Browdy and Neimark, PLLC (Washington, DC, US)
Claims:
1. Animation balloon, comprising: at least two segments each having an interior filled with a gas that is less dense than air and being joined so as to define between proximate pairs of segments a respective axis that forms a flexible joint that lies in a substantially horizontal plane when the balloon is used, and said at least two segments including at least one air-buoyant drive segment having an anchoring point for attaching a respective tether to the balloon so as to allow different external pulling force components to be applied so as to pull down the at least two segments, whereupon releasing the external pulling forces allows the at least two segments to rise independently under the buoyancy of the at least one drive segment.

2. The balloon according to claim 1, wherein at least one segment is joined indirectly to at least one of the drive segments via an intermediate segment that is joined directly to the tethered segment.

3. The balloon according to claim 1, having more than drive segment.

4. The balloon according to claim 3, wherein said drive segments are adapted to be lowered and released in phase with each other.

5. The balloon according to claim 3, wherein said drive segments are adapted to be lowered and released out of phase with each other.

6. The balloon according to claim 1, wherein in use the flexible joints are adapted to allow angular movement exceeding 40°.

7. The balloon according to claim 1, wherein the flexible joints have a width exceeding 1.5 cm (0.6 inch).

8. The balloon according to claim 1, having a single anchoring point that is disposed asymmetrically with respect to a weight distribution of the balloon.

9. The balloon according to claim 1, wherein at least one the segments displays information for advertising or promotion.

10. The balloon according to claim 1, further including a vocalization unit for producing audible sounds related to an animation effect produced by the balloon.

11. An animation balloon system, comprising: at least two segments each having an interior filled with a gas that is less dense than air and being joined so as to define between proximate pairs of segments a respective axis that forms a flexible joint that lies in a substantially horizontal plane when the balloon is used, and said at least two segments including at least one air-buoyant drive segment having an anchoring point for attaching a respective tether to the balloon so as to allow different external pulling force components to be applied so as to pull down the at least two segments, whereupon releasing the external pulling forces allows the at least segments to rise independently under the buoyancy of the at least one drive segment, and a drive unit attached to each of the tethers and being adapted to pull down the balloon and allow it to rise.

12. The system according to claim 11, wherein at least one segment is joined indirectly to at least one of the drive segments via an intermediate segment that is joined directly to the tethered segment.

13. The system according to claim 11, wherein the balloon is provided with more than drive segment.

14. The system according to claim 13, wherein the respective drives coupled to said drive segments are adapted to be operated in phase with each other.

15. The system according to claim 13, wherein the respective drives coupled to said drive segments are adapted to be operated out of phase with each other.

16. The system according to claim 11, wherein in use the flexible joints are adapted to allow angular movement exceeding 40°.

17. The system according to claim 11, wherein the flexible joints have a width exceeding 1.5 cm (0.6 inch).

18. The system according to claim 11, having a single anchoring point that is disposed asymmetrically with respect to a weight distribution of the balloon.

19. The system according to claim 11, wherein at least one the segments of the balloon displays information for advertising or promotion.

20. The system according to claim 11, further including a vocalization unit for producing audible sounds related to an animation effect produced by the balloon.

21. Animation balloon, comprising: at least one air-buoyant primary segment having an interior filled with a gas that is less dense than air and having an anchoring point that is disposed asymmetrically relative to a center of gravity of the balloon for attaching a tether to the balloon so as to allow an external pulling force to be applied to pull down the balloon while applying a turning moment thereto in a first direction, whereupon releasing the external pulling force allows the balloon to rise under its buoyancy while turning in an opposite direction.

22. The balloon according to claim 21, including at least one subsidiary segment joined via a flexible joint to the primary segment.

23. The balloon according to claim 22, wherein in use the flexible joint is adapted to allow angular movement exceeding 40°.

24. The balloon according to claim 22, wherein the flexible joint has a width exceeding 1.5 cm (0.6 inch).

25. The balloon according to claim 21, wherein the primary segment displays information for advertising or promotion.

26. The balloon according to claim 21, further including a vocalization unit for producing audible sounds related to an animation effect produced by the balloon.

