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Publication numberUS20070056573 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/501,138
Publication dateMar 15, 2007
Filing dateAug 7, 2006
Priority dateAug 5, 2005
Publication number11501138, 501138, US 2007/0056573 A1, US 2007/056573 A1, US 20070056573 A1, US 20070056573A1, US 2007056573 A1, US 2007056573A1, US-A1-20070056573, US-A1-2007056573, US2007/0056573A1, US2007/056573A1, US20070056573 A1, US20070056573A1, US2007056573 A1, US2007056573A1
InventorsJohn Campo
Original AssigneeNational Paintball Supply, Inc.
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Paintball agitator with anti-jam mechanism
US 20070056573 A1
Abstract
A paintball agitator housed within a loader of a paintball gun is provided. The agitator includes a rotatable shaft having a drive end and a second end, and at least one fin extending radially from the shaft adjacent the second end of the shaft. The at least one fin is configured for movement in a substantially perpendicular plane relative to the shaft upon unimpeded rotation of the shaft. The at least one fin is adapted for movement in a plurality of substantially non-perpendicular planes upon contact with an obstruction within the loader, thereby permitting continuous rotation of the shaft and agitation of paintballs contained within the loader. The shaft may include a rigid drive-end segment and a flexible second-end segment, or it may include a flexible drive-end segment and a rigid second-end segment. Alternatively, the entire length of the shaft may be made of flexible and resilient material.
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Claims(22)
1. A paintball agitator for use with a paintball loader, comprising:
a rotatable shaft comprising a drive end and a second end opposite the drive end, at least a portion of the shaft formed from a flexible material; and
at least one substantially rigid fin extending radially from the shaft adjacent the second end of the shaft, the at least one fin being configured for rotational movement in combination with the shaft.
2. The agitator of claim 1, wherein the at least one fin extends from the flexible portion of the shaft.
3. The agitator of claim 1, wherein the flexible portion of the shaft is proximate the second end of the shaft.
4. The agitator of claim 1, wherein the flexible portion of the shaft is proximate the drive end of the shaft.
5. The agitator of claim 1, further comprising a motor coupled to the drive end of the shaft, wherein the shaft rotates upon actuation of the motor.
6. The agitator of claim 1, wherein the flexible portion of the shaft comprises a spring.
7. The agitator of claim 1, further comprising a control circuit for controlling an operation of the paintball loader.
8. A paintball agitator for use with a paintball loader, comprising:
a rotatable shaft comprising
a drive end,
a second end opposite the drive end,
a first rigid portion adjacent the drive end,
a second flexible portion adjacent the second end; and
at least one substantially rigid fin extending radially from the flexible portion.
9. The agitator of claim 6, further comprising a motor coupled to the drive end of the shaft, wherein the shaft rotates upon actuation of the motor.
10. The agitator of claim 6, wherein the flexible portion of the shaft comprises a spring.
11. The agitator of claim 6, further comprising a control circuit for controlling an operation of the paintball loader.
12. A paintball loader comprising:
a paintball loader body adapted to receive a plurality of paintballs; and
an agitator mounted within the paintball loader body, the agitator comprising
a rotatable shaft comprising a drive end and a second end opposite the drive end, at least a portion of the shaft formed from a flexible material,
at least one substantially rigid fin extending radially from the shaft adjacent the second end of the shaft, the at least one fin being configured for rotational movement in combination with the shaft, and
a motor for rotating the shaft.
13. The agitator of claim 12, wherein the at least one fin extends from the flexible portion of the shaft.
14. The agitator of claim 12, wherein the flexible portion of the shaft is proximate the second end of the shaft.
15. The agitator of claim 12, wherein the flexible portion of the shaft is proximate the drive end of the shaft.
16. The agitator of claim 12, further comprising a motor coupled to the drive end of the shaft, wherein the shaft rotates upon actuation of the motor.
17. The agitator of claim 12, wherein the flexible portion of the shaft comprises a spring.
18. The agitator of claim 12, further comprising a control circuit for controlling an operation of the paintball loader.
19. A paintball agitator assembly for an active feed paintball loader, comprising:
a shaft comprising a first rigid portion and a second flexible portion, the flexible portion including at least one engagement section; and
a drive cone having a top surface and a bottom surface, the drive cone including a raised central portion, an annular top feed surface extending from the central portion, and at least one fin extending from the central portion adjacent the feed surface, the drive cone including at least one engagement section for matingly engaging the at least one engagement section of the shaft.
20. The paintball agitator assembly of claim 19, further comprising a motor coupled to the drive end of the shaft, wherein the shaft rotates upon actuation of the motor.
21. The paintball agitator assembly of claim 20, further comprising:
a control circuit comprising a microprocessor for controlling operation of the paintball loader, the control circuit including at least one sensor adapted to detect a demand for paintballs by a paintball gun.
22. A method of operating a paintball loader filled with paintballs, comprising the steps of:
(a) providing a rotatable shaft within the body of a paintball loader, the shaft comprising a drive end and a second end opposite the drive end, at least a portion of the shaft formed from a flexible material;
(b) providing at least one substantially rigid fin extending radially from the shaft adjacent the second end of the shaft, the at least one fin being configured for rotational movement in combination with the shaft; and
(c) rotating the shaft with a motor.
Description
CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/705,913, filed Aug. 5, 2005, which is incorporated herein by reference as if fully set forth.

