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Title:
ROBOTIC STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL SYSTEM
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2016/109498
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A storage and retrieval system includes a robotic retriever that is operable to travel to and from a shelving unit and to climb the shelving unit to a desired shelf location. The robotic retriever is operable to retrieve a container supported by the desired shelf or to move a container carried by the robotic retriever onto the desired shelf. The robotic retriever may use recognition technology to recognize a particular container or shelf location. The storage and retrieval system is configured for complete hands-off operation once a storage or retrieval operation has been requested by a use. In one aspect the system incorporates wireless technology to allow remote operation and direction by the user. A hand-held controller, such as a smart phone, may allow the user to direct the operation of the storage and retrieval system, as well as maintain historical records associated with the stored containers.

Inventors:
ROAN, Philip (611 S. Grant St, San Mateo, CA, 94402, US)
OSENTOSKI, Sarah (286 Florance St, Sunnyvale, CA, 94086, US)
KROEGER, Martin (Schickhardtstr. 31, Suttgart, Suttgart, DE)
BHAT, Shilpa (246 Acalanes Drive, #8Sunnyvale, CA, 94086, US)
BOSATELLI, Simone (Gutenbergstr. 65, Stuttgart, Stuttgart, DE)
Application Number:
US2015/067812
Publication Date:
July 07, 2016
Filing Date:
December 29, 2015
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
ROBERT BOSCH GMBH (Postfach 30 02 20, Stuttgart, Stuttgart, DE)
ROAN, Philip (611 S. Grant St, San Mateo, CA, 94402, US)
OSENTOSKI, Sarah (286 Florance St, Sunnyvale, CA, 94086, US)
KROEGER, Martin (Schickhardtstr. 31, Suttgart, Suttgart, DE)
BHAT, Shilpa (246 Acalanes Drive, #8Sunnyvale, CA, 94086, US)
BOSATELLI, Simone (Gutenbergstr. 65, Stuttgart, Stuttgart, DE)
International Classes:
B65G1/04; B25J5/00; B25J11/00; B25J19/00; B65G1/06; F16H19/04; G06K7/10; G06K7/14; G06K19/06; G06K19/07
Domestic Patent References:
WO2011116458A12011-09-29
Foreign References:
US20120029687A12012-02-02
US20140308098A12014-10-16
US20020027742A12002-03-07
US20020177924A12002-11-28
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MAGINOT, Paul, J. (Maginot, Moore & Beck LLPOne Indiana Square, Suite 220, Indianapolis IN, 46204, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A robotic storage and retrieval system comprising:

a shelving unit including;

at least one vertical column of a plurality of vertically arranged storage locations, each storage location sized to receive a container;

a unique identifier associated with each of the plurality of storage locations; and

a pair of vertical rails associated with each of the at least one vertical column; and

a robotic retriever defining a cavity sized to receive the container and including; a drive mechanism for propelling the retriever to a position adjacent a lowermost one of the storage locations of the shelving unit;

a recognition unit configured to recognize the unique identifier of each of the plurality of storage locations;

a traction drive mechanism adapted to engage the pair of vertical rails to propel the retriever vertically along the at least one vertical column;

a retriever apparatus operable to engage a container to move the container between a storage location and the cavity of the robotic retriever; and

a processor operable to execute instructions to control the drive mechanism and traction drive mechanism to drive the retriever to a storage location according to the unique identifier as recognized by the recognition unit, and to operate the retriever apparatus to move a container between the storage location and the cavity of the robotic retriever.

2. The robotic storage and retrieval system of claim 1 , wherein the pair of vertical rails and the traction drive mechanism include a rack and pinion arrangement, with the traction drive mechanism including a pair of traction wheels in the form of a pinion gear and the pair of vertical rails are configured in the form of a rack gear.

3. The robotic storage and retrieval system of claim 1, further comprising a gripper apparatus between the shelving unit and the robotic retriever operable to maintain the retriever in engagement with the pair of side rails as the retriever is propelled vertically along the side rails.

4. The robotic storage and retrieval system of claim 3, wherein the gripper apparatus includes a pair of arms extendable from the robotic retriever, each arm including a roller adapted to engage a corresponding one of the side rails of the shelving unit.

