Title:
TOY TRACK SYSTEM
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Embodiments of a toy track system and methods of using such embodiments are described. In general, the system may include a track that has a longitudinal passage with an insert disposed in the longitudinal passage. A toy may be positioned adjacent the track so that it is proximate to the insert inside the longitudinal passage. When so positioned, an attractive force (such as, e.g., a magnetic force) may couple the toy to the insert so that as the toy and insert may move in a corresponding fashion along the track.



Inventors:
Shackelford, Judith Ann (Moorpark, CA, US)
Anderson, Adam Michael (Ventura, CA, US)
Heller, Jason Gene (Somis, CA, US)
Application Number:
12/098226
Publication Date:
10/09/2008
Filing Date:
04/04/2008
Assignee:
J. Shackelford Associates LLC (Moorpark, CA, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63H18/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
NICONOVICH, ALEXANDER R
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
PAUL HASTINGS LLP (Washington, DC, US)
Claims:
What is claimed:

1. A system, comprising: a track having a longitudinal passage; an insert disposed in the longitudinal passage; and a toy positioned adjacent the track proximate to the insert, an attractive force coupling the toy to the insert.

2. The system of claim 1, wherein the toy comprises a toy car.

3. The system of claim 1, further comprising a vacuum in fluid communication with the longitudinal passage.

4. The system of claim 1, further comprising a blower in fluid communication with the longitudinal passage.

5. The system of claim 1, wherein the track has a longitudinal twist.

6. The system of claim 1, wherein the track forms a ring.

7. The system of claim 1, wherein the track forms a Mobius strip.

8. The system of claim 1, wherein the track has at least one open end.

9. The system of claim 1, wherein the track has at least one side wall extending therefrom.

10. The system of claim 1, wherein the track comprises a plurality of segments detachably connectable with one another.

11. The system of claim 10, further comprising at least one latch detachably coupling adjacent segments of the track together

12. The system of claim 1, wherein the insert is generally spherical in shape.

13. The system of claim 1, wherein the insert is generally cylindrical in shape.

14. The system of claim 1, wherein the insert has a generally oval cross section.

15. The system of claim 1, wherein the attractive force comprises a magnetic force.

16. The system of claim 15 wherein the toy has a plate and wherein the magnetic force is between the plate and the insert.

17. The system of claim 1, wherein the toy has a motor for at least assisting in moving the toy along the track.

18. A system, comprising: an elongated track having a longitudinal passage centrally positioned between a pair of sides of the track; each side of the track having a side wall extending therefrom, the side walls and the track defining a generally H-shaped cross-section; the longitudinal passage having a generally circular cross-section; the track comprising a resilient material to permit at least twisting of the track along a longitudinal axis of the track and to permit at least bending of the track in a generally trans-axial direction; the track comprising a plurality of segments with each segment having a pair of opposite ends, with at least one end of one segment positioned adjacent one of the ends of another segment; an insert inserted into openings in the adjacent ends of the adjacent pair of segments; a gasket interposed between adjacent ends of the adjacent pair of segments, the insert extending between the gasket; at least one latch detachably coupling the adjacent ends of the adjacent pair of segments together, the latch comprising a pair of portions coupled to one of the side wall of the track, the latch portions detachably engaging one another; an insert disposed in the longitudinal passage, the insert having at least one of a rectangular, oval and circular cross section; a toy vehicle having an attachment member positioned adjacent the longitudinal channel proximate to the insert, a magnetic force coupling the attachment member and the insert together, the toy vehicle having a least one wheel in contact with the track; a gate mechanism in fluid communication with the longitudinal passage, the gate mechanism having a connector for coupling the gate to a fluid moving device so that the fluid moving device is in fluid communication with the longitudinal channel, the gate mechanism having a gate for selectively closing communication between the fluid moving device and the longitudinal passage; the fluid moving device comprising at least one of a vacuum and a blower; and a clamp having a generally U-shaped saddle receiving a portion of the track therein, the clamp having a strap coupled to the saddle, the strap being capable of being wrapped around an object to connect the clamp to the object, the strap having a hook and loop fastener for coupling opposite ends of the strap together.

