US 20020061701 A1
A toy comprises of a first part comprising sensor means and means to generate at least one activity; and a second part comprising a mark adapted to be identified by the sensor means; such that when the first part and the second part are aligned, the sensor means detect and identify the mark and trigger an activity.
1. A electronic toy comprises:
(a) a first part comprising sensor means and means to generate at least one activity;
(b) a second part comprising a mark adapted to be identified by the sensor means;
such that when the first part and the second part are aligned, the sensor means detect and identify the mark and trigger an activity.
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 In certain toys, in order for a particular action, response, or activity to occur, separate parts of the toy must be connected. Such connection means usually involves electrical or electronic components. When an electrical or electronic connection between parts must be made, often metallic prongs or exposed metallic pieces are employed. Exposed prongs may become bent or disformed through rough handling which makes it very difficult for the connection to be made. Moreover, exposed electrical contacts may become oxidized or corroded, particularly when subjected to moisture.
 Accordingly, it would be advantageous to provide a means for one part of a toy to sense the presence of another part of a toy without the use of exposed electrical connections. Moreover, it would be advantageous if no electrical connection or application of force to connect two parts were required.
 It has been discovered that a multiple part toy coding and recognition system provides many advantages over the prior art.
 In a broad aspect, a toy comprises a first part comprising sensor means and means to generate at least one activity, and a second part comprising a mark adapted to be identified by the sensor means, such that when the first part and the second part are aligned, the sensor means detect and identify the mark and trigger an activity.
 In further aspects of the invention:
 (a) the mark comprises a series of concentric rings;
 (b) the concentric rings comprise circles;
 (c) the sensor means comprises a source of electromagnetic energy and a detector adapted to sense electromagnetic energy reflected from the mark;
 (d) the source of electromagnetic energy is adapted to direct said electromagnetic energy to the mark, and the detector is adapted to identify patterns of reflected electromagnetic energy created when said energy is respectively reflected from or absorbed by the mark;
 (e) the detector is adapted to identify concentric bands of reflected light;
 (f) the mark is provided with a pattern comprising an identification code;
 (g) the series of concentric rings comprises an identification code;
 (h) the series of concentric circles comprises an identification code;
 (i) the detector means comprises computer processing means to correlate a detected signal from the mark, and to trigger a toy activity appropriate to the second part;
 (j) the toy further comprises a plurality of second parts corresponding to a plurality of toy activities;
 (k) the toy further comprises a plurality of second parts corresponding to a plurality of physical arrangements with the first part;
 (l) the toy comprises multiple components, a plurality of which comprise both a first part and a second part;
 (m) the activity comprises generation of sound;
 (n) the activity comprises movement;
 (o) the activity comprises activation of one or more lights;
 (p) the activity comprises computer operations;
 (q) the activity comprises activation of a display screen;
 (r) the toy further comprises alignment means adapted to orient the sensor of the first part with the mark of the second part.
 Other aspects of the invention will become apparent from the following description of an illustrative embodiment of the invention.
 In its simplest aspect, referring to FIGS. 1, 2A and 2B, the toy comprises a first part 1 which may be an active part of a toy adapted to detect and respond to one or more inactive parts 3 of the toy. For example, a toy kitchen set may have sensors built into the stove top and the oven base so that each of these locations can detect toy accessories such as pots or pans, or items to be cooked or baked which are placed upon either surface. The choice of an oven is merely illustrative and any activity in which one part might respond to another part would benefit from this invention.
 The sensor means 5 of the first part 1, typically the active part, must be adapted to identify and respond to a mark or pattern of marks placed upon the second part 3, typically the inactive part. It has been found that an infrared sensor comprising a source 9, or series of sources, of infrared electromagnetic energy and a detector 1, or series of detectors, constitute an excellent means of achieving recognition of the mark or pattern 7. The arrangement of the sensors 5 and the shape and structure of the mark 7 can be in any convenient form. It has been found particularly useful, however, to use a series of concentric rings when creating marks. Each second part comprises one or more rings, with the pattern of such rings being unique to such second part. Thus, each second part is coded to be recognized by the first part. With such a series of rings, the orientation of the second part in two dimensions is not important. Thus, the second part can face in any direction as long as the mark is aligned over the sensor. Alternating bands of light and dark material, corresponding to reflective and non-reflective areas, provide the means for recognition. In the preferred embodiment, the particular combination of dark and light bands is unique to a particular second part. The signal generated by the sensor corresponding to the particular pattern of dark and light bands will in turn trigger an action, response or activity by the first part which is appropriate to the second part so detected.