5. The robotic storage and retrieval system of claim 1, wherein:

the unique identifier is one of a bar code, an RFID and a unique image; and the recognition unit is a corresponding one of a bar code reader, an RFID reader and a camera with associated image recognition software.

6. The robotic storage and retrieval system of claim 1 , wherein the drive mechanism includes a plurality of ground-engaging wheels operable to steer the robotic retriever between the shelving unit and a separate idle location.

7. The robotic storage and retrieval system of claim 1, wherein the robotic retriever includes an on-board power supply for providing power to the drive mechanism, the recognition unit, the traction drive mechanism and the retriever apparatus.

8. The robotic storage and retrieval system of claim 1, wherein the retriever apparatus includes an extension mechanism mounted to a back wall of the robotic retriever within the cavity and a grabber at an extendable end of the extension mechanism, the grabber configured to engage a container.

9. The robotic storage and retrieval system of claim 8, wherein the grabber includes one of a magnetic component and a latch component configured to engage a corresponding receiver on the container.

10. The robotic storage and retrieval system of claim 1, wherein the shelving unit includes a plurality of vertical columns of a plurality of vertically arranged storage locations.

11. The robotic storage and retrieval system of claim 1, wherein the processor includes a wireless communication component and is operable for wireless communication with a remote device.

12. The robotic storage and retrieval system of claim 11, wherein the remote device is a smart phone.

13. A method for robotic storage and retrieval of a container to and from a shelving unit having a plurality of vertical columns of a plurality of vertically arranged storage locations, the method comprising:

identifying a desired storage location;

directing a robotic retriever to a corresponding vertical column in which the desire storage location resides;

engaging the robotic retriever to a pair of vertical rails at the corresponding vertical column;

propelling the robotic retriever vertically along the pair of vertical rails until the robotic retriever is disposed at the desired storage location; and

with a retriever apparatus of the robotic retriever conveying the container between the robotic retriever and the desired storage location.

14. The method for robotic storage and retrieval of a container of claim 13, wherein the robotic retriever is directed to conduct the storage and retrieval function by user using a smart phone.

Description:
ROBOTIC STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL SYSTEM

Priority Claim

This application claims priority to co-pending U.S. Provisional Application No. 62/097,407, filed on December 29, 2014, the entire disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference.

Background

The present disclosure relates to robotic systems and devices, and particularly to systems for storing and retrieving items.

Storing and organizing items is a daunting task for many people. Homeowners or renters inevitably collect "stuff" and equally inevitably store that stuff in a haphazard manner that is neither efficient nor conducive to ready retrieval. Even with storage shelves many homeowners or renters may start out organized but the law of entropy prevails as the shelved items become increasingly disorganized over time. Studies have shown that as many as half the homeowners have to park at least one car outside their house because of all the "stuff" taking up garage space. Other surveys have shown that the majority of homeowners want to get organized but do not know how to become and stay organized. The problem of organizing items is not limited to the residential arena, but infects small businesses as well.

Consequently, there is a need for a system that helps a person organize, store and retrieve items with ease.

Summary

A robotic storage and retrieval system comprises a shelving unit including at least one vertical column of a plurality of vertically arranged storage locations, each storage location sized to receive a container, a unique identifier associated with each of the plurality of storage locations, and a pair of vertical rails associated with each of the at least one vertical column.

The system further comprises a robotic retriever defining a cavity sized to receive the container. The robotic retriever includes a drive mechanism for propelling the retriever to a position adjacent a lowermost one of the storage locations of the shelving unit, a recognition unit configured to recognize the unique identifier of each of the plurality of storage locations, and a traction drive mechanism adapted to engage the pair of vertical rails to propel the retriever vertically along the at least one vertical column.

In a further aspect, the robotic retriever includes a retriever apparatus operable to engage a container to move the container between a storage location and the cavity of the robotic retriever, and a processor operable to execute instructions to control the drive mechanism and traction drive mechanism to drive the retriever to a storage location according to the unique identifier as recognized by the recognition unit, and to operate the retriever apparatus to move a container between the storage location and the cavity of the robotic retriever.