19. A method, comprising: disposing an insert in a longitudinal passage of a track; and positioning a toy adjacent the track proximate to the insert so that an attractive force couples the toy to the insert; moving a fluid in the longitudinal passage to move the insert along the longitudinal passage so that the toy is moved along the track as the insert is moved.

20. The method of claim 19, wherein the fluid comprises air.

21. The method of claim 19, further comprising a vacuum in fluid communication with the longitudinal passage, the vacuum moving the fluid in the longitudinal passage.

22. The method of claim 19, further comprising a blower in fluid communication with the longitudinal passage, the blower moving the fluid in the longitudinal passage.

23. The method of claim 19, further comprising longitudinally twisting the track.

24. The method of claim 23, wherein the track is twisted to form a Mobius strip.

25. The method of claim 19, wherein the toy has a motor, the motor being operatively coupled to at least one track engaging member of the toy to move the track engaging member and thereby move the toy along the track.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/910,395 filed Apr. 5, 2007 entitled “Toy Track System” which is hereby incorporated by reference herein in its entirety.

TECHNICAL FIELD

Embodiments described herein relate in general to toys and more particularly, to toy systems that provide movement through the movement of a fluid.

BACKGROUND

Toy track systems have been severely lacking in innovation in either providing faster propulsion or revolutionary performance for years. Current systems often fling a toy car down a track using two spinning wheels on either side of the track. Such systems cannot provide continuous power to propel the car along the track which can, therefore, limit the length of the track as well as the size and complexity of possible track arrangements and/or stunts performed by the toy cars on the track. These track systems typically rely on gravity, momentum and centrifugal force to keep the toys on the track. Unfortunately, this is often not enough to keep the car from going off of the track.

Toy slot car racing systems use electric motors in the cars and electricity in the track to propel the cars. The user is able to control the speed of the car in these systems by controlling the amount of electrical power provided to the track. Later versions of these systems used magnets attached to the underside of the car to help keep the car on the track. A weakness of these slot car systems is that the toy cars can only be used on the electrical track which are often made of hard, injection molded pieces that fit together in a limited number of configurations thereby limiting the range of track shapes. The track pieces are often hard to assemble and may oftentimes be easily broken.

SUMMARY

Embodiments of a toy track system and methods of using such embodiments are described. In general, the system may include a track that has a longitudinal passage with an insert (which may also be referred to as an internal member) disposed in the longitudinal passage. A toy may be positioned adjacent the track so that it is proximate to the insert inside the longitudinal passage. When so positioned, an attractive force (such as, e.g., a magnetic force) may couple the toy to the insert so that as the toy and insert may move in a corresponding fashion along the track.

In one embodiment, the toy may comprise a toy car. In another embodiment, a pump may be in fluid communication with the longitudinal passage to provide for the movement (or flow) of fluid (such as e.g., airflow or flow of a liquid such as, for instance water) in the longitudinal passage. While a variety of pumps may be used to move fluid in the longitudinal passage, in one embodiment, the pump may comprise a vacuum. In another embodiment, the pump may comprise a blower. In some embodiments the pump may be hand or foot powered and in other embodiments it may be motorized (e.g., an electrical or gas powered blower or vacuum).

The track may be constructed so that it comprises a plurality of segments detachably connectable with one another. In one embodiment, the track may be constructed so that it is sufficiently flexible to permit a user to form the track into a ring-shaped track. In another embodiment, the track may be sufficiently flexible so that the track may be twisted so that it has a longitudinal twist. In this manner, the track may be shaped to form a Mobius strip.

In one embodiment, the insert may be generally spherical in shape. In one such embodiment, the insert may comprise a ball bearing. In another embodiment, the insert may be generally cylindrical in shape. In a further embodiment, the insert may have a generally oval cross section. At least a portion of the insert may comprise a magnetizable metal and/or a magnetic material (i.e., a magnet).

In one embodiment, the toy may have a magnetizable metal portion or and/or a magnet that may be magnetically attracted to the insert.