FIELD OF INVENTION

This invention relates to paintball loaders. More specifically, it relates to an agitator that operates within a paintball loader.

BACKGROUND

Popularity and developments in the paintball industry have led to the demand for increased performance from paintball guns, which are compressed gas guns, also referred to as “markers.” Paintball gun users usually partake in paintball sport games. A paintball sport game is generally played between two teams of players that try to capture the opposing team's flag. Each flag is located at the team's home base. Such a game is played on a large field with opposing home bases at each end. The players are each armed with a paintball gun that shoots paintballs. Paintballs are generally gelatin-covered spherical projectiles, such as capsules filled with paint, such as a colored dye.

During the game, the players of each team advance toward the opposing team's base in an attempt to steal the opposing team's flag. The players must do so without first being eliminated from the game by being hit by a paintball shot by an opponent's marker. When a player is hit by a paintball, the gelatin capsule ruptures and the paint “marks” the player. As a result the player is out of the game.

These sport games have increased in popularity and sophistication resulting in more elaborate equipment. One such improvement is the use of semi-automatic and automatic paintball guns which allow for rapid firing of paintballs. As a result of the increased firing speed, a need has developed for increased storage capacity of paintballs in the paintball loaders that are mounted to the gun. Also, users demand faster feed rates as the guns continue to develop.

Paintball loaders (otherwise known as hoppers) sit atop the markers and feed projectiles into the marker. These loaders (the terms “hopper” and “loader” are used interchangeably herein) store projectiles, and have an outlet or exit tube (outfeed tube or neck). The outlet tube is connected to an inlet tube (or feed neck) of a paintball marker, which is in communication with the breech of the paintball marker.

Many loaders contain agitators or drive feed systems to mix, propel, or otherwise move projectiles in the loader. This mixing is performed by an impeller, projection, drive cone, agitator, paddle, arm, fin, carrier, or any other mechanism, such as those shown and described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,954,042, 6,213,110, and 6,792,933. In a “gravity feed” or “agitating” loader, an agitator mixes projectiles so that no jams occur at the exit opening of the outlet tube. In a “force feed” or “active feed” paintball loader, the agitator (drive cone, carrier, paddle, arm or any other force feed drive system) forces projectiles through the exit tube. Because it is desirable to eliminate as many opposing players as possible, paintball markers are capable of semi-automatic rapid fire. The paintball loaders act to hold a quantity of projectiles, and ensure proper feeding of the projectiles to the marker for firing. All of the various forms of impellers described are referred to collectively herein as “agitators.”

During normal operation of an agitating paintball loader, paintballs dropped through a bottom outlet opening of the loader form a paintball stack within the outlet tube and gun inlet tube. When the paintball at the bottom of the stack is dropped into the firing chamber of the paintball gun, it is replaced, at the top of the stack, from the supply of paintballs remaining in the loader housing, thereby replenishing the stack. In replenishing the stack of paintballs, however, jams sometimes occur within the loader, above its bottom outlet opening. Paintball jams of this nature prevent normal gravity-fed delivery of paintballs downwardly through the bottom outlet opening, with the result that the paintball stack can be totally depleted after several shots of the paintball gun.

