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Title:
ROBOT-ENABLED CASE PICKING
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2018/170102
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A robot-enabled method of picking cases in a warehouse (100) is provided. A robotic vehicle (800') includes a load platform (820) and a robotic order selector (860), and has access to an electronically stored representation of a warehouse (100). The representation includes a map that defines aisles for storing items (802) arranged as pick faces within the warehouse (100). A pick list is generated from an order; the pick list provides identifications of items (802) to be picked to fulfill the order. A plurality of stops at pick faces associated with the items (802) is determined. A route within the map is generated that includes the plurality of stops. The robotic vehicle (800') iteratively guides itself along the route and automatically stops at each of the plurality of stops to enable robotic loading of at least some of the items (802) from the pick list onto the load platform (820).

Inventors:
WEISS, Mitchell (523 Brook Street, Carlisle, Massachusetts, 01741, US)
Application Number:
US2018/022393
Publication Date:
September 20, 2018
Filing Date:
March 14, 2018
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
SEEGRID CORPORATION (216 RIDC Park West Drive, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 15275, US)
International Classes:
G05B19/418; B25J5/00; B65G1/137; B66F9/06; G06Q10/08
Domestic Patent References:
WO2012178048A12012-12-27
WO2016151505A12016-09-29
Foreign References:
US20150332213A12015-11-19
US20160101940A12016-04-14
US20160214808A12016-07-28
Other References:
None
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MELLO, David M. et al. (Onello & Mello, LLPThree Burlington Woods Driv, Burllington Massachusetts, 01803, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A robot-enabled method of picking cases in a storage facility, the method comprising:

providing a robotic vehicle having a processor configured to access a memory, a load platform, and a robotic arm, the robotic vehicle having access to an electronically stored representation of the storage facility, the representation including locations within the storage facility for storing items arranged as pick faces, wherein each pick face is a location designated for storage of one or more products;

generating a pick list from an order, the pick list providing identifications of items to be picked from a plurality of different pick faces to fulfill the order;

determining from the pick list the plurality of different pick faces associated with the items;

electronically generating a route within the storage facility that includes the plurality of different pick faces; and

the robotic vehicle iteratively navigating itself along the route and automatically stopping or slowing at each of the plurality of different pick faces to enable loading of at least some of the items from the pick list onto the load platform using the robotic arm.

2. A robotic vehicle, comprising:

a load platform configured to hold products;

a robotic arm configured to load items to and/or from the load platform;

a processor configured to:

generate a pick list from an order comprising a plurality of different products; and

generate navigation instructions from the pick list and an electronic map of a storage facility comprising a plurality of product pick faces, wherein each pick face is a location designated for storage of a product, the navigation instructions including a plurality of locations of a plurality of pick faces corresponding to the plurality of different products of the order; and

a vehicle control system configured to self-navigate the robotic vehicle through the storage facility in response to the navigation instructions, including: stopping or slowing at each of the plurality of different pick faces represented in the navigation instructions to enable loading of at least some of the plurality of different products from the order onto the load platform using the robotic arm.

3. A robotic case picking method performed by a robotic vehicle having a load platform and a robotic order selector, comprising:

the robotic vehicle self-navigating around a warehouse according to a route identifying one or more stops, each stop having one or more item to be picked;

automatically stopping at a stop from the one or more and robotically picking an item from the stop and loading the picked item onto the load platform.

4. The method of claim 3, wherein the one or more stops is a plurality of stops and the method includes the robotic vehicle self-navigating to each stop from the plurality of stops.

5. The method of claim 4, wherein the method further includes robotically picking and loading onto the load platform at least one item from more than one of the plurality of stops.

6. The method of claim 3, further comprising:

automatically stopping at a stop from the one or more and manually picking another item from the stop and loading the picked item onto the load platform.

Description:
ROBOT-ENABLED CASE PICKING

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] This application claims priority to U.S. non-provisional application

15/458,112 filed on March 14, 2017 and claims priority to U.S. provisional application 62/471,316 filed March 14, 2017, which are incorporated herein by reference in their entirety.

FIELD OF INTEREST

[0002] The present inventive concepts relate to the field of systems and methods in the field of storage facility management, and more particularly to systems and methods involved in case picking or selection.

BACKGROUND

[0003] A storage facility is a facility primarily used for storage of goods for commercial purposes, such as a warehouse. The storage is generally intended to be temporary, as such goods ultimately may be intended for a retailer, consumer or customer, distributor, transporter or other subsequent receiver. A warehouse can be a standalone facility, or can be part of a multi-use facility. Thousands of types of items can be stored in a typical warehouse. The items can be small or large, individual or bulk. It is common to load items on a pallet for transportation, and the warehouse may use pallets as a manner of internally transporting and storing items.

[0004] A well-run warehouse is well-organized and maintains an accurate inventory of goods. Goods can come and go frequently, throughout the day, in a warehouse. In fact, some large and very busy warehouses work three shifts, continually moving goods throughout the warehouse as they are received or needed to fulfill orders. Shipping and receiving areas, which may be the same area, are the location(s) in the warehouse where large trucks pick-up and drop-off goods. The warehouse can also include a staging area - as an intermediate area between shipping and receiving and storage aisles within the warehouse where the goods are stored. The staging area, for example, can be used for confirming that all items on the shipping manifest were received in acceptable condition. The staging area can also be used to build orders and pallets to fulfill orders that are to be shipped.

[0005] Goods in a warehouse tend to be moved in one of two ways, either by pallet or by cart (or trailer). A pallet requires a pallet transport for movement, such as a pallet jack, pallet truck, forklift, or stacker. A stacker is a piece of equipment that is similar to a fork lift, but can raise the pallet to significantly greater heights, e.g., for loading a pallet on a warehouse shelf. A cart requires a tugger (or "tow tractor"), which enables a user to pull the cart from place to place.

