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Title:
SQUASH BALL LAUNCHING MACHINE
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/115719
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
An automatic ball launcher includes a base unit and a feed tube coupled to the base unit. The base unit includes an enclosure defining a forward opening where the balls eject and a top opening for receiving the feed tube. A pair of counter-rotating flywheels are disposed in a common plane and located inside of the enclosure. The feed tube includes an elongated tubular body with an open top end covered by a removable cap and an open bottom end configured to be securely inserted into the top opening of the enclosure. The feed tube can include a heating element to heat the balls to a desired temperature prior to launch. The feed tube can be used to collect balls from the ground without the user needing to bend over.

Inventors:
ANTELME, Raoul (4 Riverview, Walnut Tree CloseGuildford, Surrey GU1 4UX, GU1 4UX, GB)
ENGELBRECHT, Jesse (Flat 1 Haygate, Lord Wandsworth CollegeLong Sutto, Hook Hampshire RG29 1TG, RG29 1TG, GB)
MILES, Richard (GB)
BRETT, Graham
WATSON, Andy (., GB)
MORTON, Douglas (., GB)
Application Number:
EP2018/084816
Publication Date:
June 20, 2019
Filing Date:
December 13, 2018
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
STINGRAY SQUASH MACHINES LIMITED (4 Riverview, Walnut Tree CloseGuildford, Surrey GU1 4UX, GU1 4UX, GB)
International Classes:
A63B69/40; A63B47/00; A63B47/02; A63B102/06
Domestic Patent References:
WO2005044390A22005-05-19
Foreign References:
US20090095273A12009-04-16
GB2095565A1982-10-06
DE3151886A11983-07-07
US20060118096A12006-06-08
US201762598344P2017-12-13
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
FORRESTERS IP LLP (Port of Liverpool Building, Pier HeadLiverpool, Merseyside L3 1AF, L3 1AF, GB)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

What is claimed is:

1. An automatic ball launcher, comprising:

a base unit; and

a feed tube coupled to the base unit,

wherein the base unit comprises:

an enclosure defining a forward opening where the balls eject and a top opening for receiving the feed tube; and

a pair of counter-rotating flywheels disposed in a common plane and located inside of the enclosure, and

wherein the feed tube comprises an elongated tubular body with an open top end covered by a removable cap and an open bottom end configured to be securely inserted into the top opening of the enclosure.

2. The automatic ball launcher of claim 1, further comprising a plurality of adjustable front feet provided to the enclosure that extend vertically downwards from a bottom surface of the enclosure.

3. The automatic ball launcher of claim 1, further comprising a vertically extending stand or tripod secured to the enclosure so that the base unit is maintained in an elevated position.

4. The automatic ball launcher of claim 1, wherein the pair of counter-rotating flywheels each comprise a rubber material located such that the ball is contacted by the rubber material during a launching event.

5. The automatic ball launcher of claim 1, wherein the common plane is a horizontal plane.

6. The automatic ball launcher of claim 1, wherein the common plane is at an oblique angle with respect to the horizontal plane.

7. The automatic ball launcher of claim 1, wherein an orientation angle of the common plane is adjustable.

8. The automatic ball launcher of claim 1, wherein the common plane is a vertical plane.

9. The automatic ball launcher of claim 1, wherein the pair of counter-rotating flywheels are mounted atop a frame that is disposed within the enclosure.

10. The automatic ball launcher of claim 1, wherein at least one flywheel of the pair of counter-rotating flywheels is disposed in an adjustable track so that a spacing distance defined between the pair of flywheels is adjustable.

11. The automatic ball launcher of claim 1, wherein the base unit further comprises a ball speed adjustment selector.

12. The automatic ball launcher of claim 1, wherein the feed tube further includes a heating element provided to the tubular body.

13. The automatic ball launcher of claim 12, wherein the heating element is a resistive heating element.

14. The automatic ball launcher of claim 12, wherein the feed tube further comprises a temperature sensor disposed within the feed tube.

