Title:
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY-PROMOTING GAME UTILIZING NETWORKED MODULES
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A system and method are provided for a physically active game whose underlying purpose is to increase the level of physical activity in adolescents, and to have the game and associated activity be enjoyable and engaging such that physical activity becomes engrained as a habit that counters obesity. The game system includes a set of networked game modules that players touch in a sequence as prescribed by a game logic The correct module to touch next in the sequence is indicated by a notifier, such as a light turning on or an audible signal emitting from the module. Sensors on the modules transmit a signal to a controller which activates transmission of the next module in the sequence to activate a notifier element. Game data may be used to compute a score and be applied to game statistics. Data from the game may be transmitted to a remote server for storage, transformation into comparative data, and displayed on a web page.



Inventors:
Tranum, Sarah N. (Chicago, IL, US)
Christen, Patricia L. (Piedmont, CA, US)
Brumback, Christine B. (San Francisco, CA, US)
Dillon IV, Frederick P. (San Francisco, CA, US)
Guthrie, Nicole Lee (San Francisco, CA, US)
Suzuki, Lalita Kikuyo (San Francisco, CA, US)
Song, Elizabeth Ji-eun (Palo Alto, CA, US)
Tate II, Richard L. (Oakland, CA, US)
Newman, Sven D. (Burlingame, CA, US)
Patel, Rajiv Kantilal (Menlo Park, CA, US)
Ngo, Phong David (San Francisco, CA, US)
Application Number:
12/396182
Publication Date:
09/03/2009
Filing Date:
03/02/2009
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:



Other References:
Hodgkins et al., Design and testing of a novel interactive playground device, Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part B: Journal of Engineering Manufacture April 1, 2008 vol. 222 no. 4 559-564
http://www.playneos.com/neos-products/lgtgrabp1.php, Playworld Systems NEOS products and games, retrieved 01/27/2112
Primary Examiner:
MUNOZ, ANDRES F
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
SHAY GLENN LLP (SAN MATEO, CA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A system for playing a physically-active game comprising: a set of networked game modules including a hub module and one or more client modules, the hub module and each client module in mutual communication, each module comprising one or more next-in-sequence notifiers and one or more touch sensors configured to emit a signal in response to a touch; and a programmable controller configured to: (a) control progression of the game through a sequential series of the networked game modules, from a preceding module to a next module according to a game logic, (b) receive input from the one or more touch sensors, and (c) activate the next-in-sequence notifier of the next module when touch sensor input from the preceding module is received, in accordance with the sequential series.

2. The system of claim 1, wherein the networked game modules are networked wirelessly.

3. The system of claim 1, wherein the next-in-sequence notifier comprises one or more lights.

4. The system of claim 1, wherein the next-in-sequence notifier comprises one or sound emitters.

5. The system of claim 1, wherein the next-in-sequence notifier comprises an image projector.

6. The system of claim 1, wherein the one or more touch sensors comprise any one or more of a capacitance touch switch, resistance touch switch, an infrared sensitive switch, a surface acoustic wave sensitive switch, or a piezo electric effect sensitive switch.

7. The system of claim 1, wherein the controller is configured to feed touch sensor input back into the game.

8. The system of claim 1, further comprising an audio speaker on at least one of the game modules, the controller of the system being configured to control audio output from the speaker according to a game logic.

9. The system of claim 1, further comprising a digital music player configured to be controllable by the controller in a manner according to the game logic.

10. The system of claim 9, wherein the digital music player and the speaker are included in the hub module.

11. The system of claim 1, further comprising an image projector on at least one of the game modules, the controller of the system being configured to control an image output from the projector in a manner according to the game logic.

12. The system of claim 11, wherein the image projector is included in the hub module.

13. The system of claim 1, further comprising a connection to the internet.

14. The system of claim 13 wherein the controller is configured to receive input through the internet connection that relates to executing the game logic.

15. The system of claim 13 wherein the controller is configured to transmit data relating to the game from the system through the internet connection to a remote server.

16. The system of claim 1 further comprising a sequence generator program operable by the controller, the sequence generator adapted to determine the sequence of modules to be activated in a game.

17. The system of claim 1 further comprising a timer adapted to record elapsed time between receipt of touch sensor input from sequential modules in the series.

18. A method of playing a physically-active game with a game system, the method comprising: activating a notifier element disposed in a game module of a set of networked game modules, such activation providing notice that the module hosting the notifier element is a correct module to touch in a sequential series of game modules to be touched according to a game logic; sensing a touch made on the module; transmitting a signal in response to sensing the touch from the module to a controller; and incorporating the signal as feedback into playing the game.

19. The method of claim 18 wherein the sequential series of modules includes a module more than once.

20. The method of claim 18 wherein incorporating feedback comprises activating the notifier element of another game module that is next in the sequential series of game modules to touch.

21. The method of claim 20 wherein activating the notifier element comprises emitting a sound from an audio element.

22. The method of claim 20 activating the notifier element comprises emitting light from a lighting element.

23. The method of claim 20 activating the notifier element comprises projecting an image from an image projector.

24. The method of claim 18 wherein incorporating feedback comprises recording elapsed time between touch sensor signals transmitted by sequential modules within the series.

25. The method of claim 18 further comprising identifying each module of the set of networked game modules to the controller such that a signal transmitted by a transmitting module is identifiable as having originated from the transmitting module.

26. The method of claim 18 wherein the game is configured for single-player play.

27. The method of claim 18 wherein is configured for multiple-player play.

28. The method of claim 18 further comprising distributing the game modules to locations within a game play area that are spaced apart sufficiently that a player touching a module needs to physically move in order to touch a next module in the sequential series.

