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Title:
DISCONTINUOUS GRID SYSTEM FOR USE IN SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR PROCESSING OBJECTS INCLUDING MOBILE MATRIX CARRIER SYSTEMS
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/084457
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
An automated carrier system is disclosed for moving objects to be processed. The automated carrier system includes a discontinuous plurality of track sections on which an automated carrier may be directed to move, and the automated carrier includes a base structure on which an object may be supported, and at least two wheels assemblies being pivotally supported on the base structure for pivoting movement from a first position to a second position to effect a change in direction of movement of the carrier.

Inventors:
WAGNER, Thomas (97 Alden Road, Concord, MA, 01742, US)
AHEARN, Kevin (306 Shinnecock Lane, Fort Mill, SC, 29708, US)
AMEND, John, Richard, Jr. (49 Hill Road, Apartment #47Belmont, MA, 02478, US)
COHEN, Benjamin (34 Belmont Street #2, Somerville, MA 0243, 0243, US)
DAWSON-HAGGERTY, Michael (333 S. Highland Avenue #501, Pittsburgh, PA, 02106, US)
FORT, William, Hartman (15 Country Farm Road, Stratham, NH, 03885, US)
GEYER, Christopher (56 Churchill Avenue, Arlington, MA, 02476, US)
KING, Jennifer, Eileen (600 9th Street, Oakmont, PA, 15139, US)
KOLETSCHKA, Thomas (124 Rindge Avenue #33, Cambridge, MA, 02140, US)
KOVAL, Michael, Cap (5537 Bartlett Street, Apartment 1Pittsburgh, PA, 15217, US)
MARONEY, Kyle (118 Weena Road, North Attleboro, MA, 02760, US)
MASON, Matthew, T. (3060 Beechwood Boulevard, Pittsburgh, PA, 15217, US)
MCMAHAN, William, Chu-hyon (146 Dudley Street, Apartment #2Cambridge, MA, 02140, US)
PRICE, Gene, Temple (42 Creighton Street, Cambridge, MA, 02140, US)
ROMANO, Joseph (115 Belmont Street #1, Somerville, MA, 02143, US)
SMITH, Daniel (5240 Stanton Avenue #311, Pittsburgh, PA, 15201, US)
SRINIVASA, Siddhartha (7302 58th Avenue NE, Seattle, WA, 98115, US)
VELAGAPUDI, Prasanna (5836 Northmberland Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15217, US)
ALLEN, Thomas (177 Woburn Street, Reading, MA, 01867, US)
Application Number:
US2018/057788
Publication Date:
May 02, 2019
Filing Date:
October 26, 2018
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
BERKSHIRE GREY, INC. (10 Maguire Road, Building 4 Suite 19, Lexington MA, 02421, US)
International Classes:
G05D1/02; B65G1/04
Foreign References:
JPH08157016A1996-06-18
EP2308777A12011-04-13
US20170305668A12017-10-26
DE102014111396A12016-02-11
US20140058556A12014-02-27
Other References:
None
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
HILTON, William E. et al. (Gesmer Updegrove LLP, 40 Broad StreetBoston, MA, 02109, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. An automated carrier system for moving obj ects to be processed, said automated carrier system comprising a discontinuous plurality of track sections on which an automated carrier may be directed to move, said automated carrier including a base structure on which an object may be supported, and at least two wheels assemblies being pivotally supported on the base structure for pivoting movement from a first position to a second position to effect a change in direction of movement of the carrier.

2. The automated carrier system as claimed in claim 1, wherein the plurality of track sections are provided as an array of track sections.

3. The automated carrier system as claimed in claim 2, wherein each track section is generally square in shape.

4. The automated carrier system as claimed in claim 3, wherein each track section includes rounded corners.

5. The automated carrier system as claimed in claim 4, wherein said automated carrier includes guide rollers for engaging the tracks.

6. The automated carrier system as claimed in claim 1, wherein each of said track sections includes identifiable indicia that may be detected by the automated carrier.

7. The automated carrier system as claimed in claim 1, wherein the track sections include no power supply.

8. A method of moving objects to be processed, said method comprising the steps of providing a set of discontinuous track sections; providing a carrier on which an object may be supported; providing at least two wheels mounted to the carrier; pivoting each of said wheel assemblies, from a first position to a second position to effect a change in direction of movement of the carrier from a first direction to a second direction that is generally orthogonal to the first direction; and moving the carrier among the set of discontinuous track sections.

9. The method as claimed in claim 8, wherein the plurality of track sections are provided as an array of track sections.

10. The method as claimed in claim 9, wherein each track section is generally square in shape.

11. The method as claimed in claim 10, wherein each track section includes rounded corners.

12. The method as claimed in claim 11, wherein the method further includes the step of realigning the carrier using the rounded corners.

13. The method as claimed in claim 11, wherein said method further includes the step of engaging the tracks with guide rollers on the automated carrier.

14. The method as claimed in claim 9, wherein each of said track sections includes identifiable indicia that may be detected by the automated carrier.

15. The method as claimed in claim 9, wherein the track sections include no power supply.

16. An automated carrier system for moving obj ects to be processed, said automated carrier system comprising a discontinuous plurality of track sections that are provided as an array of discontinuous track sections on which an automated carrier may be directed to move, said automated carrier including a base structure on which an object may be supported.

17. The automated carrier system as claimed in claim 16, wherein each track section is generally square in shape.

18. The automated carrier system as claimed in claim 17, wherein each track section includes rounded corners.

19. The automated carrier system as claimed in claim 18, wherein said automated carrier includes guide rollers for engaging the tracks.

20. The automated carrier system as claimed in claim 16, wherein each of said track sections includes identifiable indicia that may be detected by the automated carrier.

21. The automated carrier system as claimed in claim 16, wherein the track sections include no power supply.

Description:
DISCONTINUOUS GRID SYSTEM FOR USE IN

SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR PROCESSING OBJECTS INCLUDING MOBILE

MATRIX CARRIER SYSTEMS

PRIORITY

The present application claims priority to each of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 62/578,030 filed October 27, 2017, U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 62/641,640 filed March 12, 2018, and U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 62/681,409 filed June 6, 2018, the disclosures of each of which are hereby incorporated by reference in their entireties.

BACKGROUND

The invention generally relates to object processing systems, and relates in particular to robotic and other object processing systems for, e.g., sorting objects, for storing and retrieving objects, and for redistributing objects for a variety of purposes where the systems are intended to be used in dynamic environments requiring the systems to accommodate the processing of a variety of objects.

Current distribution center processing systems, for example, generally assume an inflexible sequence of operations whereby a disorganized stream of input objects is first singulated into a single stream of isolated objects presented one at a time to a scanner that identifies the object. An induction element (e.g., a conveyor, a tilt tray, or manually movable bins) transport the objects to the desired destination or further processing station, which may be a bin, a chute, a bag or a conveyor etc.

In certain sortation systems for example, human workers or automated systems typically retrieve parcels in an arrival order, and sort each parcel or object into a collection bin based on a set of given heuristics. For instance, all objects of like type might go to a collection bin, or all objects in a single customer order, or all objects destined for the same shipping destination, etc. The human workers or automated systems might be required to receive objects and to move each to their assigned collection bin. If the number of different types of input (received) objects is large, a large number of collection bins is required.

Such a system has inherent inefficiencies as well as inflexibilities since the desired goal is to match incoming objects to assigned collection bins. Such systems may require a large number of collection bins (and therefore a large amount of physical space, large capital costs, and large operating costs) in part, because sorting all objects to all destinations at once is not clearly straightforward or efficient.

In particular, when automating sortation of objects, there are a few main things to consider: 1) the overall system throughput (parcels sorted per hour), 2) the number of diverts (i.e., number of discrete locations to which an obj ect can be routed), 3) the total area of sortation system (square feet), and 4) the annual costs to run the system (man-hours, electrical costs, cost of disposable components).

Current state-of-the-art sortation systems rely on human labor to some extent. Most solutions rely on a worker that is performing sortation, by scanning an object from an induction area (chute, table, etc.) and placing the object in a staging location, conveyor, or collection bin. When a bin is full or the controlling software system decides that it needs to be emptied, another worker empties the bin into a bag, box, or other container, and sends that container on to the next processing step. Such a system has limits on throughput (i.e., how fast can human workers sort to or empty bins in this fashion) and on number of diverts (i.e., for a given bin size, only so many bins may be arranged to be within efficient reach of human workers).