27. An animation balloon system, comprising: at least one air-buoyant primary segment having an interior filled with a gas that is less dense than air and having an anchoring point that is disposed asymmetrically relative to a center of gravity of the balloon for attaching a tether to the balloon so as to allow an external pulling force to be applied to pull down the balloon while applying a turning moment thereto in a first direction, whereupon releasing the external pulling force allows the balloon to rise under its buoyancy while turning in an opposite direction; and a drive unit attached to said tether and being adapted to pull down the balloon and allow it to rise.

28. The system according to claim 27, including at least one subsidiary segment joined via a flexible joint to the primary segment.

29. The system according to claim 28, wherein in use the flexible joint is adapted to allow angular movement exceeding 40°.

30. The system according to claim 28, wherein the flexible joint has a width exceeding 1.5 cm (0.6 inch).

31. The system according to claim 27, wherein the primary segment displays information for advertising or promotion.

32. The system according to claim 27, further including a vocalization unit for producing audible sounds related to an animation effect produced by the balloon.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates to generally to balloons that are filled with a gas that is less dense than air.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Helium filled balloons have become popular both as toys and as advertising media. Most toys based on the use of helium filled balloons are static and remain in a fixed place when tethered, so as to prevent their flying away. Some toy balloons are adapted for carrying gondolas and the like so that by adding or subtracting small weights they can be kept at a desired level over the ground. Toy balloons called “Air walkers” are also known, having two normally dangling appendages, either filled with helium or made of lightweight materials. When the balloon buoyancy is maintained close to the ground and a light breeze blows, the appendages are moved by the air flow and create an illusion of “walking”.

Balloons used for advertising and promotion, which are normally of large size have mostly a fixed form and are stationary, except when they are moved by winds. One device which is also used for promotional purposes is called “Air dancer”. The air dancer is essentially a tube of very light material, with one end closed and one end open. The open side is placed over an air blower, and when a rush of air gets into the tube, it rises vertically as a long round cylinder. These tubes are of several feet high at least and once vertical they can sway from side to side.

In summary, toy balloons and advertising balloons are basically stationary and if they move, the movement is caused by the air flow around them and is not controlled.

At least one prior art device is adapted for some manually controlled movement. Thus, U.S. Pat. No. 4,693,695 (Cheng) published Sep. 15, 1987 discloses an ascending and descending balloon action toy includes an envelope filled with a lighter-then-air gas, the envelope repeatedly ascending and alternately descending a tether. In effect, the envelope comprising a pair of symmetrically disposed balloon portions that form on a common axis a yo-yo around which a tethering cord is wound. On pulling on the tethering cord, the balloon rides along the tethering cord in much the same way as a yo-yo operates except that after the balloon descends along the tethering cord, it then rises under gravity owing to the buoyancy of the balloon.

In the device described in U.S. Pat. No. 4,693,695, the balloon portions are essentially fixed and capable of only limited mutual displacement. Thus, they share a common axis constituted by the mutual peripheries of abutting portions, which forms a semi-flexible joint allowing limited movement. Moreover, when viewed in elevation, the axis is vertical when the device is used and therefore any displacement between the two portions is constrained to lie in a substantially horizontal plane.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,575,805 (Ansolabehere) published Jun. 10, 2003 discloses a non-latex decorative balloon that includes an inflatable inner portion. Inflatable outer portions communicate with the inner portion and are secured thereto in an assembled state to provide a substantially vertical message face. The balloon comprises a cluster of balloons which volumes are connected by narrow passages made of the same foil from which the balloons themselves are made. The balloon segments from which the cluster is constituted can be made of two layers of metallic coated foil. Some balloons can be horizontally oriented while other can be vertically oriented. However, there appears to be no provision for the balloon segments to change their relative orientation during vertical movement of the balloon.

Anagram International, Inc. to which above-referenced U.S. Pat. No. 6,575,805 is assigned also produces a butterfly shaped balloon shown pictorially in FIG. 1 and catalogued as Product No: Anagram 08295 and available on-line as product ID 2176 from BalloonPlanet.com whose general office is located in Seattle, Wash., USA. As seen in FIG. 1, the butterfly shaped balloon has two wing segments connected by a central elongated segment. The seam between the body and the wing allows very limited mutual displacement, owing to the very narrow width of the seams which prevents free bending of the seams thus militating against significant movement of the wings.