29. The method of claim 28 further comprising varying the distance at which modules are spaced apart.

30. The method of claim 18 further comprising calculating a score of the game.

31. The method of claim 30 wherein calculating a score of the game is based at least in part on the elapsed time that a player requires to complete a progression through the sequential series of game modules.

32. The method of claim 18 further comprising varying a rate at which the controller drives the game.

33. The method of claim 32 wherein varying a rate at which the controller drives the game comprises limiting a duration of time allowed between touching a module and touching the next module in the sequence such that if the next module is not touched within such duration there is a consequence to a game score.

34. The method of claim 32 wherein varying a rate at which the controller drives the game is based on feedback from touch sensor to the controller during the game.

35. The method of claim 32 wherein varying a rate at which the controller drives the game is based on discretionary user input.

36. The method of claim 18 further comprising playing music or tones according to the game logic.

37. The method of claim 36 wherein playing music or tones is coordinated with activating the notifier element.

38. The method of claim 36 wherein playing music or tones is coordinated with transmitting the signal in response to sensing the touch.

39. The method of claim 18 further comprising transmitting data from the game to a remote server for recordation.

40. The method of claim 39 further comprising transmitting data from the remote server by way of the internet such that it may be viewed as a web page in a browser, on a cell phone, or on a personal digital assistant.

41. The method of claim 39 further comprising determining comparative data based at least in part on the transmitted data.

42. The method of claim 41 wherein transmitted data is compared to previous data from a player and/or to data from one or more other players.

43. The method of claim 41 further comprising transmitting the comparative data from the remote server by way of the internet such that it may be viewed as a web page in a browser, on a cell phone, or on a personal digital assistant.

44. The method of claim 18 further comprising registering a game player as an individual or as a member of a team such that game play data may be recorded as a record associated with the individual player or with the team.

45. The method of claim 44 wherein registering a game player comprises transmitting data to a remote server.

46. The method of claim 18 further comprising storing any of individual player registration data, team data, or game play data in a memory of a local computer.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

The application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Application No. 61/032,848 of Tranum et al., entitled “iBlob: A physical activity-promoting game”, as filed on Feb. 29, 2008.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Childhood obesity is on the rise both within the United States and throughout the world. This condition poses a serious problem not only for the affected children, but for the burden on public health and the healthcare system at large. Obesity is associated with many co-morbidities, including vascular diseases such as hypertension and heart disease, chronic inflammation, depression, and metabolic diseases, such as glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, as well as full blown type 2 diabetes.

In addition to extensive documentation of the association between childhood obesity and poor health outcomes, a number of studies document the positive effects that physical activity has in reducing the risk of poor health outcomes associated with obesity, including reductions in the development of diabetes and heart disease. Physical activity also helps control weight, promotes psychological well-being, and reduces the risk of premature death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that young people engage in at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day to maintain good health.

While the positive effects of regular physical activity are well documented, motivation to maintain adequate levels of activity over the long term is often lacking. Many young people engage in sedentary behaviors for recreation (e.g., watching television or videos, listening to music, surfing the Internet) to the exclusion of physically active recreation activities, and do not meet the CDC recommendations for physical activity. Research has found that physical activity rates decline with age among young people, with overall levels of physical activity typically beginning to decrease when children are of middle school age.

It is recognized that fun, engaging games and game-related products that require physical activity can be a way to increase physical activity among young people. To succeed in increasing physical activity, games need to appeal to the target population and to fit easily within the existing social, educational, and cultural environment.

Accordingly, there is a need in the commercial and healthcare product markets for so-called “smart games” that can counter the growing tendency toward sedentary behaviors by being directed toward the specific goal of increasing the overall level of physical activity of those who play the game. To succeed in this goal, products need to be easy to use, and have a quick appeal that can also be sustained over the long term. It is further desirable that such products are safe and require minimal adult supervision. Most of all, it is desirable that obesity-countering smart games be effective at their fundamental goal, which is to increase levels of physical activity, and to more generally create an association between physical activity and having fun.

INCORPORATION BY REFERENCE

All publications and patent applications mentioned in this specification are herein incorporated by reference in their entirety to the same extent as if each individual publication or patent application was specifically and individually indicated to be incorporated by reference.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The invention provides a system and a method of operating the system in the form of a physically-active game. Embodiments of the game system include a set of networked game modules including a hub module and one or more client modules, the hub module and each client module are in mutual communication; each module includes one or more next-in-sequence notifiers and one or more touch sensors configured to emit a signal in response to a touch. The system also includes a programmable controller that is configured to: (a) control progression of the game through a sequential series of the networked game modules, from a preceding module to a next module, according to a game logic, (b) receive input from the one or more touch sensors, and (c) activate the next-in-sequence notifier of the next module when sensor input from the preceding module is received, in accordance with the sequential series. Typical embodiments of the system are networked wirelessly, but some embodiments may include wired connectivity between the modules and the controller, and other components that may be included in the system.

The next-in-sequence notifier element may include one or more lights that are visible to game players when the one or more lights are switched on; it may include one or sound emitters capable of emitting a sound audible to game players; or it may include an image projector that is capable of projecting an image on a surface. Lights may be configured as single elements in a module, or there may be a cluster of lights, and if there is a plurality of lights, one or more light may be activated, or all lights, or any subset of lights may be activated in unison, or in any sequence as a form of notification. Similarly, sound emitters may be singular on a module, or there may be a plurality, and they may take the form of any conventional sound emitter, such as a buzzer, or a bell, by way of example.