One solution for clearing paintball jams involves forcibly shaking the paintball gun and attached loader to dislodge the paintballs that are causing the jam within the loader. This solution is undesirable as it interrupts the proper aiming of the paintball gun and correspondingly interrupts the paintball gun user's ability to shoot the paintballs continuously and rapidly.

Many paintball loaders include an agitator housed within the loader. An agitator is typically a rotating member with paddles, fins or other types of impellers. The fins of the agitator continually agitate, jumble, or stir the paintballs within the loader, which reduces the likelihood of a loader jam as the paintballs fall under the force of gravity from the outlet tube of the loader to the inlet tube of the paintball gun for firing. When a jam does occur, however, a conventional agitator typically continues to rotate despite the jam, possible breaking paintballs. Thus, the agitator continues to contact jammed paintballs and continues to try to move the paintballs. Such a condition typically stops the feeding of paintballs, can damage or break paintballs, and can render the agitator and/or loader inoperable.

Accordingly, there remains a need for an improved agitator that effectively operates within a paintball loader notwithstanding jammed paintballs within the loader.

SUMMARY

The present invention provides a paintball agitator housed within a loader of a paintball gun. The agitator includes a rotatable shaft having a drive end and a second end, and at least one fin extending radially from the shaft adjacent the second end of the shaft. The at least one fin is configured for movement in a substantially perpendicular plane relative to the shaft upon unimpeded rotation of the shaft. The at least one fin is adapted for movement in a plurality of substantially non-perpendicular planes upon contact with an obstruction within the loader, thereby permitting continuous rotation of the shaft and agitation of paintballs contained within the loader. The shaft may include a rigid drive-end segment and a flexible second-end segment, or it may include a flexible drive-end segment and a rigid second-end segment. Alternatively, the entire length of the shaft may be made of flexible and resilient material.

The present invention further provides a paintball agitator assembly including a loader and an agitator. The loader includes an outlet tube extending therefrom in communication with an inlet tube of a paintball gun. The loader further includes a rotatable shaft extending therein having a drive end, a second end, a rigid drive-end segment, and a flexible second-end segment. The agitator is mounted to the shaft of the loader. The agitator includes a substantially circular feeder having a downwardly-sloped raised central portion. The feeder further includes a feed surface extending radially along the circumference of the feeder, and at least one fin extending radially from the central portion. The fin(s) are configured for rotational movement in a substantially parallel plane relative to the shaft upon unimpeded rotation of the shaft. The flexible second-end segment is adapted to bend upon contact of the at least one fin with an obstruction within the loader, resulting in movement of the at least one fin in a plurality of substantially non-parallel planes, thereby permitting continuous rotation of the shaft and agitation of paintballs contained within the loader and feeding of paintballs through the outlet tube of the loader toward the inlet tube of the paintball gun.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING(S)

FIG. 1 is a side partial cutaway view of a paintball loader housing an agitator in accordance with the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a top perspective view of the loader of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a side view of the agitator of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3A is a side view of another embodiment of the agitator of FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is a side view of yet another embodiment of the agitator in accordance with the present invention;

FIG. 5 is a side view showing a paintball loader mounted on an exemplary paintball marker;

FIG. 6 is a top, perspective, partial cutaway view of an automatic or force-feed paintball loader housing an agitator in accordance with the present invention;

FIG. 7 is a top perspective view of the agitator of FIG. 6;

FIG. 8 is a bottom view of the agitator of FIG. 6;

FIG. 9 is a front perspective view of a shaft of the paintball loader of FIG. 6;

FIG. 10 is a schematic diagram showing a controller for controlling an operation of an agitator according to the present invention;

FIG. 11 is a perspective view of an embodiment of an agitator according to the present invention;

FIG. 12 is a modified cross-section side view of yet another embodiment of the agitator in accordance with the present invention; and

FIG. 13 modified cross-section top view of the agitator of FIG. 12.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT(S)