 The reflective or non-reflective areas on the second part or parts can be created using fabric, pigments, or varying materials like metals and non-metals, and the like. Any suitable means to create such reflective and non-reflective areas may be employed. The coded patterns generate on or off signals from a sensor or sensors allowing the first part to recognize the particular second part placed into registration with the first part.
 As illustrated in FIG. 2C, when a first part 1 and a second part 3 are placed into close registration, the sensors comprising sources 9, 9′ and detectors 11, 11′ are activated. An electromagnetic signal from source 9 will be absorbed by dark-coloured mark 7, so no signal will be detected by detector 11. Conversely, an electromagnetic signal from source 9′ will be reflected by the light-coloured surface of second part 3, and a signal will be detected by detector 11.
 Thus, a single first part of the toy can be adapted to recognize multiple second parts. This permits different interactivity between a single part of a toy comprising sensor means, and a set of other objects, or second parts. These objects and the response generated when a particular second part is recognized may correspond to different activities, story lines, accessories, personalities of toy characters, arrangements of a puzzle, positions of a toy in a play set, or other possibilities.
 The particular advantage of this system is that it is simple, versatile, easily locatable, and the second part is detectable when stationary and appropriately placed.
 The invention comprises no electrical or electronic connection between the parts, so there are no prongs to be bent or contacts to become oxidized or corroded.
 The mark, as set out above, may consist of any combination of on\off patterns in a multiplicity of patterns, preferably concentric. As illustrated in FIGS. 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D and 3E, these patterns may be squares, ovals, triangles, circles, or other geometric shapes. In its simplest form, the sensor of the invention can detect any mark, however shaped. An advantage of a preferred embodiment of the invention, however, is the use of concentric patterns. Such concentric patterns allow the accurate location of the first part in relation to any one of a multitude of second parts.
 In the most preferred embodiment, the mark comprises a series of concentric circular rings. With this conformation, the orientation of the first part to the second part is irrelevant. The second part can be turned to face any direction as long as it is appropriately located over a sensor of the first part.
 It is preferable to locate the mark on any substantially flat surface of a second part, although arrays of sensors can be adapted to read marks located on non-flat surfaces.
 There are a number of possibilities to locate the second part against the first part. As illustrated in FIGS. 1, 2A and 2B, the simplest involves the use of a pin 15 on the second part which fits into a corresponding receptacle 17 on the first part. The pin 15 and receptacle 17 are located on the central axis around which the concentric marks or patterns are located. An alternative embodiment involves use of raised portions 19 of a flat surface on the first part facing the second part within which the perimeter of the second part fits, as illustrated in FIG. 4A. Thus, the second part may be set onto the first part, which is resting horizontal, and remain so located until it is desired to remove it. Then, simply lifting the second part from the first part will release the second part from its confined location. Indeed, no actual physical contact between the parts is necessary as long as the sensor on the first part is located within a reasonable range of the mark on the second part.
 An alternative means to the hold the second part 3 to the first part 1 is a magnetic connection, as illustrated in FIG. 4B. Magnets 21 mounted at or near the surface of the first part 1 are adapted to attract metallic elements 23 mounted at or near the surface of the second part 3. Thus, even if the sensor-bearing surface of the first part is not horizontal, the second part can be made to locate over the sensor in an appropriate way for the mark to be recognized regardless of the force of gravity acting upon the second part. Other means to locate the second part to the first part will be obvious to those skilled in the art.
 The features of the first part of an illustrative embodiment of the invention are illustrated schematically in FIG. 5. A power source, typically an electrical storage battery, supplies electrical power to sensor arrays, computer processing and controller means, and to any devices or elements by which the first part manifests an action, response or activity. Such devices may include audio speakers, electrical motors, lights, display screens, or other suitable devices.
 Although an illustrative embodiment of the invention has been described, other embodiments falling within the scope of the invention will be apparent to those skilled in the art.
 An illustrative embodiment of the invention is shown in the following drawings, wherein:
FIG. 1 is a schematic view of a first part with a sensor array and two second parts with different marks.
FIGS. 2A and 2B illustrate schematically a first part comprising two sets of sensors and a second part comprising a mark.
FIG. 2C illustrates schematically the reflection or absorption of radiation from a source in the presence or absence of a mark.
FIGS. 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D and 3E illustrate schematically variations in mark format.
FIGS. 4A and 4B illustrate alternative means to locate the second part in relation to the first part.
FIG. 5 is a schematic representation of components of the first part.