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Title:
MODULAR WHEEL ASSEMBLY FOR HANDLING AND TRANSPORT OF A CARGO OBJECT
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2021/051207
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A kit of a plurality of modular wheel assemblies are arranged for attachment to a cargo object to handle and transport the cargo object. Each wheel assembly includes a main frame coupled to the cargo object by a lift assembly and a drive wheel on the main frame to drive and steer the object. The lift assemblies can lift or lower the object relative to the drive wheels and the ground. An onboard controller on each assembly is in communication with the other controllers. The onboard controllers generate actuator signals to operate a drive motor and a steering actuator of each modular wheel assembly in coordination with the drive motor and the steering actuator of the other modular wheel assemblies in response to operator commands from a remote controller to controllably displace the cargo object relative to the ground surface.

Inventors:
BADIOU DANIEL (CA)
Application Number:
PCT/CA2020/051260
Publication Date:
March 25, 2021
Filing Date:
September 21, 2020
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
BADIOU DANIEL (CA)
International Classes:
B66F11/00; B60B33/00; B60K7/00; B60L15/32; B60L15/40; B62D9/00; B65G7/02; B66F3/46
Domestic Patent References:
WO2005120895A12005-12-22
Foreign References:
US4863334A1989-09-05
US20190039826A12019-02-07
US20180194267A12018-07-12
US20150232309A12015-08-20
US3570694A1971-03-16
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ADE & COMPANY INC. (CA)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS:

1. A modular wheel assembly for handling and transport of a cargo object, the modular wheel assembly comprising: a main frame; a wheel frame supported on the main frame, the wheel frame being pivotal relative to the main frame about an upright steering axis; a drive wheel supported on the wheel frame, the drive wheel being rotatable relative to the wheel frame about a wheel axis of the drive wheel; a frame mount arranged to be coupled to the cargo object; a lift assembly supporting the main frame relative to the frame mount such that the drive wheel is movable relative to the frame mount between a coupling position in which the drive wheel is supported at a first elevation relative to the frame mount corresponding to the cargo object being supported on a ground surface and a transport position in which the drive wheel is supported at a second elevation relative to the frame mount which is lower than the first elevation and which corresponds to the cargo object being supported spaced above the ground surface for rolling movement along the ground surface on the drive wheel; a drive motor operatively connected to the drive wheel to drive rotation of the drive wheel relative to the wheel frame about the wheel axis; a steering actuator operatively connected between the wheel frame and the main frame so as to be arranged to controllably pivot the wheel frame relative to the main frame about the upright steering axis; and an onboard controller arranged to operate the drive motor and the steering actuator in response to operator commands to controllably displace the cargo object relative to the ground surface.

2. The modular wheel assembly according to claim 1 wherein the lift assembly pivotally couples the main frame to the frame mount such that the main frame is pivotal about a lift axis oriented transversely to the upright steering axis between the coupling position and the transport position. 3. The modular wheel assembly according to either one of claims 1 or 2 wherein the upright steering axis is oriented vertically in the transport position and is oriented at a slope of more than 10 degrees from vertical in the coupling position.

4. The modular wheel assembly according to any one of claims 1 through 3 wherein the lift assembly comprises a linear actuator which is linearly extended and retracted between the coupling position and the transport position.

5. The modular wheel assembly according to any one of claims 1 through 4 wherein the frame mount comprises a first mount arranged to be mounted on the cargo object and which pivotally supports the main frame thereon for pivotal movement about a lift axis and a second mount arranged to be mounted on the cargo object at a location spaced from the lift axis, the lift assembly including a linear actuator operatively connected between the main frame and the second mount such that extension and retraction of the linear actuator pivotally displaces the main frame about the lift axis between the coupling position and the transport position.

6. The modular wheel assembly according to either one of claims 4 or 5 wherein the linear actuator comprises a manually operated jack assembly.

7. The modular wheel assembly according to any one of claims 1 through 6 wherein the main frame is selectively separable from the frame mount and wherein the wheel frame, the drive motor and the steering actuator are supported on the main frame so as to be selectively separable from the frame mount together with the main frame.

8. The modular wheel assembly according to any one of claims 1 through 7 wherein the main frame is selectively separable from the frame mount and wherein the onboard controller is carried on the main frame so as to be selectively separable from the frame mount together with the main frame. 9. The modular wheel assembly according to any one of claims 1 through 8 wherein the steering actuator comprises steering motor supported on the wheel frame, the steering actuator driving rotation of a spur gear rotatably supported on the wheel frame and the spur gear engaging a ring gear supported on the main frame so as to drive rotation of the wheel frame relative to the main frame about the upright steering axis.

