- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
A spider while moving on the ceiling can descend vertically using a spider thread to any point in space and can then climb back up and move horizontally on the ceiling to another point. Similarly, each of these robots moves on an overhead track system and descends vertically using a descending mechanism (“Spider Thread”) to a point in space under the track. The first part of the name (“TRACK”) is driven from the use of tracks. The second part of its name comes from a spider because of the ability of the bottom part of the robot to descend and ascend in space like a spider. Each robot can perform tasks as defined later in this document and roll back up and then move to the next point on the track. Additionally, unlike a spider, it may also move horizontally while hanging from its “Spider Thread”. This invention allows one or plurality of Track Spider Robots to be working in one environment independently or in collaboration with other robots using wireless communication without using up floor space.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
In homes, shops or pharmacies, it is often desired to get a helping hand that can fetch or deliver objects from one point to another automatically. For example, in a pharmacy, this robotic invention can be used to fetch medicines from shelves to the pharmacist or directly to the customer based on the information fed to the robot by the control system (for example a computer). This invention consists of one or plurality of Track Spider Robots each moving on an independent or connected track sections forming a Track System. The Track Spider Robot(s), the Track System, Power Supplies and the Master Control System—all put together form the Track Spider Robotic System. This invention moves the robots overhead thereby freeing up the floor space. Using the “Spider thread”, a Track Spider robot can descend or ascend in narrow spaces, for example between aisles, and perform its task e.g. placing or picking up one or more objects. Each robot can be configured to perform a certain task at a given point in space using robotic arms or any other tool that can be attached to a robot. In this document the reference to a robot would mean one Track Spider Robot. However, one or plurality of Track Spider Robots may be present in one Robotic System.
The present invention relates to one or plurality of Track Spider Robots moving on an overhead Track System in a non-industrial environment like home, patient care, shopping places or pharmacies. Each Track Spider robot includes multiple DC motors and Servos controlled by multiple microprocessors. Each Track Spider Robot wirelessly receives the control commands from the Master Control System.
The purpose of this robot is to free up the ground space and move unobstructed overhead in a non-industrial environment like shops, pharmacies, homes and patient care environments. This invention can work as a pharmacist assistant or a shop assistant or as a helping hand in a home or patient care environment or to carry a security surveillance camera. Depending on the attachments available on the robots, each can be configured to perform tasks in confined spaces. Some of the examples of the uses this invention may be put to are as follows:
- 1. Fetching or delivering objects from one point in space to another in a home environment or shops or pharmacies.
- 2. Arranging shop or pharmacies items on shelves.
- 3. Deliver medicines, instructions to patients
- 4. Monitor patients or kids remotely using a video camera.
- 5. Roving Security Camera
- 6. Inventory Management
- 7. Perform any other task that can be performed by the tools (e.g. robotic arms) attached to the robot.
The above is not an exhaustive list of uses but just a sample of uses this invention can be put to.
The Track Spider Robotic System consists of the following sub systems:
- 1. Track System (Parts 4, 5, 6, 7, 21 in FIG. 1 and all parts shown in FIG. 2)
- 2. One or plurality of Track Spider Robots (Parts 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22 in FIG. 1 are for one Track Spider Robot)
- 3. Master Control System that consists of the control software running on a computer or a hand held device. The commands from the computer or a hand held device are transmitted using radio frequency to each of the Track Spider Robot in the system. Each Track Spider Robot is also capable of similarly transmitting information to the Master Control System. The Master Control System is also referred to as the Master Controller in this document.
- 4. Power Supplies that provide 12 volt to 48 volt regulated power. The number of Track Spider Robots in the system determines the current capacity of a power supply.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
To understand the structure, each Track Spider Robot can be divided into the following assemblies:
- (1) Drive Assembly (Parts 1,2,3 and 8 as shown in FIG. 1): The major parts belonging to this section are the drive wheels assembly, the motors to power the wheels, the power collection brushes and the mechanism to calculate the incline of the track.
- (2) Control Section (Part 9 as shown in FIG. 1): This section contains chargeable batteries and electronic parts including the logic circuits, power regulation circuits, temperature control assemblies for this section. The section contains the assembly to turn the “Spider Section” (bottom section) about a vertical axis. The “Spider thread” (part 10 as shown in FIG. 1) is the mechanism to lower or raise the bottom section. Alternate methods can be used to replace the mechanism shown in Part 10, FIG. 1.
- (3) Spider Section (Parts 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 22 as shown in FIG. 1): The Spider Section is the bottom portion of a Track Spider Robot. This Section is the part of a Track Spider Robot that ascends or descends to a point in space. This section consists of the Instrument Panel (Part 18 in FIG. 1) and a Tool and Storage Section under it. The instrument panel contains one or plurality of each of the following: light source, microphone, front and bottom distance rangers, camera device, a speaker unit and local control keypad. The Tool Section houses the robotic arms and storage space for objects on board.