[0006] A pallet transport can be manual or motorized. A traditional pallet jack is a manually operated piece of equipment, as is a traditional stacker. When a pallet transport is motorized, it can take the form of a powered pallet jack, pallet truck, or forklift (or lift truck). A motorized stacker is referred to as a power stacker. A motorized pallet jack is referred to as a powered pallet jack, which an operator cannot ride, but walks beside. A pallet truck is similar to a powered pallet jack, but includes a place for an operator to stand.

[0007] As with motorized pallet transports, a tugger can be in the form of a drivable vehicle or in the form of a powered vehicle along the side of which the operator walks. In either form, a tugger includes a hitch that engages with a companion part on the cart, such as a sturdy and rigid ring or loop.

[0008] Automatic guided vehicle (AGV) forms of pallet trucks and powered tuggers exist. An AGV is a mobile robot that follows markers or wires in the floor, or uses vision or lasers to make its way without direct or remote control by an operator. They are most often used in industrial applications to move materials around a manufacturing facility or a warehouse, such as in the case of AGV forklifts and AGV tuggers.

[0009] FIG. 1 is a simplified diagram of a storage facility 100 in the form of a warehouse. Warehouses can range in size, e.g., a large warehouse can be 100,000 square feet or more. Warehouse 100 includes a shipping & receiving area 110 and a staging area 112. A loading dock may be provided, where goods can be loaded on and unloaded from trucks 116. In the staging area, pallets 114 are shown, and may be loaded with warehouse goods to fulfill an order. When a pallet 114 is loaded with goods, it can remain in the staging area 112 until it is ready for loading on a truck 116. In which case, the pallet 114 is moved to the shipping & receiving area 110 and then onto the truck 116.

[0010] Warehouse 100 includes a plurality of aisles and storage spaces (collectively aisles 120) where the goods are intended to be stored in an orderly manner. Additionally, zones can be defined in a warehouse - as a means for categorizing areas within a warehouse. A zone can be defined for an aisle, group of aisles, portion of an aisle, or various combinations thereof. In FIG. 1, several zones are defined, including zones A - E.

[0011] When one or more orders is to be filled, a "pick list" is generated, which tells an order selector (or picker) which aisles to go to and which goods to pick. Pallet transports or tuggers and carts (collectively pallet transport 130) are sent through warehouse 100 with the order selector to "pick" cases, totes, cartons, or other forms of containers of goods (collectively "cases" herein). A "tote" is a container that is used to fill an order on a piece- by-piece basis, where the pieces are individual goods or groupings of relatively small goods. The goods are arranged in aisles 120, and the same goods are arranged as a "pick face." A "pick face" is a location, usually a two-dimensional facing or area, in a warehouse or stock area that is designated for the storage of one or more products and is accessible by an order selector for order filling. The cases are loaded on pallet transport 130 and brought to either the staging area 112 or shipping & receiving area 110.

[0012] FIG. 2 is a block diagram of a front view of an aisle and pick faces that can exist in aisle 120. In this view, four pick faces are shown, i.e., pick faces 0, 1, 5, and 6. Pick faces 0 and 1 are located on a shelf and pick faces 5 and 6 are at ground level. Each pick face is defined for a certain product. For example, pick face 0 shows 6 cases of the same product in FIG. 2.

[0013] There are different approaches to arranging products in a warehouse, which is referred to as "slotting." Slotting is viewed by many to be the key to the efficiency of the warehouse operation, where the highest possible "pick rates" are desired. Generally speaking, "pick rate" means the number of cases or units picked per unit of time, e.g., cases per hour.

[0014] One common approach to slotting products is to use item velocity. Generally, the more popular a product is, the higher its item velocity - the faster or more frequently it moves in and out of the warehouse. When slotting by item velocity, it is typical to keep the products with the highest item velocities in zones closest to the shipping & receiving 110 area (or staging area 112). Meanwhile, items with the lowest item velocities tend to be in zones furthest away. Slotting by item velocity can reduce travel time within a warehouse when filling orders. Reducing travel time is an important factor in increasing pick rates - so it is considered quite advantageous to slot by item velocity.

[0015] Another way to slot products in a warehouse is by product categories - grocery stores tend to use this approach. For example, paper products may be a product category. One or more product categories may exist within a zone. To increase efficiency with this type of product slotting, it may be advantageous to pick all products from a category that are needed to fill multiple orders - and then put the orders together in the staging area 112.

[0016] There are many different methods for filling the order. The method chosen will typically depend on the way the products are slotted and whether or not cases are being picked versus individual products, e.g., a case of aspirin versus 12 bottles of aspirin. Some of the most common order picking methods are:

Single order picking— Each order selector selects a customer order and picks it to completion.

Batch picking— An order selector fills several orders at a time in order to reduce the amount of time spent traveling.

Pick and pass— Each order selector concentrates on his own area or zone and orders pass (mechanically or manually) from one order selector to the next.

Zone picking with aggregation on the shipping dock— Different zones send one or more cases to shipping for each order, and the cases from each zone are palletized together on the shipping dock.

Zone picking with aggregation at packing— Each zone sends one or more totes to a packing area (e.g., staging 112 in FIG. 1) with its portion of the order. At packing, all totes for an order are consolidated, and outbound cartons (e.g., boxes) are packed with the goods from the totes for a particular order. Zone picking without aggregation— Each zone fills its carton for the order, and these are sent directly to the shipping trailer.

Unit sortation— Order selectors pull batches of product from their zones that are then sorted to the order by a tilt tray or cross-belt sorter.

[0017] The appropriateness of a particular order filling method will also depend on its impact on pick rates. The higher the overall pick rate, the more efficient and cost effective the warehouse.