10. The modular wheel assembly according to any one of claims 1 through 9 further comprising a motor release mechanism operable between an engaged position in which the drive motor is operatively connected to the drive wheel so as to be arranged to drive rotation of the wheel relative to the wheel frame and a disengaged position in which the drive motor is disconnected from the drive wheel such that the drive wheel is freely rotatable relative to the wheel frame.

11. The modular wheel assembly according to any one of claims 1 through 10 in combination with other modular wheel assemblies of identical configuration and a remote controller arranged to generate the operator commands, the onboard controller of the modular wheel assembly being arranged to communicate with the onboard controllers of the other modular wheel assemblies and to generate actuator signals to operate the drive motor and the steering actuator of the modular wheel assembly in coordination with the drive motors and the steering actuators of the other modular wheel assemblies in response to the operator commands from the remote controller to controllably displace the cargo object relative to the ground surface.

12. The modular wheel assembly according to claim 11 wherein the onboard controller of one of the modular wheel assemblies comprises a master controller arranged to communicate with the remote controller to receive the operator commands from the remote controller, and the onboard controllers of the other modular wheel assemblies comprise slave controllers arranged to receive operator commands from the master controller.

13. The modular wheel assembly according to claim 12 wherein the onboard controller of each modular wheel assembly is operable as either the master controller or one of the slave controllers and includes a mode selector arranged to select between a master mode of operation or a slave mode of operation.

14. The modular wheel assembly according to any one of claims 11 through 13 wherein the onboard controllers of the modular wheel assemblies are arranged to communicate wirelessly with the remote controller.

15. The modular wheel assembly according to any one of claims 11 through 14 wherein the onboard controllers of the modular wheel assemblies are arranged to communicate wirelessly with one another.

16. The modular wheel assembly according to any one of claims 1 through 15 further comprising a bumper arrangement resiliently supported on the main frame and a bumper sensor arranged to sense movement of the bumper arrangement relative to the main frame, the controller being arranged to cease operation of the drive motor in response to movement of the bumper arrangement being sensed by the bumper sensor.

17. A modular wheel kit comprising a plurality of modular wheel assemblies for use with a remote controller arranged to generate operator commands for handling and transport of a cargo object, each modular wheel assembly comprising: a main frame; a wheel frame supported on the main frame, the wheel frame being pivotal relative to the main frame about an upright steering axis; a drive wheel supported on the wheel frame, the drive wheel being rotatable relative to the wheel frame about a wheel axis of the drive wheel; a frame mount arranged to couple the main frame to the cargo object; a drive motor operatively connected to the drive wheel to drive rotation of the drive wheel relative to the wheel frame about the wheel axis; a steering actuator operatively connected between the wheel frame and the main frame so as to be arranged to controllably pivot the wheel frame relative to the main frame about the upright steering axis; and an onboard controller arranged to communicate with the onboard controllers of the other modular wheel assemblies and to generate actuator signals to operate the drive motor and the steering actuator of the modular wheel assembly in coordination with the drive motor and the steering actuator of the other modular wheel assemblies in response to the operator commands from the remote controller to controllably displace the cargo object relative to the ground surface.

18. The modular wheel kit according to claim 17 wherein the onboard controller of one of the modular wheel assemblies comprises a master controller arranged to communicate with the remote controller to receive the operator commands from the remote controller, and the onboard controllers of the other modular wheel assemblies comprise slave controllers arranged to receive operator commands from the master controller.

19. The modular wheel kit according to claim 18 wherein the onboard controller of each modular wheel assembly is operable as either the master controller or one of the slave controllers and includes a mode selector arranged to select between a master mode of operation or a slave mode of operation.

20. The modular wheel kit according to any one of claims 17 through 19 wherein the onboard controllers of the modular wheel assemblies are arranged to communicate wirelessly with the remote controller.

Description:
MODULAR WHEEL ASSEMBLY FOR HANDLING AND TRANSPORT OF A CARGO OBJECT FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to a modular wheel assembly which can be selectively coupled to a cargo object and which can communicate with other modular wheel assemblies of similar configuration to coordinate lifting and transport of the cargo object.

