Title:
PAINTBALL GUN WITH PAINTBALL MONITORING
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A paintball gun is made with a control circuit controlling the operation of the gun. The control circuit performs some novel functions including counting the number of paintballs that have been ejected and using this information, generating an output signal indicative of the number of paintballs left in a magazine.



Inventors:
Newman, Mike (Smithtown, NY, US)
Fiskari, Jukka (Helsinki, FI)
Williams, Chris (Glendale, UT, US)
Application Number:
11/960899
Publication Date:
06/25/2009
Filing Date:
12/20/2007
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
124/45
International Classes:
F41A19/00; F41A9/61
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
TILLMAN, JR, REGINALD S
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
GOTTLIEB RACKMAN & REISMAN PC (NEW YORK, NY, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A paintball gun comprising: a magazine for paintballs; a body with a barrel receiving paintballs from the magazine and selectively ejecting said paintballs, and a handle; an electronic circuit disposed in the body and configured to control the paintball ejection in response to commands, said electronic circuit including a paintball monitor monitoring the number of paintballs left in the magazine, said electronic circuit generating an output indicative of said number.

2. The paintball gun of claim 1 wherein said monitor receives signals indicative of the ejection of each paintball.

3. The paintball gun of claim 1 wherein said magazine holds a predetermined number of paintballs and wherein said monitor compares said predetermined number to the number of ejected paintballs.

4. The paintball gun of claim 3 wherein said electronic circuit generates an indication when the difference between the predetermined number and the ejected number of paintballs falls below a threshold.

5. A method of operating a paintball gun comprising: loading the paintball gun with a magazine holding paintballs; selectively ejecting paintballs from the gun; monitoring the number of paintballs left in the magazine; and generating an output signal to the user indicative of said number.

6. The method of claim 6 wherein said monitoring includes counting the number of ejected balls.

7. The method of claim 6 wherein said generating includes generating a warning signal when the number of left paintballs is below a threshold.

8. The method of claim 5 wherein said magazine holds a predetermined number of paintballs and wherein said monitoring includes obtaining the difference between said predetermined number and said ejected number.

9. A paintball gun comprising: a body with a barrel for selectively ejecting paintballs using compressed gas; and a control circuit including: a processor receiving commands and generating control signals causing the ejection of said paintballs through said barrel; and a counter adapted to count the number of ejected paintballs and to generate an indication of the number of paintballs left that can be ejected.

10. A paintball gun comprising: a body with a handle carrying a trigger; a barrel attached to said body and selectively ejecting paintballs in response to the activation of said trigger; and a control circuit including a control switch mounted on said handle a stiff printed circuit board disposed inside said body, wherein said control circuit includes several modes of operation selected by said control switch, at least some of said modes determining characteristics of the paintball ejections, and a flexible printed circuit board connecting said stiff printed circuit board to said control switch.

Description:

RELATED APPLICATIONS

The subject matter in this application is related to the following co-pending Applications:

U.S. application Ser. No. ______ filed ______ and entitled AN IMPROVED PAINTBALL GUN WITH SOUND EFFECTS;
U.S. application Ser. No. ______ filed ______ and entitled AN IMPROVED PAINTBALL GUN WITH CONTROL SWITCHES ON THE GRIP;
U.S. application Ser. No. ______ filed ______ and entitled AN IMPROVED PAINTBALL GUN WITH A FLEXIBLE PC BOARD; all incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

This invention pertains to a paintball gun with several new features to improve its ease of use and performance, including means for reproducing various new sound effects.

2. Description of the Prior Art

Paintball is an exciting game which simulates actual warfare and involves players firing paintballs quickly and accurately upon each others using paintball guns or markers. A typical paintball gun includes a body including a handle, a tank holding a compressed gas (typically air or CO2) and a barrel receiving paintballs from a hopper. Activation of a trigger on the handle causes compressed gas from the tank to propel paintballs through a barrel. Initially, paintball was played with paintball guns or markers that were purely mechanically-operated.

The introduction of electronics into paintball guns has revolutionized the paintball gun and has completely changed the way the game of paintball is played. Electronics have allowed paintball guns to be more than simple mechanical guns. Guns now have electronic circuit boards with computer chips controlling the functions of the gun and providing the paintball player options that were not available with a traditional mechanical gun. However many other features can be provided electronically to improve a gun's functionality and modes of operation.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

In one embodiment, the present invention pertains to a paintball gun that provides selective generation of a large variety of sound effects electronically, including optionally playing music. For this purpose an electronic control circuit is provided that includes a microprocessor controlling the operation of the gun, a memory holding digital files defining characteristics of various sound effects, and an audio device that selectively receives and converts electrical signals corresponding to the digital files and generates corresponding sounds.