Other partially automated sortation systems involve the use of recirculating conveyors and tilt trays, where the tilt trays receive objects by human sortation, and each tilt tray moves past a scanner. Each object is then scanned and moved to a pre-defined location assigned to the object. The tray then tilts to drop the object into the location. Further partially automated systems, such as the bomb-bay style recirculating conveyor, involve having trays open doors on the bottom of each tray at the time that the tray is positioned over a predefined chute, and the object is then dropped from the tray into the chute. Again, the objects are scanned while in the tray, which assumes that any identifying code is visible to the scanner.

Such partially automated systems are lacking in key areas. As noted, these conveyors have discrete trays that can be loaded with an object; they then pass through scan tunnels that scan the object and associate it with the tray in which it is riding. When the tray passes the correct bin, a trigger mechanism causes the tray to dump the object into the bin. A drawback with such systems however, is that every divert requires an actuator, which increases the mechanical complexity and the cost per divert can be very high.

An alternative is to use human labor to increase the number of diverts, or collection bins, available in the system. This decreases system installation costs, but increases the operating costs. Multiple cells may then work in parallel, effectively multiplying throughput linearly while keeping the number of expensive automated diverts at a minimum. Such diverts do not identify a bin and cannot divert it to a particular spot, but rather they work with beam breaks or other sensors to seek to ensure that indiscriminate bunches of objects get appropriately diverted. The lower cost of such diverts coupled with the low number of diverts keep the overall system divert cost low.

Unfortunately, these systems don't address the limitations to total number of system bins. The system is simply diverting an equal share of the total objects to each parallel manual cell. Thus each parallel sortation cell must have all the same collection bins designations; otherwise an object might be delivered to a cell that does not have a bin to which that object is mapped. Automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), for example, generally include computer controlled systems for automatically storing (placing) and retrieving items from defined storage locations. Traditional AS/RS typically employ totes (or bins), which are the smallest unit of load for the system. In these systems, the totes are brought to people who pick individual items out of the totes. When a person has picked the required number of items out of the tote, the tote is then re-inducted back into the AS/RS.

In these systems, the totes are brought to a person, and the person may either remove an item from the tote or add an item to the tote. The tote is then returned to the storage location. Such systems, for example, may be used in libraries and warehouse storage facilities. The AS/RS involves no processing of the items in the tote, as a person processes the objects when the tote is brought to the person. This separation of j obs allows any automated transport system to do what it is good at - moving totes - and the person to do what the person is better at - picking items out of cluttered totes. It also means the person may stand in one place while the transport system brings the person totes, which increases the rate at which the person can pick goods.

There are limits however, on such conventional systems in terms of the time and resources required to move totes toward and then away from each person, as well as how quickly a person can process totes in this fashion in applications where each person may be required to process a large number of totes. There remains a need for a more efficient and more cost effective object sortation system that sorts objects of a variety of sizes and weights into appropriate collection bins or trays of fixed sizes, yet is efficient in handling objects of such varying sizes and weights. SUMMARY

In accordance with an embodiment, the invention provides an automated carrier system for moving objects to be processed. The automated carrier system includes a discontinuous plurality of track sections on which an automated carrier may be directed to move, and the automated carrier includes a base structure on which an object may be supported, and at least two wheels assemblies being pivotally supported on the base structure for pivoting movement from a first position to a second position to effect a change in direction of movement of the carrier.

In accordance with another embodiment, the invention provides a method of moving objects to be processed. The method includes the steps of providing a set of discontinuous track sections; providing a carrier on which an object may be supported; providing at least two wheels mounted to the carrier; pivoting each of said wheel assemblies, from a first position to a second position to effect a change in direction of movement of the carrier from a first direction to a second direction that is generally orthogonal to the first direction; and moving the carrier among the set of discontinuous track sections.

In accordance with a further embodiment, the invention provides an automated carrier system for moving objects to be processed. The automated carrier system includes a discontinuous plurality of track sections that are provided as an array of discontinuous track sections on which an automated carrier may be directed to move. The automated carrier including a base structure on which an object may be supported.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The following description may be further understood with reference accompanying drawings in which: Figure 1 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 2 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of the bin on the carrier in the system of Figure 1;

Figure 3 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a track unit in the system of Figure i ;

Figure 4 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of the bin and carrier of Figure 2;

Figures 5 A and 5B show illustrative diagrammatic views of the carrier of Figure 1 with wheel units rotated in each of two different directions;

Figures 6A and 6B shows illustrative diagrammatic views of the carrier of Figures 5 A and 5B, taken along lines 6A - 6A and 6B - 6B thereof respectively;

Figures 7 A and 7B show illustrative diagrammatic side views of the carrier of Figure 1 with the wheel units rotated in each of two different directions;

Figures 8 A and 8B show illustrative diagrammatic bottom views of the carrier of Figure 1 with the wheel units rotated in each of two different directions;

Figures 9A and 9B show illustrative diagrammatic views of a pair of wheel units of the carrier of Figure 1 with the wheel units in the pair rotated in each of two different directions;

Figures 10A and 10B show illustrative diagrammatic bottom views of the carrier of Figures 8A and 8B together with a track section;

Figures 11A - 11C show illustrative diagrammatic views of a carrier approaching, contacting and engaging a track section in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 12 shows an illustrative diagrammatic enlarged view of a wheel in the carrier of Figures 11C;

Figure 13 shows an illustrative diagrammatic top view of the carrier of Figure 1; Figure 14 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of the carrier of Figure 1 together with a rack on which a bin may be held;

Figure 15 shows an illustrative diagrammatic tip view of the carrier and rack of Figure

14;

Figure 16 shows an illustrative diagrammatic side view of the carrier and rack of Figure

14;

Figures 17A and 17B show illustrative diagrammatic side views of the carrier and rack of Figure 14 with the bin being placed onto the rack (Figure 17 A) and being removed from the rack (Figure 17B);

Figure 18 shows an illustrative diagrammatic top view of a system in accordance with a further embodiment of the present invention that includes racks;

Figure 19 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a rack for use in accordance with a further embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 20 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of another carrier that includes independent wheel units in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 21 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a track system that includes sensors in accordance with a further embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 22 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a carrier in accordance with a further embodiment of the preset invention that provides dual side later discharge off of the carrier;

Figure 23 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a carrier in accordance with a further embodiment of the preset invention that provides single side later discharge off of the carrier;

Figures 24A and 24B show illustrative diagrammatic views of a carrier in accordance with a further embodiment of the present invention that includes a central drop mechanism; Figure 25 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a carrier in accordance with a further embodiment of the invention that provides vacuum of a track section;

Figure 26 shows an illustrative diagrammatic bottom view of the carrier of Figure 25;

Figures 27A and 27B show illustrative diagrammatic views of a double carrier in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention with the wheels in a first position (Figure 27A) and a second position (Figure 27B);

Figure 28 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of the double carrier of Figures 27A and 27B that includes an object retrieval unit;

Figures 29A - 29C show illustrative diagrammatic views of the double carrier of Figures 27A and 27B that includes a carrier retrieval unit (Figure 29A), engaging another carrier (Figure 28B), and retrieving the carrier (Figure 28C);

Figures 30A and 30B show illustrative diagrammatic views of a triple carrier in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention with the wheels in a first position (Figure 3 OA) and a second position (Figure 3 OB);

Figure 31 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of the triple carrier of Figures 30A and 3 OB that includes a human personnel carrier;

Figure 32 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a quad carrier in accordance with a further embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 33 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of an automated processing station for use in a system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 34 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a manual processing station for use in a system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 35 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of another bin on a carrier in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention; Figure 36 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a bin that includes a window in accordance with a further embodiment of the present invention;'

Figure 37 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a bin that is provided on a bin tray on a carrier in accordance with a further embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 38 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a bin infeed / outfeed system in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention;

Figure 39 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of another bin infeed / outfeed system in accordance with a further embodiment of the present invention that includes intermediate belts;

Figure 40 shows an illustrative diagrammatic end view of the bin infeed / outfeed system if Figure 39;

Figures 41 A - 41E show illustrative diagrammatic view of stags of a bin being fed into an object processing system using the bin infeed/ outfeed system of Figure 39;

Figures 42A - 42D show illustrative diagrammatic view of stages of a bin being removed from an object processing system using the bin infeed/ outfeed system of Figure 39;