Description of the Figures

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a robotic retriever disclosed herein.

FIG. 2 is a front view of the robotic retriever shown in FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 is a perspective view of a shelving unit for use with the robotic retriever shown in FIGS. 1-2.

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a hand-held controller for the robotic retriever shown in FIGS. 1-2.

FIG. 5 is a top view of the robotic retriever of FIGS. 1-2 engaged to the shelving unit of FIG. 3.

FIG. 6 is a series of diagrams showing the steps in retrieving a container from the shelving unit using the robotic retriever disclosed herein.

FIG. 7 is a depiction of screen shots from a smart-phone app for accessing and controlling the storage and retrieval system disclosed herein.

Detailed Description

For the purposes of promoting an understanding of the principles of the disclosure, reference will now be made to the embodiments illustrated in the drawings and described in the following written specification. It is understood that no limitation to the scope of the disclosure is thereby intended. It is further understood that the present disclosure includes any alterations and modifications to the illustrated embodiments and includes further applications of the principles disclosed herein as would normally occur to one skilled in the art to which this disclosure pertains.

The present disclosure contemplates a robotic system that automatically stores and retrieves containers from a shelving unit. The robotic system includes a robotic retriever 10 shown in FIG. 1 that has a body 12 with a pair of drive wheels 20 and a pair of steerable wheels 22. The retriever 10 includes a drive motor (not shown) operable to rotate the drive wheels and a steering mechanism (not shown) operable to pivot the steerable wheels 22. The drive motor and steering mechanism can be of known configurations particularly useful for propelling robotic devices. The body 12 may house a power supply (not shown), such as a rechargeable battery, as well as control electronics for the drive motor and steering mechanism. The control electronics may incorporate a processor capable of executing control instructions of a software program stored in a memory associated with the processor or in a remote central memory. The control electronics may further include wireless capabilities, with at least wireless receiving capabilities for receiving instructions from a remote controller, such as the hand-held controller 150 depicted in FIG. 4. The control electronics, processor and software program may be of known configuration and functionality that is particularly useful for controlling the movement of robotic devices. The power supply, electronics and processor may be embedded within the body 12 or contained within a housing mounted to the body 12 in a conventional manner, such as the self-contained power and electronics component 19 shown in FIG. 2. The electronics and processor may incorporate input and output elements 19a, such as for connecting the power supply to an external power outlet, or such as a conventional USB port for interfacing with an external device or with a USB memory device. The component 19 may also incorporate wireless technology to permit wireless communication with an external device, such as a phone or computer.

The body 12 of the robotic retriever 10 includes opposite side walls 13, a top wall 14, a front wall 16, a back wall 17 and a bottom wall 18 that together define a cavity 15 (FIG. 1) that is sized to contain a payload, such as a container 130 (FIGS. 3, 6) to be stored in a shelving unit 100 as illustrated in FIG. 3. The size of the body and cavity are based on the size of the payload being stored and retrieved. For instance, the payload may be a container 130 that is the size of a standard banker's box or of a standard four-drawer cabinet. The robotic retriever 10 and particularly the drive system are configured to meet the weight and size demands of the payload. In one embodiment, the robotic retriever is configured to carry a payload of up to 20 kg (45 lbs).

In one aspect, the robotic retriever may incorporate a recognition component 40 in the top wall 14 of the body 12, as shown in FIG. 2. The recognition component 40 is adapted to recognize an identifier 135 associated with a container 130 (FIG. 3) being retrieved. For instance, the identifier 135 may be a bar code or similar coded identifier, in which case the recognition component 40 is a bar code reader. Alternatively, the identifier may be an RF tag with a unique identification that can be read by a known RF reader, in which case the recognition component 40 is an RF reader. As a further option, the recognition component 40 may be a camera with associated image recognition software capable of comparing the captured image with a data base of stored images. The recognition component 40 is thus operable to generate information fed to an on-board processor, such as the processor in the component 19, or to remote processor to determine the identity of the container in a known manner.