Additional elements may be included that provide visual and/or tactile information to a user, as well as a counter for determining how many paintballs a magazine mounted on the gun still contains.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a block diagram of the control circuit of a known paintball gun;

FIG. 2 is a schematic illustration representative of the right side of an electronic paintball gun constructed in accordance with this invention;

FIG. 3 shows the left side of the gun of FIG. 2;

FIG. 4A shows a block diagram of the electronic circuitry used to in the gun of FIGS. 2 and 3A-C;

FIG. 4B shows a partial sectional view of the gun of FIG. 3A;

FIG. 4C shows a partial sectional view of a gun having an alternate embodiment;

FIG. 5 shows a flow chart of the operation of the gun of FIGS. 2-4; and

FIG. 6 shows a flow chart of several alternate modes.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Various preferred aspects and embodiments of the present invention will now be described in detail with reference to the accompanying figures. It should be noted, however, that the following description is provided by way of example only and not of limitation, and that many other implementations and embodiments of the present invention will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art based on the disclosure herein. The scope of the invention should therefore not be limited to the particular embodiments described herein.

In FIGS. 2 and 3 a paintball gun is portrayed somewhat diagrammatically in order to illustrate its operation and the various improvements provided by the present invention. A paintball gun 10 includes a body 11, with a barrel 12 and a handle 14. The body 11 is attached by standard tubes to a source of compressed gas. The source and the tubing have been omitted for the sake of simplicity. Alternatively, the compressed air source may be built into the handle 14 and replaced through a small hinged door (not shown) formed therein.

The barrel 12 consists of a tube mounted on the body 11 and is selectively connected to the air tank by valves (not shown) and a pipe 16. Attached to the body 11 (or the tube 12) is a magazine 19 containing paintballs (not shown). Although the magazine 19 is shown mounted right on top of the body 11 for the sake of simplicity, in most configuration, the paintballs are fed into the barrel 12 from a closed paintball holder through a hopper. The gun 10 is also provided with a trigger 20 protected by a guard 22. A user aims the gun 10 at a target and pulls the trigger 20. This action causes the valves and other mechanisms within the body 11 to feed paint balls from the magazine 19 to be loaded into the tube and then ejected at a high speed through the barrel 12. The gun 10 can be normally operated in various modes, such as a manual mode in, a semi-automatic mode, an automatic mode in which as long as the trigger is depressed, the balls are ejected continuously as well as other modes.

The handle 14 is formed with two removable panels 24A, 24B. Alternatively, the front portion of the handle is removable and the two panels 24A, 24B can be connected to form a single U-shaped assembly. The panels 24A, 24B are removable to allow access to the interior of the handle 14. This interior is used to hold a source of power (e.g., a battery), an electronic circuit board, and other accessories.

As shown in FIG. 1, a typical circuit board 30 includes a microprocessor 32 that receives an input from a manual switch 34 on the handle 14, a trigger sensor 36 and a state counter 42. The microprocessor 32 also generates control signals to an interface 38 that controls the air valves and other equipment used to expel the balls from the barrel 12. The microprocessor 32 also activates an audio device 40 to provide various indications to a user. Typically, when a gun 10 is first turned on, the state counter 42 is activated. The state counter can have several states, each one defining a different mode of operation for the gun, as defined by certain preselected parameters. Each of these modes is defined in the written documentation for the user. The different modes may provide various rates of firing, the number of paintballs fired in each round, etc. The user has a choice of selecting one of these modes by activating the trigger 20 and/or manual switch 34 on the handle. Each time the user activates these elements, the state counter 42 advances to a next mode. Preferably, the microprocessor 32 causes a sound, e.g., a beep to be generated by the audio device 40 to provide a verification means of the mode selected by the user.

The gun 10 and operation described so far and its mode of operation is fairly generic to all paintball guns.

In the present invention several improvements are provided to the structure of the gun and its modes of operation. Preferably, these improvements are implemented by changing the circuit board 30 in an existing gun and, optionally, changing the panel(s) 24A, 24B on the handle 14. Of course, all or some of the improvements may be implemented by elements disposed in other portions of the gun body 11.