Figure 43 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a further carrier in accordance a further embodiment of the present invention;

Figures 44A - 44E show illustrative diagrammatic views of stages of the carrier of Figure 43 activating bin management mechanisms;

Figures 45 A and 45B show illustrative diagrammatic views of the carrier of Figure 43 and a bin with the wheels in a first position (Figure 45A) and rotated (Figure 45B);

Figures 46A and 46B show illustrative diagrammatic underside side views of the carrier of Figure 43 with the wheels in a first position (Figure 46A) and rotated (Figure 46B);

Figures 47A and 47B show illustrative diagrammatic views of a wheel unit of the carrier of Figure 43 with the wheels in a first position (Figure 47A) and rotated (Figure 47B); Figures 48A and 48B show illustrative diagrammatic views of the underside of the carrier of Figure 43 with the wheels in a first position (Figure 48 A) and rotated (Figure 48B);

Figures 49A - 49D show illustrative diagrammatic view of stages of a bin being fed into

an object processing system using the bin infeed/ outfeed system using a carrier of Figure 43;

Figures 50A - 50D show illustrative diagrammatic view of stages of a bin being retrieved from an object processing system using the bin infeed/ outfeed system using a carrier of Figure 43;

Figure 51 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a multi-processing stage system in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention that involves a flow process direction for bins; and

Figure 52 shows an illustrative diagrammatic view of a multi-processing stage system in accordance with a further embodiment of the present invention that demonstrates the scalable nature of the system.

The drawings are shown for illustrative purposes only.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The invention generally relates in certain embodiments to object processing systems in which objects are carried in initial bins (or totes) in a preprocessed state and are carried in processed bins (or boxes) in a post processed state by a variety of carriers that are able to move about a common track system. In certain embodiments, the track system includes discontinuous tiles, and the carriers include two sets of wheels that are able to pivot (together with each wheel's motor) about 90 degrees to provide movement in two orthogonal directions and without rotating the carrier. As herein used, the term bin includes initial bins (including pre-processed objects), processed bins (including post-processed objects), empty bins, boxes, totes and/or even objects themselves that are large enough to be carried by one or more carriers.

Figure 1 shows a system 10 that is formed of multiple track modules (one track module is shown in Figure 3), and each track module includes a plurality of tack sections 12. The system also includes one or more mobile carrier units 14 that carry a bin 16 as shown in Figures 1 and 2, where the carrier unit 14 rides on the track sections 12. Each track section 12 is generally in the form of a raised square with rounded edges, and the track segments 12 are generally closed spaced from each other (e.g., within a length or width of a mobile carrier unit 14). With reference to Figure 2, each mobile carrier unit 14 may include support a bin 17 that may contain objects 18 to be processed or that have been processed. A computer processor 8 may control the movement of each carrier unit 14 by wireless communication, as well as all system operations as discussed further below. The track sections 12 may also include sensors (as discussed further below) for detecting when each carrier unit 14 is positioned about each individual track section 12.

Figure 3 shows a track module 22 that includes multiple track sections 12 on a frame 23 such that when multiple frames are joined together, the spacing of the adjacent track sections 12 is consistent throughout the larger array. Each module 22 includes two sides with protruding connection edges 25, 27, and two sides with (only one is shown) connection recesses 29 for receiving the connection edges of adjacent modules. One or the other to the protruding edges 25, 27 and the recesses 29, 31 may be magnetic to secure the connection between adjacent modules.

With reference to Figure 4, each mobile carrier unit 14 includes a pair of guide rails 20 that contain the bin 16, as well as a raised region 20 that raises the bin sufficient for there to be room on either side of the raised region for shelf forks to engage the bin as will be further discussed below. Each carrier unit 14 also includes four wheel assemblies 24 that each include guides 26 for following the track sections. Each of the wheel assemblies is pivotally mounted such that each wheel assembly may pivot 90 degrees as generally shown at A in Figure 4 and is further discussed below. Each carrier unit 14 also includes a pair of paddles 28 on either end of the unit 14. Each paddle may be turned either upward to contain a bin on the unit 14, or turned downward to permit a bin to be loaded onto or removed from the unit 14 as will also be discussed in more detail below.

In accordance with certain embodiments therefore, the invention provides a plurality of mobile carriers that may include swivel mounted wheels that rotate ninety degrees to cause each mobile carrier to move forward and backward, or to move side to side. When placed on a grid, such mobile carriers may be actuated to move to all points on the grid. Figures 5 A and 5B, for example, show a mobile carrier 30 that includes wheels 32, 34, 36 and 38 (shown in Figures 9A and 9B). Each of the wheels is mounted on a motor 33, 35, 37, 39 (as best shown in Figure 9B), and the wheel and motor units are pivotally mounted to the carrier 310 as discussed in more detail below. The wheel assemblies (each including a wheel, its motor and track guides 40) are shown in one position in Figure 5A, and are shown in a second pivoted position in Figure 5B. Figure 6 A shows an end view of the carrier 30 taken along lines 6 A - 6A of Figure 5A, and Figure 6B shows an end view of the carrier 30 taken along lines 6B - 6B of Figure 5B. Similarly, Figure 7 A shows a side view of the carrier 30 taken along lines 7 A - 7A of Figure 5A, and Figure 7B shows a side view of the carrier 30 taken along lines 7B - 7B of Figure 5B.

Each carrier 30 also includes a pair of opposing rails 42, 44 for retaining a bin, as well as a raised center portion 46 and stands 43, 45 on which a bin may rest. A pair of independently actuated paddles 48, 50 are also provided. Each paddle 48, 50 may be rotated upward (as shown at B in Figure 6A) to retain a bin on the carrier, or may be rotated downward to permit a bin to be moved onto or off of a carrier. The paddles 48, 50 are shown rotated downward in Figures 5 A - 7B.

Note that the orientation of the carrier 30 (also a bin on the carrier) does not change when the carrier changes direction. Again, a bin may be provided on the top side of the carrier, and may be contained by bin rails 42, 44 on the sides, as well actuatable paddles 48, 50. As will be discussed in further detail below, each paddle 48, 50 may be rotated 180 degrees to either urge a bin onto or off of a shelf, or (if both are actuated) to retain a bin on the carrier during transport. Each paddle may therefore be used in concert with movement of the carrier to control movement of the bin with respect to the carrier 30. For example, when on paddle is flipped into an upward position, it may be used to urge the bin onto a shelf or rack while the carrier is moving toward the shelf or rack. Each carrier may also include one or more emergency stop switches 52 for a person to use to stop the movement of a carrier in an emergency, as well as handles 54 to enable a person to lift the carrier if needed. Figure 13 shows a top view of the carrier 30.

Figure 8A shows a bottom view of the carrier 30 with the wheels in the position as shown in Figure 5A, and Figure 8B shows a bottom view of the carrier 30 with the wheels in the position as shown in Figure 5B. Figures 8A and 8B show all of the wheels 32, 34, 36 and 38, and each of the motors 33, 35, 37 and 38 is also shown in Figure 8B. As may be seen in Figures 8 A and 8B, the entire wheel assemblies including the wheel, guide rollers and the wheel motor, each pivot as a unit. With reference to Figures 9A and 9B, each pair of wheel assemblies may, in an embodiment, be pivoted by a common pivot motor 56 that is coupled to the wheel assemblies via linkages 58. In further embodiments, each wheel assembly may be pivoted by individual motors, or the pivoting wheel may be provided in a passive joint and pivoted by the driving actions of the individual wheel motors. Figure 9A shows a pair of wheel assemblies in a position as shown in Figure 5A, and Figure 9B shows the pair of wheel assemblies in a position as shown in Figure 5B. The wheel assemblies are designed to be able to pivot the wheels around corners of a track section when the carrier is directly above a track section. Figures 10A and 10B show views similar to the underside views of Figures 8A and 8B but with a track section 12 superimposed on the Figures to show the relation of the wheel positions to the track section. Note that the wheels pivot around each of the corners of the track section. When the carrier is centered over the track section, therefore, the wheels may be pivoted such that the carrier may move in a direction that is orthogonal to a prior direction without requiring that the carrier itself be turned. The orientation of the carrier is therefore maintained constant while the carrier is moved about an array of tracks sections.