Embodiments of the one or more touch sensors include any one or more of a capacitance touch switch, resistance touch switch, an infrared sensitive switch, a surface acoustic wave sensitive switch, or a piezo electric effect sensitive switch. In some embodiments of the system, the controller is configured to feed touch sensor input back into the game, as will be summarized below in the context of methods by which the game is played. In some embodiments, the controller is configured to distinguish or identify different touch attributes, for example, the system may distinguish a single-tap touch from a double- or a triple-tap. This capacity is also applicable to the execution of particular forms of game logic, as for example the “Text Course” game example provided below.

Some embodiments of the system include an audio speaker on at least one of the game modules, an audio output from the speaker configured to be controllable by the controller in a manner according to the game logic. In some embodiments, a speaker is included within the hub module, but a speaker may be included on any module, or it may be a stand alone component within the system and in communication with the controller. The one or more speakers within a game set may be configured to receive output from a digital music player, or through an internet connection, or from any form of musical file delivery.

Some embodiments of the system include a digital music player configured to be controllable by the controller in a manner according to the game logic; the digital music player may be in communication with an audio speaker. In some embodiments, the digital music player and the speaker are included in the hub module; in other embodiments, the digital music player may be integrated into a computer within the system, or it may be a stand alone component within the system and in communication with the controller.

Some embodiments of the system include an image projector on at least one of the game modules, the controller of the system being configured to control an image output from the projector in a manner according to the game logic. In some embodiments of the system, the image projector is included in the hub module, but it may be included on any module, and it further may be included as a stand alone component within the system that is in communication with the controller.

Some embodiments of the system include a connection to the internet. In such embodiments, the controller may be configured to receive input through the internet connection that relates to executing the game logic. The controller may also be configured to transmit data relating to the game from the system through the internet connection to a remote server, from where it may be broadcast on a website.

Some embodiments of the system include a sequence generator program operable by the controller; the sequence generator being adapted to determine the sequence of modules to be activated in a game. It may be advantageous for the game that the sequence of activating the modules is not predictable. A sequence generator program may include a large number of sequences from which it selects, or it may generate a random sequence for each round of a game.

Some embodiments of the system include a timer adapted to record elapsed time between receipt of touch sensor input from sequential modules in the series. Such time-related data may be a type of feedback, as summarized below in the method.

Embodiments of the invention also provide methods of playing a physically-active game with a system as summarized above. The method includes activating a notifier element disposed in a game module of a set of networked game modules, such activation providing notice that the module hosting the notifier element is a correct module to touch in a sequential series of game modules to be touched according to a game logic. The game method continues with sensing a touch made on the module, transmitting a signal in response to sensing the touch from the module to a controller, and incorporating the signal as feedback into playing the game; such feedback being summarized below.

In some embodiments of the method, the sequential series of modules may include any module more than once. Typical embodiments of the method include a player or players progressing through a series of modules by touching them, and moving on to the next correct module as indicated by a notifier, as summarized below. Typically, all modules are included in the sequence, but this is not necessarily so; every module does not need to be included in every game sequence. As there are relatively few modules in a game, any module may be included or activated multiple times within a game sequential series. Also, a sequence may include internally repetitious sequences. For example, a sequence may include returning to hub module before proceeding to the next client module, the hub being used as a “home base” that needs to be tagged.

In some embodiments of the method, incorporating feedback includes activating the notifier element of another game module that is next in the sequential series of game modules to touch. Activating the notifier element may include any of emitting a sound from an audio element, emitting light from a lighting element, or projecting an image from an image projector, or any combinations, such as notifying with light and with sound simultaneously. The audio element may include any form of buzzer or bell, or any conventional sound emitter, or it may also include an audio speaker included in the system, as summarized above. Sounds emitted by a speaker as a notifying indicator, in addition to being simple, such as a buzz or ring, can also be complex or musical, such as ring tones. The use of sound as a notifier can provide options to the game, such as the modules being placed out of plain sight but still able to attract the attention of a player seeking it as a next module to touch. The use of sound and light as notifiers can also provide greater flexibility in the game such that it can be appropriately modified for players that are either visually impaired or hearing impaired. In some embodiments, incorporating feedback includes recording elapsed time between touch sensor signals transmitted by sequential modules within the series.

In typical embodiments of the method, the switching on of a light (an exemplary notifier) in a module to indicate that it is the next module in the touching sequence occurs only after the touching the immediately preceding module of the sequence of modules, and there may be a short lag, for example one second. In some embodiments of the method there may be no lag after the touching of a preceding module before the notifier is activated on the next module. In this example, the notifier indicating the next module to touch is activated by the controller immediately as it receives the signal from the touch sensor of the preceding module. And in other embodiments, the next module to touch may be anticipatory, being activated even before the immediately preceding module is touched. Indicating the second next module to touch in an anticipatory manner can serve the purpose of heightening tension or excitement in the game, and may be useful to skilled players in their approach to the preceding module such that they are optimally positioned to move to the next-next module. In still other embodiments, a relatively long lag (longer than 1 second, for example) may be included in the progression, which can create a degree of uncertainty or suspense into the game. Such a lag is also an example of how the controller can vary the pace or the rate of the game, as summarized below. A longer lag can slow the pace of the game, and may be helpful to accommodate players who are physically slow or who tire easily.