Anagram also manufactures a dragonfly balloon under Product No: Anagram 07645 shown pictorially in FIG. 2 and available as product ID 2174 from above-mentioned BalloonPlanet.com. Here also the seams between the multiple wing segments and the body segment allow only limited relative movement. Thus, it is apparent from FIG. 2 that the wings of the dragonfly balloon are joined to the body segment via a fairly stiff joint.

Moreover, the segments in these balloons are all commonly jointed to a single “body” segment. None of the wing segments in these balloons is formed of two or segments that are adapted for independent movement during vertical movement of the balloon.

Balloons having controlled and versatile movements would clearly be more fun when used as a toy, and would be more eye catching when used for advertising or promotion.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

It is therefore an object of the invention to provide multi-segment balloons that are filled with a gas that is less dense than air and have controlled and versatile movements.

It is a particular object to provide such a balloon having at least one segment that is joined indirectly to a tethered segment via an intermediate segment that is joined directly to the tethered segment.

This object is realized in accordance with a first aspect the invention by an animation balloon, comprising:

at least two segments each having an interior filled with a gas that is less dense than air and being joined so as to define between proximate pairs of segments a respective axis that forms a flexible joint that lies in a substantially horizontal plane when the balloon is used, and

said at least two segments including at least one air-buoyant drive segment having an anchoring point for attaching a respective tether to the balloon so as to allow different external pulling force components to be applied so as to pull down the at least two segments, whereupon releasing the external pulling forces allows the at least two segments to rise independently under the buoyancy of the at least one drive segment.

In such a balloon, hollow segments are interconnected, so as to form highly flexible joints.

At least one segment is tethered and so serves as a drive segment that may be pulled and then released by manual or motorized action, so as to cause the various segments to descend and ascend at different rates, in attempt to resume the stationary buoyancy position. By appropriate design of the segments, including their relative weights and their relative volumes of lighter than air gas, as well as their relative horizontal and vertical surfaces, the movement up and down of the balloon and the different rates of descending and ascending of the segments can create interesting and attractive animation particularly when the pull and release actions on the tether are cyclical.

In accordance with another aspect of the invention, there is provided an animation balloon, comprising:

at least one air-buoyant primary segment having an interior filled with a gas that is less dense than air and having an anchoring point that is disposed asymmetrically relative to a center of gravity of the balloon for attaching a tether to the balloon so as to allow an external pulling force to be applied to pull down the balloon while applying a turning moment thereto in a first direction, whereupon releasing the external pulling force allows the balloon to rise under its buoyancy while turning in an opposite direction.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

In order to understand the invention and to see how it may be carried out in practice, an embodiment will now be described, by way of non-limiting example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:

FIGS. 1 and 2 are pictorial representations of prior art multi-segment balloons available from Anagram International, Inc.;

FIG. 3 is a schematic representation of a multi-segmented balloon according to the invention;

FIG. 4 is a partial cross-section through the line A-A in FIG. 3 showing a fluid channel formed in the joint between adjacent segments;

FIGS. 5a to 5d are schematic representations showing respective elevations of the multi-segmented bird-shaped balloon shown in FIG. 3 during different stages of a single cycle of pulling the tether downwards and releasing it;

FIGS. 6a to 6c are pictorial representations showing details of cyclical motion performed by the multi-segmented bird illustrated in FIGS. 5a to 5d;

FIGS. 7a to 7d are schematic representations showing respective elevations of a multi-segmented fish according to another embodiment of the invention whose fins flap during diving and subsequent ascent;

FIG. 8a is a pictorial representation showing a detail of a prior art joint between segments of a multi-segmented balloon;

FIGS. 8b to 8e are pictorial representations showing details of possible joints between segments of a multi-segmented balloon according to the invention; and

FIG. 9 shows schematically a system for automatic drive of an animation balloon according to the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EXEMPLARY EMBODIMENTS