15. The automatic ball launcher of claim 12, wherein the heating element is embedded in the tubular body.

16. The automatic ball launcher of claim 1, wherein the feed tube further comprises a solenoid provided to the open bottom end to prevent balls from prematurely exiting through the bottom end.

17. A method of preparing and launching squash balls, the method comprising:

storing a plurality of squash balls inside of a feed tube while the feed tube is coupled to a launching base unit;

heating the plurality of squash balls stored inside of the feed tube with heating elements disposed in the feed tube until the squash balls reach a desired temperature; and

launching the heated squash balls with the launching base unit one at a time while maintaining the desired temperature of the heated squash balls in the feed tube that have not yet been launched.

18. The method of claim 17, further comprising:

removing the feed tube from the launching base unit; and

retrieving the squash balls by centering the lower opening over a ball and pushing the feed tube downwards towards the squash ball until the squash ball slips inside of the feed tube.

19. The method of claim 17, further comprising adjusting a launch angle of the launching base unit by extending one or more feet downwards from a bottom side of the launching base unit.

20. The method of claim 17, further comprising adjusting a vertical height of the launching base unit by mounting the launching base unit atop a tripod or a stand.

Description:
SQUASH BALL LAUNCHING MACHINE

PRIORITY

This application claims the priority benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 62/598,344, filed on December 13, 2017, which is hereby incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.

FIELD

The present invention relates generally to automatic sporting projectile and ball feeders, and more particularly, to automatic feeders with the ability to hold multiple balls/projectiles and selectively heat the balls prior to discharge.

BACKGROUND

Automatic ball launchers are known. Typical ball launchers employ one or more counter-rotating flywheels that launch the ball when the ball comes in contact with the outer surface of the flywheel. Such ball launchers can be configured for launching a variety of projectiles, such as balls used in squash, tennis, cricket, baseball, softball, American football, football, volleyball, pickle ball, etc., and non-spherical projectiles such as shuttlecocks used in badminton.

Conventional squash ball launchers are designed for group use (e.g., club, team, coach). The basic components are a hopper, a heater and the shooter mechanism. Such hoppers can have a capacity of up to 80-100 balls. The heater is provided to the hopper because tournament grade squash balls must be warmed up to a surface temperature of +/- 44 degrees Celsius to bounce properly. In match play, the ball is warmed sufficiently by being struck. But in a hopper with an 80-ball capacity, no ball is struck often enough to become warmed up sufficiently. Thus, the heater is provided.

A significant drawback to the conventional squash ball launchers described above is that the weight and size (and cost) of the apparatus makes it impractical for an individual to own and use. Moreover, the portability of such machine is poor. Therefore, conventional squash ball launchers are typically owned by groups such as teams or clubs, are used by more than one person, and are stored court-side.

Another drawback is that the overall height of existing squash ball launchers and their fixed firing height, bulk and limited range of firing angles all severely limit the variety of possible shot simulations, for example, high looped shots from the front of the court, shots played from high to low, or shots where the machine is ideally placed in front of the user. Shot simulations such as feeder feeds and player retrieves can only be practiced with the machine located behind the player on the court (relative to the front wall), which is dangerous because a ball can be launched at up to 150 kilometers per hour.

Therefore, there is a continuing need to provide an improved ball launching machine that overcomes the deficiencies of prior art devices as completely as possible.

SUMMARY

Provided is a projectile launcher that is particularly well suited to automatically feed and launch squash balls. However, any other ball or rounded projectile can be used. The balls are staged in a tubular collector. The balls are heated within the collector to a desired temperature. The collector is inserted into the top of a base unit that contains the flywheels for launching the heated balls one at a time. The base unit is sufficiently small that it can be mounted on a tri-pod, which increases the range of shots that can be simulated. For example, the size and configuration will allow balls to be fed from a location in front of the player. The ball launching system is also conveniently lightweight, so it is portable and well suited for use by an individual, yet powerful enough to replicate the ball velocities provided by top of the line conventional ball launching machines.