Certain terminology is used in the following description for convenience only and is not considered limiting. Words such as “front,” “back,” “top,” and “bottom” designate directions in the drawings to which reference is made. Similarly, the terms “right,” “left,” “top,” “bottom,” “forward,” and “rearward” are from the perspective of a user operating a compressed gas gun. Rear or rearward means toward the user and forward means away from the user. This terminology includes the words specifically noted above, derivatives thereof, and words of similar import. Additionally, the terms “a” and “one” are defined as including one or more of the referenced item unless specifically noted. The phrase “at least one of” followed by a list of two or more items, such as A, B, or C, means any individual one of A, B, or C, as well as any combination thereof.

As used herein, the terms “agitator,” “feeder,” “feed mechanism,” “drive cone,” “carrier,” or “impeller” are used interchangeably and refer to any apparatus that impels, moves, pushes, agitates, or otherwise mixes projectiles held within a paintball loader or hopper, including, but not limited to, those shown and described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,954,042, 6,213,110, and 6,792,933, the entire contents of which are incorporated herein by reference, and those used in commercially available paintball loaders such as the various HALO® brand paintball loaders, the EMPIRE RELOADER™ paintball loaders, and substitutes or equivalents thereof. The exemplary paintball loader 10 is shown in more detail in FIG. 2. Several paintball loaders are described in detail in U.S. Pat. No. 5,954,042 (“Paintball Loader”), U.S. Pat. No. 5,947,100 (“Paint Ball Gun Agitator Sound Trigger and Duration Control”), U.S. Pat. No. 6,213,110 (“Rapid Feed Paintball Loader”), U.S. Pat. No. 6,502,567 (“Rapid Feed Paintball Loader With Pivotable Deflector”), U.S. Pat. No. 6,701,907 (“Spring Loaded Feed Mechanism For Paintball Loader”), and U.S. Pat. No. 6,792,933 (“Drive Cone For Paintball Loader”), the entire contents of which are each incorporated herein by reference. The portion or portions of the agitators that contact and mix or otherwise move paintballs are referred to interchangeably herein as fins, arms, paddles, paddle arms, or spokes.

The preferred embodiments of the present invention are described below with reference to the drawing figures where like numerals represent like elements throughout.

FIG. 5 is a side elevational view of an illustrative paintball loader 10 according to the present invention attached to a representative paintball gun 40 illustrated in phantom. The paintball gun 40 includes a main body 42, a barrel 44, and a grip portion 46. The paintball gun 40 also includes an inlet tube 16 (also called a feed neck or infeed tube) leading to a firing chamber (or breech, not shown) in the interior of the main body 42, and a trigger 48. A source of compressed gas such as a compressed gas cylinder (gas tank) 50 is typically secured to a rear portion of the paintball marker gun 40. The compressed gas cylinder 50 normally contains CO2 or NO2, although any gas under pressure may be suitable.

Referring to FIGS. 1-4, generally, an embodiment of a paintball agitator 20 according to the present invention housed within a loader 10 is shown. The loader 10 includes a loader body 12 defining a space for storing paintballs 18, and an outlet tube 14 also referred to an as “outfeed tube.” An exit opening 15 is provided in the loader body 12 providing communication with the outlet tube 14. In use, the outlet tube 14 is in communication with the inlet tube 16 of the paintball marker 40 as shown in FIG. 5. Paintballs 18 contained within the loader 10 move under the force of gravity through the outlet tube 14, then the inlet tube 16, and into the breech (not shown) in the interior of the main body 42 the paintball gun 40.

The agitator 20 includes a rotatable shaft 22 having a drive end 24 and a second end 26, at least a portion of which is provided as a flexible, elastic, and/or resilient rotatable shaft 22 (shown in detail in FIGS. 3 and 4). At least one rigid fin 28 extends radially from the shaft 22 adjacent the second end 26 of the shaft 22. Any number of fins, arms, paddles or the like may extend from the shaft 22. A motor 30 (represented in FIG. 1) is preferably coupled to the drive end 24 of the shaft 22, wherein the shaft 22 is rotated in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction about a central axis upon actuation of the motor 30. Such motors are well known in the art of paintball loaders. The shaft 22 may be driven by a drive train, a clutch system, a spring or wind-up system, a manual crank, or any other system suitable for driving or turning the shaft 22 and resulting in rotation of the at least one rigid fin 28.