BACKGROUND

The assembly, handling and transport of various objects, for example a mobile animal shelter, typically requires use of a dedicated transport and handling vehicle such as a tractor. Most people do not have ready access to a tractor type vehicle which is suitable to lift frame panels of a large structure such as a mobile animal shelter while assembling. Furthermore, safety in lifting large structures for assembly using a tractor is also a concern. SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

According to one aspect of the invention there is provided a modular wheel assembly for handling and transport of a cargo object, the modular wheel assembly comprising: a main frame; a wheel frame supported on the main frame, the wheel frame being pivotal relative to the main frame about an upright steering axis; a drive wheel supported on the wheel frame, the drive wheel being rotatable relative to the wheel frame about a wheel axis of the drive wheel; a frame mount arranged to be coupled to the cargo object; a lift assembly supporting the main frame relative to the frame mount such that the drive wheel is movable relative to the frame mount between a coupling position in which the drive wheel is supported at a first elevation relative to the frame mount corresponding to the cargo object being supported on a ground surface and a transport position in which the drive wheel is supported at a second elevation relative to the frame mount which is lower than the first elevation and which corresponds to the cargo object being supported spaced above the ground surface for rolling movement along the ground surface on the drive wheel; a drive motor operatively connected to the drive wheel to drive rotation of the drive wheel relative to the wheel frame about the wheel axis; a steering actuator operatively connected between the wheel frame and the main frame so as to be arranged to controllably pivot the wheel frame relative to the main frame about the upright steering axis; and an onboard controller arranged to operate the drive motor and the steering actuator in response to operator commands to controllably displace the cargo object relative to the ground surface.

Preferably the lift assembly pivotally couples the main frame to the frame mount such that the main frame is pivotal about a lift axis oriented transversely to the upright steering axis between the coupling position and the transport position.

The upright steering axis may be oriented vertically in the transport position and oriented at a slope of more than 10 degrees from vertical in the coupling position.

The lift assembly preferably comprises a linear actuator which is linearly extended and retracted between the coupling position and the transport position.

The frame mount may comprise a first mount arranged to be mounted on the cargo object and which pivotally supports the main frame thereon for pivotal movement about a lift axis and a second mount arranged to be mounted on the cargo object at a location spaced from the lift axis, in which the lift assembly includes a linear actuator operatively connected between the main frame and the second mount such that extension and retraction of the linear actuator pivotally displaces the main frame about the lift axis between the coupling position and the transport position.

The linear actuator may comprise a manually operated jack assembly.

When the main frame is selectively separable from the frame mount, the wheel frame, the drive motor and the steering actuator may be supported on the main frame so as to be selectively separable from the frame mount together with the main frame.

When the main frame is selectively separable from the frame mount, the onboard controller may be carried on the main frame so as to be selectively separable from the frame mount together with the main frame.

The steering actuator in a preferred embodiment comprises steering motor supported on the wheel frame in which the steering actuator drives rotation of a spur gear rotatably supported on the wheel frame and the spur gear engages a ring gear supported on the main frame so as to drive rotation of the wheel frame relative to the main frame about the upright steering axis.

The assembly may further include motor release mechanism operable between an engaged position in which the drive motor is operatively connected to the drive wheel so as to be arranged to drive rotation of the wheel relative to the wheel frame and a disengaged position in which the drive motor is disconnected from the drive wheel such that the drive wheel is freely rotatable relative to the wheel frame.

When a plurality of the modular wheel assemblies of identical configuration are combined with a remote controller arranged to generate the operator commands, the onboard controller of each modular wheel assembly may be arranged to communicate with the onboard controllers of the other modular wheel assemblies and to generate actuator signals to operate the drive motor and the steering actuator of the modular wheel assembly in coordination with the drive motors and the steering actuators of the other modular wheel assemblies in response to the operator commands from the remote controller to controllably displace the cargo object relative to the ground surface.

The modular wheel assembly may further include a bumper arrangement resiliently supported on the main frame and a bumper sensor arranged to sense movement of the bumper arrangement relative to the main frame. In this instance, the onboard controller is preferably arranged to cease operation of the drive motor in response to movement of the bumper arrangement being sensed by the bumper sensor.

According to a second aspect of the present invention there is provided a modular wheel kit comprising a plurality of modular wheel assemblies for use with a remote controller arranged to generate operator commands for handling and transport of a cargo object, each modular wheel assembly comprising: a main frame; a wheel frame supported on the main frame, the wheel frame being pivotal relative to the main frame about an upright steering axis; a drive wheel supported on the wheel frame, the drive wheel being rotatable relative to the wheel frame about a wheel axis of the drive wheel; a frame mount arranged to couple the main frame to the cargo object; a drive motor operatively connected to the drive wheel to drive rotation of the drive wheel relative to the wheel frame about the wheel axis; a steering actuator operatively connected between the wheel frame and the main frame so as to be arranged to controllably pivot the wheel frame relative to the main frame about the upright steering axis; and an onboard controller arranged to communicate with the onboard controllers of the other modular wheel assemblies and to generate actuator signals to operate the drive motor and the steering actuator of the modular wheel assembly in coordination with the drive motor and the steering actuator of the other modular wheel assemblies in response to the operator commands from the remote controller to controllably displace the cargo object relative to the ground surface.