The movement of the carrier 30 about an array of track sections is further discussed below with regard to Figures 11 A - 11C. In short as a carrier leaves one track section, it travels toward an adjacent track section, and if at all misaligned, will realign itself. Each track section is passive and includes no power supply. The realignment of the guide rollers and the tracks may function as follows. While the two sets of wheels (32, 34 and 36, 38) may be designed to move the carrier 310 in a linear direction only, some variations may occur. The tracks 12 are positioned, though intermittently, close enough to each other than when a carrier leaves one track and moves toward another 12 (as shown at C), its potential variation off course will be small enough that the rounded corners of the next adjacent track will urge the carrier back on course. Each track section may be rectangular in shape (e.g., may be square). For example, Figure 11 A shows a carrier 30 leaving a track and beginning to approach a next track 12 as the carrier moves in a direction as indicated at C. As shown in Figure 1 IB, if the alignment of the carrier 310 is off (possibly from variations in the wheels or the mounting of the wheels, the placement of the track sections or any other variable), one of the rounded corners 60 of next adjacent track 12 will become engaged by an on-coming guide wheel 40, and the rounded corner 60 will cause the carrier 30 to move slightly in a direction (as shown atD) perpendicular to the direction C to correct the direction of movement of the carrier 30. If the misalignment is too far off, the carrier may reverse direction and try to become again aligned, or may stop moving and be rescued as discussed below in connection with Figures 30A - 30C. If a carrier does stop moving, the directions of movement of the other carriers are programmed to avoid the area of the stopped carrier until it is removed. If an area results in a number of stopped carriers over time, the alignment of the track(s) in the area may be examined and/or replaced.

Figure 11C shows the carrier 30 moving in a direction C as properly realigned by the track 12. Figure 12 shows a close up view of the wheel 34 moving in a direction as shown at E to cause the carrier to move in the direction C, and further shows that the guide rollers 40 roll against the track 12 in directions as shown at F. The guide rollers 400 do not touch the ground (as does the wheel 34), but simply guide the direction of the carrier 30 by being urged against the track 12. In further embodiments, biasing means such as springs, elastics or pneumatics may be used to urge the guide rollers against the track, and in further embodiments, the tracks may be more triangular shaped at the edges to further facilitate reception of the carriers. If too much correction is required, however, the system may be operating inefficiently.

Systems of the invention therefore provide for traversing the automated carrier in any one of four directions aligned with the track grid, allowing bidirectional column and row travel on the grid. One pivot motor may be used for each pair of wheels, with a linkage to pivot the wheel modules. In other embodiments, one pivot motor and linkage could be used for all four wheels, or each wheel may have an independent pivot actuator. The system allows the wheels to follow rectangular (e.g., square) track sections by pivoting around rounded corners of the track sections. The system does not require differential drive line/trajectory following, and keeps the orientation of the carrier fixed throughout all operations.

Figure 13 shows a top view of the carrier 30, wherein each of the support surfaces 43, 45, 46 is shown, and Figure 14 shows the carrier 30 with a bin 16 on the carrier 30 with one paddle 48 (shown in Figure 17B) rotated upward to retain the bin 16 on the carrier 30 as the bin is removed from a shelf.

The tote shelf and retrieval mechanism provides that totes or boxes are carried by a carrier, which has a tote storage area which consists of a center rail, two side rails, and a motorized paddle on the front and back of the tote. Totes or boxes are carried by a robot, which has a tote storage area that consists of a center rail, two side rails, and a motorized paddle on the front and back of the tote. In accordance with further embodiments, other guide and retention mechanisms may be employed that accommodate variable sized totes or bins. When the tote is being driven around, both paddles are up and the tote is fully contained. To store a tote, the robot drives into a tote rack, which consists of two fork tine with an incline on the front, and the incline urges the tote above he rail height on the robot. The paddles are put down, and the robot can drive away with the tote left behind on the rack. To retrieve a tote, the robot drives under the shelf, puts its paddles up, and drives away.

Figure 17A shows the carrier 30 with the paddle 50 up such that the bin 16 on the carrier 30 may be moved onto a fixed rack 70 that includes two forks 72, 74. In particular, the forks 72, 74 have ramped ends that engage the carrier 30 between the underside of the bin 16 and on either side of the raised center portion 46 as shown in Figures 15 and 16. To remove the bin 16 from the rack 70, the carrier 30 is driven under the rack, and the opposite paddle 48 is actuated as shown in Figure 17B. When the carrier is moved away from the rack, the paddle 48 urges the bin 16 onto the carrier 30 as the carrier is driven away from the rack.

Figure 17B, for example, shows the carrier 30 with the paddle 48 activated such that as the carrier 30 is moved away from the rack 70, the paddle 48 urges the bin 16 onto the carrier 30. Again, Figure 17A shows a side view of the carrier 30 with the paddle 50 engaged to urge the bin 16 onto the rack 70, and Figure 17B shows a side view of the carrier 30 with the paddle 48 engaged to urge the bin 16 off of the rack 70. As mentioned above, the track system may be formed of disconnected track sections 12. In particular, Figure 18 shows a portion of a track system 80 that includes a plurality of track sections 12, as well as racks 82, 84, 86. The guide rollers discussed above are positioned to roll against the outside of the tracks 12, and since the carriers generally travel in straight lines (either forward - backward or side - to side), the guide rollers are designed to engage the intermittent tracks and realign themselves due to each track having slightly rounded corners. Each intermittent track also includes a location code 88 (e.g., a QR code) that permits the carrier to register its location with the central controller 8. The carrier may include a detector 76 (such as a camera or a scanner) on the underside thereof as shown in Figures 8A and 8B that reads or detects each location code 88. Again, the orientation of each carrier does not change.

In the system 80 of Figure 18, numerous intermittent tracks 12 are shown, together with carriers 90, 92, 94. In particular, carrier has left a bin 91 on rack 86 and has been given an instruction to move one track section to the North, carrier 92 carrying bin 94 has been given an instruction to move one track section to the West, and carrier 96 carrying bin 98 has been given an instruction to move one track section to the South. The system 80 moves each of the carriers in the tracks to avoid each other and to provide desired bins at appropriate shelves or racks. As noted, each carrier is provided an instruction to move only one or two track sections at a time. The system 80 is in constant communication with all of the carriers. In certain embodiments, the system provides a wireless heartbeat chain that provides bidirectional heartbeat between mobile carriers and fixed computing infrastructure. If a heartbeat isn't received by a mobile carrier, it triggers an emergency stop, and if a heartbeat isn't received by the processing system 67, it triggers an appropriate response.

Figure 19 shows a further embodiment of a rack unit 71 that includes a track section 73 as its base. The rack unit 71 also includes a pair of forks 75, 77 for engaging and retaining bins. Figure 20 shows a further embodiment 79 of a rack unit that includes four forks 93 that engage a different carrier 95 that includes three raised sections 81, 83, 85 in addition to the rail support surfaces 87, 89. Each of the wheel assemblies 65 may also be independently pivotable (not using pivot linkages) although the wheel assemblies are pivoted at effectively the same time (prior to movement) as discussed above. With reference to Figure 21, one or more of the track sections 73 may include a charging base 69, having, for example, contact positive 97 and negative 99 charge plates that may mate with charging hardware on the underside of a carrier.

Figure 22 - 32 show further embodiments of invention that are based on the above carriers and are provided for movement about a track system as discussed above. For example, Figure 22 shows a carrier 100 in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention that includes swivel mounted wheel assemblies and is operable on a track system as discussed above, but also includes a conveyor 102 that is mounted on the carrier 100, and is actuatable to move a bin or box on the carrier in either of opposing directions as indicated at F. When the carrier 100 is moved to be positioned adjacent a diverting device (such as a diverting chute or conveyor as shown at 104), the carrier may actuate the conveyor 102 to move the bin onto the diverting conveyor 104. The diverting conveyor 104 may for example, but not limiting, be a belt conveyor, a roller conveyor, a chain conveyor, a chute, another bin or a hopper. In certain embodiments, the load on the carrier 102 may be a bin that contains objects, or may be objects themselves.

Figure 23 shows a carrier 120 in accordance with further embodiment of the present invention that includes swivel mounted wheel assemblies that run along track sections as discussed above, but also includes a tilt tray 122 that is mounted on the carrier base 124, and is actuatable to move a bin in a direction as indicated at G. Similarly, when the carrier 120 is moved to be positioned adjacent a diverting device (such as a diverting conveyor as shown at 126), the carrier may actuate the tilt tray 122 to move the bin onto the diverting conveyor 126. The diverting conveyor 126 may for example, but not limiting, be a belt conveyor, a roller conveyor, a chain conveyor, a chute, another bin or a hopper. In certain embodiments, the load on the carrier 122 may be a bin that contains objects, or may be objects themselves.