The invention is based on a multi-segmented balloon, preferably made of metalized nylon, Mylar or PVC which are filled with lighter than air gas, such as helium. Each of the segments has its own lumen i.e. an inner hollow space or cavity, which can be interconnected so as to allow filling of the balloon from a common inlet. Alternatively, the lumens of different segments may be separate, such that each segment is essentially a separate balloon, which must then be provided with its own gas inlet. In this case the individual balloons, each constituted by a segment, are attached to other segments by direct gluing or by connecting them with a strip of lightweight material such as foils of metalized nylon, Mylar or of PVC. Making balloons from foils involves heat sealing of two layers cut from the foil and positioned one on top of the other, then heat sealing the edges. Heat sealing can also be utilized to create inflatable segments with non-inflatable joints having small apertures to allow passage of gas from one segment to the other. The materials from which the balloons are made are not necessarily limited to nylon, Mylar or PVC, which are commonly used to form helium filled balloons, and other lightweight materials which are relatively impregnable to helium can be used.

The connections of the segments according to the invention are made so to allow a desired degree of flexibility, so that while maintaining the multi-segmented balloon as a unitary structure, there is nevertheless allowance for significant movement of the individual segments relative to one another. In order to provide the desirable relative movement of a joint with respect to the segments to which it is connected, joints should preferably be at least 15 mm (0.6 inches) wide and capable of angular displacement through at least 40° when the tether is pulled and then released. This may be achieved in accordance with an embodiment of the invention by forming the joints of foil strips that are plastic-welded to the segments. Alternatively, the segments may be provided at abutting edges with a non-inflatable region which thus remains flat when the segment is inflated. According to yet another embodiment, abutting segments are formed from a unitary pattern formed of a folded sheet or two overlapping sheets which are plastic-welded at their edges and along intermediate join lines so as to form gas-tight segments which abut each other along the join lines. In this case, the join lines are of sufficient width to provide the required flexibility. In either case, the resulting structure resembles that of a limb, such as a finger, having different joints that can move relative to each other, but constitute a unitary structure.

When a lighter than air tethered balloon is pulled down, the movement is met by some resistance of the surrounding air. The resistance is related to the surface area of the balloon facing downwards so as to meet what appears to be an opposing upwardly directed air force that tends to lift the balloon. Thus a balloon having a spherical shape will have less resistance than a balloon structured as disc in horizontal orientation (i.e. with its axis vertical), and more than a balloon which is structured as vertically oriented cylinder, even if the total surface areas of the envelopes and the volumes of gas contained therein are same in all cases.

Specifically, when the downward pull on a balloon filled with gas that is lighter than air is released, the balloon will float upward owing to its buoyancy. The buoyancy is counteracted by the weight of the balloon which is largely a function of the surface area of the balloon, since most of the balloon's weight is concentrated in the material from which the segments are constructed, the gas accounting for a negligible fraction of the balloon's weight.

Thus, by changing the shape of the balloon's segments and specifically the ratios between volume and surface area, the rate of descent and ascent of the balloon's segments may be adjusted. For example, an asymmetrical balloon having more volume at a given end will rise with this end faster to maintain a position with this end uppermost. Further adjustment may be achieved by adding tiny weights to some segments at selected locations in the balloon so as to counteract the buoyancy of the respective segments. Alternatively, it is also possible to weigh down one of a segment end so that it will ascend more slowly than the other end without the weight, which will then assume an uppermost disposition.

When these factors are taken into consideration it is possible to design and make multi-segmented balloons that have unequal segments that will descend and rise again owing to the pull-release-action applied on the tethered line attached to the balloon. The descent and ascent will be different for various segments, but as they all are tied together, the following phenomenon occurs: the multi-segmented balloon will descend and rise as a unit, but the segments will have additional freedom of movement at the joints. This can be best illustrated by an example of a hand raised or lowered as a whole while at the same time allowing independent movement of the fingers.

Based on these principles, some practical embodiments of balloons having animated movements will now be described. A first embodiment relates to a multi-segmented bird-shaped balloon imitating a bird flying up and down while flapping its wings. A second embodiment relates to a multi-segmented balloon imitating a fish diving and raising while activating its tail fins. It is to be understood that these embodiments are exemplary and many possible animations are possible based on the same principles of the invention.