When plural assemblies are used as a kit, the onboard controller of one of the modular wheel assemblies preferably comprises a master controller arranged to communicate with the remote controller to receive the operator commands from the remote controller, and the onboard controllers of the other modular wheel assemblies preferably comprise slave controllers arranged to receive operator commands from the master controller. The onboard controller of each modular wheel assembly may be operable as either the master controller or one of the slave controllers and includes a mode selector arranged to select between a master mode of operation or a slave mode of operation.

The onboard controllers of the modular wheel assemblies are preferably arranged to communicate wirelessly with the remote controller. Similarly, the onboard controllers of the modular wheel assemblies are preferably arranged to communicate wirelessly with one another.

As described herein, each of the wheel assemblies is preferably arranged to form a corner module in an assembled frame structure. Each wheel assembly in the illustrated embodiment is a self-contained robotic platform that can be linked to other assemblies wirelessly or via a wire to make a moving vehicle.

The use of jacks on the corner modules serve to lower or raise the body of the vehicle making it easier to remove or add corner modules without the use of a crane, forklift, tractor etc. The wheels are omnidirectional and can be turned in any direction via the electric motors (in this case the steering actuator). The wheels are also driven via an electric motor mounted on the wheel assembly. Each corner module has a battery and a controller to allow independent operation or multi-corner module operation.

In some embodiments, numerous ports and peripherals are on the backside of the corner module allowing a user to plug various instruments of measure to it. A solar panel may also be plugged in through those ports and the cables to link all the corner modules together.

The kit of wheel assemblies may be applied to many industries such as mining, agriculture (such as moving barns and other applications), commercial and residential. They will come in various sizes to be able to move various loads. For example, mounting these on a shipping container lab from one place to another on a mine site. Another example includes having just a platform that can be used to transport items from one place to another. These units are GPS enabled so you can set a route and they will redo it over and over again. BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Some embodiments of the invention will now be described in conjunction with the accompanying drawings in which:

Figure 1 is a perspective view of the modular wheel kit according to a first embodiment in a normal transport position; Figure 2 is another perspective view of the modular wheel kit according to the first embodiment of Figure 1 in a coupling position;

Figure 3 is a top plan view of the modular wheel kit according to the first embodiment of Figure 1 ;

Figure 4 is a perspective view of one of the modular wheel assemblies of the kit according to the first embodiment of Figure 1 ;

Figure 5 is a perspective view of a connection between the drive motor and the drive wheel of one of the wheel assemblies of the kit according to the first embodiment of Figure 1 ;

Figure 6 is a perspective view of a connection between the steering actuator and the wheel frame of one of the wheel assemblies of the kit according to the first embodiment of Figure 1 ;

Figure 7 is a perspective view of the modular wheel kit according to a second embodiment in a normal transport position;

Figure 8 is a perspective view of one of the modular wheel assemblies of the kit according to the second embodiment of Figure 7 in the normal transport position;

Figure 9 is a perspective view of one of the modular wheel assemblies of the kit according to the second embodiment of Figure 7 with a portion of the housing shown removed for illustrative purposes; and

Figure 10 is a perspective view of one of the modular wheel assemblies of the kit according to the second embodiment of Figure 7 in the coupling position.

In the drawings like characters of reference indicate corresponding parts in the different figures.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Referring to the accompanying figures there is illustrated a modular wheel kit generally indicated by reference numeral 10. The kit 10 comprises a plurality of modular wheel assemblies 12 arranged to be mounted onto a common cargo object 14 for handling and transport of the cargo object in response to operator commands received from a main controller 16.

The main controller 16 may comprise a variety of different types of controllers adapted to receive input from an operator and to generate suitable command signals transmitted to the wheel assemblies to control the operation thereof. In preferred embodiments, the main controller 16 is a remote controller which communicates wirelessly with the modular wheel assemblies 12.

For example, the main controller may comprise a radiofrequency device capable of receiving operator input and generating radiofrequency command signals transmitted to the individual wheel assemblies 12.

In further embodiments, the main controller may comprise a computer application in the form of programming instructions stored on a smart phone for generating the operator command signals using the smart phone for subsequent wireless transmission using various means including Wi-Fi or Bluetooth communication protocols to the individual modular wheel assembly.

In yet further arrangements, the main controller may comprise a dedicated controller with various inputs adapted to receive operator input for subsequent communication to the modular wheel assemblies by wired or wireless means of various types.