In one embodiment, fluid in the longitudinal passage may be moved (i.e., using the pump for example) in order to move the insert along the longitudinal passage. In this manner, the toy is moved along the track as the insert is moved. In one embodiment, a pressure differential may be caused in the longitudinal passage in order to move the insert in the longitudinal passage so that the toy is moves along the track as the insert is moved. In one embodiment, the fluid may comprise air. In another embodiment, the fluid may comprise a liquid.

In another embodiment, a motor may be provided in the toy to provide a means for propelling the toy along the track. For example, in a toy car embodiment, the toy may contain a motor that is operatively coupled to at least one wheel of the toy car so that when the motor is activated, the coupled wheel(s) is rotated to move the toy car along the track. The motor embodiment may be implemented in embodiments where fluid is moved along the passage using a pump (as previously mentioned) or without movement of a fluid by a pump.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a schematic diagram of an illustrative embodiment of a toy track system with a track in an exemplary ring-shaped configuration;

FIG. 2 is a schematic illustration showing how a track may be bent or flexed into a variety of configurations in accordance with an exemplary embodiment;

FIG. 3A is a schematic diagram illustrating how an exemplary track may be twisted along its longitudinal axis in order to allow the track to be shaped into a Mobius strip;

FIG. 3B is a schematic diagram of an exemplary track twisted so that it is shaped into a Mobius strip;

FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional view of an exemplary track in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of the cross section of the exemplary track shown in FIG. 4;

FIG. 6 is a cross-sectional view of an illustrative implementation of the exemplary track shown in FIG. 4;

FIG. 7 is a cross-sectional view of an illustrative implementation of an exemplary track in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a cross-section of a pair of track portions coupled together in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 9 is an exploded view of the pair of track portions shown in FIG. 8;

FIG. 10 is a perspective view of a cross-section of an exemplary implementation of a toy positioned on a track proximal to an insert in a longitudinal passage of the track in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 11 is another perspective view of arrangement of the illustrative toy, track and insert shown in FIG. 10;

FIG. 12 is a schematic bottom view of an illustrative toy in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 13 is a schematic side perspective view of an illustrative wheeled implementation of an insert in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 14 is a schematic bottom perspective view of the illustrative wheeled implementation of the insert shown in FIG. 13;

FIG. 15 is a schematic perspective view of one portion of the illustrative wheeled implementation of the insert shown in FIG. 13;

FIG. 16 is a schematic perspective view of another portion of the illustrative wheeled implementation of the insert shown in FIG. 13;

FIG. 17 is a schematic perspective view of an exemplary wheel that may be used in the illustrative wheeled implementation of the insert shown in FIG. 13;

FIG. 18 is a schematic perspective view of an illustrative track holder in use attached to a rod in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 19 is a schematic exploded view of the illustrative track holder shown in FIG. 18;

FIG. 20 is a schematic exploded view of an illustrative pivoting implementation of a track holder in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 21 is a schematic front view of an illustrative track holder in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 22 is a schematic side view of an illustrative track holder in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 23 is a schematic perspective view of an illustrative track holder and associated accessories in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 24 is a schematic perspective view of an illustrative implementation of a junction piece of a track in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 25 is a schematic perspective view of a portion of the illustrative junction piece shown in FIG. 24;

FIG. 26 is a schematic perspective view of another portion of the illustrative junction piece shown in FIG. 24;

FIG. 27 is a schematic perspective view of a portion of an illustrative implementation of a junction piece of a track having exemplary dual flow gates in an open position in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 28 is a schematic perspective view of the portion of the illustrative junction piece shown in FIG. 27 with the dual flow gates in a closed position;

FIG. 29 is a schematic perspective view of a portion of an illustrative implementation of a junction piece of a track having an exemplary single flow gate in an open position in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 30 is a schematic perspective view of the portion of the illustrative junction piece shown in FIG. 27 with the flow gate in a closed position;

FIG. 31 is a schematic exploded view of an exemplary flow controller in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 32 is a schematic side representation of an embodiment of the track system illustrating the positioning of an exemplary vehicle-shaped toy with respect to an insert in a tube of a track in accordance with one embodiment;