Moreover, the invention allows also the creation of other types of movements not necessarily related to living creatures. For example, in the case of balloons used for advertising and promotion it is possible to create a multi-segmented balloon that repetitively exposes and hides a message printed on some of its segments. In comparison to the conventional stationary balloons used for advertising in exhibition halls, where a printed message is constantly exposed, the multi-segmented balloon according to the invention can display a “flashing” message, and thus attract more attention.

FIG. 3 is a schematic representation of a multi-segmented bird-shaped balloon 10 according to the invention having a middle body segment 11, and respective pairs of wing segments 12b, 12c, and 13a and 13b on opposite sides thereof. Unlike the prior art balloons shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, the wings of the balloon 10 are themselves formed of more than a single segment. Specifically, while the segments 12a and 13a (constituting intermediate segments) are joined directly to the middle body segment 11, the segments 12b and 13b (constituting wing tip segments) are not joined directly to the middle body segment 11 but are joined thereto via the intermediate segments 12a and 13a. In such a configuration the joints between the intermediate segments and wing tip segments allow much freer movement of the wing tip segments 12b and 13b relative to the intermediate segments 12a and 13a than that of the intermediate segments 12a and 13a, owing to the latter being joined directly to the body segment 11. Although, the wings are shown each having only two segments, it will be understood that they may be provided with more than two segments and the same considerations will apply.

The segments each have an outer envelope defining an interior filled with a gas that is less dense than air and may be made of metallic coated nylon, Mylar, or PVC or any other suitable lightweight material that is amenable to filling with gas. The respective pairs of wing segments 12b, 12c and 13a, 13b are connected to each other and to the body segment 11 by flexible joints 14 made of the same material or different light weight material and, in the case that each segment has its own gas inlet, are not filled with gas. Alternatively, in the case that only a single gas inlet is provided for the whole balloon, channels are formed through the joints so as to allow gas to flow there-through and thereby fill the balloon. Such channels will, of course, contain gas even though the joint as a whole remains empty and therefore flexible. Each of the wings segments 12b, 12c and 13a, 13b has a tapered form, and may be weighted at its narrow end with a weight 15.

The weights 15 can be formed by an additional layer of the enveloping material or by gluing inside or outside at this point a piece of other material. A tether 16 is tied to an anchoring point 17 on the underside of the middle body segment 11. The middle body segment 11 thus acts as a drive segment in the sense that the tether, when attached thereto, allows a drive force to be applied for actuating the balloon. The balloon 10 is inflated by injecting a gas, such as helium, that is less dense than air through one or more inlets (not shown) which can be sealed immediately after the filling is completed. To this end, the inlet may be provided with a self-sealing valve, thus enabling multiple re-filling of the balloon after purchase. Alternatively, the balloon may be pre-filled with gas in the factory.

FIG. 4 shows a partial cross-section through the line A-A in FIG. 3, showing small channels 20 that may be formed through the joints 14 so that all segments are fluidly interconnected, thereby allowing the balloon to be filled by injecting gas via a single inlet 21 so as flow at equal pressure into all segments. Alternatively, each segment may be provided with its own inlet and seal, in which case the gas pressure in each of the segments, and hence the segments' buoyancy, need not be identical. In any case, the respective volumes and shapes of the segments are generally not the same, although in the particular embodiment depicted in FIG. 3, the bird is symmetrical and so the wing segments 12a and 12b are identical as are the wing segments 13a and 13b, but both are different from body segment 11.

FIGS. 5a to 5d are schematic representations showing respective elevations of the multi-segmented bird-shaped balloon 10 during different stages of a single cycle of pulling the tether 16 downwards and releasing it (i.e. releasing tension so as to allow the balloon to rise).

FIG. 5a depicts an initial resting stage where no pull has yet been exerted on the tether 16 and the wing segments 12a, 12b and 13a, 13b, are substantially level.

FIG. 5b depicts the situation where the tether 16 is pulled down at the middle body segment 11. The wing segments 12a, 12b and 13a, 13b will now try to maintain their buoyancy owing to their inertia and so they appear as if raised. In the figure, the respective pairs of wing segments 12a, 12b and 13a, 13b are shown to rise as a unit and so remain substantially collinear. However, whether this is true in practice depends on the relative volumes and surface areas of the segments, as explained above as well as whether auxiliary weights are disposed at the ends of the wing tip segments 12b and 13b.

