US 3734286 A
Articles provided with code indicia are exposed serially to a sensing means disposed in a chamber. The sensing means provide indicia responsive signals to a computing means where the information provided is processed, such as for inventorying, counting, price computation purposes, etc. Image recording means are provided for producing a documentary record of each article as such article is conveyed along a predetermined path past the sensing means. Means are present to divert an article from said predetermined path if the sensing means produce a spurious signal upon sensing said code indicia.
Description (OCR text may contain errors)
United States Patent. [191 Simjian 11 3,734,286 1 May 22,1973
1541 ARTICLE HANDLING APPARATUS  Inventor: Luther G. Simjian, 7 Laurel Lane,
Greenwich, Conn. 06830  Filed: Dec. 27, 1971 21 Appl. No.: 212,432
 US. Cl. ..209/121, 177/5, 177/52, 209/74, 235/61.1l E, 235/61.9 R  Int. Cl ..B07c 5/16  Field of Search ..209/11l.5, 111.6, 209/111.7, 121, 74; 250/219 CR, 219 R, 219 Q; 177/5, 52
 References Cited UNITED STATES PATENTS 3,414,731 12/1968 Sperry ..209/1l1.7 X 3,496,370 2/1970 Haville et al.... ....209/l1l.7 X 3,587,856 6/1971 Lemelson ..209/l1l.7
3,627,127 l2/197l Whiteford ..209/121 Primary Examiner-Allen N. Knowles Assistant Examiner-Gene A. Church Attorney-Ervin B. Steinberg  ABSTRACT Articles provided with code indicia are exposed serially to a sensing means disposed in a chamber. The sensing means provide indicia responsive signals to a computing means where the information provided is processed, such as for inventorying, counting, price computation purposes, etc. Image recording means are provided for producing a documentary record of each article as such article is conveyed along a predetermined path past the sensing means. Means are present to divert an article from said predetermined path if the sensing means produce a spurious signal upon sensing said code indicia.
15 Claims, 10 Drawing Figures Pate'nt ecl May 22, 1 973 3,734,286
4 Sheets-Sheet 1 Pate nted May 22, 1973 4 Sheets-Sheet 2 T0 COMPUTING MEANS SCALE FIG. 6
ARTICLE HANDLING APPARATUS BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION This invention refers to an article handling apparatus and, more specifically, has reference to an article handling apparatus in combination with computing means for handling, inventorying, counting, summarizing and otherwise processing articles which are provided with a code. Quite specifically, the present invention concerns an arrangement in which code bearing articles are passed in series in view of sensing means adapted to read predetermined code characters on such articles and transmit code responsive signals to a computer for processing, typically for providing an inventory count, for producing a print-out of the price of the respective articles sensed, and for performing such other functions as have been programmed into a standard business-type digital computer.
The present invention, therefore, is usable in many fields of industry and commerce and, for example, it may be used in a supermarket type store for processing articles selected by providing the customer with a printout of the articles purchased as such articles pass over the dispensing counter. The prices of the particular articles selected may be retrieved from the storage section of the computer and, furthermore, the computer while receiving signals from the sensing means can be used to reduce the inventory information so as to provide at all times a current inventory of the respective articles still remaining in stock. In this manner, reorder information can be generated from the computer in an automated manner when a predetermined minimum inventory level has been reached. Further and still other applications and uses of the present apparatus will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art by considering the following description when taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWINGS FIG. 1 is an elevational view, partly in section, of a typical embodiment of the present apparatus taken along line 1-1 in FIG. 2;
FIG. 2 is a plan view, partly in section, of the apparatus per FIG. 1 taken along line 2-2 in FIG. 1;
FIG. 3 is an elevational view disclosing an alternative embodiment of certain portions of FIG. 1;
FIG. 4 is an elevational view showing a further alternative embodiment of the present apparatus;
FIG. 5 is an elevational view showing a still further alternative embodiment, particularly showing the use of a weighing scale as a part of the apparatus disclosed;
FIG. 6 is a plan view of a typical embodiment of the code indicia provided on the articles;
FIG. 7 is a plan view of an embodiment of the conveying band shown in FIGS. 1, 2, 3 and 4;
FIG. 8 is a plan view of an alternative embodiment of the conveying band;
FIG. 9 is a schematic illustration which includes optical means for rotating the image of the code indicia affixed to the articles for the purpose of providing optical alignment, and
FIG. 10 is a block diagram of the electrical circuits for the present apparatus.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION Referring now to the figures and FIGS. 1 and 2 in particular, numeral 10 identifies a movable endless band which is rotated about a set of spaced rollers 12 and 14. A motor 16 via belt 18 drives a pulley 20 which is affixed to shaft 22 for imparting rotation to the roller 14. Roller 12 is mounted for rotation on shaft 24 and shaft 24 as well as shaft 22 are journalled in suitable supports which are fastened to a set of legs 26 and 26'. Both legs support also a platform 28 over which the upper portion of the band 10 slides.