FIG. 33 is a schematic perspective view of a bottom portion of an exemplary vehicle-shaped toy with a motor provided in the toy for rotating at least one wheel of the toy so that the motor may at least assist in moving the toy along the track; and

FIG. 34 is a schematic view of an exemplary motor that may be included in the toy to rotate one or more wheels of the toy to at least assist in moving the toy along the track in accordance with one embodiment.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Embodiments of a toy track system and methods of using such embodiments are further described herein with reference to FIGS. 1-34. In general, embodiments of the system may include a track that has a longitudinal passage with an insert (which may also be referred to as an internal member) disposed in the longitudinal passage. A toy may be positioned adjacent the track so that it is proximate to the insert inside the longitudinal passage. When so positioned, an attractive force (such as, e.g., a magnetic force) may couple the toy to the insert so that movement of the insert in the longitudinal passage may correspondingly move the toy along the track. With the embodiments described herein, a user may be afforded the freedom to design their own unique track configuration including configurations that are not limited to a single side of the track.

FIG. 1 is a schematic diagram of an illustrative embodiment of a toy track system 100 with a track 102 in an exemplary ring-shaped configuration. A toy 104 (in this case, an illustrative toy vehicular or car) may be placed on the track 102. As shown in the exploded circle in FIG. 1, the track 102 may include a longitudinal passage 106 inside which an insert (or insert) 108 (which in this embodiment, is shown as an illustrative ball bearing) may be positioned. A pump 110 may be in fluid communication with a longitudinal passage 106 of the track 102 to move fluid (e.g., air or a liquid) in the longitudinal passage 106 and thereby move the insert 108 through the longitudinal passage as the fluid is moved. In one embodiment, the pump 110 may comprise a vacuum so that the air (or other fluid) and, thereby the insert 108, is pulled through the longitudinal passage 106 by the suction force of the vacuum. Alternatively, the pump 110 may comprise a blower or some other device that pushes the fluid and insert 108 through the longitudinal passage 106 by the force of the blower. In one embodiment, the pump 108 may be electrically or gas powered to effect the movement of air. In another embodiment, the pump 108 may be hand or foot powered (i.e., powered by a user). For example, in one illustrative embodiment, the pump may include a deformable chamber or bladder that can be deformed, for example, by squeezing of the chamber with a user's foot or hand to thereby force air out of the chamber and then released to allow air to rush into the chamber. The chamber may also have a valve that determines whether the chamber embodiment of the pump is a blower or a vacuum. A reservoir may be provided in fluid communication with the chamber to allow air to be accumulated or a vacuum to be increase so that the flow of air between the pump and the longitudinal passage is not stopped or interrupted when the user stops deforming the chamber. In another embodiment, the pump may even be powered through use of exercise equipment such as an exercise bicycle or a stair climbing exercise machine.

In one embodiment, the track 102 may be constructed from a material to permit the bending and twisting (and other contortions) of the track 102 into a variety of shapes. In one embodiment, the track 102 may be constructed from a resilient plastic material. FIG. 2 is a schematic illustration showing how a track 102 may be bent or flexed into a variety of configurations such as, for example, a variety of loops, turns and banks so that the path followed by the toy 104 on the track 102 can so be shaped by a user. The track 102 may also be constructed so that resilient twisting of the track 102 is permitted along the longitudinal axis of the track as shown in FIG. 3A. In this manner the track 102 may be shaped into a twist that permits the track 102 to be shaped into Mobius strip as shown in FIG. 3B. Because the attractive force between the toy 104 and the insert 108, the toy 104 may be held against the track 102 (while still permitting movement of the toy 104 and insert 108 along the length of the track 102) even when the toy 104 is in an upside down position due to such as twists and loops in the track 102.