The robotic retriever 10 is configured to store and retrieve containers from a shelving unit 100 as shown in FIG. 3. The shelving unit includes at least one column of vertically arranged storage locations, and in particular an array of vertical rails 110, 112 and storage locations in the form of horizontal shelves 115 sized according to the size of container 130 being stored and according to the available space for the shelving unit. The present disclosure contemplates a shelving unit capable of storing containers from floor to ceiling to make optimum use of the available space. Thus, for a typical dwelling the shelving unit can be about eight feet tall, with the width and number of vertical columns of containers determined by the available space along a wall. In the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 3, the shelving unit 100 includes six columns of six rows of shelves sized to support container dimensions of 12-14 inches by 12-14 inches. Each container within the shelving unit includes a unique identifier 135 as described above. Alternatively, each individual storage space may include the unique identifier rather than the container, or each identifier 135 may include data pertaining to both the container and the storage space. The object of the unique identifier is to provide means for locating a particular container or payload in the shelving unit 100. Whether the identification 135 is associated with the container or with the location in the shelving unit, or both, determines how the container is located and retrieved as well as how the location of the container is documented. Software within the processor in component 19 is adapted to the particular identification approach adopted for the shelving unit 100.

As shown in FIG. 3, the containers are stored vertically and horizontally within the shelving unit. The robotic retriever 10 is configured to travel to any shelf within the unit 100 to store or retrieve a container 130. In one aspect of the disclosure, the robotic retriever 10 is wheeled to allow the retriever to be maneuvered to a location in front of the vertical column of the desired location. Moreover, the retriever 10 includes traction wheels 30 adjacent the drive wheels 20 (FIG. 1) that can be driven by the same drive mechanism as the drive wheels. The traction wheels and drive wheels may thus share a common axle. Alternatively, the traction wheels may be driven separately from the drive wheels. Each traction wheel is configured to engage a vertical rail 110, 112, and particularly a traction surface 113 of the rail, as depicted in FIG. 5. In one embodiment the traction wheels 30 and traction surface 113 can incorporate splines, in the form of a rack and pinion gear arrangement. The traction wheel and surface are configured so that rotation of the traction wheel propels the robotic retriever along the rail. Other traction configurations are contemplated, such as a high friction surface on either or both of the traction wheel and traction surface.

The robotic retriever 10 is supported on the shelving unit 100 with the front wall 16 of the retriever body 12 against the shelving unit and the cavity 15 facing the unit. The retriever thus includes a gripper apparatus 35 that is configured to grip the vertical side rails 110, 112 to help hold the front wall 16 of the retriever against the shelving unit. The drive wheels 20 may also help hold the retriever against the side rails, as illustrated in FIG. 5. The side rails are configured to cooperate with the gripper apparatus 35 to hold the robotic retriever against the rails as the retriever travels vertically upward. Thus, the side rails 110 may be in the form of a T-shaped body defining an interior ledge 114 against which rollers 37 of the gripper apparatus may bear. The side rail 112 at the side of the shelving unit 100 does not require a T-shape but can instead be an L-shape to still define an interior ledge for the rollers 37. The rollers 37 are mounted on the end of an extendable arm 36 that is housed within a channel 13a in the side wall 13 of the retriever body 12. The extendable arms 36 are provided with an extension mechanism such as a motor and rack/pinion arrangement between the motor and the top or bottom edge of the arm. Other mechanisms may be provided for selectively extending the arms 36 when it is desired for the robotic retriever to climb the side rails of the shelving unit. The extendable arms 36 may be configured to navigate past the ledge 114 of the side rail so that the rollers 37 may engage the inside of the ledge, as shown in FIG. 5. It can be appreciated that other forms of gripper apparatus may be provided that are capable of engaging the side rails to prevent the retriever 10 from falling from the shelving unit as the retriever is propelled upward by the traction wheels 30. The gripper apparatus may be configured to use magnetic attraction to keep the retriever in proper position against the shelving unit.