Provided is an automatic ball launcher that includes a base unit and a feed tube coupled to the base unit. The base unit includes an enclosure defining a forward opening where the balls eject and a top opening for receiving the feed tube. A pair of counter rotating flywheels are disposed in a common plane and located inside of the enclosure. The feed tube includes an elongated tubular body with an open top end covered by a removable cap and an open bottom end configured to be securely inserted into the top opening of the enclosure. The feed tube can include a heating element to heat the balls to a desired temperature prior to launch. The feed tube can be used to collect balls from the ground without the user needing to bend over.

A plurality of adjustable front feet can be provided to the enclosure that telescope vertically downwards from a bottom surface of the enclosure. A vertically extending stand or tripod can also be secured to the enclosure so that the base unit is maintained in an elevated position.

The pair of counter-rotating flywheels each can comprise a rubber material located such that the ball is contacted by the rubber material during a launching event.

The common plane can be a horizontal plane, a vertical plane, and can be an oblique angle with respect to the horizontal plane. The orientation angle of the common plane can also be adjustable.

The pair of counter-rotating flywheels can be mounted atop a frame that is disposed within the enclosure. At least one flywheel of the pair of counter-rotating flywheels can be disposed in an adjustable track so that a spacing distance defined between the pair of flywheels is adjustable.

The base unit can further include a ball speed adjustment selector.

The feed tube can further include a heating element provided to the tubular body or it can be embedded within the tubular body. Insulation can be provided to the exterior surface of the tubular body. The heating element can be a resistive heating element. A temperature sensor can be disposed within the feed tube.

The feed tube can further comprise a solenoid provided to the open bottom end to prevent balls from prematurely exiting through the bottom end.

Further provided is a method of preparing and launching squash balls. The method can include storing a plurality of squash balls inside of a feed tube while the feed tube is coupled to a launching base unit, heating the plurality of squash balls stored inside of the feed tube with heating elements disposed in the feed tube until the squash balls reach a desired temperature, and launching the heated squash balls with the launching base unit one at a time while maintaining the desired temperature of the heated squash balls in the feed tube that have not yet been launched.

The feed tube can be removed from the launching base unit and used to retrieve the squash balls by centering the lower opening over a ball and pushing the feed tube downwards towards the squash ball until the squash ball slips inside of the feed tube.

A launch angle of the launching base unit can be adjusted by extending one or more feet downwards from a bottom side of the launching base unit. A vertical height of the launching base unit can be adjusted by mounting the launching base unit atop a tripod or a stand. The height of the tripod or stand can be adjustable.

The above summary is not intended to limit the scope of the invention, or describe each embodiment, aspect, implementation, feature or advantage of the invention. The detailed technology and preferred embodiments for the subject invention are described in the following paragraphs accompanying the appended drawings for people skilled in this field to well appreciate the features of the claimed invention. It is understood that the features mentioned hereinbefore and those to be commented on hereinafter may be used not only in the specified combinations, but also in other combinations or in isolation, without departing from the scope of the present invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an automatic ball launching system in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 2 is another perspective view of an automatic ball launching system in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of a feed tube for an automatic ball launching system in accordance with an embodiment of the invention. FIG. 4 is a perspective view of the frame and flywheels sub-assembly of an automatic ball launching system in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 5 is an exploded perspective view of an automatic ball launching system in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 6 is a perspective view diagram of a heated ball collector of an automatic ball launching system in accordance with certain embodiments of the invention.

FIG. 7 is a top view diagram of a heated ball collector of an automatic ball launching system in accordance with certain embodiments of the invention.

FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a squash court showing various example deployment configurations for an automatic ball launching system in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

FIG. 9 is another perspective view of a squash court showing various example deployment configurations for an automatic ball launching system in accordance with an embodiment of the invention.