FIG. 5c depicts the situation where tension in the tether 16 is released and the middle body segment 11, having a larger volume of gas that is lighter than air will rise faster than the wing segments 12a, 12b and 13a, 13b.

FIG. 5d depicts a subsequent stage where the middle body segment 11 of the balloon 10 will continue to rise faster and the side segments which are weighted will be retarded in their rise, giving the impression of wings flapping down. However, as noted above, the wing segments 12a and 12b are not identical. Specifically, the wing tip segments 12b and 13b are tapered at their respective ends and so define envelopes having lower volume than those of the intermediate wing segments 12a and 13a. Upon reaching the resting stage again the wing tip segments 12b and 13b will rise as well giving the impression that the wings were raised. The visual effect will be therefore of a bird which flaps its wings while its body descends and ascends and whose wing movement is at least partly independent of the movement of its body.

While the above description of the bird shown in FIGS. 5a to 5d relates only to vertical displacement, a more interesting and realistic compound motion is achieved when moving horizontally with the bird since it creates the illusion of its flying forwards.

FIGS. 6a to 6c are pictorial representations showing details of cyclical motion performed by a multi-segmented bird according to in FIGS. 5a to 5d. It is seen that the bird has multiple segments such as the wing segments, which are commonly joined to a body segment via flexible joints. The wing segments are formed of two segments, namely an inner wing segment that is joined directly to the body segment, and a wing tip segment that is joined directly to the inner wing segment but only indirectly to the body segment. In all cases, the flexible joints between adjacent segments are such that when the bird is “flying” the joints lie in a substantially horizontal plane.

FIG. 6a shows the situation when the bird is in its uppermost position prior to a downward pull on the tether. In this situation the segments are lifted by their respective buoyancies, which are counteracted by their respective weights. FIG. 6b shows an intermediate position, where the tether is pulled downward but has not yet reached its lowest point; and FIG. 6c shows the bird where the tether is at its lowest point. In FIG. 6a, the inner wing segments are substantially horizontal, but the wing tip segments are very sharply turned downward owing to the influence of the larger specific weight of the wing tips which, being narrow contains less gas and a larger proportion of foil such that their net weight overcomes the buoyancy force of the wing tip segments. If desired, the natural weight concentration of the wing tips can be further increased by the addition of tiny weights. In FIG. 6b, the inner wing segments are somewhat lifted relative to the body segment so that those parts of the inner wing segments that are joined to the body segments are lower than those parts joined to the wing tip segments. The wing tip segments remain pointing downward but now less sharply owing to the air resistance which acts against their lower area and aids their buoyancy. In FIG. 6c the same effect appears but only markedly: namely, the inner wing segments are lifted higher relative to the body segment and the wing tip segments are slightly more lifted owing to their buoyancy. When the tether is now released, the bird rises, and the wings assume the orientations shown in FIGS. 6b and then in FIG. 6a. Thus, cyclically pulling and releasing the tether results in a cyclic motion of the bird.

It will be appreciated that only a single intermediate position is shown for the sake of simplicity, but in reality there are many intermediate positions and the vertical displacement of the wings is continuous rather than discrete. It should also be noted that the above description is intended to be qualitative rather than an exact scientific description of the bird's motion and the reasons therefor. In this context, it is to be borne in mind that the motion of the bird not only renders the bird's animation dynamic (by definition); but moreover it is the very fact that the bird's vertical disposition changes dynamically that complicates the interaction between counteracting forces. Thus, air resistance has a more pronounced damping effect on the downward motion of the wing tip segments owing to their movement than would be the case if the bird were stationary.