In some embodiments of the game the notifying signal (for example, light or sound) may serve purposes other than strictly notification. For example, a notifier can provide a special effect, as in the “Bomb Squad” game example provided below. In the example, the notifier sound is like that of a ticking bomb, as in the countless cartoon renditions of a ticking bomb. The notifier may also incorporate feedback for special effect. Continuing with the “Bomb Squad” game example, the rate or loudness of ticking can vary; if a player is playing the game slowly, for example, the ticking can intensify. If the game is being played quickly, the shorter elapsed time between module touches can keep the ticking at a lower level of intensity.

In some embodiments of the method include identifying each module of the set of networked game modules to the controller such that a signal transmitted by a transmitting module is identifiable as having originated from the transmitting module. Such an identifying protocol may be made by the touch-generated signal emanating from a module having a characteristic signature attribute.

In related aspects of the method, Bluetooth technology by which the modules may be networked can be used to locate modules once they are distributed. For example, if a module becomes lost during game play, a signal may be sent to the “lost” module to emit a locating sound. Communication between a computer or a hub module and client modules may also be enabled by radiofrequency communication using the remote keyless entry or ignition technology.

Some embodiments of the method of playing a game are configured for single-player play; other embodiments are configured for multiple-player play. Typically, if a single player is playing, he may be playing against himself, that is against the time or score of his previous performances. When multiple players are playing, they may be in direct competition with each other, either in terms of winning in an ordered “first, second, or third” sense, or in terms of time or score. Even when multiple players are playing, however, individual players may also be playing against their previous performances.

Some embodiments of the method include multiple players playing simultaneously. Games of this embodiment are benefited by the system being able to identify or distinguish players. One example of an approach to establishing individual recognition is for players to be assigned different touch styles, as for example a single-tap or a double-tap, or a triple-tap. In a more technological approach, radiofrequency identification (RFID) technology may be implemented to identify players. In this embodiment, players wear an RFID chip or tag that has been tuned to respond only at very close range. Thus, when a player is in the vicinity of a module, the module can identify the player, and associate activation of the touch sensor as having been delivered by that player.

Some embodiments of the method of playing the game include distributing the game modules to locations within a game play area that are spaced apart sufficiently that a player touching a module needs to physically move in order to touch a next module in the sequential series. This particular embodiment is consistent with the “smart game” aspect of the invention which is designed to encourage the integration of physical activity into playing the game. Further, the distribution of modules can be a major factor in determining the character of the game and the interest and excitement it can generate. The game may be played indoors or outdoors, or in a setting that includes both indoor and outdoor space. Indoors, the game may be played in a single room, in multiple rooms, even on multiple floors. Modules may be placed anywhere within reach of the players, for example, on the floor, or on a wall or a piece of furniture, or under furniture. In some embodiments, the modules may be placed such that they are hidden from plain sight, in which cases players may need to rely on sounds being used as a notifier element.

Some embodiments of the method of playing the game include varying the distance by which modules are spaced apart. Increasing the distance by which the modules are separated may increase the difficulty of the game or increase the level of physical activity associated with playing the game. Varying difficulty may also be accomplished by varying the rate at which the controller drives the game rate, as summarized below. Varying the difficulty of a game is applicable to games according to the particular rules of the games, some of which are provided as examples in the description below. Varying difficulty is an option that players may exercise at their discretion, as they become individually or collectively better at a particular game, in order to maintain their interest, and to become still better players. Further, increasing game difficulty tends to separate out competing players by their skill level, while playing at low levels of difficulty players may be closely packed in terms of score or time.

Some embodiments of the method of playing the game include calculating a score of the game, either for an individual player or for teams that include a plurality of players. Calculating a score may depend on feedback received by the system during game play, such as elapsed time data. In some embodiments, for example, calculating a score of the game is based at least in part on the elapsed time that a player requires to complete a progression through the sequential series of game modules. Game scoring may include other countless considerations according to game logic of particular games. For example, a game may specify that a particular module is “hot”, and should not be touched; and in the event it is touched, there is a negative score consequence.

Some embodiments of the method of playing the game include varying a rate at which the controller drives the game. Varying the rate at which the controller drives the game may include, for example, limiting a duration of time allowed between touching a module and touching the next module in the sequence such that if the next module is not touched within such duration there is a consequence to a game score. In other embodiments, varying the rate at which the game is driven may be reflected in sounds emitted by modules, for example, a ticking bomb (as in the “Bomb Squad” game in the example), may tick louder or faster, or a flashing light may change color from yellow to red, or begin flashing at a faster rate. In some embodiments, varying a rate at which the controller drives the game is based on feedback from touch sensor to the controller during the game. For example, if the system detects that players are recording fast times between modules, the time limit between modules may be shortened. In some embodiments, discretionary input by the players or a person supervising the game may be used to vary that rate at which the controller drives the game.

Some embodiments of the method of playing the game include playing music according to the game logic. In some embodiments, playing music is coordinated with activating the notifier element, and in some embodiments, playing music is coordinated with transmitting the signal in response to sensing the touch. In some embodiments, the music played is more integral to the game, rather than being an enhancement to the game. For example, as a game round progresses from module to module, an increasing number of notes of a familiar song are played, starting for example with two or three notes, and increasing the notes until the song becomes recognizable. The more quickly the round is played, and the better and quicker a player is at recognizing the song portion, the sooner the player can identify the song. Recognizing the song concludes the round, the shorter the time, the better the score. This game, thus brings a “name that tune” type of skill into the game play as a strength, in addition to the underlying module-to-module quickness as a play factor.

Some embodiments of the method of playing the game include transmitting data from the game to a remote server for recordation. Some of these embodiments may further include displaying the game data on a web page. Some embodiments include determining comparative data based at least in part on the transmitted data, and in part on historical data, as for example data from the same player or data from other players. These comparative data may also be displayed on a web page.