While the invention is amenable to various modifications and alternative forms, specifics thereof have been shown by way of example in the drawings and will be described in detail. It should be understood, however, that the intention is not to limit the invention to the particular example embodiments described. On the contrary, the invention is to cover all modifications, equivalents, and alternatives falling within the scope of the invention as defined by the appended claims.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

In the following descriptions, the present invention will be explained with reference to various exemplary embodiments. Nevertheless, these embodiments are not intended to limit the present invention to any specific example, environment, application, or particular implementation described herein. Therefore, descriptions of these example embodiments are only provided for purpose of illustration rather than to limit the present invention. Referring to FIG. 1, the automatic ball launcher 100 includes a launching base unit 102, a vertical feed tube 104A or 104B coupled to the base unit 102 and an optional stand 106. The stand can be a tripod, such as shown, or other raised platform. This allows for a wide variety of shot simulations to be performed.

Note that a plurality of balls 101, such as squash balls, are shown inside of feed tube 104B. Of course, the invention can be adapted or adjusted to work with other types of balls.

Two different types of feed tubes are shown. A basic feed tube 104A is a simple tube through which the squash balls are inserted and held while being fed into the base unit 102. The other feed tube 104B includes heating elements to heat the balls in the tube, if desired. The feed tube will be generally designated as 104 hereinafter.

The feed tube 104 is removable so that it can be used to collect balls 101 and hold them in a ready condition for introduction to the base unit 102. Referring to FIG. 3, the tube 104 defines a cylindrical or tubular body with a bottom end having a lower collection opening 126 and an open top end covered by a cap 128. The cap 128 keeps balls from overflowing out the top of the tubular body. The lower collection opening 126 defines an orifice that only permits one-way travel of the ball upwards into the tube 104 so that the balls do not fall out the bottom end. The orifice can be a spring-actuated lever or other means for creating an interference with the balls exiting the lower opening 126.

In use, the user pushes the tube 104 downwards over a ball on the ground so that the ball pushes past the orifice and enters the tube's interior. Thus, the ball is retained inside of the tube. Subsequent balls are pushed upwards by the same process until the tube is filled to the cap 128. Thus, balls can be retrieved without the need of the user to bend over.

The user can insert the lower opening 126 into the feed opening 112 in the top of the base unit 102. There is structure inside of the orifice 112 to selectively retract the lever so that the balls can be fed one-at-a-time into the inlet of the flywheels.

The base unit 102 includes an enclosure 103 with an opening 110 in the front where the balls eject from the device and a feed opening 112 in the top side where the feed tube 104 protrudes above the enclosure 103. The balls are staged into the open top 105 of the feed tube 104 to form a column of several balls that wait to be launched, one at a time, from the launcher. The opposing bottom end of the feed tube 104 is disposed into the feed opening 112 and presents one ball at a time to an inlet located between the side-by-side flywheels 114 (shown in FIG. 4). A solenoid or other metering means is employed to hold back the ball to be launched until the proper timing setting is satisfied or until triggered by the user.

Referring to FIG. 4, a pair of electric motors 115 are provided such that each turns a respective one of the pair of flywheels 114 at a sufficient rotational speed (in opposite directions) to impart a desired initial launch velocity of the ball 101. The initial launch velocity can be set by the user with a dial 116 (shown in FIG. 2) or other input means on the base unit 102. The motors 115 can be powered by electricity supplied by a cord, onboard batteries or other suitable power source. A single motor can also be used in an alternative embodiment where the motor is coupled to each of the flywheels 114.

The flywheels 114 shown in FIG. 4 are disposed in a horizontal orientation in a common plane. However, the flywheels can also be disposed in a vertical plane or at any other plane angle between the vertical and horizontal planes.

By varying plane angle and the relative speed of the counter-rotating flywheels 114, a variety of spins can be imparted to the ball being launched.