FIG. 4A shows a schematic block diagram of a circuit board 100 for the paintball gun of FIGS. 2 and 3. Referring to these figures, the board 100 includes a microprocessor 102 controlling essentially all the functions of the gun 10 as described above, unless otherwise noted. The microprocessor 102 receives inputs from a manual switch 104 on the handle 14, as well as the trigger switch 106 and a state counter 112. The state counter 112 (as well as state counter 42 in FIG. 1) is preferably implemented by software within the microprocessor 102 (or 32) but is shown as a separate element for the sake of clarity. The board 100 contains several additional elements which shall now be described. Preferably, sounds are generated in the present invention not by a buzzer but by an audio device 115. This audio device 115 may be provided on the board 100 or may be mounted on one of the panels 24A, 24B. The board 100 is further provided with a memory 120 that is connected to the microprocessor 102 and an audio device driver 110. The memory 120 may be used to store various data and other information required for the operation of the gun 10, however, for the purposes of this invention, its main purpose is to store files defining various preselected sounds associated with the operation of the gun 10. Preferably, at least some of the operations of the gun are associated with a corresponding file.

In operation, the paintball user turns on the gun 10 using the switch 104. As described previously, when the gun is first turned on, an initialization period may be used to set or selected various parameters of the gun, each set corresponding to a mode. The user selects each mode by pushing on the switch 104 or actuating the trigger 20. These actuations cause the state counter 112 to step through the modes of the gun. As each mode is selected, the microprocessor 102 selects an appropriate file from memory 120 and sends it to the audio driver 110. This latter element then causes the audio device 115 to emit a corresponding sound. In one embodiment of the invention, the device 115 is a buzzer. In this case, the driver causes several different types of sounds to be generated by the buzzer corresponding to an appropriate action. In another embodiment of the invention, the files received by driver 110 are digital files, and the driver includes a D/A converter that converts these digital files into actual sounds replayed by speaker 113. These sounds may range from relatively simple beeps to an actual or synthesized voice announcing modes, e.g., “MODE ONE”, “MODE TWO,” etc. Alternatively, the different modes can be given names which are then pronounced when the appropriate mode is selected.

Once the user completes his selection, the selected mode is stored and used each time the gun is turned on until another mode is selected. The user may select through the mode using the trigger 20 or the switch 104. In an alternate embodiment, two switches similar to 104 are used, one to increment the modes (1, 2, 3, . . . ) and the other to decrement the modes (4, 3, 2, . . . ).

In this manner, the electronic circuit board 102 acts as the central controlling agent, linking the various features of the paintball gun and assuring that it operates correctly. In addition, various new modes of operations are described below.

The speaker 113 may be used to generate many other audio signals as well. For example, various audio signals may be stored in RAM 120 or another similar device and then, on command from the microprocessor 102, they can be downloaded and played by the speaker 113. Examples of such audio signals may include instructions on how to use the gun, or how to play a game. Other signals may include music and other sound effects. These signals may be stored as voice clips in an MPEG format or any other suitable format. In addition, or instead of playing these voice clips may be transmitted to a user's ear phone via a wired earphone output (jack) 116, through the USB port 130 or a wireless connector (which may be, for example, a Bluetooth connector) 131.

In one embodiment of the invention shown in FIG. 4B, the PC board 102 is disposed below the removable panel 24B. One or more control switches used to operate the device, such as switch 34 are implemented as a microswitches disposed on the board 102. For example, the board 102 may be provided with a momentary microswitch 102 that is activated by depressing it. In addition, at a least a portion of panel 24B, such as portion 104 is flexible so when pressed with a finger, it flexes inwardly as shown at 104A. The portion 104 and switch 103 are sized and positioned so that when the portion 104 is flexed inward, it activates microswitch 103. Several such microswitches can be provided as need.

In another embodiment shown in FIG. 4C, panel 24C is formed with a window 25. The PCB 102A is connected to one end of a flexible PC board 107. The other end of the flexible PC board (FPC)107 is mounted to the underside of panel 24C as shown, and has one or more electronic elements mounted thereon. These elements may include switch 104, tactile resonator 118, display 132, etc. The elements are then available through the window 25 so that they present information to the user and/or are actuated by the user as described. The electronic elements are connected by conductors of FPC 107 (not shown) to other elements of the board 102C.

While the gun is in operation at least some of its functions are accompanied by sound effects emitted by audio device 115. This feature is illustrated in the flow chart of FIG. 5. In step 200 the microprocessor performs a predetermined activity (these activities are of course commanded by the microprocessor's software.). Next, in step 202, a look-up table of other similar means is used to determine what sound effect (if any) is desirable for the corresponding activity. These sound effects can be selected by the user, can be preset as part of the initiation period, and maybe in fact one of the selected parameters, or can be set by other means. In any event, the corresponding digital file is then obtained from memory 120. In step 204 the digital file is sent to the audio converter 110 which then causes the audio device 115 to play a corresponding sound clip in step 206. For example, one sound clip may be played each time the trigger 20 is pulled. A different sound clip is played as the gun continues to shoot. Additionally, the board may be used to play various theme songs at will. During a match, different teams may have their guns set to play different theme songs. The number, length and complexity of the songs depend on the size of memory 120 and the compressions schemes used for the songs.