In yet further embodiments, the main controller may comprise a wireless network device capable of communication over a wireless network to a cloud-based server, for example a cellular modem that communicates with the modular wheel assemblies and which receives operator commands over a cellular network. The central server in this instance that communicates with the main controller may be a cloud- based server which communicates with an operator using various interface devices over the Internet including mobile electronics such as smartphones or other Internet enabled computer devices.

The cargo object 14 may comprise any device that requires mobility, for example small buildings or shelters for animals that must be relocated onto fresh patches of ground for supplying animals contained within the shelter with fresh grass to feed upon. The cargo object however may comprise any object with a suitable structural frame that allows lifting of the object to a transport position spaced above the ground when lifted by modular wheel assemblies 12 which are positioned at spaced apart locations on the frame of the object, for example such as at corners of the object or at laterally opposing sides of the object.

Although various embodiments are shown in the accompanying figures, the features in common with the various embodiments will first be described.

Each modular wheel assembly 12 generally includes a main frame 18 which is arranged to be coupled relative to the perimeter frame of the object 14 using a first mount 20. In the illustrated embodiment, the mounting frame 18 is a generally rectangular housing which extends generally horizontally outward from the object in the normal transport position thereof from an inner end 22 of the main frame to an opposing outer and 24 of the main frame. A support shaft 26 is mounted to extend generally horizontally across a width of the main frame at the inner end 22 thereof to define a horizontal lift axis about which the main frame 18 is pivotal between the normal transport position and a coupling position described in further detail below.

The first mount 20 generally comprises two U-shaped receptacles 28 which are fixedly fastened onto the perimeter frame of the object at laterally spaced positions such that the open side of each receptacle faces generally horizontally outward. The support shaft 26 at the inner end of the main frame 18 is arranged to be received within the pair of receptacles 28 in a horizontal orientation. Apertures are provided at opposing ends of each receptacle to receive a suitable retainer pin connected therethrough which closes the open side of the receptacle and effectively retains the support shaft mounted within the receptacles while enabling the support shaft to be readily released by removing the pins from the receptacles.

In the normal mounted position of the support shaft 26 of the main frame within the receptacles 28 of the first mount 20, the main frame extends generally horizontally outward towards the outer end thereof which supports an upright pivot shaft 30 thereon. The upright pivot shaft 30 defines an upright steering axis which is vertical in orientation in the normal transport position. A wheel frame 32 is supported at the bottom end of the upright shaft 30 such that the wheel frame 32 is pivotal relative to the main frame about the upright steering axis.

The wheel frame 32 has a housing that includes an upper crossbar portion 34 extending laterally across the top of the wheel frame, and two leg portions 36 extending downward from opposing ends of the crossbar portion to receive a drive wheel 38 between the legs 36. A suitable axle extends horizontally between the two legs for rotatably supporting the drive wheel 38 thereon such that the drive wheel is rotatable about a horizontal wheel axis of the axle relative to the wheel frame 32. A lift assembly 40 controls the position of the main frame, along with the wheel frame and the drive wheel supported thereon, about the lift axis defined by the support shaft 26 received within the first mount 20. The lift assembly generally includes a linear lift actuator 42 which is coupled pivotally at a first end of the actuator at the outer end 24 of the main frame 18 and which is coupled pivotally at a second end of the actuator on a second mount 44 that is fixed onto the perimeter frame of the cargo object.

The second mount 44 comprises a bracket which is releasably fastened onto the perimeter frame of the object at a location spaced directly above the first mount so as to define a respective pivot axis of the lift actuator 42 relative to the object in which the pivot axis is horizontally oriented and lies in a common vertical plane with the lift axis defined by the first mount 20. The bracket defining the second mount and a corresponding bracket at the outer end of the main frame 18 which pivotally couples the second end of the lift actuator 42 therein each comprise a similar arrangement of two parallel plates with respective apertures therein to receive a horizontal pin shaft between the parallel plates which is received through a corresponding mounting aperture at the respective end of the linear lift actuator 42.

In the preferred embodiment, the lift actuator 42 comprises a manually operated jack such as a screw jack or a hydraulic jack having an input handle which is manually rotated or reciprocated for extending and/or retracting an overall length of the actuator. In further embodiments, the linear actuator may comprise any form of electrically or hydraulically powered actuator which can be controllably varied in length.

In the normal transport position, the lift actuator 42 extends between the second mount 44 and the outer end of the main frame at a slope that may be between 20 and 50 degrees from vertical for example, while being in an extended configuration of the actuator. The upright steering axis defined by the upright shaft 30 about which the wheel frame is pivotal is vertically oriented in the normal transport position.