In a preferred embodiment, the at least one fin 28 is configured for radial movement in a substantially perpendicular plane P relative to the shaft 22 upon unimpeded rotation of the shaft 22. The at least one fin 28 is further adapted for movement in a plurality of substantially non-perpendicular planes upon contact with an obstruction within the loader 10 (typically a jammed paintball 18), thereby permitting continuous rotation of the shaft 22 and agitation of paintballs 18 contained within the loader 10.

As illustrated in FIG. 3, the shaft 22 of the agitator 20 may preferably include a rigid drive-end segment 32 rotated by a motor 30, and a flexible second-end segment 34. The flexible second-end segment 34 is adapted to bend when the at least one fin 28 comes in contact with an obstruction (i.e., a jammed paintball 18) within the loader body 12. As explained above in the Background of Invention section, conventional agitators that rotate the fins along only one plane continue to rotate the fins against jammed, immovable paintballs, which can damage the paintballs or the agitator. The flexible second end segment 34 of the shaft 22 of the present invention is adapted to bend in response to the resistive force of the stationary (jammed) paintball 18 on the fin 28, as illustrated in FIG. 3. In this manner, the breakage is prevented. The flexible portion of the shaft will bend, allowing the rigid fin to seek a different path around the jammed paintball.

The flexible and rigid segments of the shaft 22 may be formed, joined or mated in any manner allowing the segments to move concomitantly, and permitting the flexible portion of the shaft 22 to bend as needed and as described herein.

For example, when the rotating fin(s) 28 contact or interfere with an immovable or jammed paintballs 18, the flexible second-end segment 34 of the shaft 22 is caused to bend, deflect, compress, wind, unwind, etc. (depending upon the nature of the material used), which may cause the attached fin(s) 28 to rotate along a different plane (i.e., any of the plurality of substantially non-perpendicular planes) as represented by the dashed lines in FIG. 3.

The ability of the flexible second-end segment 34 of the shaft 22 to bend or flex in various directions allows the agitator 20 to automatically adjust and rotate in various directions relative to the jammed paintball, such as above, below, and alongside paintballs 18 contained within the loader 10. In addition, it is appreciated that due to the use of a more flexible or elastic flexible second end segment 34, the fin(s) 28 may move in a somewhat random or erratic matter when the shaft is rotated by the motor, acting as a highly effective agitator to continually mix paintballs 18 in order to prevent jams. For example, where a specific paintball might not be able to move when contacted by a fin 28, the flexible second-end segment 34 will bend or flex, and the fin 28 will contact a different or adjacent paintball. This may dislodge the jam that is preventing the jammed paintball from moving.

Each of the rigid drive-end segment 32 and the at least one rigid fin 28 is preferably made from a rigid material such as a plastic, for example, polyurethane, nylon, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. The present invention, however, is not limited to such material, and these components may be made from various plastics, resin, composite, rubber, bamboo, metal, or any other material suitable for performing the above-stated functions. The rigid fins 28 of the agitator of the present invention should be formed so that they will not bend when they encounter a jammed or immovable paintball. Rather, the force transmitted to the flexible portion of the drive shaft will permit a fin 28 to bend or move in relation to the jammed or immovable paintball.

The flexible second-end segment 34 is preferably made from flexible and resilient polymeric material, for example, polyurethane, nylon, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. The present invention, however, is not limited to such material, and the flexible second-end segment 34 may be made from various plastics, resin, composite, rubber, silicone rubber, NEOPROENE®, metal, or any other material suitable for performing the above-stated functions. Alternately, the flexible second end segment 34 may be formed as a spring 35 extending longitudinally from the rigid drive-end segment 32. The spring 35 is preferably a compression spring. Furthermore, the flexible second-end segment 34 may comprise a spring or a combination of a spring 35 disposed within a flexible, resilient tube of material, as represented in FIG. 3A. The flexible portion of the shaft 22 is preferably formed from a material that will allow a fin 28 to bend or flex upon contacting a jammed or stationary paintball 18. If a paintball 18 is completely jammed, the flexible portion of the shaft 22 should preferably allow a fin 28 to bend and rotate or otherwise move by the jammed paintball 18, thereby preventing breakage or rupturing of the paintball 18.