[0018] Referring again to FIG. 1, a warehouse management system, or WMS, 140 is a key part of the supply chain and primarily aims to control the movement and storage of goods within warehouse 100. The WMS can process transactions associated with the movement of goods into, out of, and within the warehouse, including shipping, receiving, putaway and picking. "Putaway" generally refers to moving goods into the warehouse or storage area at their designated storage locations, e.g., zones and pick faces.

[0019] The WMS can provide a set of computerized procedures to handle the tracking and management of goods at a warehouse, model and manage the logical representation of the physical storage facilities (e.g. racking etc.), and enable a seamless link to order processing and logistics management in order to pick, pack and ship product out of the warehouse. Warehouse management systems can be standalone systems, or modules of an enterprise resource management system or supply chain execution suite. Orders can be electronically received by a WMS or manually input. Pick lists can be automatically or manually generated from the order, which can include route optimization performed by the WMS.

[0020] When picking cases to fill orders, it is typical to use pallet transports 130 that are navigated through the warehouse 100 to pick faces within zones to retrieve the necessary product cases. When doing so, the pallet transport 130 is navigated under the control of the order selector. That is, the order selector looks at a first/ next item on a pick list, which indicates the aisle, pick face, and (optionally) zone where the corresponding product is located. The order selector drives the pallet transport to the pick face, and loads the appropriate number of cases on the pallet (or cart). This is done for each product on the pick list, until the order selector has worked completely through the pick list. [0021] If the order selector is only picking for a particular zone, he can bring the pallet transport to the next zone and hand it off to the next order selector to continue working down the pick list. If the order selector is picking the complete pick list, then he can drive the pallet transport to the shipping & receiving area 110 or staging area 112 when the order is complete.

SUMMARY OF INVENTION

[0022] In accordance with aspects of the present invention, provided is a robot- enabled method of picking cases in a storage facility. The method includes providing a robotic vehicle having a processor configured to access a memory and a load platform. The robotic vehicle has access to an electronically stored representation of the storage facility; the representation includes locations within the storage facility for storing items arranged as pick faces. A pick list is generated from an order, the pick list providing identifications of items to be picked to fulfill the order. From the pick list a plurality of pick faces associated with the items is determined. A route within the map is electronically generated that includes the plurality of pick faces. The robotic vehicle iteratively navigates itself along the route and automatically stops or slows down at each of the plurality of pick faces to enable loading of the items from the pick list onto the load platform. In some embodiments, the robotic vehicle include a robotic order selector configured to pick at least some of the items from the pick list and load them on the robotic vehicle.

[0023] The representation of the storage facility can be a two-dimensional map.

[0024] The method can further include manually entering the order to the robotic vehicle through a user input device.

[0025] The method can further include electronically communicating the order to the robotic vehicle. In such a case, the order can be electronically communicated to the robotic vehicle by a storage facility management system.

[0026] The method can further include manually entering the pick list to the robotic vehicle through a user input device. [0027] The method can further include electronically communicating the pick list to the robotic vehicle. In such a case, the pick list can be electronically communicated to the robotic vehicle by a storage facility management system.

[0028] The method can further include automatically generating the pick list from an electronically stored order.

[0029] The method can further include manually entering the route to the robotic vehicle through a user input device.

[0030] The method can further include electronically communicating the route to the robotic vehicle. In such a case, the route can be electronically communicated to the robotic vehicle by a storage facility management system.

[0031] The method can further include automatically generating the route from an electronically stored pick list.

[0032] The method can further include tracking the robotic vehicle using a wireless network. In such a case, the wireless network can include wireless access points distributed throughout the storage facility. And the method can further include determining a location of the robotic vehicle from a strength of one or more wireless signals transmitted by the robotic vehicle and received by one or more of the access points.

[0033] The method can further include the robotic vehicle initiating travel to a next pick face, of the plurality of pick faces, in response to a user input. In such a case, the user input can be a voice command. In other cases, the user input can be a gesture.

[0034] In other cases, the user input can be an actuation of a physical mechanism that provides an electronic signal to the robotic vehicle. The physical mechanism can be one or more of a button, RF gun, or touch screen.

[0035] The method can further include providing an output device, and the robot vehicle can communicate with a user via the output device.

[0036] The method can further include, at each pick face, the robotic vehicle outputting a message that identifies a set of items to be picked from the pick face to fill the order. [0037] In such a case, the message can further identify a quantity of each item in the set of items to be picked from the pick face to fill the order.

[0038] The message can further identify a specific position on the load platform to place a picked item.

[0039] The message can include an audio voice message.

[0040] The message can include a text output.

[0041] Outputting the message can include outputting a partem of one or more lights or symbols.

[0042] The output device can be a wireless Bluetooth device. The wireless Bluetooth device can communicate with a wireless headset or handset.

[0043] The output device can include a display.

[0044] The output device can include one or more lights.

[0045] Pick faces can be associated with predetermined zones, and the route can be determined on a zone-by-zone basis.

[0046] The robotic vehicle can be one of a plurality of robotic vehicles, and the method can include electronically optimizing routes of the plurality of vehicles to avoid congestion within the storage facility.

[0047] The method can further include electronically optimizing the route of the robotic vehicle to minimize robotic vehicle travel distance within the storage facility.

[0048] The method can further include electronically optimizing the route of the robotic vehicle to minimize order distance within the storage facility.

[0049] The method can further include electronically optimizing the route of the robotic vehicle to maximize pick rate.

[0050] The method can further include the robotic vehicle iteratively navigating itself along the route using an evidence grid populated with data indicating probabilities of locations of objects in the storage facility. The evidence grid can be a three-dimensional (3- D) evidence grid.

[0051] The method can further include the robotic vehicle collecting sensor data used to update the evidence grid while the robotic vehicle iteratively navigates itself along the route.

[0052] The representation of the storage facility can include a list of route segments.