Figures 24 A and 24B show a carrier 130 in accordance with further embodiment of the present invention that includes swivel mounted wheel assemblies that run along track sections as discussed above, and also includes a bomb bay drop mechanism 132 that is part of the carrier base 134, and is actuatable to drop an object in a direction as indicated at H into a diverting device. When the carrier 130 is moved therefore, to be positioned over a diverting device 136, again, such as a chute, bin, hopper, or conveyor (e.g., belt, roller chain etc.), the carrier may actuate the drop mechanism 132 to drop the object into the diverting device 136.

During use, debris (e.g., dust, particulates from paper or cardboard or plastic packages) may fall onto the base floor on which the tracks (or tracks sections) 12 are laid. In accordance with a further embodiment, the system provides a vacuum carrier 140 that includes the swivel mounted wheel assemblies that run along track sections as discussed above, and also includes a vacuum assembly 142 as shown in Figure 25. The vacuum assembly is mounted on the carrier chassis, and is coupled to a grid of vacuum openings 144 on the underside 146 of the carrier 140 as shown in Figure 26. At appropriate times, such as at the end of processing session (e.g., at night), the vacuum carrier 450 may be engaged to run through the entire grid of tracks while vacuuming to collect any debris.

Since the space between each of the tracks 382 is consistent (e.g., consistent in an X direction and consistent in a Y direction), the carrier may be formed not only as a single track section carrier, but may span multiple track sections. For example, the double carrier 150 shown in Figures 27 A and 27B includes two carrier bases 152, 154, each of which includes a set of four wheels that may be swiveled and run along track sections as described above. The distance between the carrier bases 152, 154 is fixed as a bridge section 156 of the double carrier maintains a fixed distance between the carrier bases, and the size of the bridge is designed match the spacing distance between track sections. With further reference to Figure 27B, when all of the wheels of the carrier 150 are pivoted together, the double carrier may be permitted to be moved along the track in both X or Y dimensions.

The use of such a larger (double) carrier permits further functionalities as follows. With reference to Figure 28, a retrieval system 160 may be provided on a double carrier 161 that includes an articulated arm 162 as well as a receiving bin 164. Any dropped objects or debris may be picked up off of the track system and placed in the bin 164. Additionally, cameras (e.g., 360 degree cameras) 166, 168 may be provided that monitor the area around the double carrier 161 to identify objects that require moving to the receiving bin 164. Again, each of the two carrier bases of the double carrier 161 includes a set of actuatable and pivotable wheels, permitting the double carrier to be moved along the track in both X and Y dimensions as discussed above.

A double carrier (or larger) may also be used to pick up a disabled (single) carrier as shown in Figures 29 A - 29C. As shown in Figure 29 A, such a system 170 may include a double carrier 171 that supports an articulated tow arm 172 having an end effector 174, as well as a camera (e.g., a 360 degree camera) 176. The system 170 also includes actuatable and pivotable wheels as discussed above, as well as a facilitation member 178. In this way, the carrier 170 may move to all possible locations on the track grid as discussed above. As shown in Figure 29B, the facilitation member 178 may be rotated down to provide a ramp onto the double carrier 171, such that a disabled carrier 180 may be grasped by the end effector 174 (which may include an extendable section 182), and drawn up the ramp formed by the facilitation member 178. The extendable section 182 may be provided, for example, as a cross- sectionally arcuate member (such as in a metal tape measure) that is stiff when (naturally) curved in the cross direction, but may be wound upon itself when caused to be flat in the cross direction. The extendable section 182 may further include a central cable. As shown in Figure 29C, once the disabled carrier 180 is successfully drawn onto the carrier 171, the facilitation member 178 may be partially closed (to vertical) to keep the carrier 180 on the carrier 171. In this way, the double carrier 171 may be used to retrieve disabled carriers.

As shown in Figure 30, a triple carrier 200 may be provided that includes three functional carrier bases 202, 204, 206, that are joined by sections 203, 205. Each of the carrier bases includes a set of four wheels that may be pivoted and actuated to run along track sections as described above. All of the wheels of the carrier 200 are swiveled together, permitting the carrier 200 to be moved along the track in both X and Y directions. With reference to Figure 31, such a triple (or other multiple) carrier 220 may be provided with a bed 222, head rest 224, and rails 226 for transporting human repair personnel to any point in the track system that is known to be in need of assistance.

Further, and as shown in Figure 32, a quad carrier 230 may be provided that includes a general platform 231 as well as four functional carrier bases 232, 234, 236 and 238 that are joined by sections the large common platform 532. Each of the four functional carrier bases includes a set of four wheels that may be pivoted and actuated to run along track sections as described above. All of the wheels of the quad carrier 230 are pivoted together, permitting the carrier 230 to be moved along the track in both X and Y directions. Any of a wide variety of maintenance of repair systems or personnel may be provided on such a quad (or greater number) carrier.

Systems and methods of various embodiments of the invention may be used in a wide variety of object processing systems such as sortation systems, automated storage and retrieval systems, and distribution and redistribution systems. For example, in accordance with further embodiments, the invention provides systems that are capable of automating the outbound process of a processing system. The system may include one or more automated picking stations 250 (as shown in Figure 33) and manual picking stations 280 (as shown in Figure 34) that are supplied with containers by a fleet of mobile carriers that traverse a smart flooring structure formed of track segments as discussed above. The carriers may carry bins that can store objects. The system may provide a novel goods-to-picker system that uses a fleet of small mobile carriers to carry individual inventory totes and outbound containers to and from picking stations.

In accordance with an embodiment of the system includes an automated picking station that picks eaches from inventory totes and loads them into outbound containers. The system involves together machine vision, task and motion planning, control, error detection and recovery, and artificial intelligence grounded in a sensor-enabled, hardware platform to enable a real-time and robust solution for singulating items out of cluttered containers.

With reference to Figure 33, the automated picking system 300 perceives the contents of the containers using a multi-modal perception unit and uses a robotic arm equipped with an automated programmable motion gripper and integrated software in processing system 320 to pick eaches from homogeneous inventory totes and place them into heterogeneous outbound containers. These elements are co-located in a work cell that meets industry standard safety requirements and interfaces with track system to keep the automated picking system fed with a continual supply of inventory totes and outbound containers.

In particular, the system 300 includes an array 302 of track elements 304 as discussed above, as well as automated carriers 306 that ride on the track elements 304 as discussed above. One or more overhead perception units 308 (e.g., cameras or scanners) acquire perception data regarding objects in bins or totes 310, as well as perception data regarding locations of destination boxes 312. A programmable motion device such as a robotic system 314 picks an object from the bin or tote 310, and places it in the adjacent box 312. One or both of the units 310, 312 are then moved automatically back into the grid, and one or two new such units are moved into position adjacent the robotic system. Meanwhile, the robotic system is employed to process another pair of adjacent units (again, a bin or tote 310 and a box 312) on the other side of the robotic system 314. The robotic system therefore processes a pair of processing units on one side, then switches sides while the first side is being replenished. This way, the system 300 need not wait for a new pair of object processing units to be presented to the robotic system. The array 302 of track elements 304 may also include shelf stations 316 at which mobile units 306 may park or pick up either bins / totes 310 and boxes 312. The system operates under the control, for example, of a computer processor 320.

The manual pick station system is a goods-to-person pick station supplied by mobile automated movement carriers on track systems as discussed above. The system has the same form and function as the automated picking station in that both are supplied by the same carriers, both are connected to the same track system grid, and both transfer eaches from an inventory tote to an outbound container. The manual system 400 (as shown in Figure 34) relies on a manual team member to perform the picking operation.

Also, the manual system raises carriers to an ergonomic height (e.g. via ramps), ensures safe access to containers on the carriers, and includes an monitor interface (HMI) to direct the team member's activities. The identity of the SKU and the quantity of items to pick are displayed on an HMI. The team member must scan each unit's UPC to verify the pick is complete using a presentation scanner or handheld barcode scanner. Once all picks between a pair of containers are complete, the team member presses a button to mark completion.