The horizontal spacing of the flywheels 114 can be adjusted via a track 118 defined in the frame 120 to which the flywheels 114 are mounted. This feature allows the base unit 102 to accommodate a wide range of ball diameters and types. The feed tube 104 may also be switched to a tube with a larger inner diameter, if necessary, to accommodate the outer diameter of the balls being fed.

The flywheels 114 can also be changed to provide different circumferential surface types and textures adapted for different types of balls. For example, the outer circumferential surfaces can be a firm rubber, soft rubber, metal, plastic, knurled, smooth, etc. FIG. 5 further illustrates many of the foregoing components as shown in an exploded parts view.

Referring now to FIGS. 6-7, the balls 101 in the tube 104 can be heated via a plurality of heating elements 130 disposed within the body of the tube. The heating elements 130 can be longitudinally-extending resistive heating rods as shown in the figures, or they can take another form that still allows the balls to be collected. The heating elements 130 can also be molded or formed into the tubular body 104 itself. The heating elements 130 are connected to an electrical power source 132 such as the one that is used to power the device 100.

The tubular body 104 can be covered with an insulating material 134, such as polystyrene, to better maintain the heat in the balls 101 and minimize heat input needs for the heating elements 130.

A temperature sensor 136 can also be placed within the tubular body 104 so that the ball temperature can be monitored. That way, the user can set a specified temperature, and the heating system can maintain the balls at the set temperature automatically by adjusting the power to the heating elements as needed.

The tube 104 can also be used with other ball launching machines other than the machine disclosed herein.

The heated ball collecting tube 104 advantageously allows the ball launching machine 100 to be made lighter and simpler since no means for heating the balls is required due to the balls being heated prior to introduction of the ball into the launching chamber.

Referring to FIGS. 8-9, a plurality of feet 122 extend below the base unit 102 to provide for stability. The front feet 122 can be adjusted up and down so that the angle of launch with respect to the horizon can be adjusted at any desired setting within the range of travel of the feet 122.

In FIG. 8, the machine 100A is in a low trajectory setting so that the ball will be launched at a small angle relative to the horizon or the floor of the court. In contrast, machine 100B is at a much larger angle of launch because the front feet 122 are greatly extended. The machine 100 can also be mounted at a raised height (e.g. on tripod 106) to simulate an attacking shot.

In FIG. 9, both machines 100A and 100B are again shown. Additional machine 100C is also seen mounted atop a tripod 106 for added elevation but with a smaller launch angle than machine 100B. These variations and the ability to change the launch speed provide for a wide variety of launch characteristics to be selected by the user.

The automatic ball feeding and launching system disclosed herein is advantageous for being light, portable and powerful. The tube used as a collector provides for quick collection of balls. The launcher device can be adjusted to feed high-to-low and feed while located in front of the player.

In yet another aspect, multiple ball launchers can be used together simultaneously in a variety of configurations, such as shown in FIG. 8 or FIG. 9, in order to create shot patterns that would not be possible with a single machine. For example, shots can be created from low launch point to correspond generally with a defensive shot. Raising the launch height allows a range of attacking (high to low) shots to be simulated.

In a further use case, balls can be hand-fed one at a time into the launching apparatus 100. This simulates a typical coaching/training scenario where a coach/player A feeds a ball and player B executes a desired shot in return. This provides for greater accuracy and control, particularly for difficult-to-execute feeds, for example, simulated serves to player B's backhand.

While the invention has been described in connection with what is presently considered to be the most practical and preferred embodiments, it will be apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art that the invention is not to be limited to the disclosed embodiments. It will be readily apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art that many modifications and equivalent arrangements can be made thereof without departing from the spirit and scope of the present disclosure, such scope to be accorded the broadest interpretation of the appended claims so as to encompass all equivalent structures and products. Moreover, features or aspects of various example embodiments may be mixed and matched (even if such combination is not explicitly described herein) without departing from the scope of the invention.