[0053] The robotic vehicle can be a forklift.

[0054] The robotic vehicle can be a high lift.

[0055] The storage facility can be a warehouse.

[0056] The robotic vehicle can be a pallet truck and the load platform can be a pallet.

[0057] The robotic vehicle can be a tugger and the load platform can be a cart.

[0058] In accordance with some aspects of the inventive concepts, provided is a robot-enabled method of picking cases in a storage facility. The method comprises providing a robotic vehicle having a processor configured to access a memory, a load platform, and a robotic arm, the robotic vehicle having access to an electronically stored representation of the storage facility, the representation including locations within the storage facility for storing items arranged as pick faces, wherein each pick face is a location designated for storage of one or more products. The method further includes generating a pick list from an order, the pick list providing identifications of items to be picked from a plurality of different pick faces to fulfill the order and determining from the pick list the plurality of different pick faces associated with the items. The method also includes electronically generating a route within the storage facility that includes the plurality of different pick faces. And the robotic vehicle iteratively navigating itself along the route and automatically stopping or slowing at each of the plurality of different pick faces to enable loading of at least some of the items from the pick list onto the load platform using the robotic arm.

[0059] In accordance with some aspects of the inventive concepts, provided is a robotic vehicle comprising a load platform configured to hold products and a robotic arm configured to load items to and/or from the load platform. The robotic vehicle further includes a processor configured to: generate a pick list from an order comprising a plurality of different products and generate navigation instructions from the pick list and an electronic map of a storage facility comprising a plurality of product pick faces, wherein each pick face is a location designated for storage of a product, the navigation instructions including a plurality of locations of a plurality of pick faces corresponding to the plurality of different products of the order. And the robotic vehicle includes a vehicle control system configured to self-navigate the robotic vehicle through the storage facility in response to the navigation instructions, including stopping or slowing at each of the plurality of different pick faces represented in the navigation instructions to enable loading of at least some of the plurality of different products from the order onto the load platform using the robotic arm.

[0060] In accordance with some aspects of the inventive concepts, provided is a robotic case picking method performed by a robotic vehicle having a load platform and a robotic order selector. The method comprises the robotic vehicle self-navigating around a warehouse according to a route identifying one or more stops, each stop having one or more item to be picked and automatically stopping at a stop from the one or more and robotically picking an item from the stop and loading the picked item onto the load platform.

[0061] In some embodiments, the one or more stops is a plurality of stops and the method includes the robotic vehicle self-navigating to each stop from the plurality of stops.

[0062] In some embodiments, the method further includes robotically picking and loading onto the load platform at least one item from more than one of the plurality of stops.

[0063] In some embodiments, the method further comprises automatically stopping at a stop from the one or more and manually picking another item from the stop and loading the picked item onto the load platform.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0064] The present invention will become more apparent in view of the attached drawings and accompanying detailed description. The embodiments depicted therein are provided by way of example, not by way of limitation, wherein like reference numerals refer to the same or similar elements. In the drawings:

[0065] FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a simplified warehouse.

[0066] FIG. 2 is a block diagram of a front view of an aisle and pick faces.

[0067] FIG. 3 is a block diagram of an embodiment of a robotic vehicle modules that enable case picking, in accordance with aspects of the present invention.

[0068] FIGS. 4A and 4B are front views of an embodiment of pick face list displays, in accordance with aspects of the present invention.

[0069] FIG. 5 is a flowchart depicting an embodiment of a method of picking cases with robotic vehicle assistance, in accordance with aspects of the present invention.

[0070] FIG. 6 is a flowchart depicting an embodiment of a method of picking cases, in accordance with aspects of the present invention.

[0071] FIG. 7 is a flowchart depicting an embodiment of a method of picking cases using zones and robotic vehicle assistance, in accordance with aspects of the present invention.

[0072] FIG. 8A shows an embodiment of a robotic vehicle including a robotic order selector, in accordance with aspects of the present invention.

[0073] FIGS. 8B through 8G show another embodiment of a robotic vehicle including a robotic order selector, in accordance with aspects of the present invention.

[0074] FIG. 9 is a flowchart depicting an embodiment of a robotic case picking method, in accordance with aspects of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

[0075] It will be understood that, although the terms first, second, etc. may be used herein to describe various elements, these elements should not be limited by these terms. These terms are used to distinguish one element from another, but not to imply a required sequence of elements. For example, a first element can be termed a second element, and, similarly, a second element can be termed a first element, without departing from the scope of the present invention. As used herein, the term "and/or" includes any and all combinations of one or more of the associated listed items.

[0076] It will be understood that when an element is referred to as being "on" or

"connected" or "coupled" to another element, it can be directly on or connected or coupled to the other element or intervening elements may be present. In contrast, when an element is referred to as being "directly on" or "directly connected" or "directly coupled" to another element, there are no intervening elements present. Other words used to describe the relationship between elements should be interpreted in a like fashion (e.g., "between" versus "directly between," "adjacent" versus "directly adjacent," etc.).

[0077] The terminology used herein is for the purpose of describing particular embodiments only and is not intended to be limiting of the invention. As used herein, the singular forms "a," "an" and "the" are intended to include the plural forms as well, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise. It will be further understood that the terms "comprises," "comprising," "includes" and/or "including," when used herein, specify the presence of stated features, steps, operations, elements, and/or components, but do not preclude the presence or addition of one or more other features, steps, operations, elements, components, and/or groups thereof.

[0078] Unless otherwise indicated herein, the term "order selector" can indicate, mean, or include a human user, a robotic user, and/or a semi-automated user.