A sequence of operation of the robotic retriever according to one aspect of the present disclosure is depicted in FIG. 6. In the first step, the retriever 10 travels to the shelving unit 100 and moves into alignment with the side rails of a desired column of shelves. In this first step, the retriever may rely on the recognition component 40 to determine the proper column based on the desired shelf location. This desired location may be a next available empty shelf for storing a container 130 or may be the shelf containing a particular desired container. The recognition component and associated software may be configured to follow a particular protocol for locating the desired shelf position. Alternatively, the robotic retriever may not rely on a recognition component but may instead execute software capable of recognizing location by movements alone. In this alternative, the software operates from a stored "map" of locations and determines the necessary movements, including distance and direction of travel both along the floor and along the side rails, from a current location to a desired location. As a further option, the software may permit manually guidance of the retriever 10 by the user.

Once the robotic retriever 10 is properly aligned with a desired column of shelves in the unit, the retriever is propelled forward until the front wall 16 is adjacent to or abuts the shelving unit. The gripper apparatus 35 is actuated in the third step to firmly engage the vertical rails 110, 112 and in the next step the traction wheels are actuated to drive the retriever up the rails. When the robotic retriever has climbed to the shelf supporting the desired container 130 the cavity 15 is aligned to receive the container. The robotic retriever includes a retriever apparatus 50 mounted at the back wall 17 of the retriever (FIG. 1) that is adapted to engage the container 130. The retriever apparatus 50 includes an extension mechanism 52 and a grabber 54 that is configured to engage the container. The container 130 and grabber 54 are mutually configured to achieve solid engagement of the container by the retriever apparatus to be able to pull the container back into the cavity 15 of the robotic retriever 10. The engagement mechanism may be a latch/receiver arrangement or a magnetic component. Since the retriever apparatus 50 only needs to slide the container along the shelf and cavity the engagement mechanism can be simplified. Once the grabber 54 engages the container, the extension mechanism 52 reverses to pull the container back into the cavity 15. It can be understood that the retriever apparatus is operable to push a container from the cavity into a shelf location by extending the extension mechanism 52 when a container is within the cavity.

Once the container is safely within the cavity for retrieval or within the shelving unit for storage, the traction wheels are reversed to drive the robotic retriever down the side rails until the wheels 20, 22 contact the floor. Sensors may be incorporated into the robotic retriever to determine whether the retriever is back on the floor. Sensors may also be incorporated within the cavity to verify that the container is properly positioned within either the cavity 15 (for retrieval) or within the shelving unit 100 (for storage) before the retriever is activated. Once the robotic retriever is on the floor, the control system may direct the retriever to a desired location away from the shelving unit where the user can remove the container that has been retrieved. If the retriever is operating in a storage mode, the retriever may be directed to an idle location, which may include a docking station where an on-board battery may be recharged and the retriever may be stored.

The robotic retriever may be part of a complete storage and retrieval system that integrates with a user-operated controller. For instance, a hand-held controller 150 (FIG. 4) may be provided that provides a user interface to direct the operation of the robotic retriever. For instance, the hand-held controller may include a key pad or touch screen 151 for entering instructions and information. The hand-held controller may thus allow the user to identify a specific shelf for storing or retrieving a container, or may allow the user to enter a particular identification number for a container to be retrieved. It is appreciated that the hand-held controller may be a smart phone and the instructions may implemented using an app. Screen shots for an exemplary app for use with a smart-phone are shown in FIG. 7. In lieu or in addition to the hand-held controller, a PC-based software program may be provided for controlling the robotic retriever.

It is contemplated that the control and operation of the robotic retriever may rely on a data base to store information regarding shelf location and container identification. The data base may also be permitted to store user comments associated with a particular container, such as an inventory of contents. The software associated with storage and retrieval system may incorporate a searchable data base that allows the user to search based on contents of the containers so that the user does not need to know where a particular item is stored. For example, the user desiring to retrieve a photo album from storage may enter commands to search the data base the container holding a photo album. The system extracts the container identification and/or its shelf location and directs the robotic retriever to execute a retrieval operation as described above. The data base for the storage and retrieval system may retain historical records regarding each container and/or its contents. The present disclosure should be considered as illustrative and not restrictive in character. It is understood that only certain embodiments have been presented and that all changes, modifications and further applications that come within the spirit of the disclosure are desired to be protected.