A preferred embodiment of one aspect of the present invention will now be described by way of reference to the following clauses:

1. An automatic ball launcher, comprising:

a base unit; and

a feed tube coupled to the base unit,

wherein the base unit comprises:

an enclosure defining a forward opening where the balls eject and a top opening for receiving the feed tube; and

a pair of counter-rotating flywheels disposed in a common plane and located inside of the enclosure, and

wherein the feed tube comprises an elongated tubular body with an open top end covered by a removable cap and an open bottom end configured to be securely inserted into the top opening of the enclosure.

2. The automatic ball launcher of clause 1, further comprising a plurality of adjustable front feet provided to the enclosure that extend vertically downwards from a bottom surface of the enclosure.

3. The automatic ball launcher of clause 1 or 2, further comprising a vertically extending stand or tripod secured to the enclosure so that the base unit is maintained in an elevated position.

4. The automatic ball launcher of any one of the preceding clauses, wherein the pair of counter-rotating flywheels each comprise a rubber material located such that the ball is contacted by the rubber material during a launching event. 5. The automatic ball launcher of any one of the preceding clauses, wherein the common plane is a horizontal plane.

6. The automatic ball launcher of any one of the preceding clauses, wherein the common plane is at an oblique angle with respect to the horizontal plane.

7. The automatic ball launcher of any one of the preceding clauses, wherein an orientation angle of the common plane is adjustable.

8. The automatic ball launcher of any one of the preceding clauses or any one of clauses 1 to 4 or 7, wherein the common plane is a vertical plane.

9. The automatic ball launcher of any one of the preceding clauses, wherein the pair of counter-rotating flywheels are mounted atop a frame that is disposed within the enclosure.

10. The automatic ball launcher of any one of the preceding clauses, wherein at least one flywheel of the pair of counter-rotating flywheels is disposed in an adjustable track so that a spacing distance defined between the pair of flywheels is adjustable.

11. The automatic ball launcher of any one of the preceding clauses, wherein the base unit further comprises a ball speed adjustment selector.

12. The automatic ball launcher of any one of the preceding clauses, wherein the feed tube further includes a heating element provided to the tubular body.

13. The automatic ball launcher of clause 12, wherein the heating element is a resistive heating element.

14. The automatic ball launcher of clause 12 or 13, wherein the feed tube further comprises a temperature sensor disposed within the feed tube. 15. The automatic ball launcher of clause 12, 13 or 14, wherein the heating element is embedded in the tubular body.

16. The automatic ball launcher of any one of the preceding clauses, wherein the feed tube further comprises a solenoid provided to the open bottom end to prevent balls from prematurely exiting through the bottom end.

17. A method of preparing and launching squash balls, the method comprising:

storing a plurality of squash balls inside of a feed tube while the feed tube is coupled to a launching base unit;

heating the plurality of squash balls stored inside of the feed tube with heating elements disposed in the feed tube until the squash balls reach a desired temperature; and

launching the heated squash balls with the launching base unit one at a time while maintaining the desired temperature of the heated squash balls in the feed tube that have not yet been launched.

18. The method of clause 17, further comprising:

removing the feed tube from the launching base unit; and

retrieving the squash balls by centering the lower opening over a ball and pushing the feed tube downwards towards the squash ball until the squash ball slips inside of the feed tube.

19. The method of any one of clauses 17 or 18, further comprising adjusting a launch angle of the launching base unit by extending one or more feet downwards from a bottom side of the launching base unit.

20. The method of any one of clauses 17, 18 or 19, further comprising adjusting a vertical height of the launching base unit by mounting the launching base unit atop a tripod or a stand. 21. The use of the automatic ball launcher of any one of clauses 1 to 16 to launch at least one squash ball, or the use of the automatic ball launcher of any one of clauses 1 to 16 as a squash ball launcher.