FIGS. 4, 5 and 6 show cross-sections of an exemplary embodiment of a track 102. As shown, the track 102 has a longitudinal passage 106 with a generally circular cross section although the longitudinal passage 106 may be constructed so that its cross sections may be in other shapes such as an oval, rectangle, square, triangle, hexagon, for example. The track 102 includes upper and lower longitudinal faces 112, 114 on which the toy 104 may be positioned. In the embodiment shown in FIGS. 4, 5 and 6, between two side passages 116, 118 may be formed between the longitudinal faces 112, 114 with the longitudinal passage interposed between them.

As an option, the track 102 may also include side walls 120, 122 that extend away from both longitudinal faces 112, 114 of the track 102. As a further option, the side walls may include side flanges 124, 126.

As a further option, the faces 112, 114 of the track 102 may be shaped so that the extents 128, 130 connect the regions forming the side passages 116, 118 to the longitudinal passage 106. As shown in FIG. 7, the edges of the side passages 116, 118 adjacent to the extents 128, 130 may be rounded for providing a more durable and less-sharp contour to the faces 112, 114 of the track 102.

In some embodiments, the track 102 may be constructed from a plurality of track portions or segments that may be coupled together end-to-end to permit a user to extend or decrease the overall length of the track 102. FIGS. 8 and 9 depict an exemplary coupling between a pair of track portions 132, 134 in accordance with one embodiment. As shown in FIGS. 8 and 9, the coupling of track portions 132, 134 may be accomplished using coupling inserts 136, 138 that may be extended, for example, into the open ends of the side passages 116, 118 of adjacent track portions 132, 134. In one embodiment, the coupling inserts 136, 138 may include a nub 137 that can be extending into a corresponding hole 139 in the track portion to help further secure the coupling insert 136, 138 when the coupling insert 136, 138 is inserted into the end of the track portion. As an option, a gasket 140 may be provided between the adjacent ends of the track portions 132, 134 to help ensure an air-tight seal around the junction of the longitudinal passages 106 of the track portions 132, 134 when the ends of the track portions 132, 134 are positioned next to each other.

The coupling of adjacent track portions 132, 134 may also be accomplished and/or further secured using one or more latches. A pair of exemplary latches 142, 144 are shown in FIGS. 8 and 9, with each latch 142, 144 having a pair of coupling portions 146, 148 that can be detachably or releasably engaged to another and a corresponding pair of mounting hardware 150, 152 that are coupled to the sides (e.g., side walls 120, 122) of the track portions 132, 134 and to which the coupling portions 146, 148 are mounted. Preferably, the coupling portions 146, 148 may be movably or pivotally mounted to the respective mounting hardware 150, 152 to permit movement relative to one another to assist in the attaching and detaching of the coupling portions 146, 148 with one another.

FIGS. 10 and 11 depict a positioning of an exemplary toy 104 (shown as a toy car) positioned on the track 102 proximal to an insert 108 in a longitudinal passage 106 of the track 102. While the toy 104 is shown as a toy car in FIGS. 10 and 11, it should be understood that the configuration of the toy is not limited to cars. The toy may be configured in any shape and may comprise, for example (but not limited to) dolls, figurines, humanoids, animals, airplanes, spaceships, boats, flying monkeys and so on. As shown in FIGS. 10 and 11, the toy 104 may be positioned on a longitudinal face 112 of the track 102 so that a portion of the toy (in this case, the wheels of the toy car) is in contact or close proximity with the longitudinal face 112 with the insert 108 positioned in the longitudinal passage 106 adjacent the toy 104. In the embodiment shown, the toy 104 may include a magnet 154 located on a bottom surface of the toy 104 which is magnetically attracted to the insert 108 (in this case a metal ball bearing). In another embodiment, the toy 104 may include a plate or other magnetizable attracting member capable of being magnetically attracted to the insert 108 or vice versa (i.e., the insert is the magnet). In use, the movement of air or other fluid in the longitudinal passage 106 may cause the insert 108 to be move in the longitudinal passage 106. Because of the attractive force between the insert 108 and the magnet 154, the toy 104 is moved along the track 102 as the insert is moved in the longitudinal passage 106. Further options for positioning of the insert 108 with respect to the magnet 154/toy 104 can be seen with reference to FIG. 32 which presents a side view of one exemplary arrangement/positioning of the insert 108, the toy 104, and the magnet 154.