The foregoing features of the invention will be more readily understood by reference to the following detailed description, taken with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:
FIG. 1: Depicts the system overview of one Track Spider Robot mounted on an overhead Track System section. Experts would agree that this is just an illustration and this invention can be manufactured in different shapes without deviating from the true scope of the invention.
FIG. 2: Depicts the plan of a section of the Track System on which a Track Spider robot moves. This figure also shows a Track Section that allows the robots to make a turn and move from one track to another.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PARTS
FIG. 3: Depicts the command execution logic for a Track Spider Robot.
Track System (Part 4, 5, 6, 7 and 21 FIGS. 1 and 2, Part 20 in FIG. 2): Consists of one or plurality of hollow sections having a gap at the bottom center through which a Track Spider Robot hangs and the bottom portion is flat to provide a rolling surface to a Track Spider Robot. Multiple sections of the tracks can be connected together using the Turning Track Section (Part 20, FIG. 2) that allows a Track Spider Robot to move from one track to another. A Track Spider Robot may need to move to another track section either to reach its destination or to provide way to another passing Track Spider Robot. Each track section is mounted overhead to the ceiling or some other overhead structures.
Guide Bars (Part 5, FIGS. 1 and 2): This is a set of guide bars attached to the tracks. The drive wheels roll over the two guide bars one each on each side of the track. The guide bars prevent a Track Spider from hitting the track enclosure (Part 7) while in motion. The guide bars, in conjunction with the motor braking system, also prevent a robot from reactionary turning on its wheels when the Spider section is turning about its vertical axis. The guide bars and the drive wheels grooves may be toothed so that they can work like a rack and pinion combination.
Track Information (Part 6): The track markings and sensors together are called the Track Information. The Track Information helps the robot to identify its location, to decide speed and the direction of motion. Track information may also be used to trigger “an event” that can be used to perform a certain action (for example blowing a horn) on behalf of the robot. In FIGS. 1 and 2, the track information is shown as parallel straight lines, but in reality these will be bar codes that will carry information like the location, speed limits, geographical direction and action information to name a few. Action information, for example, may include information for a Track Spider Robot to give a light or sound signal at certain locations of the track. Also, this track information is not provided on the entire length of the Track System. An information piece is provided on the track only when certain information, e.g. speed limit, is different from the previous information on the track. In the absence of the information, a Track Spider Robot continues to use the last information read from the track.
Track Enclosure (Part 7): This is the track enclosure, shown as transparent in FIG. 1 for the purpose of illustration only. This enclosure covers the Drive Assembly of a Track Spider Robot. The enclosure is attached to the overhead mounting surface (for example—a ceiling).
Track Crossing: (Part 20 FIG. 2): The track-crossing unit consists of small track sections attached to the main tracks. Each crossing unit consists of sections of guide bars (Part 5 FIG. 1 and FIG. 2). The layout of the guide bars allows the robot to travel straight or to turn about a perpendicular axis that passes through the intersection of the gap between the tracks. The crossing unit may also contain the track information (Part 6, FIG. 2). In FIG. 2, the track-crossing unit shown allows the robot to take a turn equal to multiple of a right angle or to move straight without a turn. Other crossing units may allow the robot to turn by any angle greater than or less than a right angle. If a Track Spider robot in the system needs to move on to another track, either to reach a destination or to allow another robot in the system to pass it, the Track Spider robot comes and stops at the intersection at the center of the track-crossing unit. Then both the Track Spider robot wheels move in opposite directions allowing the Track Spider robot to turn about a vertical axis. Once the robot has moved enough to face the track it needs to move on to, the turning motion stops and both the robot wheels move in the same direction to carry the robot on the next track.
Part 21: These are Power Strips attached to the track on each side of the bottom gap and insulated from the main body of the Track System. These Power Strips carry a 12V to 48V electric power. Power collection devices attached to a Track Spider Robot collect the power to charge the batteries onboard.
Drive Assembly: This assembly consists of the following main parts:
Drive Wheels (Part 1): This is one of the two drive wheels attached to a Track Spider Robot. Each drive wheel contains a groove on the circumference. This groove allows the robot to roll over the guide bar (Part 5) attached to the tracks (Part 4).
Part 2: This is the drive mechanism housing which contains one or more DC motors to power the drive wheels (Part 1). A motor may drive each drive wheel (Part 1) independently such that each of the drive wheels can have a different speed and direction of rotation. This section also contains a “plumb line” assembly to calculate the inclination angle of the track on which the robot is moving. This inclination angle is used to calculate the actual horizontal distance moved by the robot. The inclination angle of the track may also be marked on the track as part of the information shown in part 6 in FIG. 1 and FIG. 2.
Part 3: Part 3 is the pivot assembly that connects the Drive assembly with the rest of the robot. This pivot assembly allows the portion of the robot under the tracks to sway when the robot is maneuvering a turn. This swaying motion prevents movement of objects or spilling of liquids, which might be onboard, inside the bottom portion of the robot by counteracting the centrifugal force.
Control Section (Part 9
in FIG. 1
): This section consists of the following four main sub assembly types, each of which is described in more detail below:
- (1) Electronics
- (2) Batteries
- (3) Turning Assembly
- (4) Spider Thread Movement Assembly
Electronics: The major electronic parts in this section are:
- (1) Programmable Integrated Circuits
- (2) Memory Chips
- (3) Motor controllers
- (4) 12 C Bus for communication between different circuits
- (5) Battery charging and monitoring circuits
- (6) Voltage regulating circuits
- (7) Temperature control circuits
- (8) Load monitoring circuits
- (9) Voice synthesizing units
- (10) Transceivers to communicate with the Master Control System or to communicate with other robots in the system.
The logic on board each Track Spider robot provides intelligence for robotic functions and act as a backup intelligence in case communication link from the Master Control System is broken. If the communication link is broken, this logic periodically attempts to establish the link.
Batteries: The batteries on board each Track Spider Robot are used to power its systems. These batteries are charged by the power collected from the Power Strips (Part 21 FIG. 1 and FIG. 2) mounted on the Track System. This system enables uninterrupted and regulated power supply to each of the Track Spider Robot in the system.
Turning Assembly: The turning assembly consists of a worm and worm wheel assembly driven by a Servo or a DC motor. The “Spider Thread” (Part 10 in FIG. 1) is connected to the worm wheel that turns the Spider Section (Part 15 FIG. 1, the lower portion of the Track Spider robot) when the worm wheel turns. The worm wheel also moves an encoded wheel that is used to calculate the amount of rotation of the Spider Section.
Spider Thread Movement Assembly: This is an electrically, pneumatically or hydraulically powered system that is used to expand or contract the telescopic arm (part 10 in FIG. 1). The Telescopic arm can be retracted and even moved up to the Pivot Assembly (Part 3 in FIG. 1) to gain maximum clearance from the floor.
Spider Section: (Parts 11
in FIG. 1
) This section, is the part of the Track Spider Robot, which moves down to a point in space or is raised back up similar to the movement of a spider. This section hosts a set of one or plurality of robotic arms to perform a task at a point in space. The robotic arms as they are enclosed in the Spider section when the Track Spider is in motion. This section, in advanced versions, also consists of bar code readers and object identification techniques. This is most useful in a pharmacy or a shopping environment where the objects are bar coded. The robotic arms can pick up or place one or more objects in the storage space. The top portion of the Spider Section is called the Instrument Panel (Part 18
, FIG. 1
). The Instrument Panel consists of at least the following instruments and sensors:
- (1) Microphone (Part 11, FIG. 1) A microphone is also connected to this section, which may be used by the user to send voice messages or commands back to the master controller.
- (2) Range finders (Part 12, FIG. 1): The range finders are can be infrared or ultra sonic units used to calculate the distance of any obstacles in the path of the robot. One set of range finders is also attached to the bottom surface of the Spider Section. These bottom range finders are used to detect an obstacle in the vicinity of the robot when the Spider Section is being lowered.
- (3) Camera unit (Part 13, FIG. 1): The camera unit is used to collect live video from the location of the robot.
- (4) LCD Display unit (Part 16, FIG. 1): A fixed LCD display unit is mounted on the bottom section to display status messages about the robotic system or to display messages broadcast by the Master Control System or other Track Spider robots in the system.
- (5) Keypad (Part 17, FIG. 1) The keypad to input commands when the Track Spider robot is stationary. This keypad is activated only when the correct access code has first been put in.
- (6) Speaker (Part 14, FIG. 1) The speaker that is used to play audio signals or messages to the user. The speaker is also used to play signals to warn anyone in the vicinity of a moving Track Spider Robot.
- (7) Light Source (Part 19, FIG. 1): light to illuminate the work area, if required.
- (8) Optional Flashing lights to warn the people in the vicinity of a moving Track Spider Robot.
Experts would agree that the above list of items available on the Instrument Panel is not exhaustive. The number of each of the above items may also differ based on the requirements. The location of each of the items may be different from the location shown in FIG. 1.
The Spider Section also has hooks, attached to the bottom surface, which can be used to hang loads up to the permissible total load limit.
Command Execution Logic: The Command Execution Logic for a Track Spider Robot is shown in FIG. 3. The Track Spider Robot continuously sends update status to the Master Controller using the wireless link. If any of the onboard sensors on the Track Spider Robot, or the information on the Track System, requests an interruption of the action in progress, the same is communicated to the Master Control System. The Master Control System then decides if the interrupt should be ignored or not. If the interruption request needs to be ignored, the Track Spider Robot continues what it was doing. If the interruption request cannot be ignored, the Master Control System evaluates the information and sends an alternate action command to the Track Spider Robot. The alternate action command then follows the same command execution logic as described above.
This invention receives commands from and sends status information to the Master Control System using a wireless link. The input from the user can be either using a computer or a hand held wireless remote or using voice commands or the keypad mounted on the robot itself. The input from the user can also be in a form a script that executes automatically in reaction to a system event or a time event. A system event is raised when a robot, for example, has reached a destination or has detected a problem in the track. These were just examples and the user is free to use the scripting to create many complex commands or reaction to events. The Master Control System can send independent commands to one or all the robots simultaneously.
Safety Features: The most important safety features that form part this invention are:
- (1) Multiple sensors mounted on the Spider section control the speed of the Track Spider robot if the robot is in proximity of an object or person. If required, the Track Spider robot is capable of stopping before hitting an object or person. The sensors also prevent the Spider section from descending if they detect an object or person that can be hit during the descent.
- (2) Using the track mark and sensors (Part 6 FIG. 2), control the speed of each Track Spider Robot to prevent accidents.
- (3) In the default mode, a Track Spider robot does not move until the Spider Section is pulled up again.
- (4) The load sensors on the robot give an indication of the amount of load applied to a Track Spider robot so that the user can make use of the system with optimum performance and without jeopardizing safety. If the load limit is exceeded an audio alarm is sounded at the robot and an alert is raised at the Master Control System also.
- (5) Voice and sound signals provided to the user to announce status messages, if configured to do so, or to announce alert messages.
- (6) Short circuit protections are built into the system.
- (7) Each Track Spider robot carries a power switching circuit that can be turned off to deactivate the robot.
- (8) If the connectivity with the Master Control System is lost, each of the Track Spider robots in the system can be configured to a) stop where it is or to park at the designated location b) create alarms and alerts c) use onboard logic for the tasks at hand. This is just a sample of configuration options and can be programmed to perform more complex reactions to loss of connectivity with the Master Control System.
Master Control System: The Master Control System software, which can be run on a computer, is a graphical user interface (GUI). The Master Control System may be used to wirelessly:
- (1) Control one or more robots manually using computer keys or mouse
- (2) Move one or more robots forward simultaneously or independently
- (3) Move one or more robots backwards simultaneously or independently
- (4) Stop one or more robots simultaneously or independently
- (5) Control the speed of one or more robots simultaneously or independently
- (6) Lower one or more robots at each of their locations to a point in space below the track, simultaneously or independently
- (7) Raise one or more robots at each of their locations to a point in space below the track, simultaneously or independently
- (8) Control the speed of descent of one or more robots simultaneously or independently
- (9) Control the speed of ascent of one or more robots simultaneously or independently
- (10) Stop the ascent or decent of one or more robots simultaneously or independently
- (11) Locate the location of each robot in the system at any given point of time
- (12) Track the path traversed by one or more robots in the system
- (13) Track the path to be traversed for a given task(s) for one or more robots in the system
- (14) Program one or more robots to perform a task independently or in conjunction with each other.
- (15) Schedule the execution of programs or scripts
- (16) Based on events generated by actions by one or more robots, execute additional scripts or tasks on one or more computers in the network,
- (17) Based on events or scheduled, send emails or phone calls about the status of each robot to one or more recipients.
- (18) Enable the control of one or more robots from the Internet.
- (19) Broadcast status messages or still pictures or video from the camera mounted on one or more robots independently or simultaneously.
- (20) “Park” one or more robots at designated locations on the track when not in use.
- (21) Other capabilities of the Master Control System Software are:
- (22) It can decide which robot is nearest to a point on the track at which a robot is required and send that robot there if it is not assigned a task already.
- (23) It can support one or more robots in the robotic system.
- (24) It can be expanded to talk to and coordinate more than one robotic system, if required.
- (25) It can monitor the status of each robot in the system and generate user reports.
- (26) It can draw a chart depicting the distance of objects in or around each robot on the system.
- (27) It can detect the health status of each robot in the system and automatically configure itself by automatically finding the number of active robots in the system.
- (28) It can be used for receiving live video from one or more robots independently or simultaneously.
- (29) It can be used for inventory management.
The above list of functions that can be performed by the Master Control System is not exhaustive and can be modified to perform additional functions. The Master Control System Software and the logic software onboard each robot may be stored in memory device, such as semiconductor, magnetic, optical or other memory devices and may be transmitted using any communication technology, such as optical, infrared, microwave, radio frequency or other transmission technologies. It is expected that such computer program or processor logic can be distributed as a removable media with accompanying printed or electronic documentation, pre loaded with a computer system or distributed from a server or electronic bulletin board over the Internet.