Above the platform 28 and the respective portion of the band 10, there is disposed a sensing chamber 30 which includes an upper solid portion and a lower section comprising an array of closely spaced tassels 32 on the right and left side, as viewed in FIG. 1, that is the sides at which an article disposed on the band enters and leaves the chamber 30. The other sides are made of solid non-transparent material. The tassels, as stated hereinbefore, are closely spaced in order to subdue or substantially exclude ambient light from entering the inside of the chamber 30. The tassels may be weighted.
The chamber 30 is provided with an optical character sensing means 34, illuminating means 36 and a position sensing means 38 used for control purposes. Articles 40, which are articles to be handled, are provided with code characters 42 which are subject to optical recognition. The code characters may be numerals, dot patterns, lines intermixed with dots, or other indicia as is well known to those skilled in the art, and are provided on the respective articles by imprinting, stamping, separate labels affixed to the article, etc. For the sake of illustration, but without any limitation, a typical code arrangement is shown in FIG. 6 wherein the code indicia 42 comprise five numerals 42A. Moreover the article identifying code is provided with a special initial character 423 which denotes the beginning of the code. A line 42C aids in physically aligning the article on the band 10 so that the code characters will be in approximate registration with the raster pattern of the scanning means 34. Preferably, but'not necessarily so, the code indicia 42A and 42B are not readily readable under daylight conditions and for this purpose are imprinted with fluorescent ink which becomes readable upon illumination by receiving radiant energy from the illuminating means 36 which similarly is selected to provide energy in the non-visible light spectrum, for instance, an ultraviolet light source.
In order that the articles reach the chamber 30 suitably spaced from another, the band 10 is provided with indicia markings as are shown, for instance, in FIGS. 7 and 8. In FIG. 7 the band 10 is provided along its length with spaced repetitive markings 44 in the form of a capital letter I. The horizontal bars 44A and 44B denote the limit within which an article should be placed, and the connecting line 44C serves for aligning the article so that the line 42C (FIG. 6) is substantially parallel with the line 44C. In this manner the articles will be properly spaced from one another on the band 10 and the indicia characters 42A aligned for being scanned by the sensing means 34. A somewhat similar arrangement is shown in FIG. 8 wherein each article is to be placed on an island 46, the parallel longitudinal lines once again aid in aligning the orientation of the code characters so that the line 42C is substantially parallel to the longitudinal lines of the islands 46.
Articles to be processed are first placed on a loading platform 48, FIGS. 1 and 2, and then are individually placed on the band 10 and properly oriented as the individual markings affixed to the band become apparent. As the band transports the articles in the direction of the arrow 50, each article enters the sensing chamber 30 through the array of tassels 32 at the right side, FIG. 1, and upon the leading edge of the article being sensed by the sensing means 38 a control means is generated. Responsive to this signal the illuminating means 36 become energized and the character sensing means 34 is activated to read the code 42 provided on the respective article 40. The sensing means 38 used to ascertain that an article is suitably disposed in the sensing chamber 30 may comprise an optical light beam in the visible or invisible light spectrum (transmitter and receiver combination), an ultrasonic energy beam, fluidic control means, or mechanical sensing means, all as is well known to those skilled in the art. The purpose of this sensing means is to energize the character sensing means and other instrumentalities when an article is suitably positioned for being read by the character reading means.