FIG. 12 is a schematic bottom view of the illustrative toy car shown in FIGS. 10 and 11 showing in illustrative placement of the magnet 154 towards the front end of the toy 104. While the magnet 154 has been positioned towards the front end of the toy 104, it should be understood that the magnet 154 can be placed at other positions on the toy (such as, e.g., the middle or the back end of the toy)

FIGS. 13-17 depict an implementation of an illustrative wheeled inset 156 that may be used in various embodiments. The illustrative wheeled insert 156 may include a two-part body 158, 160 forming a chassis 162 to which a plurality of wheels 164, 166 may be rotatably mounted. The chassis 162 may also have a hole 168 for receiving a magnet or magnetically attractable metal/compound therein. As depicted, this hole 168 may be cylindrical in shape in order to receive a generally cylindrical magnet. In one embodiment, the magnet may be coupled to the side wall of the hole 168. When inserted into the hole 168, the magnet may be frictionally coupled to side wall of the hole 168. An adhesive may also be used to couple the magnet to the side wall of the hole 168.

One end of the chassis 162 may have a plug 170 that may be used to provide a barrier when the wheeled insert 156 is positioned in the longitudinal passage 106 of the track 102 to help enhance the pressure against the plug 170 and thereby help ensure that the wheeled insert 156 is moved through the longitudinal passage 106 by the movement of the air or other fluid in the longitudinal passage 106. As shown, the plug 170 may be cup-shaped with an interior space 172 that may be generally cylindrical in shape. This interior space 172 may act like sail and catch air or fluid therein to help enhance the pushing force of air or fluid against the plug 170 and thereby move the wheeled insert 156 in the longitudinal passage 106.

With particular reference to FIGS. 15-17, the two portions 158, 160 of the body may each have slots 174, 176 for extending the wheels 164, 166 of the wheeled insert 156. The slots 174, 176 may also include axle sockets 178, 180 that can receive the axles (e.g., axle 182 shown in FIG. 17-a corresponding axle may be provided on the other side of the wheel shown in FIG. 17) of the wheels 164, 166. The two portions 158, 160 of the body may be coupled together using an adhesive, for example. When coupled together, the axles 182 of the wheels 164, 166 may be rotated inside the axle sockets 178, 180 to permit rotation of the wheels 164, 166 about their axles 182.

As previously mentioned, a user may shape the track 102 by bending it and/or twisting it a variety of configurations. In order to help hold the track 102 in these configurations, the system 100 may include one or more track holders.

FIGS. 18 and 19 depict an illustrative implementation of a track holder 184 in accordance with one embodiment. The track holder 184 shown in FIGS. 18 and 19 has a generally U-shaped configuration with a base 186 forming the bottom of the U-shape and a pair of upside down U-shaped arms 188, 190 forming the two arms of the U-shape of the track holder 184. In use, the U-shape of the track holder 184 forms a saddle for receiving a portion of the track 102 with the sides of the track 102 held between the arms 188, 190. The arms 188, 190 of the track holder 184 may also include channels 192, 194 that may be used to receive corresponding side flanges 124, 126 of a track 102 to help hold the track 102 more securely in the track holder 184. The U-shape design of these track holders may be helpful in allowing the toy to pass unobstructed on both sides of the track.

The track holder may also include a flexible strap or belt 196 to attach the track holder 184 to a structure such as a rod 198 or dowel as shown in FIG. 18. As shown in FIG. 19, the ends of the strap 196 may include a fastener such as a hook and loop fastener 197a, 197b for coupling the ends of the strap 196 together to help further secure the strap to a structure 198. As shown in FIG. 18, the strap 196 may be coupled to the track holder 184 by extending the strap through corresponding slots 200, 202 in the base 186 of the track holder 184.