Various other features may be provided on the board 100 as well. For example, the memory 120 can be removable with different songs and other digital files of sound clips being provided on different memory hardware. Alternatively, the board may be provided with a standard connector such as USB port 130 or other standard means of connecting the board 100 to a PC or other digital equipment. In a preferred embodiment, of the invention, the board 100 is connected by the connector 130 to a PC (not shown). A user, retailer or service center then contacts the manufacturer of the board or other service center and downloads to the microprocessor sound clips and any firmware updates as necessary.

Another feature of the invention is a digital screen 132 that may be a screen for displaying alphanumeric characters and/or other images. The screen can be an LCD screen, or other similar screen (e.g. an OL screen). As seen in FIG. 2, the screen is preferably incorporated or mounted on one of the panels, e.g. panel 24A. The screen may be used to provide instructions to the user and to show other information such as the mode being selected, a current time, etc. Preferably screen 132 is a color screen.

Instead of, or in addition to the screen 132, the gun 100 may be provided with an LED or other visual indicator 114. The indicator 114 and the screen 132 are driven by the microprocessor 102. The indicator 114 can be on all the time to show that the gun is on, or part of the time to provide various messages in conjunction with or separately from the audio device 115.

Normally gun 100 is used in a loud, noise environment and may be noisy itself. In addition, the users must wear helmets which may mask any sounds produced by the audio device 115. Therefore, in one embodiment, the gun 100 can be provided with a standard audio jack 116 driven by the audio device driver 110. An audio device 115 or earphone (not shown) can then be worn by the user that is connected to the gun 100 via the jack 116 to allow the user to hear any sound clips better.

In another embodiment, the gun 100 is also provided with a tactile pad 118. Pad 118 is preferably mounted on one of the panels, as shown in FIG. 3 and it is driven by the microprocessor 102. The pad 118 produces vibrations that are felt by the user as he holds the gun 10 and is used to provide the user with various indications in conjunction with or in addition to the audio signals provided by the audio device 115, or jack 116 or the visual indications provided by the screen 132 or indicator 114 (step 208 in FIG. 5).

One on-going problem with the paintball guns is that it is difficult to determine when they run out of the paintballs. This problem is resolved in the present invention by providing a paintball counter 134. The paintballs are fed into the gun responsive to control signals from the microprocessor 102. In the present invention, the counter 134 also receives these signals. The gun 10 uses either standard magazines 19, or the number of paintballs in the magazine is provided to the microprocessor and the counter 134 as part of the initialization process. Then, the counter 134 monitors the number of paintballs that have been ejected. When a certain number of such balls have been ejected, and hence when a threshold number of balls remain in the magazine the counter then produces an alarm indicating that either that the magazine has X number of balls left, or that it is empty. In step 208 an indication is then generated to the user via the audio device 115, jack 116, screen 132, pad 118 and/or indicator 114. Thus, the user is notified that he has to either quit soon or get a new magazine of paintballs in place.

As disclosed above, a paintball gun may have several modes of operation. During initiation, a user can be given the choice of selecting any of one of several modes. Some of the modes are discussed above. Other modes include a standard shooting mode, a demo mode in which various functions of the gun can be demonstrated, a drill mode, in which the user can practice or drill various operations, etc. These modes are shown in the flow chart of FIG. 6.

In summary, a paintball gun is disclosed with several important improvements. One improvement such improvement is that the gun can store and play several sound clips using MP3 or other formats. These clips can provide music, voice instructions, control indications and conformations and many other sound effects. The sounds are actually heard either on a speaker built into the gun or through an external speaker or earphone communicating via a wired or wireless channel with the gun.

A further improvement is the provision of one or more buttons built into the handle or grip of the gun. The buttons are used to provide various functions for the gun, such as selecting a mode of operation, e.g., a drill mode, a learning mode, a standard shoot mode; to select various sound clips, etc.

Another improvement pertains to a handle or grip formed with a window and a flexible printed circuit board having an electronic element accessible through the window and extending to the regular printed circuit board. The electronic element could be an LED or a display providing operational information to the user, could be tactile resonator, or a switch.

Yet another improvement pertains to a reload warning or indicator. This improvement is implemented by providing a counter that monitors and counts the number of paintballs that have been fired. Based on this information, a visual, tactile, or audible signal is generated to warn the user when this number exceeds a certain limit, and that he will run out of paintballs soon.

Numerous other modifications and variations to the foregoing embodiments are possible and will be apparent to those skilled in the art. For example, ear phones and/or other devices can be connected to the microprocessor not only through an audio connector, but via other connection means as well including, e.g. a USB connector. The appended claims should therefore be interpreted to cover all such modifications and variations.