By retracting the lift actuator 42, the outer end of the main frame is displaced upwardly relative to the normal transport position which in turn results in the drive wheel and the wheel frame supporting the drive wheel on the outer end of the main frame also being raised in elevation relative to the first and second mounts that are fixed onto the perimeter frame of the object. As the perimeter frame of the object is supported spaced above the ground entirely by the lift assemblies in the transport position, raising the drive wheels in elevation relative to the mounts on the frame of the cargo object results in the cargo object being lowered towards the ground. Lowering the object until it rests upon the ground surface that the drive wheels are engaged upon results in the upright steering axis of each wheel assembly assuming a sloped orientation, which may be between 20 and 50° from vertical for example. This corresponds to a coupling position of the wheel assemblies in which weight of the object is supported directly upon the ground surface and not on the wheel assemblies. As no weight of the object is supported on the wheel assemblies in the coupling position, the wheel assemblies can be readily separated and reattached to the first and second amounts thereof using conventional handheld tools and the like.

If the cargo object is initially supported on the ground, the reverse operations can be performed to raise the object into the normal transport position. The operator positions the lift assemblies in the coupling positions thereof to enable the second end of the lift actuator 42 to be coupled to the second mount and allow the inner end of the main frame to be coupled to the first mount. Extension of the lift actuator 42 will cause the upright steering axis to be displaced in orientation to assume the vertical orientation of the transport position while simultaneously lifting the cargo object spaced above the ground.

Once the object has been raised into the transport position, the operator can control the steering of each wheel assembly using a respective steering actuator 46 of the wheel assembly. The operator can also drive rotation of the drive wheel using an electric drive motor 58 mounted on the wheel frame. The configuration of the steering actuator 46 and of the drive motor 58 differs between the two embodiments as described in further detail below.

Each wheel assembly further includes an onboard controller 68 mounted within the housing of the main frame 18. The onboard controller comprises a programmable computer controller having a memory storing programming instructions thereon and a processor for executing the programming instructions to perform the various functions described herein. The controller is operatively connected to the drive motor and the steering actuator to control the operation thereof by generating suitable drive signals to actuate the drive motor and the steering actuator to perform the desired functions of the kit. In the instance of the lift actuator 42 comprising a powered actuator, operation of the lift actuator could also be controlled by the onboard controller.

A plurality of ports 70 are provided at the inner end of the housing which are in communication with the onboard controller for connection of external components to the onboard controller of each assembly. In one instance the object supports a solar panel 72 thereon or may comprise an onboard battery for powering components of the object such that the solar panel or the onboard battery can be used to supply electrical power to the onboard controller through a respective port. In further embodiments a plurality of sensors 74 are supported on the object for measuring a condition of the object or an environmental condition for example, in which the sensors also communicate with the onboard controller through a respective one of the ports. The sensors may further include a GPS device 76 which communicates with global positioning satellites to locate the position of the object and communicate the position to the onboard controllers of the wheel assemblies through respective ports 70 thereof. In a further embodiment, a central networking device such as a cellular modem may be supported on the object in communication with the onboard controllers of one or more wheel assemblies through the ports 70 to receive command signals over a suitable wireless network such as a cellular network and to return data to a central server over the wireless network. The ports 70 may also be used to form wired connections between the onboard controllers of other wheel assemblies.

In some embodiments, each onboard controller is provided with a respective transceiver to allow wireless communication between the onboard controllers of the kit and/or to allow wireless communication with a remote main controller 16.

Each onboard controller 68 is typically arranged to operate either in a master mode or a slave mode as selected by an operator using a mode selector of the onboard controller. In the master mode, the controller functions as a master controller arranged to receive primary command signals from the main controller 16 and to relay corresponding instruction signals to the onboard controllers of other wheel assemblies. In the slave mode of operation, the onboard controller functions as a slave controller which does not directly communicate with the main controller 16 but instead receives instruction signals from a single one of the onboard controllers 68 which functions as the master controller.

In some instances, only the master controller generates all instruction signals and activation signals for the drive motors and steering actuators of all wheel assemblies such that the remaining wheel assemblies function only as slave controllers that act only to relay the actuator signals. In other instances however only high-level command signals are transmitted from the master controller to the slave controllers and the individual slave controllers determine the appropriate actuation signals to generate for the respective drive motors and steering actuators. In either instance, the onboard controllers of the various wheel assemblies communicate with one another such that operator commands from the main controller 16 result in individual actuation signals being generated for the various steering actuators and drive motors which are coordinated with one another to displace the overall target object in position and angular orientation in a controlled and coordinated manner corresponding to the intended operator command. For instance, if the cargo object is intended to be displaced linearly across the ground as an initial operator command from the remote controller, the various onboard controllers 68 will communicate with one another such that appropriate actuation signals are generated for the steering actuators to ensure that the drive wheels are all oriented in the same direction and that suitable drive signals are generated for the drive motors to rotate the drive wheels in a similar manner to uniformly displace the cargo object in the intended manner.