In one embodiment, the base 186 may be constructed from two portions 204, 206 that are rotatably coupled to each other as depicted FIG. 20. In such an embodiment, one portion 204 of the base 186 may include a socket 208 into which a corresponding extent 210 of the other portion 206 of the base 186 may be received so that the extent 210 may rotate in the socket 208 so that the U-shaped portion of the track holder 184 may rotate with respect to the bottom portion 204 that may be secured to a structure 198. FIGS. 21 and 22 show further details of the arms 188, 190 and the channels 192, 194 of the implementation of the track holder 184 shown in FIG. 20.

FIG. 23 shows an illustrative track holder 184 with associated accessories in accordance with one embodiment. As shown in FIG. 23, the base 186 of track holder 184 may include a hole 212 into which an end 214 of a strut may be extended. In FIG. 23, three exemplary struts are shown: a vertical strut 216 and two angled struts 218, 220. The angled struts 218, 220 each have one end (e.g., ends 222, 224) that is extended at an angle from the axis of the remainder of the given strut. While the ends of an angled strut 218, 220 may be extended at any angle, an embodiment of the system may be implemented where the angled struts 218, 220 include struts having ends extending at 30°, 45°, 60° and 90° from the axis of the remainder of the given angled strut.

The accessories may also include one or more stands 226 that have a socket 228 for receiving an end of a strut (e.g., ends 230, 232, 234—i.e., the other end of the strut that is not inserted into the hole 212 of the track holder 184). In use, such stands 226 may be used to support a track holder 184 and strut (e.g., struts 216, 218, 220) above a surface on which the stand 226 rests. To enhance stability, a stand 226 may also be weighted.

As a further option, the accessories may include a clamping stand 236 that includes a clamp portion 238 and one or more sockets 240, 242 for receiving an end of a strut (e.g., struts 216, 218, 220) in a similar fashion to the hole 212 of a stand 226. In use, the clamp portion 238 may be used to attach the clamping stand 236 to a structure to hold a track holder 184 and strut in place with respect to the structure.

As shown in FIG. 23, the ends of the struts may be threaded (e.g., threading 244) to permit threadable coupling of the struts with complementary threads (e.g., threads 246, 248) in the sockets of the stands 226, 236. In addition, the accessories may include one or more secure caps 250 that are also threaded and that may be treaded on to the end of a strut that is inserted into the hole 212 of a track holder 184 to secure the strut to the track holder. Alternatively, the hole 212 of the track holder itself may be threaded so that a threaded end of a strut may be threadably coupled directly to the track holder.

The accessories may further include one or more track joints 252 that may be used to couple adjacent track portions together.

FIGS. 24-26 depict an illustrative implementation of a junction piece 254 of a track in accordance with one embodiment. The junction piece 254 is intended to provide a link between the pump 110 and the longitudinal channel 106 of the track 102. As shown in FIGS. 24-26, a junction piece 254 may include a plurality of prongs 256, 258, 260, 262 at each end that may be inserted into corresponding end openings of the side passages 116, 118 of a track 102 or track portion (e.g., track portions 132, 134) that are depicted in FIGS. 4-11 for example. In this fashion, the junction piece 254 may be coupled to the ends of track portions 132, 134.

The junction piece 254 may also include a longitudinal passage 264 that, when the junction piece 254 is coupled to track portions 132, 134, is aligned with (and in fluid communication with) the longitudinal passage 106 of the track 102. The junction piece 254 may also include a plurality of inflow/outflow ports 266, 268 that open (and are in fluid communication with) into the longitudinal passage 264 and that permit connection to a pump 110 and/or to serve as an exhaust port. In use, one end of a tube such as a vacuum hose may be coupled to an open end of one of the inflow/outflow ports 266, 268 with the other end of the tube coupled to the pump 110 in order to couple the pump 110 with the longitudinal passage 264 of the junction piece (and thereby the longitudinal passage 106 of the track 102).

As shown in FIGS. 24-26, a junction piece 254 may be constructed from a pair of complementary portions 270, 272 that may be coupled together to form the junction piece 254. In the implementation shown in FIGS. 24-26, the portions may have corresponding pins 271, 273 and holes 275, 277 for aiding in the proper alignment of the two portions 270, 272 when coupled together.