[0079] FIG. 3 is a block diagram of an embodiment of a robotic vehicle 330 and various robotic vehicle modules 300 that can be used to enable case picking, in accordance with aspects of the present invention. Those skilled in the art will appreciate that in this embodiment, the functions of modules 300 could be provided in modules other than those shown in FIG. 3. As an example, modules 300 can take the form of computer program code stored in a non-transitory storage media 316 and executed by at least one processor 320.

[0080] FIG. 3 also shows a user device 340 that serves as a device that enables an order selector (e.g., a user) to interact with the robotic vehicle, e.g., to provide inputs. The user device 340 can be part of, or onboard, robotic vehicle 330 or it can be a separate device, or some combination thereof. For example, user device 340 could be part of a control system on robotic vehicle 330 or it could be a handheld wireless device. In other embodiments, the user device could be a device stationed in a zone or aisle or at a pick face. In other embodiments, the user device could be distributed across two or more of the robotic vehicle, a handheld device, a stationary device in a zone or aisle or at a pick face, and a storage facility management system.

[0081] A communication module 302 enables communication between robotic vehicle 330 and extemal systems, such as a storage facility management system 140' (e.g., a warehouse management system WMS 140'), and user device 340. The communication between these different systems, subsystems, and/or entities will be as described herein, but could be different in other embodiments. Communication module 302 can enable one or more known or hereafter developed types of communication, whether wired or wireless, and implement the necessary protocols and message formats associated therewith. Such types of communication can include, but are not limited to, Ethernet, Bluetooth, wireless modem/ router, high speed wire, radio frequency, and so on.

[0082] An order module 304 can be used to receive and order from WMS 140' or user device 340, in this embodiment. That is, WMS 140' can receive an order from an external source, e.g., over the Internet, intranet, extranet, virtual private network (VPN), and so on, and communicate the order to robotic vehicle modules 300 via communication module 302. Otherwise, order module 304 could receive an order from a non-transitory memory, such as a Flash drive, CD ROM, or similar storage device.

[0083] In some embodiments, user device 340 could be used to transmit an order to robotic vehicle modules 300, via communication module 302. In FIG. 3, various input and output mechanisms are shown for a user device 340. These include a keypad or keyboard 349, input display (e.g., touch screen) 342, and a voice input (e.g., microphone) 344, in this embodiment. User device 340 could be a cell phone, personal digital assistance, or similar network enabled, handheld device, as examples. The display can be any wireless type display, e.g., radio frequency (RF) display.

[0084] When an order is received, or otherwise electronically stored at the robotic vehicle 300, a pick list module 306 can process the order to generate a pick list. A pick list, therefore, is a list of items to be picked in the warehouse to fill at least one order. In addition to the order, the pick list module 306 can generate the pick list using various types of information, such as product inventory. The pick list could also be generated using information relating to pick zones associated with products, and pick faces within pick zones where the products physically reside. Alternatively, a user may specify a pick list manually, e.g., via an interface on or off the robotic vehicle, such as the user interactive screens shown in FIGS. 4A-4B. This information can be stored in storage device 316, or made available from WMS 140'.

[0085] With a pick list generated, a route module 308 can be used to generate a route through the warehouse to be followed by robotic vehicle 330, as the robotic vehicle works its way through the warehouse to gather the products. In addition to the pick list, route module 308 can generate the route using various types of information, such as an electronic map representing the warehouse, including pick zones and pick faces within pick zones. As will be appreciated by those skilled in the art, the route module may include functionality to optimize the route based on minimizing distance travelled, minimizing congestion (in view of routes of other robotic vehicles), minimizing time, and/or order stacking considerations (e.g., heaviest items on bottom), as examples. The route can be stored in storage device 316, or made available from WMS 140'.

[0086] While order module 304, pick list module 306, and route module 308 are shown as part of robotic vehicle 330, in other embodiments one or more of the foregoing could reside at the WMS 140', or at one or more other systems that communicate with WMS 140' and/or robotic vehicle 330. In some embodiments, one or more of these modules may reside at user device 340.

[0087] Vehicle control system 135 is that system that generally causes robotic vehicle

330 to travel through the facility. It can receive instructions, and automatically route itself to a destination within a facility, e.g. a warehouse. Robotic vehicles can use electronic maps, markers, vision systems, and so on for guidance. However, typical robotic vehicles have no ability to iterate themselves through an environment (e.g., a facility).

[0088] Vehicle control module 310 communicates with vehicle control system 135 to achieve an iterative robotic navigation through an environment, in this case warehouse 100. Vehicle control system 310 can use the route created by route module 308, which includes the pick zone and pick face information necessary to fill the initial order. As will be described in greater detail, vehicle control module 310 can cause vehicle control system 135 to robotically navigate to a pick face within a pick zone.

[0089] An order selector system 137 can be included to control or facilitate robotic selecting of items from pick faces and loading of such items on the robotic vehicle. The order selector system can include its own processor(s) and memory, as well as functional logic useful in enabling the robotic order selector (850 in FIG. 8) to select, transfer, and load items between pick faces (or other storage arrangements) and a load platform of the robotic vehicle.

[0090] In some embodiments, vehicle control module 310 can be configured to communicate with the order selector system 137, to provide necessary data, information, and instructions useful to enable the robotic order selector to transfer items between pick faces and the robotic vehicle. Such information can include, but is not limited to, information identifying the pick list, the pick faces, and/or when the robotic vehicle is at a pick face and which pick face it is.

[0091] In some embodiments, an input/output (I/O) manager 312 communicates the picking information to an order selector, e.g., a user, that either rides or walks beside the robotic vehicle, or may be stationed at a zone or pick face. Display in module 342 and display out module 346 could be the same device, such as a touch screen. The output at the user device 340 could take the form of screens, and/or audio output via audio out module 348. The output could also include the output of light patterns, symbols, or other graphical or visual effects.