In another instance, if the cargo object is intended to be rotated in orientation about an upright axis of the object, the onboard controllers communicate with one another to ensure that the drive wheels are oriented in an appropriate manner relative to one another so that subsequent actuation of the drive wheels causes the object to be rotated in orientation in the intended manner.

When the main controller comprises a personal computer device of an operator, for example a smart phone or other electronic device capable of executing programming instructions stored thereon, the operator can use the main controller to generate specific command instructions corresponding to a single coordinated movement of the object, or alternatively more complex programming instructions can be generated and followed by the wheel assembly kit. For example, the operator command may relate to displacement of the cargo object along a prescribed linear or non-linear path as a continuous motion or in a series of steps at spaced apart time intervals. The instructions may also relate to displacement of the object in a prescribed manner only in response to a sensed condition or another input which can be determined by measurement or by sensors and the like. The prescribed path, the speed of motion, the duration between each step of the movement, and the criteria or condition that determines actuation can all be adjusted and prescribed by the operator through the main controller.

Turning now to the first embodiment shown in Figures 1 through 6, the steering actuator 46 is connected to the upright shaft 30 through a steering arm 48 extending radially outward from the shaft above the wheel frame 32. The steering actuator is a linear electric actuator in the illustrated embodiment which can be extended and retracted to vary an overall length thereof. The actuator is pivotally coupled at a first end on the steering arm 48 at a location spaced outward from the upright axis and at a second end in proximity to the inner end of the main frame such that the actuator is pivotal at opposing ends on the steering arm 48 and on the main frame respectively about vertical pivot axes. Extending and retracting the overall length of the steering actuator thus acts to pivot the upright shaft 30 about the upright steering axis relative to the main frame.

The wheel frame 32 can be pivoted about the upright shaft relative to the steering arm 48 through a range of different angular positions therebetween. In order to retain the wheel frame at a selected angular orientation about the upright steering axis relative to the steering arm, a first coupling plate 50 is fixed relative to the steering arm and a second coupling plate 52 is fixed relative to the wheel frame, in which both coupling plates are oriented perpendicularly to the upright steering axis. Cooperating apertures are provided in the coupling plates to receive fasteners therethrough which selectively fix the coupling plates relative to one another at a selected angular orientation therebetween within a range of different angular orientations which in turn corresponds to fixing the wheel frame at a selected angular orientation relative to the steering arm 48 within a range of different angular orientations therebetween.

The cooperating apertures include an arcuate slot 53 formed in the first coupling plate 50 and a plurality of circumferentially spaced apart apertures 54 also in the first plate which selectively align with corresponding mounting apertures 56 in the second coupling plate throughout the range of different angular orientations between the plates. The different angular orientations between the first and second coupling plates also results in the first end of the steering actuator 46 being fixed at a selected position within a range along a circumferential path about the steering axis relative to the wheel frame to enable adjustment therebetween. The coupling between the first and second coupling plates may be accomplished by a releasable pin such that releasing the pin allows the coupling plates to be freely pivotal relative to one another which in turn allows the orientation of the drive wheel to be freely pivoted about the upright steering axis if desired. The range of linear motion of the steering actuator 46 corresponds to controllably displacing the angular orientation of the drive wheel about the upright steering axis through a corresponding range of angles relative to the main frame and thus relative to the object, for example a range of 120 degrees. Adjusting the positioning of the first and second coupling plates relative to one another allows this 120 degree range of angular steering movement of each drive wheel to be adjusted in a circumferential direction to align with and correspond with a similar angle or range of movement of other drive wheels of other wheel assemblies of the overall kit. In this manner, the steering orientation of the drive wheels can be calibrated relative to one another subsequent to initial mounting of the wheel assemblies on the perimeter frame of the object. The drive motor 58 has an output directed into the input of a gearbox 60 at the wheel axis of the drive wheel. The output of the gearbox in turn rotates a drive gear 62 supported on an output shaft 64 of the gearbox. The drive gear 62 on the output shaft can be displaced along the wheel axis relative to a ring gear 66 supported on the rim of the drive wheel. The drive gear 62 can be displaced between an engaged position in which the drive gear meshes with the ring gear such that rotation of the output of the electric motor causes a corresponding rotation of the drive wheel and a disengaged position in which the drive gear 62 is separated from the ring gear 66 so that the drive wheel is freely rotatable about the wheel axis independently of the condition of the electric motor 58. The axial displacement of the ring gear 66 relative to the drive gear corresponds to a motor release mechanism which can be manually operated by a user between the engaged position and the disengaged position thereof.