As the article emerges from the chamber 30 it traverses the array of tassels at the exit side of the chamber (left side) and then traverses a reject area which includes an ejector means, such as a pneumatically operated plunger 52 connected to a piston and cylinder mechanism 54. The plunger 52 is actuated if the sensing means 34 and its electronic circuit connected thereto cause the existence of a spurious signal, that is, the circuit is unable to recognize the code, indicating, for instance, that the article is not of the proper kind, is not properly coded, or the code is not readable, and the like. In this event, the plunger 52 pushes the respective article into the reject area 56 and thus the article is diverted from the predetermined path from the loading platform 48 to the discharge chute 60.
An image recording means 62, such as a microfilm camera, is disposed near the exit end of the chamber 30 and is triggered when an article is inview of its lens so as to provide a documentary record of each article sensed and accepted. In the embodiment per FIG. 1, the camera 62 is located past the area in which the plunger 52 operates, providing documentary evidence of only those articles which have not been rejected and therefore are being dispensed to a customer, for instance. The camera 62, by suitable time delay means, is controlled from the operation of the position sensing control means 38. FIG. 3 shows an alternative embodiment in which the camera 62 is disposed for viewing the article 40 when such article is disposed inside the sensing chamber 30. Since the camera 62 is disposed inside a darkened chamber, it can either be equipped with film which is sensitive to the particular light spectrum provided by the illuminating means 36 or, alternatively, the camera may include electronic flash means to provide a short flash of visible light during which a documentary record of the article is made. Such record may be provided either prior to, concurrent with, or after the sensing of the code indicia has occurred. Again the camera 62 can be triggered responsive to the actuation of the position sensing control means 38.
It is realized that the alignment of the code indicia for proper sensing presents some problems, that is, the articles must be oriented so that the indicia characters are oriented with respect to the reading or scanning raster. Several means are available to facilitate this problem, making precise mechanical alignment a less severe requirement. In FIG. 9 means are shown which will rotate the optical image of the indicia. To this end, the optical path includes a lens 64 and a dove prism 66 disposed in front of the character sensing means 34. The dove prism 66 mounted within a housing 68 is adapted to be rotated by a motor 70. In this manner the image of the code characters can be rotated to provide a position of proper alignment for electronic scanning and reading. Typically, the motor 70 continuously rotates the image while the article code is being scanned, hence attempting to provide a best alignment condition. In an alternative embodiment, electronic means (not shown) can be used to rotate the image, for instance, the image on a cathode ray tube, and thus providing alignment of the reproduced image without requiring the precise orientation of the respective articles.
FIG. 4 illustrates a further variation in which the code characters provided on the article 40 are sensed through the belt 10. In this case the belt 10 is transparent and the sensing means 34 is disposed in an enclosure 37 disposed underneath the belt 10 and secured to the platform 28. As shown, the platform has a suitable cut-out 29 so that the image from the indicia 42 can be sensed by the sensing means 34. The upper enclosure 35 is provided with tassels 32 at the entrance and exit sides of the enclosure, but does not contain the optical sensing means. However, an image recording means, as shown in FIGS. 1 and 3, can readily be provided in the chamber 35 or chamber 37 to provide an image of a portion of the article 40 while the code 42 is read.
A further alternative embodiment of the present invention is shown in FIG. 5 wherein a weighing scale or load cell 72 is operating in conjunction with the article and the optical sensing means 34. Each article handled is placed on the scale 72 while the code characters provided on the article are sensed by the reading means 34 in the manner described heretofore. This embodiment is particularly useful in those cases where the weight of the article is critical and may be subject to variation due to storage, packaging, evaporation and the like. The scale 72 produces an electrical signal commensurate with the weight sensed, the signal being connected to an electronic computing means in order to process the information developed in accordance with the predetermined program. Naturally, image recording means 62 may be used also in conjunction with this alternative embodiment as described hereinabove in conjunction with FIGS. 1 and 2.
FIG. 10 discloses a typical block diagram for the optical sensing means and the processing of the obtained signals. With regard to the optical sensing means, that is, the sensing means 34 and the circuits for processing the resulting signals, various optical recognition devices have been developed in the art and are available commercially. Many of these devices are described in Optical Page Reading Devices (book) by Robert A. Wilson, Reinhold Publishing Corporation, New York, N. Y. (1966). For the sake of simplicity, the various details are not repeated in this disclosure. As shown in FIG..10, the position sensing control means 38 provide, for instance, a light beam or an ultrasonic energy beam, which upon being broken by the leading edge of an article 40 causes actuation of an associated control means which, in turn, energizes the sensing means 34 and also the illuminating means 36. It also actuates a time delay circuit 102 which subsequently operates the image recording means 62 when the article 40 has advanced from the chamber 30 to the position underneath the camera 62 as shown in FIG. 1. If it is desired that the camera 62 be not actuated in those cases where an article has been ejected from the predetermined path due to the development of a spurious signal, it will be readily possible to suppress the actuation of the camera 62 by generating an inhibit signal, which is applied to the camera. The sensing means 34 providing electronic signals responsive to an optical image is connected to a character recognition circuit 104 which either recognizes that the indicia sensed are of predetermined character or fail to meet this criterion. If the sensed characters are not recognized by the circuit 104, a signal is provided to a control circuit 106, essentially a time delay circuit, which subsequently actuates the piston and cylinder combination 54 and plunger 52 for diverting the respective article 40 from its predetermined path so that the article does not reach the chute 60. Assuming that the sensed indicia are of the proper kind, have properly been read and recognized, the character recognition circuit 104 provides a signal to the computing means 110, typically a conventional electronic digital computer and including the customary control unit, a processor, and a storage unit. The computing means 110 is actuated by the control means 100 responsive to an article being in position for being sensed and upon receiving the code responsive signal from the character recognition means 104 and processes the signal in accordance with predetermined programming. If the weighing scale 72 is provided, as shown in FIG. 5, a further input signal is received corresponding to the weight of the article. Typically, the computing means 110 will adjust the inventory of the articles by entering data in the storage unit to reflect a new quantity of articles in stock. If this quantity falls below a predetermined (programmed) ordering level, a reorder is provided. Alternatively, the computing means can correlate the signal of the article sensed with price information contained in the storage portion of the computing means and a printer 112 connected to the computing means prints on a tape 114, similar to a cash register tape, the item and amount of the sensed and dispensed article. In this manner, each article does not have to be marked with price information, but the price for the articles may be stored in the computing means. In the event ofa price change, not all of the articles need to be individually marked with the revised price, but only the new information is entered into the computing means. The feeding of data into the computing means as contrasted with marking each article, of course, eliminates many hours of manual labor and simplifies operations where a large quantity of different types of articles are being handled, such as large warehousing operations. Still other operations, as is readily understood by those skilled in the art, can be performed, all automatically and without human intervention.
The reading of characters by automated means and processing this information fully automatically through computing means eliminates a source of errors so frequently caused by manual handling involving the reading and manipulation of keyboards for entering data into other instrumentalities. Moreover, the present invention is particularly suited for those conditions where prices are subject to changes and fluctuations on an almost daily basis.
It will be apparent, therefore, that the present invention discloses several new features which in combination greatly contribute to accuracy of business transactions and simplify the handling of a large volume and a wide variety of articles.
What is claimed is:
1. An apparatus of the type described comprising:
means for conveying articles along a predetermined path;
a chamber disposed along said path through which each article is adapted to be conveyed by said conveying means;
illuminating means disposed for illuminating indicia affixed to an article when such article is disposed in said chamber;
sensing means disposed in said chamber for scanning said indicia responsive to illumination by said illuminating means and said sensing means being adapted to provide electrical signals responsive to the scanned indicia;
computing means coupled to said sensing means for receiving the electrical signals responsive to the scanned indicia and processing said signals for providing an output signal;
control means disposed for actuating said sensing means responsive to an article being disposed in said chamber;
character recognition means coupled in circuit with said sensing means and said computing means for analyzing said output signal and for recognizing predetermined characters;
further control means coupled to said character recognition means for receiving spurious signals and causing responsive to the receipt of a spurious signal the article whose indicia cause such spurious signal to be diverted from being conveyed along said predetermined path;
printing means coupled for receiving said output signal of said computing means for providing a documentary record which includes printed price information of articles whose indicia have been scanned by said sensing means, and
said price information being stored by said computing means and taken from storage means, forming a part of said computing means, responsive to the receipt of said electrical signals from said scanning means.
2. An apparatus of the type described and as set forth in claim 1, said computing means including storage means usable for inventory purposes, and the receipt of said electrical signals by said computing means causing said storage means to be adjusted to reflect a changed inventory of articles associated with the respective indiera.
3. An apparatus of the type described and as set forth in claim 1, image recording means disposed for recording an image of at least a portion of an article disposed in said chamber, and means disposed for actuating said recording means when an article is in view of said recording means.
4. An apparatus of the type described and as set forth in claim 3, said recording means being disposed in said chamber.
5. An apparatus of the type described and as set forth in claim 3, said recording means being disposed outside chamber.
6. An apparatus of the type described and as set forth in claim 1, said chamber including means for subduing or substantially excluding ambient light.
7. An apparatus of the type described and as set forth in claim 6, said indicia being substantially invisible under daylight conditions but being rendered visible to said sensing means responsive to said illuminating means providing radiant energy outside the visible energy spectrum.
8. An apparatus of the type described and as set forth in claim 1, said means for conveying including a movable band for conveying each article serially through said chamber.
9. An apparatus of the type described and as set forth in claim 8, said band having markings for spacing articles on said band to provide the serial feed of such articles through said chamber.
10. An apparatus of the type described and as set forth in claim 8, said band being transparent, and said sensing means being disposed to scan the indicia through said band.
11. An apparatus as set forth in claim 1 and image rotating means coupled for rotating the image provided by said indicia and sensed by said sensing means.
12. An apparatus of the type described comprising:
a weighing scale adapted to receive an article provided with indicia indicative of the nature of such article and said scale providing responsive to an article disposed thereupon signals commensurate with the weight of such article;
sensing means disposed for scanning the indicia on such article and for providing electrical signals responsive to the scanned indicia;
computing means coupled to said scale and said sensing means for receiving the respective signals and processing such signals for providing an output signal commensurate with the nature and weight of the article;
control means disposed for actuating said computing means and said scale responsive to the receipt of an article on said scale;
printing means coupled to said computing means and coupled for receiving said output signal and providing responsive thereto a documentary record of articles weighed and whose indicia have been scanned by said sensing means;
said computing means including storage means usable for inventory information purposes, and the receipt of said signals by said computing means causing said storage means to be adjusted to reflect changed inventory information of articles associated with the respective indicia.
13. An apparatus of the type described and as set forth in claim 11, said image rotating means comprising optical means disposed in the optical path between said article and sensing means.
14. An apparatus of the type described and as set forth in claim 12, and a chamber disposed above said scale for supporting said sensing means and illuminating means, and including means for subduing or substantially excluding ambient light.
15. An apparatus of the type described and as set forth in claim 12, and image recording means disposed to record an image of at least a portion of the article whose indicia have been sensed.