In accordance with this embodiment (and/or in conjunction with a system that includes an AutoPick system as discussed above), a system 400 of Figure 34 may include an array 402 of track elements 404 that are provided on planer surfaces 406 as well as inclined surfaces 408 leading to further planar surfaces. The system 400 may also include visual data screens that provide visual data to a human sorter, informing the human sorter of what goods are to be moved from totes or bins 410 to destination boxes 412. The system operates under the control, for example, of a computer processor 420.

While the bulk of the overall system's picking throughput is expected to be handled by automated picking systems, manual picking systems provide the carrier and track system the ability to (a) rapidly scale to meet an unplanned increase in demand; (b) handle goods that are not yet amenable to automation; and (c) serve as a QA, problem solving, or inventory consolidation station within the overall distribution system. The system therefore, provides significant scaling and trouble-shooting capabilities in that a human sorted may be easily added to an otherwise fully automated system. As soon as a manual picking system is enabled (occupied by a sorter), the system will begin to send totes or bins 410 and boxes 412 to the manual picking station. Automated picking stations and manual picking stations are designed to occupy the same footprint, so a manual picking station may later be replaced with an automated picking station with minimal modifications to the rest of the system.

Again, a carrier is a small mobile robot that can interchangeably carry an inventory tote, outbound container, or a vendor case pack. These carriers can remove or replace a container from or onto a storage fixture using a simple linkage mechanism. Since a carrier only carries one container at a time, it can be smaller, lighter, and draw less power than a larger robot, while being much faster. Since the carriers drive on a smart tile flooring, they have lessened sensing, computation, and precision requirements than mobile robots operating on bare floor. These features improve cost to performance metrics.

Unlike shuttle- or crane-based goods-to-picker systems where the mobile component of the system is constrained to a single aisle, all carriers run on the same shared roadway of track sections as independent container-delivery agents. The carriers can move forward, backward, left or right to drive around each other and reach any location in the system. This flexibility allows the carriers to serve multiple roles in the system by transporting (a) inventory totes to picking stations, (b) outbound containers to picking stations, (c) inventory totes to and from bulk storage, (d) full outbound containers to discharge lanes, and (e) empty outbound containers into the system. Additionally, the carriers may be added incrementally as needed to scale with facility growth.

The track floor modules are standard-sized, modular, and connectable floor sections. These tiles provide navigation and a standard driving surface for the carriers and may act as a storage area for containers. The modules are connected to robotic pick cells, induction stations from bulk storage, and discharge stations near loading docks. The modules eliminate the need of other forms of automation, e.g. conveyors, for the transportation of containers within the system.

Figure 35 shows a carrier 430 in accordance with any of the above disclosed embodiments, wherein the bin is a cardboard box 432 for use in any shipping processes (e.g., shipping by truck), and may be particularly designed for use by a particular site (e.g., customer) to whom the processed objects are to be sent. For example, and with reference to Figure 36, such a box 434 may include features (such as a window or opening 436) through which goods may be viewed. Further, and with reference to Figure 37, in further embodiments, where boxes 440 to be used are non-standard, an adapter tray 442 may be used to accommodate fitting the non-standard box 440 to a carrier 430.

With reference to Figure 38, an in-feed system allows containers to be inducted into and discharged from the track system. On the inbound side of the system, the in-feed system inducts inventory totes (IVCs) and processing containers (VCPs) from bulk storage and discharges depleted inventory totes back into bulk storage when they are no longer needed. On the outbound side of the system, system inducts empty containers (OBCs) and discharge sequenced containers (OBCs and VCPs) to be built into carts. The in-feed system may also serve as a problem solving station, or inventory consolidation station for containers that must be processed outside the overall system.

Conceptually, an in-feed station is a special module that transfers containers between the track system and a buffer conveyor via a transfer mechanism. A team member inducts a container into the system by placing the container on the buffer conveyor located at an ergonomic height. The buffer conveyor conveys the container to a transfer mechanism, which transfers it onto a carrier. This assumes that the buffer conveyor is a 20' zero pressure accumulation MDR conveyor. This conveyor may be extended.

Figure 38 shows an in-feed system 450 that includes a gravity conveyor 452 that feeds totes 454 to a shelf 456, from which a mobile robot 458 as discussed above, may acquire each tote in serial fashion for movement about a track module 460 having track sections 466 as also discussed above. The totes may be loaded by a human that places totes of objects onto the conveyor as shown at 462. The system operates under the control, for example, of a computer processor 451.

Discharging a container proceeds in reverse: the transfer mechanism transfers the container from the carrier to the buffer conveyor, where a team member may remove it from the system. If a height change is needed, an inclined belt conveyor can be used to bridge the height difference.

In accordance with an embodiment the in-feed station's transfer mechanisms may be provided by a serial transfer mechanism that uses a linear actuator to place containers onto and remove containers from an actuated shelf that can be accessed by carriers. The linear actuator can run in parallel with the carrier's motion under the shelf in order to reduce cycle time. In further embodiments, the in-feed may be partially or fully automated using gravity fed conveyors and/or further programmable motion control systems. The system may provide a serial transfer system in which mobile carriers on a track grid carry totes onto extendable shelves similar to those discussed above, except that the latch mechanism on the shelf may extend out toward a tote to retrieve a tote. The extendable shelves are in communication with ramps, which lead to raised conveyor stations. The system operates under the control, for example, of a computer processor.

To accept an inducted container, a carrier drives into a designated module. While the carrier is entering the module, the actuator extends a loaded container on top of the carrier. The carrier engages its storage latch, the transfer mechanism disengages its latch, and the actuator retracts. Once retracted, the carrier perpendicularly exits the module and the next queued carrier repeats this process.

To discharge a carried container, a carrier drives into the mechanism's module while the actuator extends an empty shelf. The transfer mechanism engages a storage latch, the carrier disengages its storage latch, and the transfer mechanism retracts. Once retracted, the carrier perpendicularly exits the module as described above while the container is removed from the system by the buffer conveyor.

In accordance with further embodiments the system may include a continuous transfer mechanism, which is a design concept that uses a series of conveyors to match the speed of a container to a carrier, in order to induct and discharge the container while both are in motion.

To induct a container, the carrier engages its storage latch and drives under the transfer mechanism at constant speed. The belted conveyor accelerates the container and hands it off to a set of strip belt conveyors that match the speed of the carrier. The carrier receives the container and secures it using its own storage latches.

To discharge a container, the carrier disengages its storage latch and drives under the transfer mechanism at a constant speed. The container is handed off to a set of strip belt conveyors that match the speed of the carrier and carry the container up a short incline to a belted conveyor. The belted conveyor reduces the speed of the container, if necessary, and transfers it to the buffer conveyor.

Such a transfer system may include mobile carriers on track sections that run underneath an elevated conveyor. The transfer system may include a belted conveyor (for speed matching), that passes totes to a pair of strip belt conveyors that urge a tote onto a carrier. The system operates under the control, for example, of a computer processor.

The system, therefore, accepts inventory from a bulk storage solution as input and produces sequenced containers, amenable to being constructed into carts, as output. The desired output of the system is specified as a collection of picking and sequencing orders that are grouped into waves.

A picking order is a request to transfer a specified quantity of a SKU from an inventory tote into an outbound container. An outbound container may contain SKUs from many different picking orders that are destined for similar locations in a store and have mutually compatible transportation requirements. For example, a picking order may request two packs of Body Washes, one pack of Dove Soap, and 12 other items to be placed into an outbound container intended to replenish the soap aisle in a particular store.

A sequencing order is a request to sequentially deliver a group of containers to an in- feed station to be assembled into a cart. A cart is assembled from a mixture of VCPs (for SKUs that are replenished in full-case quantity) and outbound containers (filled by picking orders) that are used to replenish nearby sort points within a store. For example, a sequencing order may request two other outbound containers, and five VCPs to be loaded onto a cart destined for the health & beauty department of a particular store.

All orders that are required to fill a trailer form a wave that must be completed by that trailer's cut time. Each wave begins inducting the necessary inventory containers and VCPs from bulk storage into modules. Those containers remain on modules until the wave is complete, at which point they are either (i) sequenced into carts, (ii) returned to bulk storage, or (iii) retained for use in a future wave. Multiple waves are processed concurrently and seamlessly: one wave may be inducting inventory while two waves are processing picking orders and a forth wave is being sequenced.