Turning now to the second embodiment of Figures 7 through 10, in this instance the steering actuator 46 comprises an electric motor supported within the housing of the wheel frame 32. The electric motor of the steering actuator 46 has a rotary output in proximity to the top end of the wheel frame 32 which supports a drive gear 104 thereon. A driven gear 106 having a diameter which is much larger than the drive gear 104 is fixed onto the bottom of the housing of the main frame 18 concentrically about the upright shaft 30 defining the upright steering axis of the assembly. Rotation of the drive gear 104 by the electric motor on the wheel frame 32 thus drives the drive gear about the circumference of the driven gear 106 on the wheel frame 32, thereby driving movement of the electric motor with the wheel frame 32 relative to the main frame 18 about the upright steering axis. In this manner, the wheel frame can be driven to rotate a complete 360 degrees about the upright steering axis relative to the main frame 18. In the second embodiment, the drive motor 58 for driving rolling movement of the drive wheel 38, again comprises an electric motor having an output shaft that drives rotation of a drive gear 62 supported thereon. In this instance, the drive motor 58 is horizontally supported within the upper crossbar portion 34 of the housing of the wheel frame 32. A driven gear 108 is supported at one end of the axle of the drive wheel 38 to rotate together with the drive wheel about the wheel axis. A drive chain 110 extends about the drive gear 62 and the driven gear 108 to transfer a driven rotation from the drive motor 58 to the drive wheel 38. The driven gear 108 has a larger diameter than the drive gear. An additional idler gear 112 is supported within the housing of the wheel frame 32 for meshing engagement with the drive chain 110 at an intermediate location between the drive gear 62 and the driven gear 108 to provide tensioning to the drive chain.

According to the second embodiment, a bumper arrangement 120 is supported on the main frame 18 to detect obstacles in the path of movement of the cargo object being transported by the kit 10. Each wheel assembly 12 has a bumper arrangement that includes a bumper bracket 122 which is resiliency coupled to an outer end of the main frame 18 using a pair of springs 124 which are mounted parallel to one another to extend horizontally between the bracket 122 and the main frame 18. In this manner, the bracket 122 can be deflected laterally in either direction or up and down relative to the main frame. The bracket 122 supports a pair of protruding arms 126 thereon. The arms 126 lie in a common vertical plane and diverge outwardly from one another such that a lower one of the arms 126 extends downwardly and outwardly while the upper one of the arms extends upwardly and outwardly from the end of the main frame 18. The outer ends of the arms 126 lie along a common vertical axis in an undeflected position of the bumper arrangement. A bumper sensor 130, for example an inductive sensor, is mounted within the housing of the main frame 18 at the outer end thereof in proximity to the mounting location of the springs 124 that support the bumper arrangement. The bumper sensor 130 communicates with the onboard controller. A sensor member 132 is provided in the form of a bolt adjustably supported on the bracket 122 such that the end of the bolt supported externally of the main frame 18 can be aligned in close proximity with the bumper sensor 130 within the interior housing of the main frame. The inductive sensor forming the bumper sensor can detect changes in position of the bolt forming the sensor member 132 relative to the bumper sensor 130 to detect when an obstacle has caused the arms 126 of the bumper arrangement to be deflected. The resilient nature of the springs ensures that the bumper arrangement returns to an undeflected position after encountering an obstacle.

A bumper bar 128 may be optionally mounted to be connected vertically between the outer ends of the two arms 126. In further arrangements, a connecting member 134 may be provided for connection between the bumper arrangement 122 of one of the modular wheel assemblies 12 with the corresponding bumper arrangement 120 of adjacent assemblies 12. For example, when the wheel assemblies 12 are mounted at corners about the perimeter of a cargo object, an elongate cable can be used to form the connecting member 34 extending in a first ring between the outer free ends of the upper ones of the arms 126 about a full perimeter of the cargo object and extending in a second ring between the outer free ends of the lower ones of the arms 126 about the full perimeter of the cargo object. As the cargo object is displaced by the kit 10 of multiple assemblies 12, and an object is encountered by any of the cables, a resulting deflection of one or more bumper arrangements 120 occurs. The deflection of the one or more bumper arrangements is then detected by movement of the corresponding sensor member 132 relative to the corresponding bumper sensor 130. The sensed deflection is then reported to the onboard controllers of all wheel assemblies so that the controllers can immediately cease operation of all drive motors to cease displacement of the cargo object across the ground until the obstacle has been resolved.

Since various modifications can be made in my invention as herein above described, and many apparently widely different embodiments of same made, it is intended that all matter contained in the accompanying specification shall be interpreted as illustrative only and not in a limiting sense.