[0092] Once the items are picked, the user, by operating a user device, such as user device 340, can indicate such to the robotic vehicle 130, via I/O manager 312. For example, a user could simply say "Go" or "Next," via audio in module 344, and vehicle control module 310 could cause the vehicle control system to navigate to the next stop in the route. Additionally, or alternatively, the user may be allowed to use a keypad 349 or touch screen (display in module 342) entry to accomplish the same action.

[0093] In the embodiments of FIGS. 4A and 4B, an approach to manually creating a pick list by hand is shown. Here, Up, Down, Left, and Right keys are provided to enable a user to choose specific pick faces to be included in a pick list, which can be displayed via display out module 346. Each pick face number represents a different pick face - where selection of a pick face adds the pick face to the pick list.

[0094] Pick lists can be created in others ways in other embodiments. For example, an order could be entered and a pick list could be automatically generated. The present invention is not limited to the manual approach of FIGS. 4A and 4B, nor is it limited to those screens or functionality.

[0095] FIG. 5 is a flowchart depicting an embodiment of a method 500 of picking cases with robotic vehicle assistance, in accordance with aspects of the present invention. This method can be carried out by the robotic vehicle modules 300 of FIG. 3, or similar systems. Method 500 can take at least the following two forms:

• Follow-Model with Button - Demonstrates the ability for a worker (i.e., user or order selector) to team with a robotic vehicle to travel a warehouse and pick an order without getting on or off a pallet jack. The order selector can direct or control the flow of the robotic vehicle.

• Follow-Model with Voice Option - Complete hands-free operation of a robotic vehicle to partner with an order selector to pick cases can be provided. Here the order selector can be freed from hands-on interaction with the robotic vehicle. The order selector uses a voice system to command the robot start/stop/slow down. The order selector directs or controls the flow of the robotic vehicle and the voice system tells the order selector what to do. In other embodiments, the order selector could interact with the robotic vehicle using gestures, e.g. hand signals.

[0096] As shown in FIG. 5, a pick list can be entered into the robotic vehicle in step

510, and the order selector can initiate robotic vehicle travel to a first pick face in step 512. Robotic travel can be initiated by voice, gesture, button or other user interactive mechanism. In step 514, the robotic vehicle navigates to the pick face. In step 516, the order selector picks the products from the pick face. If the route is complete, step 518, the picked load is delivered, in step 520. The load could be delivered to a shipping and receiving area, a zone in the warehouse, or some other designated location. If the route was not complete in step 518, the method returns to step 512, where the user initiates robotic travel to the next pick face.

[0097] FIG. 6 is a flowchart depicting an embodiment of a method 600 of picking cases, in accordance with aspects of the present invention. This method can be carried out by the robotic vehicle modules 300 of FIG. 3, or similar systems. Method 600 can take at least the following two forms:

• Auto-Location Case Picking - A pre-programmed map of the warehouse sets up each location as a distance grid and can be set as a pause or slow down location for the robotic vehicle. For each order, stops or slow downs are "Selected" based on the location of the product on that order. The robotic vehicle travels through the warehouse in a pre-determined path, stopping or slowing where the order needs product. The order selector walks along with the robotic vehicle and the voice system tells him when to pick and what to pick. The voice command will tell the robotic vehicle to go to the next location.

• WMS-Directed Location Case Picking - An order will be sent to a robotic vehicle from the WMS 140'. Based on the locations in that order, the robotic vehicle will travel a "Smart Path" that is created based on the order stops or slow downs. The robotic vehicle will travel to each location and stop or slow down for work. This creates the flexibility to have the order selectors follow the robotic vehicle or wait in pre-assigned zones for the robotic vehicles to arrive for work, or be dynamically dispatched to successive pick faces by a centralized system, e.g., WMS 140'.

[0098] As shown in FIG. 6, a robotic vehicle can be provided with a map representing the warehouse, in step 610. In step 612, a pick list is generated from an order. The pick list can be manually generated, computer generated, or some combination thereof. Pick faces are determined in step 614, and a route can be determined from the pick faces, in step 616. Step 618 begins iterative guidance through the warehouse. In step 618, navigation can be initiated by the user with a command input to the robotic vehicle. The robotic vehicle navigates to the next pick face based on the route and map. [0099] In step 620, product is picked from the pick face, and loaded on the robotic vehicle, e.g., a pallet transport or tugger with cart. If, in step 622, the route is complete, the load can be delivered, as described above. But if the route is not complete, the process returns to step 618 for robotic navigation to the next pick face. After the load is delivered the robotic vehicle can navigate to a staging area, in step 626.

[00100] FIG. 7 is a flowchart depicting an embodiment of a method 700 of picking cases using zones and robotic vehicle assistance, in accordance with aspects of the present invention. This method can be carried out by the robotic vehicle modules 300 of FIG. 3, or similar systems. Method 700 can take at least the following form:

• Zone Case Picking - The order selectors are assigned to strategic zones ("pick zones") that are dynamic enough to be changed in order to balance productivity/capacity of the order selectors and the capacity/utilization of the robotic vehicles. Cases/Hour rates can be set per zone to minimize the amount of travel for different zones/order selectors based on density for a certain area. The robotic vehicle will allow an Ops Manager to set the zones for the day/time-period and the robotic vehicles based on the volume for the day. The WMS 140' can assign orders to the robotic vehicles (or an operator can scan in an order when pallets are loaded on the robotic vehicle) and the order locations will be used to direct the robotic vehicle where it needs to go. In some embodiments, robotic vehicle modules 300 will optimize the path decision for the robotic vehicle to get from location to location, as described herein. The order selector can interact with each robotic vehicle that arrives in a zone by logging into the "Robot Order" or an auto-logon based on the zone the robotic vehicle is in, so that the order selector can be directed via a voice or other signal to pick a number of cases from the pick faces in that zone. The robotic vehicle can be directed via a voice signal or other signal to move onto the next zone. For example, such signals could include a physical human gesture, a hands-on or remote order selector input, or some other signal.