In an alternate embodiment, a rigid fin 28, arm or paddle or plurality of rigid fins 28, arms, or paddles may be formed as part of or emanating from a central hub 19 that is mounted on a flexible portion 34 of a shaft 22 according to the claimed invention, as shown in FIG. 11. This embodiment will operate as previously described, with the flexible portion 34 bending as necessary to avoid jams.

Alternately, referring to FIG. 4, the rotatable shaft 22 of the agitator may include a flexible drive-end segment 36 in communication with a motor, and a rigid second-end segment 38. The flexible drive-end segment 36 is adapted to bend upon contact of the at least one fin 28 of the rigid second-end segment 38 with an obstruction (jammed paintball 18) within the loader 10, resulting in movement of the at least one fin 28 away from the jammed or stationary paintball 18, such as in a plurality of substantially non-perpendicular planes (as represented by the dashed lines in FIG. 4), thereby permitting continuous rotation of the shaft 22 and agitation of paintballs 18 contained within the loader 10. The configuration and operation of the agitator 20 of FIG. 4 is virtually the same as that described above with reference to FIG. 3, except that the flexibility and rigidity features of the respective drive-end and second-end segments of the shaft 22 are reversed, with the drive-end segment being formed from a flexible material, and the second-end segment being formed from a substantially rigid material. In that embodiment, the fins will extend from the substantially rigid material, and may be formed or molded as a single piece or unit with the substantially rigid material.

Alternatively, substantially the entire length of the shaft 22 may be made of a flexible, elastic, and/or resilient material, while the fins are formed from a rigid material. The configuration and operation of the agitator 20 of this embodiment is virtually the same as that described above with reference to FIG. 3, except that the shaft 22 of this embodiment is not segmented by flexible and rigid features.

Once the agitator 20 of the present invention encounters the resistive force of the jammed or stationary paintball, the flexible portion of the shaft bends and/flexes, so that a fin may move around, over, and/or alongside the jammed paintball. Such features allow for continued agitation during a jam, which allows a player to more quickly clear a jam and prevents breakage. Furthermore, the present invention prevents damage to the agitator itself 20, the fin(s) 28, the drive shaft 22, the motor 30, and any associated gears, etc., because it does not attempt to rotate against an immovable force.

In yet another embodiment of the present invention, as shown in FIGS. 5-10, an active or force-feed paintball loader 60 having a loader body 62 is provided with an actuator 70 according to the present invention. The loader body 62 includes a shaft 72 (details of which is illustrated in FIG. 9) having a drive end 74 and a second end 76, with at least a portion 78 of the shaft 72 formed from a flexible material as previously described. The remaining portion 80 of the shaft 72 is rigid. The second end 76 of the flexible portion 78 of the shaft 72 includes at least one engagement section 82 for engaging a feeder 84 that will be described in greater detail. The engagement section 82 is preferably at least one slot 86 as shown in FIGS. 6-8.

As illustrated in FIG. 7, the feeder 84 for force-feeding paintballs is preferably provided as a drive cone 88, although a rigid paddle/hub arrangement may also be used. The drive cone 88 includes a raised central portion 90 that slopes downward. A feed surface 92 is preferably provided as a lip 94 running along the circumference of the drive cone 88. At least one fin 96 is provided projecting from the central portion 90 for contacting and moving paintballs 18. The fin 96 creates a gap 98 on the feed surface 92, so that more than one paintball may gather on the lip 94 in the gap 98 for feeding into the outfeed tube 14, as illustrated in FIG. 6.

The bottom 100 of the drive cone 88 includes at least one engagement section 102, such as an extension wall 104, which matingly engages the engagement section 82 of the flexible portion 78 of the shaft 72. The extension wall 102 is preferably formed from a rigid plastic or metal material. The engagement sections 82, 102 may be formed in any matingly engageable arrangement, such as a tongue in groove arrangement, a dovetail arrangement, or any other suitable manner.