The operation for inducting inventory into the system, fulfilling picking orders, and sequencing output, may further include the following. Inventory is inducted into the system at in-feed stations bordering the external bulk storage solution. Items intended to go through the each-based process must be decanted and de-trashed into inventory containers that contain homogeneous eaches before being loaded into the system. VCPs intended to pass through the system must be either compatible with carrier transport or placed in a compatible container, e.g. a tray.

Each in-feed station is manned by a team member who accepts containers from the bulk storage solution and transfers them onto a short length of conveyor external to the system. Carriers dock with the station, accept one container each, and depart to store their container in the track grid. The container is scanned during induction to determine its identity, which is used to identify its contents and track its location within the module system.

Once all picking orders that require an inventory container are complete— and no upcoming waves are projected to require it— the container is discharged from the system by completing the induction process in reverse. A carrier docks with the station, deposits its container, and a team member returns the containers to bulk storage.

This same induction process is used to induct empty outbound containers into the system using the in-feed station located near the trailer docks. Just as with inventory containers, empty outbound containers are inducted into the system throughout the day only as they are needed to process active waves. Inventory containers, VCPs, and outbound containers are largely interchangeable: the same carriers, in-feed stations, and track modules are used to handle all three types of containers.

Picking orders are processed by automated picking stations and manual picking stations. Each picking order is completed by requesting two carries to meet at a pick station: one carrying an inventory container of the requested SKU and the second carrying the desired outbound container. Once both carriers arrive the picking station transfers the requested quantity of eaches from the inventory container to the outbound container. At this point, the carriers may carry the containers back into storage or to their next destination.

The system scheduling software optimizes the assignment of storage locations sequence of orders, scheduling of arrival times, and queuing of carriers to keep pick stations fully utilized, and to optimize scheduling and usage of the grid to as to avoid traffic jams and collisions. Orders that are not amenable to automated handling are assigned to manual picking station. Inventory and outbound containers are stored near the picking stations that are assigned process those orders. When possible, multiple orders that require the same container are collated to minimize the storage and retrieval operations.

Once all containers required to build a cart are available, i.e. the requisite VCPs have been inducted and picking orders are completed, those containers are eligible to be sequenced. Containers are sequenced by requesting carriers to transport containers from their current location to an in-feed station that borders the trailer docks. All containers for the cart are delivered to the same in-feed as a group, i.e. all containers assigned to one cart are discharged before any containers for a different cart.

Team members at the in-feed station accept the containers delivered by carriers, assemble carts, and load completed carts onto the appropriate trailers. The carriers and personnel may interact with an in-feed station as discussed above. In accordance with a further embodiment, the invention provides a feed station 500 as shown in Figure 39 that may feed containers to and from a track system. The feed station 500 includes a support frame 502 that supports at least one conveyors for ferrying containers to and from a track. In particular, the embodiment of Figure 39 includes two pairs of conveyors 504, 506 that are bi-directionally driven by a motor 508. The frame 502 provides enough clearance on the underside thereof from front to back, that a mobile carrier 510 may travel underneath the frame 502 as shown in Figure 40.

For example, Figures 41 A - 41E show a tote 512 traveling along a conveyor 514 above a track system that includes track sections 516 as discussed above. As the tote 512 is moving, a mobile carrier 510 moves underneath the conveyor 514 and matches the speed of movement of the tote 512 on the conveyor 514 in an inbound direction. As the tote (and the mobile carrier 510) approach the feed station 500, the motor 508 causes the strip belts 504, 506 to move in the direction of movement of the conveyor 514 and to match the speed of the conveyor 514 (Figure 41B). Paddles 522 on the mobile carrier 510 are flipped up and the mobile carrier 510 moves under the tote 512 as it descends along the driven belts 504, 506 at the same speed as the mobile carrier 510 (Figure 41C). The tote 512 engages the mobile carrier 510 (Figure 41D), and is then fully transferred to the mobile carrier 510 (Figure 4 IE). As shown in Figure 4 IE, another tote 524 may then be provided on the conveyor 514, and another mobile carrier 526 may be driven to similarly engage the tote 524 as discussed above. The track section 518 underneath the feed station 500 may be provided as an extended (e.g., double) track section to assist in maintaining alignment of the mobile carrier 510 on the track system during transfer of a tote.

With reference to Figures 42A - 42D, a tote 530 may be transferred from a mobile carrier 532 at the feed station 500 by providing that the motor 508 drives the strip belts 504, 506 at the same speed as that of the mobile carrier 532. With its rear paddle 534 engaged, the tote 530 on the mobile carrier 532 engages the belts 506 (Figure 42B). The tote 530 is carried upward by the belts 506, 504 (Figure 42C), and is provided to the conveyor 514 which carries the tote in an outbound direction (Figure 42D).

Figure 43 shows a carrier 600 in accordance with a further embodiment of the present invention. The carrier 600 includes support surfaces 602 on which a bin may be supported, as well as actuatable centering plates 610, 612 that may be actuated to move toward (and away from) a center of the carrier 600 to secure a tote on the support surfaces 602. The carrier 600 may also include bar paddles 648, 650 on either end of the carrier 600 that may be used similar to paddles 48, 50 as discussed above to urge a tote onto or off of the carrier 600. The carrier 600 may further include emergency stop buttons 652 that may be actuated by human personnel during use. Once a carrier has been stopped, the computer system will know to route other carriers around the stopped carrier.

Figures 44A - 44E show the carrier 600 without wheel coverings 604. As shown, the carrier 600 includes guide rollers 640 similar to the rollers 40 of the carrier 30 discussed above that are able to ride along a discontinuous track system. The carrier 600 further includes a set of wheels 632, 634, 636 and 638 (each of which is shown in Figures 51 A and 5 IB). The wheels may each be actuated by motors (e.g., wheel 634 is actuated by motor 635, and wheel 636 is actuated by motor 641) via gear systems 629 (as shown further in Figure 49B).

As further shown in Figures 44B and 44C, the bar paddles 648, 650 may be independently actuatable to be raised, and subsequently moved toward or away from each other. In particular, Figure 44B shows bar paddle 650 raised, and Figure 44C shows bar paddle 44C also raised. The bar paddles may be actuated by a linear actuator (e.g., a threaded actuator, a pneumatic actuator or an electromagnetic actuator) with a linear cam to raise the bar paddles, and the centering plates may also be actuated by a linear actuator (e.g., a threaded actuator, a pneumatic actuator or an electromagnetic actuator). Figure 44D shows the centering plates 610, 612 being actuated to embrace a bin (or tote), and Figure 44E shows the raised bar paddles 648, 650 being brought toward each other to also embrace a bin (or tote).

Figures 45A and 45B show the carrier 600 with a bin 654 on the carrier. Figure 45A shows the wheels 632, 634, 636, 638 in a first position, aligned in a direction of the bar paddles 648, 650, and Figure 45B shows the wheels 632, 634, 636, 638 pivoted to a second position, aligned in a direction of the centering plates 610, 612. Figure 46A shows a lower side view of the carrier as shown in Figure 44D, and Figure 46B shows a lower side view of the carrier as shown in Figure 44E.

As may be seen in Figure 46B (and with further reference to Figures 47A and 47B), each wheel (e.g., 632) may be part of a wheel assembly 631 that includes a wheel motor (e.g., 633), a limited rotation gear 637, and a pivot motor 638 that reciprocally drives the limited rotation gear 637 via one or more drive gears 639. Figure 47A shows the wheel 632 in a first position, and Figure 47B shows the wheel 632 in a second pivoted position. Although each pivot assembly may be individually actuated, in this embodiment, the wheels are pivoted at the same time. Figures 48A and 48B show the underside of the carrier 600 (with the wheel cover 604 on the carrier). Figure 48A shows the wheels 632, 634, 636, 638 in a first position, and Figure 48B shows the wheels 632, 634, 636, 638 in a second pivoted position.

Figures 49A - 49D show a bin 654 traveling along a conveyor 664 above a track system that includes track sections 666 as discussed above. As the bin 654 is moving, a mobile carrier 600 moves underneath the conveyor 664 and matches the speed of movement of the bin 654 on the conveyor 664 in an inbound direction. As the bin (and the mobile carrier 654) approach the feed station 656, the motor 658 causes the strip belts 674, 676 to move in the direction of movement of the conveyor 664 and to match the speed of the conveyor 664 (Figure 49B). Paddle 650 on the mobile carrier 600 is flipped up and the mobile carrier 600 moves under the bin 654 as it descends along the driven belts 674, 676 at the same speed as the mobile carrier 600 (Figure 49C). The bin 654 engages the mobile carrier 600 (Figure 49D), and is then fully transferred to the mobile carrier 600. The track section 678 underneath the feed station 656 may be provided as an extended (e.g., double) track section to assist in maintaining alignment of the mobile carrier 600 on the track system during transfer of a bin.