Some embodiments of the method of playing the game include registering a game player as an individual or registering a team such that game play data may be recorded as a record associated with the individual player or team. In some embodiments, registering a game player or team includes transmitting data to a remote server, and some embodiments include storing any of registration data or game play data in a memory of a local computer.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES

FIG. 1 shows a game module with various features such as indicator lights, a touch sensor, a speaker, and a projector.

FIG. 2 shows a hub game module and several client game modules distributed for game play; the hub module in wireless communication with a computer controller, the hub module in wireless communication with the client modules, and the computer in wireless internet-based communication with a remote server.

FIG. 3 shows a schematic distribution of game modules and an exemplary path which a player would follow from one module to the next.

FIGS. 4A-4D provide several views of ways in which a player may contact the module to activate its touch sensor. FIG. 4A shows a player touching a module by bending down.

FIG. 4B shows a player diving for a module and making a hand touch.

FIG. 4C shows a player making a hit on a module by stepping on it.

FIG. 4D shows a player touching a wall-mounted module.

FIG. 5 shows a set of game modules that have been placed in a charging dock.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The game described herein is a so-called “smart game” that is directed toward promoting physical activity in a socialized context as appropriate for adolescents in the range of approximately 11-14 years of age. The invention is described below; exemplary games are provided below, and aspects of the inventive system and game are depicted in FIGS. 1-5.

The inventive physical activity-promoting game system utilizes a plurality of networked game modules. Each module may include one or more lights, a touch sensor, telemetry for sending and/or receiving information to another module, and a rugged but compliant outer surface. The touch sensors may be activatable from specific marked locations on the surface of the module, or the touch sensor may be responsive to a touch anywhere on the surface of the module. The sensitivity of the sensors may be adjustable, as may be appropriate for different games or different age groups, or different game playing styles. Touch sensors of any conventional type may be included within embodiments of the invention, such as sensors that are responsive to a change in capacitance or resistance, sensitive to infrared radiation, sensitive to a surface acoustic wave, or sensitive to a piezo-electric effect.

The physical activity-promoting game system includes a programmable controller in the form of computer, with which the modules may be in communication directly or by way of a hub module. In some embodiments, some aspects of program control may be distributed into the hub module. The controller, either configured within a computer or a hub module, may include a user interface, in the form of a touch-screen, by way of example, for receiving or transmitting instructions and/or information. In some variations, the module controller is a module that is configured to act as the “master” module, and the other modules are “slave” or “client” modules that are under control of the “master” module.

One or more modules may include a speaker, the audio output of the speaker being under the control of a programmable controller, and enabled to receive input from a digital music player, as transmitted over the internet, or as transmitted by any means.

Typical embodiments of the physical activity-promoting game of the present invention may include a set of several game modules. In one embodiment, a module is a hemispherical or domed, flat-bottom silicon plastic device that has one or more touch sensors and is in electronic communication with the other modules. Particulars of the shape of the module, however, are not critical to the function of the modules, and they may be of any reasonable shape that allows the game to be played without hindering aspects of the game, or being hazardous to players. Although electronic communication may be provided by direct electrical connections, in some typical embodiments of the invention wireless communication, such as Bluetooth or other radiofrequencies, connects the modules in a network. Wireless communication provides the advantage of allowing the modules to be distributed easily, without entanglement of connecting wires. A game set may include five modules, merely by way of example, but embodiments of the game may include fewer or more than five modules.

In some embodiments, the connected or networked modules are configured into a system with a main module that serves as a hub for one or more slave, client, or ancillary modules. The hub module functions as a wireless router, interfacing between the client modules and a computer that handles processing and includes displays that are informative of function and control options, and further provides internet connectivity. In some embodiments of the invention, a computer operating system (Linux-based, for example), memory, processing capability, software running ability, and display functionality may be included within the hub itself. Accordingly, depending on the balance of processing, software handling, and display capabilities between a computer and a hub, the hub may serve as the primary user interface. A hub module also may serve as a charging station for the client modules. In some embodiments, the hub and client modules are stored in a connected configuration that maintains the charge in batteries within the client modules.

A hub module within the game set, for example, may include a speaker that plays music that is transmitted to it from a local music player. The music player in various embodiments may be connected to the main module by wires, or it may be a music player configured for wireless communication, such as an iPod or any other suitable music player. By way of the music player, participants in the game may use any music of their choosing. In still other embodiments, the music player is not separate from the main module, but instead fully integrated within it, or alternatively, operably attached to the main module, the module acting as a port for the music player.

A user interface may also be included in the system; it may be included in the main module, or it may be separate and freestanding. The user interface provides a means by which to select the operational mode of the system (examples provided below), and to allow input of rules or selection of variables by which operational modes may proceed. Additionally, the user interface allows users to make music selections or vary the operation of the lights on the modules.

Modules may be powered by any appropriate source, including battery power or direct power as provided from an external source. Modules typically include a rechargeable battery. A module battery can be recharged individually, or a set of modules can be charged in a charging dock. In still other embodiments, the hub module itself may be configured as a charging station that can be electrically connected to client modules for charging the client modules. In other embodiments, the ancillary modules may also have their own speakers. In some variations, modules include lights for decorative effect or to coordinately flash with the beat of music being played. Any suitable lighting system is within the scope of the invention; one particular embodiment makes use of multi-colored light-emitting diodes (LEDS), which may be battery-powered or powered by solar-powered units built into the modules. In some embodiments, instead of, or in addition to lights, the modules may include video screens that play video or flash or project images in coordination with played music. Images may also be projected within the device itself. Embodiments that include a video player typically include standard programmed images, but are further configured to be able to import other images from an image file transmitting source.

Modules may communicate with each other and/or with the module controller by any appropriate method, including wired and wireless systems. For example, modules may be in wireless communication with each other, with the main module serving as a connectivity hub. The audio system and lights (LEDs) may be under coordinated and programmable control by a controller, and further responsive to external input by way of touch-sensitive sensors on each game module. In typical embodiments of a game, lights are displayed in a sequence, from module to module. This sequence of lights represents the path that a game player follows, touching each module as it is lit in a sequence. The touch-sensitive sensors are configured to convey signals in response to being touched, and such signals are received by the controller and feed into regulating or controlling the sequence in which lights are displayed on the modules.

The modules may be durable and waterproof. In some variations, the base is sufficiently adhesive to stick to the floor or wall, or any flat surface, but also sufficiently non-adhesive that it can be pulled away when the game is done. The weakly-adhesive feature of the modules may be created through the use of approaches well-known in the art; for example by using weak adhesives as provided by 3M Corporation in their Post-It Notes® or, by using hook and loop paired fastening surfaces such as Velcro®, or through suction cups located at the bottom of the units.

Game modules can easily be stored, for example, by hanging them on a wall. To set up the game, modules may be distributed to sites within a game play area, which can be either inside or out of doors. Thus, modules may be configured to be very rugged and weatherproof, allowing a play area to be set up in almost any environment that is accessible and safe for play, such as in a park, in the snow, or on a beach. Ruggedness and weatherproofing may be imparted variously by way of methods and materials well-known in the art. For example, plastics used may be rendered with appropriate levels of thickness, edges can be rounded, joints may be minimized and when necessarily present, be tightly-sealed. Internal electrical components within the module can be protected from physical disturbance by being well seated, isolated from contact with other components, and provided insulation and shock absorbing features. In another embodiment, the device itself may be created from soft, flexible materials that can include silicone.

The game system may also include a charging dock, separate from the hub module, which can accommodate a plurality of modules. A typical charging dock may accommodate five modules, merely by way of example, but some embodiments of the charging dock may include fewer docking connections, while other embodiments may include more.

The invention may include web-based connectivity to an online application. Typically, players who engage the online aspect of the game system register with the system with a game name and a password. By connecting to a web page, players can enter and track their own game-associated statistics, and such statistics can be clustered into groups or rankings for comparison. The online application can provide games and rules for players, as well as deliver software and firmware updates to the modules or a computer within the module network. The online application can also generally create an easily accessible environment that fosters community among the players collectively and supports creativity and a sense of individual presence for individual players.

The games that may be played with the game system described herein may be considered “smart games” in that they promote physical activity of the players. Physical activity is considered to be an effective means of countering childhood obesity. It is believed that habits and attitudes engendered by playing the game will help cultivate a lifestyle that embraces physical activity as a way of having fun and engenders a sense of well being. These games are characterized by various features that may encourage the incorporation of physical activity into daily activity by virtue of the accessibility of the game and the positive association between enjoyment of the game and the enjoyment of activity that comes with the game. For example, the game system is simple, thereby making the game accessible and affordable. Game components are portable, and can be battery-operated so an electrical outlet is not necessary. Adult supervision is not necessary because of the game's basic safeness and simplicity. Without adult supervision, adolescents feel freer, less inhibited, develop a greater sense of independence, and can take ownership of the game and pride in their accomplishment.

As noted in the summary, embodiments of the invention provide methods of playing a physically-active game according to a set of rules of a game program, some examples of which are provided below. While the games vary in their specifics, they have a common thread which includes moving from one networked game module to next in a sequence prescribed by the game, touching the module, and moving on. In some embodiments of game play, a module may need to be touched, and then the player moves back to a home base (typically, the hub module), and then the player moves on to the next module in sequence. In most embodiments of game play, the moving step is a literal one; according to the method of playing the game, modules must be placed far enough apart that game players need to physically move from one location to another. Generally, modules are not placed close enough together that they can be touched without taking at least one step.

These general rules, however, are not meant to exclude players with physical handicaps who nevertheless have self-mobility, and indeed, game rules are readily modifiable to suit players of any level of physical ability. For those players who may be wheelchair-bound, for example, movement means moving the wheelchair for a distance greater than an arm's length, or about a full rotation of a wheel of the chair. For players who rely on crutches, canes, or a walker, movement means covering a distance of at least one stride by whatever manner the player moves. For players whose physical disabilities preclude moving any significant distance, modules may be placed within their arm's reach. The underlying principle is that the game is modifiable to be appropriate for all players, while encouraging physical activity within their means.

The games are also easily modified and can thus fit into a large variety of contexts, as defined either by local culture, norms of behavior, or age group. Modifications and variations come from the variety of music that can be selected to fit the preferences of the players, and from variations in the rules. Although the game system, as played in its various operating modes, may be played by several players, for example in a range of three to a dozen players, in some instances games may be played by a solo player or by many players, the upper limit often being constrained by the bounds of the game area. The LED lights may also allow games to be played in the dim light of evening or in the dark.

The game system is particularly appropriate for adolescents who are in transition individually and at various stages collectively in their social and athletic development. Games played with the game system may be highly competitive or played simply for fun. As mentioned above, games may be played by a solo player playing against the clock for example, or played simply for pleasure or practice. In some types of games, teams may be formed and scoring systems applied, or relays may be formed, as for example in the Game Mode. The game system is well suited for parties of any occasion, birthdays, or holidays, for sleepover parties, or family events. Further, while the game is generally designed to appeal to adolescents, people of any age may participate, as in the family event example.

The game modules may be configured to play in various operational modes that support related games. Some game parameters are common to one or more operational modes; for example, play in various modes can progress through increasing levels of difficulty such that greater speed and agility are required. Games may be played in a number of rounds, according the specifics of the game. Rounds may be determined prior to initiating the game, and may be essentially repetitions of the same basic rules, rounds can be defined by the players participating in the particular round, and rounds may be used as points at which rules change, such as scoring rules, or the level of difficulty changes.

Degree of difficulty may be increased by quickening the rate at which the modules need to be touched by the player (as driven by the controller), or by increasing the distance between the modules, or by modifying the duration of light, sound or projection emanating from the next module in sequence to be touched. For example, a game rule may be introduced that a maximum of some unit of time (8 seconds, for example) is allowed between module touches. If that time limit is exceeded, a score penalty may be assessed. In some game embodiments, the distance between modules can be distributed into different level of difficulty categories. Strictly for example and without limitation regarding absolute distances, a low difficulty level can indicate an average distance of 8 feet between modules, a moderate difficulty level can indicate an average of 16 feet between modules, and high level of difficulty can indicate an average of 24 feet between modules.

Networked game modules may also be “active” even when they are not being actively used in a game, as exemplified in the “at ease” mode described below. Some exemplary operational modes and particular games are described briefly in the following section.

Exemplary Games and Modes in Which Games may be Played

Dance Mode: In this mode, the modules light up so as to direct a player to touch the module with his or her feet or hands (or any body part) so as to be incorporated into a series of dance moves. This game embodiment may use a digital music player included in the system. Musical selections may be made the players before the game is initiated. As the game progresses, the level of difficulty increases in terms of the tempo of the music, and the complexity of the sequences in which the modules light up.

Race Mode: In this mode, a player follows a sequence of modules as they light up, with a series of physical touches to the modules that mimic the lighting sequence. The focus in this game is on speed of the player moving through the sequence.

Squish Mode: This game focuses on a variation in the light indication of the next module to touch in that the light is on for only a short amount of time, regardless of how soon the player arrives at the module. In this mode, the goal of the player is to touch or “squish” the game module while it is glowing with a sufficient required level of force before the light fades away on its own time course, and then move onto the next glowing module. The level of difficulty can be increased by increasing the distance between the modules as they are placed in the game area.

Obstacle Course: The game modules allow players to make their own rules and design their own obstacle course to race against each other. For example, one game module may be placed at the top of the stairs, one behind the couch, one in the kitchen, and one under the table. In some embodiments, game players can be handicapped with respect to each other. For example, in the first round of the game players have an even start and the results are translated into a handicap. In following rounds, players are held at the starting line for a period of time according to their handicap, so that the faster players of round one start later than the slower players. At the conclusion of a match, players can check out their scores and see the progress on a web-based activity page.

Bomb Squad: In this game, the players are part of the bomb squad. In a first round, one player hides the pods around the house and second player has to find them before they undergo a simulated “blow up”, as may-be indicated by sound and light effects. In a second round, the roles can be reversed; the second player hides the game modules and the first player tries to find them before they “blow up”. For game scoring purposes, a greater distance between the game modules yields a higher number of points. Further, a negative scoring consequence results from a player not touching a module soon enough, such that it “blows up”. Such blowing up, of course, is entirely figurative, and may be supported by sound and light effects emanating from the module. Scores are recorded on a web-based activity page, and players can compare their scores to each other, and track their own progress from game to game.

Text Course: In this game, the modules are configured as three-letter texting keys as on a keypad. Players can type out text messages to other players by texting methods, such as taping pod 4 once for “G”, twice for “H” and three times for “I”. Points are accumulated according to how much text is delivered in a particular time frame, and the score can be amplified according to the distance between modules. In other modes, the game is un-scored and the goal is to communicate messages to other players.

Remember the Sequence: In this game, the correct sequence in which the modules are to be touched is played at the outset of a round, even before a player starts his sequential module touching course. This game thus adds a memory or recall challenge to the game play, as the player needs to remember the sequence while running the module course.

Name that Tune: In this game, as already described above, as a game round progresses from module to module, an increasing number of notes of a familiar song are played, starting for example with two or three notes, and increasing the notes until the song becomes recognizable. Players compete on the basis of the quickness of their progression through the module sequence as well as their skill at recognizing the song. This game, like “Remember the Sequence” includes a form of mental challenge in addition to the more physical challenge posed by navigating movement through the course of modules in sequence.

Free Play Mode: In this mode, the modules can be used to play game that emulates a traditional game, such as softball, kickball, or whiffle ball. For example, in a variation of softball, the module can be used as a base which glows when a player arrives safely at the base.

Return to Home Base Mode: This is a mode that can be applied to many games as an option, or as integral to the game. In this mode, the sequential course of module to be run included a return to a home base after each new module is touched in the sequence.

At Ease Mode: This is a mode for the modules when they are not in an active game mode. In this mode, the modules may be in the charging dock, or they may be free standing as long as they have sufficient power to operate. In this mode, the modules may be playing music, or they may be decoratively flashing their LEDs in a programmed pattern to provide a light show, or the lights may be put into a still or slowly moving pattern to provide ambient light. The LEDs may either operate independently of music, or in a manner coordinated with it, as happens in the Dance Mode. Typically, the modules may be placed in an “At Ease” Mode when they are connected to a charging dock, as for example, while they hang on a wall in a child's room.

Blind Man's Bluff: In this game, a version of the traditional ‘blind man's bluff”, a player is blindfolded and has to walk through a “mine field” of modules. As the player nears the modules, the modules emit sound. If you step on one it makes a loud noise. Winning the round means that the player got through the field without stepping on a module.

Aspects of the inventive game and method of game play are depicted in exemplary FIGS. 1-5. FIG. 1 shows a game module, more particularly a hub module 21 with various features such as indicator lights 27, a touch sensor 25, a speaker 31, and an image projector 33. Typical embodiments of a client module have at least indicator lights and a touch sensor, but may have other features as well. The indicator lights are typically LEDs which are advantageous for their low cost, low power use, robustness, and easy replacement if necessary. A module may include one or more lights; the lights may be electrically configured to light up in unison, or they may be programmed to light up in a sequence, or they may be individually controllable by the controller, per rules of the game being run by the controller. A game module must have at least one touch sensor, but may have more than one. Typically, the touch sensor is located in the central portion of the upper surface module for easy touching accessibility, but may be placed anywhere on an upper surface of the module. A client module can be very similar in appearance to the illustrated hub module, but it may have fewer features.

FIG. 2 shows a hub game module 21 and several client game modules 22 distributed for game play. The hub module is in wireless communication with a computer controller 12, the hub module 21 is in wireless communication with each of the client modules 22, and the computer in wireless internet 41 based communication with a remote server 43. The wireless communication, which goes both ways, is represented by zap lines. The placement of the modules is a figurative example of many possibilities, as described above. The arrow indicates a sequence in which the modules could be activated by a notifier element, and accordingly, represents the path that a player would run during the course of a round of the game with the modules activating by this sequence. In this particular sequence, for example, a client module 22 is activated first, then the hub module 21, and then a series of client modules 22.

FIG. 3 shows a schematic distribution of game modules, including a hub module 21 and client modules 22 and an exemplary path that a game player would follow from one module to the next during a segment of game play. The distribution of game modules is entirely at the discretion of the players, and any location within the reach of all players is appropriate. Modules may be placed on a wall, for example, if they have an attachment or adhesive feature on their lower surface, but to be fair, the modules should be placed within reach of the shortest player. Any physical disabilities of players should also be taken into account when selecting game modes. The distribution pattern of the game modules is a factor in the degree of difficulty of the game, in general, a more widely distributed set of modules increases exertion in the game as do modes with potentially longer sequences of module activation (such as the ‘Name That Tune’ mode or ‘Remember The Sequence’ mode). Distribution pattern can be coupled with time-biased scoring as well, where negative effects on scoring can be computed based on a time limit factor applied to individual legs of the sequence.

FIGS. 4A-4B provides several views of the game modules 22 and a player 17 who may be seen touching a module by bending down (FIG. 4A), diving for a module and making a hand touch (FIG. 4B), making a hit on a module by stepping on it (FIG. 4C), and touching a wall-mounted module (FIG. 4D). This figure depicts aspects of the action of the game as well as the generally robust construction of the modules such that they can withstand hard touches, being stepped on, and being moved repeatedly in some modes.

FIG. 5 shows a set of game modules, including a including a hub module 21 and client modules 22, that have been placed in a charging dock 35, which is connected to a power outlet. The charging dock also generally serves as a storage container for the modules even when the dock is not connected to a power source. The configuration shown in FIG. 5 is an example, the configuration may be of any form, but generally advantageous features include compactness and durability. The modules need not be positioned on the same level; they may also be stacked. Some embodiments of the charging station have a handle, or include a cover or a case, such components being advantageous for storage in a closet, for example, as well as being advantageous in providing a portable carrying case. Still further embodiments may be adapted for mounting on a wall. The advantage of this configuration includes not using floor space. Further, in some embodiments of the mode of operation, as in the “At Ease” described above, the modules may provide a background form of entertainment or ambience if they are put into a light show or projector type of operation. Further, inasmuch as they include a music player and speakers, they can be used as a music source.

Unless defined otherwise, all technical terms used herein have the same meanings as commonly understood by one of ordinary skill in the art of game and networking technologies. Specific methods, devices, and materials may be described in this application, but any methods and materials similar or equivalent to those described herein can be used in the practice of the present invention. While embodiments of the invention have been described in some detail and by way of exemplary illustrations, such illustration is for purposes of clarity of understanding only, and is not intended to be limiting. Various terms have been used in the description to convey an understanding of the invention; it will be understood that the meaning of these various terms extends to common linguistic or grammatical variations or forms thereof. It will also be understood that when terminology referring to devices or equipment, or common names, that these terms or names are provided as contemporary examples, and the invention is not limited by such literal scope. Terminology that is introduced at a later date that may be reasonably understood as a derivative of a contemporary term or designating of a hierarchal subset embraced by a contemporary term will be understood as having been described by the now contemporary terminology. Further, while some theoretical considerations have been advanced in furtherance of providing an understanding of the invention, such as the therapeutic effectiveness of physical activity in countering obesity, the claims to the invention are not bound by such theory. Moreover, any one or more features of any embodiment of the invention can be combined with any one or more other features of any other embodiment of the invention, without departing from the scope of the invention. Still further, it should be understood that the invention is not limited to the embodiments that have been set forth for purposes of exemplification, but is to be defined only by a fair reading of claims that are appended to the patent application, including the full range of equivalency to which each element thereof is entitled.