FIGS. 7a to 7d are schematic representations showing respective elevations of a multi-segmented fish-shaped balloon 30 according to another embodiment of the invention having a body segment 31 and side fins 32 (only one being shown) and a tail fin 33 joined to the body segment 31 and having a remote tail segment 33a joined to an intermediate tail segment 33b, which flap independent of the body segment 31 during diving and subsequent ascent. A tether 16 is attached to an anchoring point 17 of the body segment 31 remote from the tail fin 33. By pulling down on the tether 16 and then releasing it as described above with reference to FIGS. 5a to 5d, the balloon 30 descends and rises while rotating with the side and tail fins 32 and 33 flapping in a manner that is at least partly independent of the body segment 31. Specifically, FIG. 7a shows a rest position where the fish is substantially horizontal with the body segment 31 and the tail segments 33a and 33b aligned. When the tether 16 is pulled down, the body segment 31 descends sharply, the remote tail segment 33a, which is not directly joined to the body segment 31, remaining substantially horizontal. The intermediate tail segment 33b, which is directly joined to the body segment 31 also starts to descend, albeit not quite so sharply as the body segment 31. As seen in FIG. 7b, the effect is that the fish balloon 30 rotates in a clockwise direction. FIG. 7c shows the situation when tension in the tether 16 is released. The body segment 31 now starts to rise owing to its natural buoyancy, while the tail fin 33 being much less buoyant does not rise to the same extent and so merely follows the upward motion of the body segment 31 as shown in FIG. 7d. The overall effect is that when the fish is pulled down, it rotates in a clockwise direction, while when it is released it climbs in a counter-clockwise direction.

The fish shown in FIG. 7 may be subjected to a sideways pull instead of, or in addition to, the vertical displacement so as to enhance the animation effect of a fish swimming.

Interesting compound motion may be achieved by anchoring the tether asymmetrically to the weight distribution of the balloon. This effect is pronounced in the fish shown in FIGS. 7a to 7d, where it is seen that the tether 17 is mounted quite close to the “mouth” and remote from the tail fin 33. In consequence, pulling the tether downwards introduces a turning moment around the center of gravity causing the fish to rotate with the more voluminous head end downwards. On now releasing the tether (i.e. allowing it to rise), the head end rises first owing to its greater buoyancy and so the fish now turns in the opposite direction. The effect is noticeable even with a balloon having only a single segment, but the compound effect of a multi-segment balloon having an asymmetrically anchored tether is even more interesting since, in the case of the fish for example, the flapping of the tail (and/or fins) is then superimposed on the above-described rotation. Of course, the same effect is also applicable to other animated balloons.

Thus, in another of its aspects the invention embraces a balloon having at least one air-buoyant primary segment having an interior filled with a gas that is less dense than air and having an anchoring point that is disposed asymmetrically relative to a center of gravity of the balloon for attaching a tether to the balloon so as to allow an external pulling force to be applied to pull down the balloon while applying a turning moment thereto in a first direction, whereupon releasing the external pulling force allows the balloon to rise under its buoyancy while turning in an opposite direction.

Although the tail fin 33 is filled with gas, its volume is small and therefore its buoyancy is marginal. It follows from this that the invention embraces not only a multi-segmented balloon whose segments are buoyant; but more generally, the invention embraces a multi-segmented balloon having a primary segment that is buoyant and is joined to one or more subsidiary segments, which may or may not be buoyant but are adapted to execute motion that is influenced by the buoyancy of the primary segment.

FIG. 8a shows two segments 41 and 42 of a prior art balloon connected at their ends via a seam 43 that is formed by plastic welding abutting segments, thus resulting in a joint that is fairly stiff and inflexible.

FIGS. 8b to 8e are pictorial representations showing details of possible joints between segments of a multi-segmented balloon according to the invention.

FIG. 8b shows two segments 45 and 46 of a balloon according to the invention connected at their ends via a flexible joint formed of a strip of material 48 that is sufficiently wide to allow a much greater degree of bending when acted on by air than is achievable with the prior art joint shown in FIG. 8a. Also shown is a channel 49 that serves to fluidly connect the two segments 45 and 46 so as to allow gas inject in to one of the two segments to pass through to the other. As noted above, this may be omitted if independent gas inlets are provided for each segment.

FIG. 8c shows a narrow flexible joint 50 that is less than 1.5 cm wide.

FIG. 8d shows an elbow joint 51 similar to the joint 48 shown in FIG. 8b but wherein outward movement of the joint is impeded by means of an additional strip of foil 52 that is attached to the outer surfaces of the adjoining segments. Thus, the foil 52 duplicates the functionality of an elbow or knee joint, which can bend freely in one direction but whose bending in the opposite direction is limited. Another purpose for the foil 52 might be for aesthetic purposes, such as to hide a hole caused by formation of the joint.