[00101] As shown in FIG. 7, zones are defined within the warehouse 100, in step 710, and the zones are staffed with order selectors in step 712. In step 714, an order, pick list and/or route are loaded into the robotic vehicle. In step 716, the robotic vehicle navigates to a zone. An order selector logs into an order, in step 718, either directly at the robotic vehicle or through an electronic device that communicates with the robotic vehicle either directly or through the WMS 140. In step 720, the robotic vehicle navigates to the first pick face in the zone. The order selector loads the items in step 722. If picking within the zone is not complete, in step 726, the robotic vehicle navigates to the next pick face within the same zone.

[00102] If, in step 724, picking in the zone is complete, a determination is made of whether or not there is a next zone, in step 728. If so, the robotic vehicle goes to a next zone in step 730. If not, the robotic vehicle delivers the load, in step 732. After the load is delivered, the robotic vehicle could go to a staging area, as in step 734. For example, the robotic vehicle could go to a shipping and receiving area, as an example, if the order is complete.

[00103] In various embodiments described herein, the robotic vehicle has one or more of the order, pick list and route locally stored. But in other embodiments, one or more of the foregoing could be externally stored, e.g., at the WMS, and communicated to the robotic vehicle as needed - perhaps just in time. For example, when an order selector loads product from a pick face and is ready to initiate robot self-navigation to a next location, a voice or other input could cause the robotic vehicle to receive the next pick face location from the WMS or other external system.

[00104] In accordance with aspects of the present invention, a variety of case picking solutions are possible by including a robot control system in facility equipment, such as pallet transports, forklift, highlifts, and tuggers, to form a robotic vehicle. The resulting flexibility can be enhanced by interfacing the robotic vehicle with a storage facility management system to maximize the utilization of robotic vehicles to support a combination of factors that are important, in varying degrees, to each customer/ facility. Balancing cases/hour with the labor costs and orders/hour may have different implications for efficiency and impact other areas, like put-away and shipping. There is great value in letting each facility balance its own people, processes and robots to achieve its own goals.

[00105] At the same time, the robot control system is flexible enough to integrate with other technology in use at the warehouse. The robots take direction from the WMS order, e.g., as orders are printed for the pickers, can follow an optimal path, and can display what to pick for the worker on a screen mounted on the robot. The robots can arrive at a zone and the worker can read the screen for what to pick. Additionally or alternatively, the voice system can tell the worker what to pick. No matter the infrastructure and goals for that day and for that warehouse, the robot control system can be tuned on the fly to support the needs in realtime. For instance, a warehouse can use label picking in perishables, voice in dry goods, and/or RF display in bulk, as examples. The robots can travel from location to location and the workers can be prompted via the method they are using.

[00106] FIG. 8A shows an embodiment of a robotic vehicle 800 including a robotic order selector 850, in accordance with aspects of the present invention.

[00107] The robotic vehicle 800 can be substantially similar to the robotic vehicle 330 discussed above, including the various robotic vehicle modules 300 described with respect thereto. The robotic vehicle 800 can also include a user device 840, which can be substantially similar to user device 340. In this embodiment, the robotic vehicle 800 is a pallet truck configured for manual driving and also for robotic, self-navigating, driving. For the purposes of the inventive concept, the user device 840 and the ability for manual driving are optional, not essential.

[00108] The robotic vehicle 800 can include a load platform 820 configured to receive and hold items or products, e.g., for transport. As used herein, the term "load platform" can be or include a pallet, a bin, a cart, or other structure or vehicle forming part of, supported by, pulled or pushed by, or attached or coupled to the robotic vehicle.

[00109] In this embodiment, the robotic vehicle 800 includes and/or is equipped with a robotic order selector 850 that includes a robotic arm 852 configured to engage an item or product from a pick face and load it onto the robotic vehicle, or other vehicle or structure. At a distal end of the robotic arm is an item engager 854, which forms part of the order selector 850. The item engager 854 is configured to sufficiently engage the item or product for lifting, carrying, and moving. The item engager 854 can include a suction system that grips and holds the item or product, or some other engagement mechanism known in the art.

[00110] Referring also to FIG. 2, FIG. 8A shows items 802 and 804 taken from pick face 0 in FIG. 2, as an example. Item 802 has already been transferred from pick face 0 to the load platform 820 by the robotic order selector 850. However, item 804 is in the process of being transferred, and is being held by item engager 854 while robotic arm 852 transfers item 804 to the load platform 820.

[0011 1] Referring also to FIG. 3, control of the robotic order selector 850 could be provided by vehicle control module 310, or some other functional module included in the various robotic vehicle modules 300 described with respect to FIG. 3. In still other embodiments, the robotic order selector 850 could include its own processor, memory, and functional modules for its own control, collectively "order selector system" 137 in FIG. 3. In such cases, pick face and pick list information can be electronically communicated to the order selector system 137 to enable to robotic order selector 850 to select items from the pick faces.

[00112] When the robotic order selector 850 is included with the robotic vehicle, the need for a human order selector may be avoided. However, in some embodiments, some items from the pick list can be loaded by the robotic order selector, while other items from the pick list could be loaded manually. For example, some pick faces could be electronically designated for manual loading and others for robotic loading. Such designations can form part of a set of electronic instructions or information provided as part of or in conjunction with the route, for example, or other navigation instructions.

[00113] As an example, the robotic vehicle 800 could use the robotic arm 852 to automatically load the items or products onto the load platform 820 of the robotic vehicle 800. For instance, the robotic vehicle 800 could self-navigate to a pick face, the robotic order selector 850 could select an item from the pick face and place it in or on the load platform 820 and then self-navigate to the next pick face and do the same. This could continue until all items from the pick list have been picked.