When the drive cone 88 engages the flexible portion 78 of the shaft 72, the shaft 72 may be rotated by the motor 30. The drive cone 88 will force paintballs 18 out of the outfeed tube 14. If the fin(s) 96 of the drive cone 88 contacts a stationary or jammed paintball 18 or stationary paintball stack, the flexible portion 78 of the shaft 72 will be able to twist opposite the direction of rotation of the motor 30 or paintball feeding, due to the elastic nature of the flexible portion 78. Where the motor 30 continues to rotate the rigid portion 80 of the shaft 72, potential energy may be stored as the rigid portion 80 of the shaft 72 rotates relative to the flexed part of the flexible portion 78. This will exert tension on the paintball stack 106 (represented in FIG. 1), and may allow for quicker feeding.

Each of the rigid drive-end segment 80 and the at least one fin 96 is preferably made from a rigid material such as a plastic, for example, polyurethane, nylon, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. The present invention, however, is not limited to such material, and these components may be made from various plastics, resin, composite, rubber, metal, or any other material suitable for performing the above-stated functions.

The flexible second-end segment 78 is preferably made from flexible and resilient polymeric material, for example, polyurethane, nylon, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. The present invention, however, is not limited to such material, and the flexible second-end segment 78 may be made from various plastics, resin, composite, rubber, silicone rubber, NEOPROENE®, metal, or any other material suitable for performing the above-stated functions. The flexible portion of the shaft 72 is preferably formed from a material that will allow the shaft 72 to twist opposite the direction of rotation of the motor 30 or paintball feeding when a fin 96 contacts a jammed or stationary paintball 18.

A controller 108 may be provided, as shown in FIG. 5 and schematically FIG. 10. The controller 108 may include electronic circuitry 109, a power source 11 such as a battery, and may further include a microprocessor 110 for controlling operation of the paintball loader 60. The controller 108 is adapted to control the operation of the paintball loader, such as through operation of the motor in response to signals received from a sensor of some type. Such control circuits are described in greater detail in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,954,042, 6,213,110, and 6,792,933, the entire contents of which are incorporated herein by reference. At least one sensor 112 may further be provided, such as mechanical, optical, infrared, shock, sound, wave, or other types of sensors, to detect the presence or absence of a paintball 18 in the feed neck 14 of the loader 60, or to detect a firing operation of a paintball gun 40 to which the loader 60 is attached, or to detect operation of the motor 30.

In operation, the controller 108 and/or motor 30 are powered on by a switch 114. The motor 30 will rotate the shaft 72, which will in turn rotate the drive cone 88. The controller 108 may be set so that the motor 30 turns as long as paintballs 18 are required by the paintball gun 40, such as when the gun 40 is firing. The controller 108 may be set so that when there is no demand for paintballs 18, or there are paintballs 18 in the outfeed tube 14 in a paintball stack 106, the motor 30 is powered off, such as after a certain time “n” with “n” being a preselected number of seconds, for example. Continued rotation of the shaft 72 relative to the drive cone 88, which is held in place by the stationary paintball stack 106, will cause the flexible portion 78 to remain in place relative to the portion of the shaft 72 that continues turning. Thus, the flexible portion 78 will be “twisted” in the direction opposite the rotation of the shaft 72. This causes a tension between the drive cone 88 and the stationary paintball stack 106. When the motor 30 starts up again, such as when the sensor 112 detects the need for more paintballs 18 in the paintball gun 40, the stored tension (potential energy) will cause paintballs 18 to be fed promptly through the outfeed tube to the paintball gun 40. This arrangement also prevents breakage, as the flexible portion 78 may twist away from jams, allowing the attached drive cone 88 to flex away from the jam. It is appreciated that the controller 108 described in connection with a drive cone can be used in connection with any embodiment of an agitator disclosed herein.