FIG. 8e shows a segment 53 that is sufficiently long and narrow segment that is flexible and capable of bending without the need for a joint. Such a segment could be used at the end of the wing tips 12b and 13b shown in FIG. 3.

These embodiments are just two illustrations of how a multi-segmented balloon according to the invention can be made to make animated movements while it is pulled down by a tether and then released, with the animated movements being more impressive when the pull and release actions are repetitive and while the pulling force and the rate of pull and release can be optimized so as to create the desired impression. The invention encompasses any buoyant balloon that effects animated movement when pulled down and released and it will be apparent to those skilled in the art that many other designs and effects can be achieved using the principles of the invention. Among such examples include a running horse; a figure that moves a limb, such as a hand that waves; and a figure or animal whose mouth opens and closes.

While this action is accomplished manually using a tether in the balloons described above with reference to FIGS. 5 and 7, the invention contemplates other approaches to achieving this movement. For example, manual movement can be achieved by a tether tied to one end of a stick held horizontally. This is useful for a toy balloon application as by placing the balloon away from the operator in the horizontal direction he can see himself the animated movements. The stick, which thus constitutes a manual drive unit, may also be used as a lever, thus requiring less effort to pull the balloon down. It is also useful when the height through which the balloon may rise is limited for some reason, such as a low ceiling, since it is easier to play with the balloon in such circumstances.

Alternatively, pull and release actions may be automated without the need for a human operator, for example using a tether than is eccentrically coupled to a motor driven wheel. FIG. 9 shows schematically such a system 60 for automatic drive of an animation balloon according to the invention, such as the balloon 10 shown in FIG. 3 wherein the tether 16 is coupled to a motorized drive unit 61. Such automated operation is particularly suitable for example for multi-segmented balloons used for advertising and promotion. Alternatively, a bidirectional motor may be used that is adapted to wind the tether around the shaft and then release it, or by a solenoid whose core is capable of sufficient travel, so as pull the tether when the core is moved inside the windings and release it under action of a spring to regain the rest state. It will of course be understood that the use of electromechanical devices to produce the required cyclical motion is by way of example only. The invention is not intended to be confined to only such means of automatic actuation and any approach that allows the repetitive pull and release actions to be maintained may be employed.

The automated movement may be activated by switching on the power directly; or indirectly via a sensor. For example, such sensor can be a proximity sensor that may be used to cause initiation of the movement of the balloon when a person comes near it. This is useful for promotions and games. Proximity sensors are known such as IR volume sensors that detect local heating within a detected volume and opto-electronic sensors that sense the interruption of a light beam. The invention covers also any other means of activation of automatic movement, such sensors being only two possible examples.

According to another exemplary embodiment the invention may also include a vocalization unit 62 for producing audible sounds such as the shriek of a bird, or any other appropriate sound related to the animation. Such sound can produced by an electronic chip with synthesized sound coupled to a miniature, lightweight loudspeaker and powered by battery. These components can be attached to the tether of the balloon, the sound being activated via a micro-switch when the tether is pulled. Alternatively, the vocalization unit can be mounted separate from the balloon, for example as part of the drive unit. For example, in the case of an animated bird, where the drive unit includes an eccentric drive shaft whereby circular motion of the motor shaft is converted to cyclical linear motion of the tether, the angular position of the drive shaft in effect provides an indication of vertical orientation of the bird. Thus, an angular shaft encoder attached to the drive shaft may be used to provide a control signal to the vocalization unit in order to vocalize different sounds depending on the bird's motion.

Also, while the embodiments described above include a single tether, it should be noted that the multi-segmented balloon according to the invention can have more that one tether, with different tethers being tied to different drive segments, and operated independently of each other, either in or out of phase with each other. Such an arrangement allows the creation of more complex movements, such as those imitating a snake or imitating the traditional Chinese dancing lion. It will be understood that while typically the multiple tethers in such a device are actuated automatically, they may also be actuated manually for example using a single user's two hands or under the control of more than one user. Alternatively, some drives may be operated manually and others automatically.