FIGS. 27-30 illustrate two other implementations of a junction piece 254 with FIGS. 27 and 28 depicting one portion 274 of an implementation of the junction piece 254 having exemplary dual flow gates 276, 278 and FIGS. 29 and 30 depicting a similar portion 280 of an implementation of the junction piece 254 having an exemplary single flow gate 282. The implementations shown in FIGS. 27-30 also show an alternative arrangement of the inflow/outflow ports 266, 268 that are perpendicular to the longitudinal passage 264 of the junction piece 254 rather than orientated at an acute angle like the inflow/outflow ports 266, 268 depicted in the embodiment shown in FIGS. 24-26. In use, the flow gates 276, 278, 282 may be movable (in the embodiments shown, they are pivotable) between an open position (shown in FIGS. 27 and 29) that permits the flow of fluid (i.e., air or a liquid) through the longitudinal passage 264 and a closed position (shown in FIGS. 28 and 30) where the flow gates 276, 278, 282 extend into the longitudinal passage 264 and thereby close the longitudinal passage 264 to block the fluid flow therethrough. By controlling the position of the flow gates 276, 278, 282 between these two positions (i.e., open and closed), a user may control the flow of fluid in the longitudinal passage 106 of the track 102 and thereby control the speed at which the insert 108 is moved through the longitudinal passage 106 (and thereby control the movement of the toy 104 along the track).

FIG. 31 is a schematic exploded view of an exemplary flow controller 283 in accordance with one embodiment. As shown, this flow controller 283 includes a hose connector 284 for connecting to a hose of a pump 110 (e.g., a vacuum), a pipe 286 that is inserted into the hose connector 284, an air latch 288 with a hinge 290 and hinge screw 291 to pivotally couple the latch 288 to the pipe 286 and a spring 292 to bias or urge the latch 288 in a certain direction when so mounted to the pipe 286. The flow controller 283 may also include a backing plate 294 that is coupled to the other end of the pipe 286 opposite the hose connector 284. A pair of inflow/outflow tubes 296, 298 may be coupled to the pipe 286 so that the lumens of the tubes 296, 298 are in fluid communication with the pipe 286. A pair of stabilizers 300, 302 may also be coupled to the tubes 296, 298 and the pipe 286 to enhance the stability and coupling between these components.

An embodiment of the toy track system may be implemented in which a motor 304 is provided in the toy 10 as shown in FIGS. 33 and 34. In such an embodiment, the motor 304 may be operatively coupled to one or more wheels (e.g., wheels 306, 308) so that the motor can be used to rotate the wheels and thereby move the toy 104 along the track 102. For example, in one embodiment, the motor may include some sort of a drive 310 (such as a drive shaft) that can be coupled (such as e.g., using one or more gears, drive plates, teeth, etc.) to an axle to which the wheels are coupled or directly to the wheel so that when the drive is rotated upon activation of the motor, the axle and/or wheel are rotated in a corresponding manner. In some embodiments, rather than wheels, some other track engaging member that is in contact with and/or engages the track may be coupled to the motor so that activation of the motor moves the track engaging member which through its movement, in turn, moves (or at least helps move) the toy along the track. The motor 304 may include an actuator to selectively turn the motor on and off. The actuator may be provided on the toy itself or in some sort of remote controller so that a user can control activation of the motor remotely.

Inclusion of such a motorized toy may be provided in embodiments of the track system where a fluid is moved through the interior passage 106 (e.g., using some sort of a pump) as well as in embodiments where no fluid is moved. Thus the motor 154 can provide either a means independent of the movement of the fluid to move the toy 104 along the track or may be used to assist the movement of the toy 102 along the track in conjunction with the movement of the fluid. Thus, embodiments of the toy track system may be implemented without inclusion of the pump (or structures used to couple the pump to the interior passage 106 of the track 102).

While various embodiments have been described above, it should be understood that they have been presented by way of example only, and not limitation. Thus, the breadth and scope of any embodiment should not be limited by any of the above described exemplary embodiments, but should be defined only in accordance with the following claims and their equivalents.





 
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