It is appreciated that a “slip clutch” type arrangement may be provided between the flexible portion of the shaft, and the rigid portion, as illustrated in FIGS. 12 and 13. In that embodiment, the rigid portion 302 of the shaft 300 may be provided with a first end 304 and a second end 306, with an annular lip 308 extending adjacent the second end. A post 310 with at least one flange 312, which may be flexible or rigid, is provided extending longitudinally from proximate the second end 306 of the rigid portion 302. The flexible portion 314 of the shaft 300 has an opening 316 for receiving at least a portion of the post 310 and flange 312. The opening in the flexible portion 314 includes a wall 318 formed from a flexible material for contacting the flange 321. In operation, when the motor 30 rotates the rigid portion 302 of the shaft 300, the post 310 will rotate and contact the wall 318 of the flexible portion 314. At least one fin 320 projects radially from the flexible portion 314. The flexible portion 314 will rotate with the rigid portion 302, until a jammed or immovable paintball is encountered. At that point, the flange 312 will push against the wall 318 as the rigid portion 302 continues to rotate. The flange 312 will overcome the resistance of the wall 318 at a certain point, and the rigid portion 302 will rotate the flange 312 past the wall 318. At this point, the flange 312 “slips” by the wall 318, which has flexed to allow the flange 312 to pass, and the motor will rotate the rigid portion 302 so that the flange 312 contacts the wall 318 on the next rotation. The lengths and thickness of the flange 312 and wall 318, as well as the materials which form the flange 312 and wall 318, may be varied to achieve desired results. The flange 312 or wall 318 may be flexible or rigid depending on a selected design.

While the preferred embodiments of the invention have been described in detail above, the invention is not limited to the specific embodiments described which should be considered as merely exemplary. Further modifications and extensions of the present invention may be developed and all such modifications are deemed to be within the scope of the present invention as defined by the appended claims.

Referenced by
Citing PatentFiling datePublication dateApplicantTitle
US7841328Jul 19, 2007Nov 30, 2010Procaps LpPaintball gun loading methods and apparatus
US8118016Apr 30, 2010Feb 21, 2012GI Sportz Inc.Paintball gun loading methods and apparatus
US8251050Jul 11, 2008Aug 28, 2012Kee Action Sports I LlcMagnetic drive bypass system for paintball loader
US8408194Aug 9, 2010Apr 2, 2013Kee Action Sports I LlcProcedure and device for feeding balls into the projectile chamber of a handgun
US20130220293 *Feb 24, 2012Aug 29, 2013Eero KaakkolaPaintball loader for paintball marker
Classifications
U.S. Classification124/49
International ClassificationF41B11/02
Cooperative ClassificationF41B11/52
European ClassificationF41B11/52
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Aug 16, 2007ASAssignment
Owner name: KEE ACTION SPORTS I LLC, NEW JERSEY
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Effective date: 20070202
Owner name: KEE ACTION SPORTS I LLC,NEW JERSEY
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Free format text: CHANGE OF NAME;ASSIGNOR:AJ ACQUISITION I LLC;US-ASSIGNMENT DATABASE UPDATED:20100413;REEL/FRAME:19704/506
Dec 14, 2006ASAssignment
Owner name: AJ ACQUISITION I LLC, NEW JERSEY
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:NATIONAL PAINTBALL SUPPLY, INC.;REEL/FRAME:018656/0587
Effective date: 20061117
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Free format text: SECURITY AGREEMENT;ASSIGNORS:AJ INTERMEDIATE HOLDINGS LLC;AJ ACQUISITION HOLDINGS, INC.;AJ ACQUISITION I LLC AND OTHERS;US-ASSIGNMENT DATABASE UPDATED:20100203;REEL/FRAME:18635/117
Free format text: SECURITY AGREEMENT;ASSIGNORS:AJ INTERMEDIATE HOLDINGS LLC;AJ ACQUISITION HOLDINGS, INC.;AJ ACQUISITION I LLC AND OTHERS;US-ASSIGNMENT DATABASE UPDATED:20100413;REEL/FRAME:18635/117
Nov 20, 2006ASAssignment
Owner name: NATIONAL PAINTBALL SUPPLY, INC., NEW JERSEY
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:CAMPO, JOHN E.;REEL/FRAME:018557/0001
Effective date: 20061109
Owner name: NATIONAL PAINTBALL SUPPLY, INC.,NEW JERSEY
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:CAMPO, JOHN E.;US-ASSIGNMENT DATABASE UPDATED:20100413;REEL/FRAME:18557/1