[00114] In various embodiments, the robotic vehicle can include a stereo camera head 810 useful for collecting data useful in the self-navigation functions of the robotic vehicle 800. In some embodiments, the camera head 810 can provide 360 degrees of stereo image data. In some embodiments, the camera head 810 can provide image data useful for identifying a pick face, identifying an item or product to be picked from the pick face, engaging the item or product for transfer from the pick face to the load platform, and/or loading the item on the load platform. Robotic vehicle 330 discussed above could also include such a stereo camera head. [00115] In other embodiments, the order selector 850 could include one or more sensors 856, which could include any number of different types of sensors including, but not limited to, cameras, stereo cameras, sonar sensors, pressure sensor, and so forth. Such sensors 856 could be disposed on or in the item engager 854, robotic arm 852, and/or other portions of the robotic order selector 850. In various embodiments, sensor 856 is at least one camera forming part of or disposed on at least one part of the robotic order selector 850. In various embodiments, the sensors 856 could be used in conjunction with image date from the stereo camera head 810 for the transfer of item between the pick faces and the load platform.

[00116] FIGS. 8B through 8G show another embodiment of a robotic vehicle 800' including a robotic order selector 860, in accordance with aspects of the present invention.

[00117] In this embodiment, the robotic order selector 860 differs from the robotic order selector of FIG. 8A in that robotic order selector 860 can reach into a storage space to grip and secure an item 802. Differently, robotic order selector 850 is generally geared toward gripping and securing an item 802 from a top surface or portion of the item. That is, the robotic arm 852 of FIG. 8A includes a somewhat standard hinge arrangement that lends itself to accessing storage volumes, and the items stored therein, from the top. Therefore, when items are stored on shelved pallets, as in FIG. 2, items on the top shelf can be accessed and gripped by the robotic order selector 850 of FIG. 8A. However, the robotic arm 852 is not configured to reach into a lower shelf, for example, to grip and secure an item below the top shelved pallets. Order selector 860 solves this problem.

[00118] Referring to FIG. 8B, the robotic vehicle 800' is shown posed or parked next to a series of pallets comprising a plurality of pick faces, such as those shown in FIG. 2. Item 802 is being picked by the order selector 860. In this embodiment, the robotic order selector 860 includes a robotic arm 862, an item engager 864, and a substantially vertical arm guide 866. The robotic arm 862 can translate up and down the arm guide 866 for height adjustment. A motor or other translation mechanism can be configured to selectively translate the robotic arm up 862 and down the arm guide 866. The robotic arm 862 can remain substantially horizontal as it translates up and down the arm guide 866. In various embodiments, the item engager 864 can utilize any of a variety of types gripping mechanism, such as suction. [00119] The robotic arm 862, however, is different from the robotic arm 852 of FIG.

8A in that robotic arm 862 is hinged and configured to rotate over itself to reach into a storage volume, e.g., from a side rather than a top. Therefore, the robotic arm 862 does not have the "generic elbow" design of robotic arm 852, so robotic arm 862 can reach into the pick face without being obstructed.

[00120] FIG. 8C shows the robotic arm 862 at or near the top of the arm guide 866, and is partially extended so that the item engager 864 engages item 802. FIG. 8D shows the robotic arm 862 of the order selector 860 pulling the item 802 from the pick face. FIG. 8E shows the robotic arm 862 of the order selector 860 gripping and holding item 802 as it translates item 802 from the pick face to the platform 820 of the robotic vehicle 800' .

[00121] FIG. 8F shows the robotic arm 862 of the order selector 860 gripping and holding item 802 and further translating item 802 from the pick face to the platform 820 of the robotic vehicle 800'. The robotic arm 862 has rotated item 802 while staying substantially horizontal. Item 802 is rotated for placement in the load platform 820. FIG. 8G shows the robotic arm 862 translated partially down the arm guide 866 and the robotic arm 862 extended placing the item 802 on a pallet in the load platform 820.

[00122] While the above has described transferring items and/or product from pick faces to a load platform of a robotic vehicle, those skilled in the art will appreciate that the same apparatus could be configured to transfer items or products from the load platform to one or more pick faces.

[00123] FIG. 9 is a flowchart depicting an embodiment of a robotic case picking method 900, in accordance with aspects of the present invention.

[00124] According to the method 900, a self-navigating robotic vehicle is provided in step 902. The robotic vehicle includes a load platform and a robotic order selector. For example, the robotic vehicle can be robotic vehicle 800 from FIG. 8, comprising order selector 850.

[00125] From an order comprising one or more items to be picked, a pick list is generated, e.g., as described above, in step 904. A set of pick faces corresponding to the items to be picked is determined, e.g., as described above, in step 906. A route through a warehouse comprising the pick faces is generated, e.g., as described above, in step 908. [00126] In step 910, the robotic vehicle self-navigates to a pick face using the route and the robotic order selector selects the item to be picked from the pick face and physically picks, transfers the picked item to the platform of the robotic vehicle. In step 912, a determination is made of whether all items have been picked. If all items have not yet been picked, the robotic vehicle self-navigates to the next pick face for loading of the next item, repeating step 910. This can be repeated until all items are picked.

[00127] In some cases, some pick faces can be designated for manual loading, while others can be designated for automated robotic loading. Therefore, in an alternative embodiment, in step 910 products can be robotically or manually loaded, depending on the pick face. According to the method, at least some pick faces are robotically picked and loaded.

[00128] While the foregoing has described what are considered to be the best mode and/or other preferred embodiments, it is understood that various modifications may be made therein and that the invention or inventions may be implemented in various forms and embodiments, and that they may be applied in numerous applications, only some of which have been described herein. It is intended by the following claims to claim that which is literally described and all equivalents thereto, including all modifications and variations that fall within the scope of each claim.