With reference to Figures 50A - 50D, a bin 654 may be transferred from a mobile carrier 600 at the feed station 656 by providing that the motor 658 drives the strip belts 674, 676 at the same speed as that of the mobile carrier 600. With its rear paddle 648 engaged, the bin 654 on the mobile carrier 600 engages the belts 506 (Figure 50B). The bin 654 is carried upward by the belts 676, 674 (Figure 50C), and is provided to the conveyor 664 which carries the bin in an outbound direction (Figure 50D). As shown in Figures 49C and 49D, when the bin is received on the carrier 600, the centering plates 610, 612 engage the carrier 600, and as shown in Figures 50A and 50B, when the bin is to be released to the conveyor 664, the centering plates are withdrawn, permitting the bin to be lifted off of the carrier by the belts 674, 676. Control of the system may be provided (e.g., wirelessly) by one or more computer processing systems 680.

Each of the carriers, tracks, racks, infeed and outfeed system of the above disclosed embodiments may be used with each of the disclosed embodiments and further system in accordance with the invention.

Figure 51 shows a system 700 in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention that includes a large connected array 702 of track members as well as automated mobile carriers for transporting totes about the array. The system also includes both automated processing stations 704 and manual processing stations, as well as at least one in-feed station 706, at least one empty outbound vessel in-feed station 708 and outbound stations 710. In general, the processing begins with having a team member retrieve inventory totes and VCPs from bulk storage. The inventory totes and VCPs are then loaded onto an in-feed station, and team members build empty outbound vessels and load then onto the in-feed as well. The automated mobile carriers move requested outbound vessels to and from storage, and objects are processed from inventory totes at both automated stations 704 and manual stations 706. The carriers then take the VCPs straight to staging for trailer loading, and team members load completed carts onto trailers. The system operates under the control, for example, of a computer processor 720.

As shown at 800 in Figure 52, the system may be scaled up to include a much larger array of track modules 802, and many processing stations 804 that may, for example, be any of inventory in-feed stations, empty outbound vessel in-feed stations, automated and manual processing stations, and outbound stations as discussed above. The system operates under the control, for example, of a computer processor 806.

In addition to the nominal modes of operation, the systems of the invention are designed with consideration for the following exceptions. Picking orders that contain SKUs that are not amenable to automated handling, e.g. violate the weight and dimension criteria, are routed to manual picks for manual processing. Inside the manual picks station, a team member transfers the desired number of eaches from an inventory container to an outbound container. Any VCPs that are incompatible with carrier transport, e.g. violate the weight and dimension criteria, bypass the track system. Team members are responsible for routing these containers to the appropriate trailers. The track system internally verifies the identity of containers at several points during induction, transportation, and discharge. A container that is detected to be out of place, unexpectedly empty, or prematurely full is automatically flagged as an exception. When such an exception occurs, the work management system is notified of the fault and the container can be routed to an in-feed station for special processing.

Maintenance of static system components can occur while the system is online— without impeding operation— by assigning orders to other stations. This is true for both the manual and the automated processing stations. A carrier can be serviced without impacting system operation by commanding it to move to a track module at the periphery of the system, where it is accessible to maintenance personnel. If a carrier encounters a fault that renders it inoperable, the system maintains degraded operation by routing other carriers around the disabled carrier until maintenance personnel extract the carrier for service.

The interactions between team members and the track module system includes four primary tasks: (1) picking an each in a manual picking station, (2) inducting an IVC or VCP from bulk storage through an in-feed station, (3) inducting an empty OBC through an in-feed station, (4) discharging a depleted IVC through an in-feed station, and (5) discharging sequenced OBCs and VCPs to be built into a cart.

Again, manual picking is done by a team member inside a manual picking station, through the following steps. Carriers arrives at the manual picking station: one carrying and IVC and one carrying an OBC. The containers' identities are scanned and verified. A display informs the team member the identity and quantity of eaches they should transfer. The team member picks one each out of the IVC. The team member scans the each using a presentation scanner located between the IVC and OBC. If the each fails to scan, the team member scans the each using a backup handheld scanner. The team member places the each into the OBC. The team member repeats steps the last two steps until the desired number of eaches have been transferred. The team member presses a button to indicate that the picks from the IVC are complete. The carriers depart and the process repeats. In nominal operation, multiple carriers queue at each manual picking station to minimize the team member's downtime. Multiple pairs of carriers may be accessible to the team member at once to further reduce downtime while interchanging containers.

Containers that are amenable to automated scanning, e.g., IVCs and OBCs, are inducted by a team member at an in-feed station through the following steps. A container arrives at an in-feed station. A team member places the container on the in-feed' s conveyor. The container is conveyed past an automated scanner which identifies the container's identity. The container is advanced onto the transfer mechanism. An empty carrier arrives at the in-feed station. The carrier accepts the container from the transfer mechanism. The carrier departs and the process repeats. In nominal operation, multiple carriers queue at each in-feed station to maximize container throughput. Multiple team members may simultaneously service the same conveyor if necessary to match the in-feed' s throughput.

Automated scanning is expected to be used for IVC and OBC induction. VCP induction is expected to require a manual scanning step by the team member, since vendor labels are may not consistently located on VCPs.

Containers that require manual scanning, e.g., VCPs with vendor labels, are inducted by a team member at an in-feed station through the following steps. A container arrives at an in-feed station. A team member scans the container with a presentation scanner. If the container fails to scan, the team member scans the container using a backup handheld scanner. The team member places the container on the in-feed conveyor. The container is advanced onto the transfer mechanism. An empty carrier arrives at the in-feed station. The carrier accepts the container from the transfer mechanism. The carrier departs and the process repeats. If all containers are labeled in a way that is amenable to automated scanning, e.g. if additional labels are applied to VCPs, then all containers can be inducted through the automated procedure described above. Presentation and handheld scanners are only necessary at in-feeds that are expected to be used for VCP induction.

Containers that are discharged from the system and accepted by a team member through the following steps. A carrier carrying a container arrives at an in-feed station. The transfer mechanism extracts the container from the carrier. The transfer mechanism transfers the container to a conveyor. The container is conveyed to a team member at the end of the conveyor. The team member removes the container from the conveyor. The team member scans the container using a facility-provided HMI as part of their normal workflow (e.g., assembling a cart or returning an IVC to circulation). The track module system is notified of the scan by the work management system to confirm the successful discharge.

If the team member is building a cart out of VCPs and OBCs, the facility-provided HMI will direct the team member to place the container in the correct location on the appropriate cart. The order in which containers must be discharged is encoded in the sequencing orders submitted by the work management system.

Problem solving, resolutions of issues, and inventory consolidation occur at designated manual picking stations and in-feed stations by specially-trained team members. Manual picking stations are used for operations that require access to the contents of containers inside the system, e.g., verifying the content of a container in the system. In-feed stations are used for operations that require access to containers outside the system, removing a container from the system, or inducting a new container into the system; e.g. replacing a damaged container barcode.

The concept of operations for manual picking stations and In-feed stations dedicated to these roles is identical to their nominal operation, except that more options may be available on the station's HMI. The facility may choose to provide additional hardware (e.g. label printers) for the operators of these stations as needed for their processes.

Control of each of the systems discussed above may be provided by the computer system 8, 67, 320, 420, 451, 520, 680, 720 and 806 that is in communication with the programmable motion devices, the carriers, and the track modules. The computer systems also contain the knowledge (continuously updated) of the location and identity of each of the storage bins, and contains the knowledge (also continuously updated) of the location and identity of each of the destination bins. The system therefore, directs the movement of the storage bins and the destination bins, and retrieves objects from the storage bins, and distributes the objects to the destination bins in accordance with an overall manifest that dictates which objects must be provided in which destination boxes for shipment, for example, to distribution or retail locations.

In the systems of the present invention, throughput and storage may scale independently, and all inventory SKUs may reach all outbound containers. The systems are robust to failures due to redundancy, and inventory totes (storage bins) and outbound boxes (destination bins) may be handled interchangeably.

Those skilled in the art will appreciate that numerous modifications and variations may be made to the above disclosed embodiments without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention.

What is claimed is: