United States Patent 3805704

In a transportation system which interconnects multiple origin and destination points, coupled seat and baggage units for individual passengers are carried by different types of vehicles. Automatic sorters at transfer points uncouple and sort and recouple these units for transfer from one type of vehicle to another, so that a passenger and his baggage can travel from his origin to his destination on several different vehicles without leaving his assigned unit.

Application Number:
Publication Date:
Filing Date:
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
244/118.6, 244/137.1, 414/341, 414/352
International Classes:
B61K1/00; (IPC1-7): B61K1/00
Field of Search:
214/38CA,38BA,38D 213
View Patent Images:

Primary Examiner:
Sheridan, Robert G.
Assistant Examiner:
Keen D. W.
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Woodcock, Washburn, Kurtz & Mackiewicz
What is claimed is

1. A transportation system providing a no-seat-change movement of individual passengers and baggage from their true origin to final destination through any desired sequences of diverse transports and transfers which comprises:

2. The system recited in claim 1 wherein certain of said units further comprise special baggage compartments to accommodate passengers' additional requirements.

3. The system recited in claim 1 wherein certain of said units further comprise freight compartments to permit effective utilization of said system during off-peak periods.

4. The system recited in claim 1 further including special local vehicles which can transport said units individually between said local terminals and the passenger's points of initial origin and final destination, at which points said units can be boarded and vacated, and means at said local terminals for coupling and uncoupling said units.

5. The system recited in claim 1 wherein said sorters have means for loading and unloading said transportation units through the ends of said transports.


This invention facilitates the high-volume transfer of passengers and freight in a multi-vehicle public transportation system.

There are severe limitations on the capacity of small private vehicles to meet the increasingly heavy demand for mass transportation. Common carrier services offer a much more efficient answer to this need; but public acceptance of these services has been greatly hindered by the uncertainties, delays and discomforts involved in the transfer from one vehicle to another in the typical public transportation trip from initial origin to final destination.

The invention described here is designed to eliminate or greatly reduce these difficulties by the use of a system in which individual passenger-seat/baggage-compartment units and special baggage units, moving in various vehicles from multiple origins, can be uncoupled, sorted and recoupled in appropriate new combinations for movement in different vehicles to multiple destinations - with each passenger staying in the same seat, continuously accompanied by his baggage, throughout the entire multi-vehicle trip. The same system can be used for freight and combined passenger-freight operations.


For a description of the objects and embodiments of this invention, reference is made to the attached drawings in which:

FIG. 1 is a basic block diagram of the overall system;

FIGS. 2 and 3 illustrate the individual passenger-seat/baggage-compartment unit in side elevation and plan view;

FIGS. 4 and 5 illustrate a special baggage unit in side and front elevation;

FIG. 6 illustrates the coupling arrangement for these units in enlarged side elevation;

FIGS. 7 and 8 illustrate a local terminal in plan view and front elevation;

FIG. 9 illustrates the terminal drive-gear detail;

FIG. 10 illustrates a loader in side elevation;

FIGS. 11-13 illustrate the loading arrangements for three types of local transports in side elevation;

FIGS. 14-16 illustrate the general arrangement of a sorter in a block diagram and in plan view and side elevation;

FIGS. 17-19A illustrate, in enlarged plan view and side and front elevation, the sorter chains and sprockets equipped for coupling by magnets and, alternatively, by pins;

FIGS. 20-22A illustrate, in plan view and side and front elevation, the sorter dollies equipped for support by air cushion and coupling by magnets and, alternatively, for support by casters and coupling by pins;

FIGS. 23-25 illustrate the sorter connector tracks and input/output chains in plan view and front and side elevation;

FIG. 25A illustrates in side elevation the inter-unit distance in the transition between the sorter connector tracks and input/output chains;

FIG. 26 illustrates a sorter main sprocket (with associated input/output and accelerator/decelerator chains and interior sprockets) in plan view;

FIG. 27 illustrates the sorter side chains in plan view;

FIG. 28 illustrates the waveforms of the input/output and acceleration/deceleration chain speeds; and

FIGS. 29 and 30 illustrate the transverse and transition chains for a complex sorter in plan view and side elevation.


Referring first to FIG. 1 for a general description:

The system employed in this invention has as its basic unit U an individual seat with attached baggage compartment which originates and terminates at local terminals T(1)a-b. These terminals are situated at commercial and residential centers throughout a region and are served by one or more local transportation services -- highway, railroad, short-haul aircraft or watercraft.

Each departing passenger takes a seat in a precoupled unit U at the local terminal T(1)a nearest his point of origin -- with his coat and bags deposited in the individual compartment underneath his seat and, if necessary, in a special baggage unit U(b) to the rear. At departure time, a loader L places the double-unit columns aboard a local transport X which provides a high-frequency shuttle service to the nearest sorter S(1) -- located at an intercity highway interchange, railroad junction, major airport of marine terminal or a combination of these.

Here the individual units U, U(b) are unloaded L and automatically uncoupled, sorted S and recoupled according to each passenger's destination.

The local passengers and baggage units are then reloaded L directly into appropriate local transports X for delivery and unloading L at a local terminal T(1)b-- where each passenger takes his coat and bags from the compartment under his seat U or baggage unit U(b) to the rear and proceeds to his local destination.

The long-haul passengers and baggage units are loaded L into high-capacity, long-haul trains, buses, aircraft, or watercraft XX for transportation to the sorter S(2) nearest to their local destinations -- where they are unloaded L, resorted S according to local destination, reloaded L into appropriate local transports X, and delivered and unloaded L at local terminals T(2)a-b for termination as described above.

Referring next to FIGS. 2-30 for a detailed description:

The basic system unit U (FIGS. 2-3) is a conventional aircraft seat 1 supported as by light stiffeners 2 on the top of a nonferrous metal or plastic baggage compartment 3 with front and rear walls but open sides -- having hinged doors 4 if desired. (Rollers in the compartment bottom and doors can facilitate baggage loading and unloading.)

The forward end of each unit is equipped with an upward-hinged footrest 5 which fits between the stiffeners 2 of the unit just ahead. As by means of a spring-loaded catch 6 (FIG. 6) under the rear unit footrest 5, projecting through a hole in the top of the forward unit baggage compartment 3, units can be coupled together longitudinally by holding the forward unit fixed and bringing the rear unit up against it. As by means of a spring-loaded rod 7 on the forward unit, extending downward through guides from the rear unit catch 6 into a hole in the rear bottom edge of the forward unit baggage compartment 3, the units can be automatically uncoupled whenever the forward unit baggage compartment comes to rest on a boss at the rod location.

The local terminal T (FIGS. 7 and 8) can consist of a weather-protected room in which one or more levels of units U, coupled together into double columns of any desired length with aisles in between, are supported by tracks 8a-c equipped with pairs of longitudinal belts 9 supported by followers 10 and driven by wheels 10a powered by a geared electric motor 11. The vertical track flanges can have lips which fit into low-level notches at the ends of each baggage compartment wall.

Each passenger arriving at the depot places his baggage in the compartment 3 of his preassigned unit U and takes his seat 1. Where passenger reservations have specified more baggage than the regular unit compartments can hold, the remainder can be deposited in special baggage units U(b) (FIGS. 4-5) at the rear of the double columns; and these units can be equipped with bag and hat shelves 12 and coat racks 13. (The forward end of these special units U(b) can be equipped with stub projections 14 which substitute for the passenger unit footrests 5 (FIGS. 2-3) for coupling purposes; and the rear ends can be provided with a coupling rod 7 (FIG. 4) and a slot 15 just under a low-level shelf 12a to accommodate the stub of a special unit to the rear.) Additional special units can be provided to accommodate freight shipments; and by adjusting the ratio of regular and special units, the system can be operated with any desired mixture of passenger and baggage or freight capacity.

In the at-rest terminal configuration, wide aisles 16 (FIGS. 7-8) can be provided to assist passengers in depositing their coats and baggage and seating themselves. To conserve transport space and provide ample clearance between the outer unit columns and transport walls when loading and unloading, the double-unit columns when filled can be drawn closer together as by means of a gear shift 17 (FIGS. 7-9) which connects the belt motor 11 through a lateral shaft 18a having worm gears meshed with nuts on the laterally-sliding belt-support tracks 8a-c. Additional lateral-shift worm-gear shafts 18b-c etc. can be suitably spaced along the aisle 16 and driven by a sprocket and chain 19 on the powered shaft 18a.

The shafts 18a-n can also drive cams 20 which raise the center hinge of the two-panel aisle floor 16 so that this floor is folded upward as the double-unit columns are drawn together.

At departure time, a loader L (FIG. 10) is mated to the local terminal T with a weatherproof seal 21 and connected by rolling doors 22. Like the terminal T, the loader L can be equipped with one or more levels of unit-supporting tracks 8a-c and wheel-driven belts 9. The ends of these tracks can be equipped with foldout extensions 23 which can be lowered in the mated position to connect with the ends of the terminal tracks 8a-c; and by activating both the terminal and loader belts 9, the double-unit columns can be moved into the loader. The loader-belt-track extensions 23 can then be folded upward, the doors 22 can be closed, and the loader L can be moved a short distance to a local transport X. (The terminal- and loader-belt operation can be synchronized by a plug 74 on the outside terminal wall through which the loader belt motor 11 can be powered by a control in the terminal.)

The local transport X (FIGS. 11-13) can be a train or bus or short-haul aircraft or watercraft. The interior of each vehicle is fitted with one of more levels of belt-equipped tracks 8a-c (FIGS. 7-9), spaced to support the unit columns as described above for the local terminals T.

As by means of forward and rear pantographs 24 (FIGS. 10-11), actuated by motor-driven worm gears 25, the loader tracks 8a-c can be positioned vertically to coincide with the ends of the transport tracks 8a-c. When the loader L and transport T hae been mated with a weatherproof seal 21 (FIG. 11), the two doors 22 can be rolled upward, the loader belt extensions 23 can be lowered to connect with the transport tracks 8a-c, and the double columns can be moved into the transport by actuating the loader and transport belts 9.

Where the local transport is a train (FIG. 11), use of a special rail car with rotatable sections 26 and rolling end doors 22 will permit unit loading in the fashion described above.

Where this transport is a bus (FIG. 12), loading in this fashion can readily be performed through hinged end doors 27 and rolling inner doors 22.

Where this transport is a short-haul aircraft (FIG. 13) or watercraft, such loading can again be accomplished through hinged nose and tail doors 28, 28a and rolling inner doors 22.

When positioned in the local transport, the double-unit columns can be moved apart laterally to provide the desired aisle 16 (FIGS. 7-9) in the manner described above for the local terminal. As by reducing the thread pitch on the worm gear shafts 18a-n progressively for the middle track 8b and the outer track 8c, the three tracks can be gradually squeezed together on each double-unit column as it is moved laterally toward the vehicle wall -- thus clamping the floor edges of the individual baggage compartments 3 under the lips on the vertical flanges of the tracks 8a-c. As by clips 29 positioned on the transport floor to engage the bottom flanges on all three tracks at the outer limit of their lateral movement, these tracks can be secured firmly to the vehicle floor for safety in transit.

(If desired, the loader L (FIGS. 10-11) serving the local terminal can be provided with the increased interior width and track-separation mechanism 16-20 (FIGS. 7-9) described above for the local terminal T and can itself serve as this terminal; or such a loader, constructed in the form of a container and incorporating the unit-clamping mechanism 8a-c, 18a-c 29 described above for the local transport X, can itself be placed aboard the transport and carried to the sorter S for direct unloading. Alternatively, where the distance from the local terminal to the sorter is small, the loader can serve as the local transport; or where the transport is capable of being mated (with suitable alignment and a weatherproof seal) directly to the door of the terminal or to an enclosed extension, the loading of this transport can be accomplished directly by a conveyor-track extension of the terminal tracks 8a-c.)

The local transport X (FIG. 1) operates as a high-frequency shuttle between one or more local terminals T(1)a-b and the nearest sorter S(1). Arriving at this sorter, the transport takes a preassigned input-output position 30 (FIG. 14) where its units are unloaded in the reverse of the loading procedure described above and are delivered to the appropriate input section T(1) ai-bi of the sorter.

The basic sorter mechanism (FIG. 15) can consist of an arrangement of nonferrous spool-and-flat-link chains 31a-z and vertical-axis sprockets 32a-z covered by a thin floor 33 (FIG. 16) and housed in a prefabricated air conditioned building 34 (which can, if desired, provide a rooftop landing area for steep-gradient aircraft or can be placed underground to avoid interference with conventional runways and taxiways or surface transportation lines).

The sorter chains and sprocket perimeters can incorporate uniformly-spaced U-shaped electromagnets 35e, 35ee (FIGS. 17-19), each end of each magnet being equipped with a metal-rimmed wheel 36 which positions the magnet face a fraction of an inch below the sorter floor 33. The magnets can be energized as by means of metal-rimmed wheels 37 slanted inward on each side of the center of each magnet. The shafts for these wheels can be insulated from the magnet bar by plastic sleeves 38 and can be connected to the center of the magnet winding 39 -- with this winding being wrapped in opposite directions from the center and being grounded at the ends to the sorter floor through the magnet bar 35 and upper wheels 36.

The bottom edges of the slanted wheels 37 can provide continuous contact with a beveled coupling-power guide 40e, 40ee which provides vertical support and horizontal guidance for the magnets; and this guide can be insulated from the building base and can be divided into separately energized sections 40e (1), 40e(2), etc.) which transmit the various coupling and uncoupling sequences necessary in the optimum sorting program. (Alternatively, the power for these electromagnets can be obtained through special pick-up and grounding arms and wheels and power strips similar to those 50-51 (FIGS. 20-22) described below for the sorter dollies.) Additional slanted guide wheels 37n (FIGS. 17-19), with non-conducting rims, can be provided for support and guidance at the midpoints of the chain links 41 which connect the spools 42 between magnets 35.

The sorter chains 31 can be driven as by appropriately sized main sprockets 32e(1), 32f(1), etc. (FIG. 15) at the ends of the chain runs, supported and held in position by the slanted wheels 37, 37n (FIGS. 17-19) and driven by electric motors 43 geared to racks 44 on the insides of the sprocket rims.

To mesh the main chains 31e-f (FIG. 15) with the main sprockets 32e-f and interior sprockets 32ee-ff, guide arms terminating in small wheels 45 (FIGS. 17-19) on one side and sockets 46 on the other side can extend laterally from braces at the midpoint of each magnet 35 and chain link 41 so that they fit together at the point of tangency t of the chain magnets 35e with the sprocket magnets 35ee. (The smaller sprockets 32a-b, 32c-d, 32h-i for the input-output, acceleration-deceleration and side chains described below do not include magnets and can therefore consist of conventional rims equipped with sockets spaced and sized to mesh directly with the chain spools 42.) (FIGS. 17, 18, 26 & 27.

Double columns of dollies can be prepositioned in the input sections T(1) ai, etc. (FIGS. 14-15) of the sorter S to coincide with the arriving double columns of units. Each dolly D (FIGS. 20-22) can consist basically of a nonferrous metal or plastic tray and frame 47 dimensioned to fit the base of the baggage compartment 3 on an individual unit U. This dolly frame can be equipped with a plastic apron 48 and small electric-powered blower 49 which permits the dolly to operate as an air cushion vehicle. To provide blower power, a roller-equipped arm 50 can extend downward from the dolly frame to an insulated power strip 51 along the dolly path on the upper surface of the sorter floor 33 -- and a low-level power connection 52 can be provided between adjacent dollies so that when locked together they can both be fed from the same power strip 51. (In an alternative or supplementary support arrangement, the corners of the dolly frame can be equipped with large pneumatic-tired casters 53 (FIGS. 20A-22A).)

A spring-loaded nonferrous plate 54 (FIGS. 20-22) can extend laterally underneath the middle of each dolly frame 47 and can be horizontally restrained at each end by brackets 55. To this plate can be fastened an array of inverted U-shaped and L-shaped electromagnets 56a-c, 57a-b (or permanent magnets for the caster-support arrangement) having the same longitudinal pole-to-pole dimension a as the sorter chain and sprocket magnets 35e, 35ee (FIGS. 17-19) and being equipped with nonconducting wheels 58 (FIGS. 20-22) which coincide with the sorter-chain magnet wheels 36 (FIGS. 17-19) beneath the sorter floor 33 and which position the dolly faces a fraction of an inch above this floor. (To furnish the ground connection for the dolly blower and electromagnets, two of the magnet wheels 58 on each dolly can be conductors -- with insulated shafts 59 connected to the dolly frame 47 by wires which lead through unidirectional current-control elements 60 to prevent grounding of the blower-power strip 51 when one of these wheels passes over it --or this ground connection can be provided by additional roller-equipped arms 50 which afford continuous contact with the sorter floor 33. A similar current-control element 60 can be used in the wires from the power pick-up arms 50 to prevent grounding when one of these arms is in contact with the sorter floor.)

The three interior magnets 56a-c are centered on the dolly's longitudinal center line, oriented fore and aft, with a lateral separation b just equal to that between the chain and sprocket magnets 35e, 35ee (FIGS. 17-19) at the point of tangency t in the sorter.

The exterior magnets 57a-b (FIGS. 20-22 are designed to interlock on adjacent dollies to form three fore-and-aft pairs with the same longitudinal and lateral interpole separations a and b as the interior magnets 56a-c. Both the double-legged sections 57a and the single-legged sections 57b of the exterior magnets have lateral connecting bars; and the double-legged sections 57a also have longitudinal connecting bars which, for adjacent dollies, are joined on a vertical diagonal face. The flux-path between the poles of any of the three exterior-magnet fore-and-aft pairs will thus flow through this joint and will hold the dollies together both laterally and longitudinally.

This arrangement permits magnetic coupling and switching in accordance with central sorting program signals by alignment of the sorter magnets 35e, 35ee, etc. (FIGS. 17-19) in the chains 31e and sprockets 32ee etc. just beneath the sorter floor 33 with either the single-unit dolly magnets 56a-c (FIGS. 20-22) or the double-unit dolly magnets 57a-b just above this floor. (In an alternative arrangement, the dolly coupling can be accomplished mechanically as by replacing the sorter magnets 35e, 35ee, etc. (FIGS. 17-19) by pairs of vertical solenoids 61 (FIGS. 18A-19A) with windings energized in pairs through the slanted wheels 37 at the center of each link 41 (and grounded through the upper wheels 36) and with pins 61a which, when actuated by energizing the associated sections of the coupling power strips 40e(1), (2), etc., can be inserted through a narrow slot 62 in the sorter floor 33 into properly spaced pairs of elongated holes 63 (FIGS. 20A-22A) in low-level plates 64 suspended by brackets 65 beneath the middle of each dolly tray and frame 47. As through extensions 66 of these plates beyond the dolly frames and a step 67 in one end of each plate to provide a slight vertical clearance, adjacent dollies can be locked together for paired movement when the pins are inserted upward through double pairs of holes by energizing the appropriate coupling-power strip sections.)

(Strengthening of the sorter floor 33 (FIGS. 17-19) to carry the weight of the dollies D and their unit loads U, U(b) can be accomplished as by increasing the thickness of the flooring on both sides of the coupling magnet paths and providing beams 68 supported on columns 69 on each side of the sorter chains 31e and sprocket rims 32ee, etc.)

The double columns of units U (FIGS. 23-25) arriving at the sorter S are moved by loader L (or directly by conveyor tracks) onto short roller-equipped connector tracks 70 which provide a transition to the double-dolly columns (D--D) l-n. (To facilitate unit movement, the loader's rear pantograph 24 (FIG. 10) can be raised sufficiently to slant the loader track extensions 23 (FIG. 25) at the same angle q as the connector tracks 70.)

To hold each unit U firmly on its dolly D, the bottom of the baggage compartment 3 (FIGS. 20-22) can be indented to coincide with bosses 71 at the corners of the dolly tray. Placement of the double units (U--U) 1-n (FIGS. 23-25) on prepositioned double dollies (D--D)l-n (center-coupled through their interlocked magnets 57a-b to sorter magnets 35a on each input chain 31a) is accomplished when the front of the first double-dolly frame (D--D)1 engages the forward bottom edge of the first double unit (U--U)1 at the lower end of the connector track 70. (To hold each double unit at the end of the track until a double dolly is in position to engage it, the end roller on each rail can be replaced with an adjustable-friction rubber disc 72 of the same size.)

The longitudinal spacing d of the sorter magnets 35a on the input chain 31a, and hence of the dollies D coupled to them through the sorter floor 33, is equal to the length c of the units U being delivered to these dollies from the loader track extensions 23 plus the interunit distance e (equal to the height f of the unit baggage compartment 3 multiplied by the tangent of the connector track angle q) which develops in the transition of units from the connector track 70 to the dollies D, (FIG. 25a). The order of these double units is prearranged by the original seat assignment at the local terminal T(1) a to end up with the related-passenger units (U--U)l-n at the delivery end of the input chain and the individual passenger units (U)l-n (still in pairs) at the receiving end.

Power is supplied to the input-chain drive motor 43 (FIGS. 17-19) in a sinusoidal pattern, producing a chain speed pattern s (a) (FIG. 28) running from zero to a level x sufficient to advance each dolly one space d (FIG. 25) on each input chain cycle g (FIG. 28). As each double unit (U--U)1 (FIGS. 23-25) is pulled forward on a double dolly (D--D)1 by the sinusoidal advancement of the input chain 31a, bosses 73 (FIGS. 20-22A) centered on top of the back of each dolly tray raise the unit rods 7 (FIG. 6) and interunit catches 6 and uncouple this double unit (U--U)1 (FIGS. 23-25) from the double unit (U--U)2 just behind it. The first double unit (U--U)1 then moves forward on its double dolly (D-D)1; and the next double dolly (D--D)2 is advanced by the input chain 31a to engage the next double unit (U--U)2. This process continues until all double units in the column are positioned on double dollies.

(The outer wall of the sorter at each input postion can be equipped with a receptacle 74 into which the loader L can plug and through which a central computer 75 (FIGS. 14-15), by controlling a sinusoidal power supply for the loader-belt drive motor 11 (FIG. 10), can determine the sorter-feeding rate for each loader in accordance with the dolly-introduction program for that input position.)

The double units (U--U)l-n on the input chain 31a can be introduced into the sorter as soon as required in the optimum sorting program established by the central computer for the particular combination of destinations involved in the units positioned at that moment on all of the sorter's input chains.

To give each unit a comfortable transition from the standstill input-chain condition 0 (FIG. 28) to the standard sorter chain speed y, the sprocket 32(a)2 (FIG. 26) at the delivery end of the input chain 31a can be positioned adjacent to a sprocket 32c(1) at the pick-up end of an acceleration chain 31c -- with a separation b equal to the lateral magnet separation on the dollies D (FIGS. 20-22).

The sprocket drive motor 43 (FIGS. 17-19) for this acceleration chain 31c (FIG. 26) is powered to produce a sinusoidal speed pattern s(c) (FIG. 28) with a cycle time g similar to that of the input chain pattern s(a) but with a 180° phase difference and with minimum and maximum speeds just equal to the maximum input-chain speed x and standard main-chain speed y, respectively. (The standard main-chain speed y is determined by the centrifugal force which can be confortably experienced as a unit travels around the perimeter of an interior sprocket 32ee-ff (FIG. 15). For a passenger weighing 150 pounds, traveling on the perimeter of a sprocket 10 feet in diameter, a main-chain speed of 4.4 feet/second (3 miles per hour) will produce a centrifugal force of approximately 14 pounds -- which appears to be well within acceptable limits.)

Many different configurations of chains 31 and sprockets 32 can be employed in the sorter to serve systems of varying complexity. The configuration described here, simply as an illustration, provides for each end of each main chain 31e, etc. (FIG. 26) to be served by two input chains 31a-b and two output chains 31y-z -- each with an acceleration chain 31c-d, 31w-x.

The sprockets 32c(2), 32dd(6) at the delivery end of these acceleration chains 31c, 31d are adjacent to a main chain 31e as it passes around a main sprocket 32e(1), with separations b equal in each case to the lateral magnet separation b on the dollies D (FIGS. 20-22).

In this arrangement, units are fed onto the main chain 31e (FIG. 26) alternately by one acceleration chain 31c and then the other 31d. At the point that an input to this main chain is appropriate in the optimum sorting program, a signal from the central computer 75 (FIGS. 14-15) energizes the coupling power strip 40a (FIGS. 23-25) for all of the sorter magnets 35a on the first input chain 31a; and all units on this chain are gradually accelerated and then decelerated in a sinusoidal pattern s(a) (FIG. 28) which advances them one space d (FIGS. 23-25). At the point of maximum speed, the center poles of the interlocked magnets 57a-b for the first double dolly (D--D)1 are automatically uncoupled from the input chain magnet 35a by deenergizing its coupling-power guide 40a -- while the left poles of these interlocked double-dolly magnets are simultaneously coupled to the adjacent acceleration-chain magnet 35c(FIG. 26) by energizing its coupling-power strip. (To overcome any drag effects of residual magnetism, the coupling-power strips in the "off" condition can be energized with a slight negative voltage.) As by the error-signal-actuated governors 76 (FIGS. 17-19) for the input and acceleration-chain motors 43, the two chain-speed cycles s(a), s(c) (FIG. 28) are synchronized so that the cycle low point x for the acceleration chain 31c (FIG. 26) coincides at the point of tangency t with the cycle high point x for the input chain 31a; and the switching of units from the input-chain coupling 35a to the acceleration-chain coupling 35c can thus be accomplished smoothly.

As by means of these same governors, the input- and accelerator-chain cycles are synchronized with the movement of the main-chain magnets 35e around the main sprocket 32e(1) and after the first double dolly (D--D)1 has been gradually accelerated from the maximum input-chain speed x (FIG. 28) up to the standard main-chain speed y, this double dolly can be smoothly switched from the acceleration chain 31c (FIG. 26) to either the main chain 31e or main sprocket 32e (1) at the point of tangency t. This switching is accomplished on a signal from the central computer which, as the acceleration-chain magnet 35c for this double unit reaches the point of tangency, deenergizes this magnet through its coupling-power guide and energizes either the adjacent main-chain magnet 35e or the adjacent main-sprocket magnet 35es through their respective coupling-power guides and shifts the coupling of this double dolly from its left interlocked magnet poles 57a-b (FIGS. 20-22) to either its center or its right interlocked poles. (The switching sequence described above can be graphically summarized by a bold line (FIG. 28) which follows the leading edge of the input- and acceleration-chain sine waves s(a), s(c) from a zero-speed point up to the main-chain speed level y.

Introduction of units from the adjacent input chain 31b (FIG. 26) is accomplished in the same manner, except that several small guide sprockets 32d (2-5) can be employed to give the acceleration chain 31d a gradual angular transition between its points of tangency t with the input chain 31b and main chain 31e.

The phase relationship h (FIG. 28) between the adjacent input-chain cycles s(a), s(b) can be determined by the relative lengths of the dolly-travel paths on the associated acceleration chains 31c, 31d (FIG. 26) and by the perimetal distance between their points of tangency t with the main chain 31e on the main sprocket 32e(1). The cycles for these input chains and their respective acceleration chains can be staggered so that by alternation they feed consecutive main-chain magnets 35e; or if the optimum sorting program calls for units on every second mainchain magnet, the cycle time g (FIG. 28) for the input- and acceleration-chain cycles can be doubled. Whenever required in the optimum sorting program or because of a malfunction, the feeding of units onto the main chains 31e, etc. (FIG. 26) can be interrupted for any desired period by a sustained deenergizing of the coupling-power guides for the input chains 31a-b.

As the last of the double units (U--U)n (FIGS. 23-25) approaches the delivery end of an input chain 31a, the procedure for single units (U)l-n can be commenced as by the use of side chains 31h, 31i (FIGS. 15, 27) located on either side of the input chain 31a and geared to the same cycle s(a) (FIG. 28).

When the dollies (D)1-(D)2 (FIGS. 23-25) for the first pair of these single units (U)1-(U)2 reach the zero-speed point (FIG. 28) adjacent to the receiving ends of the side chains, a central computer signal uncouples all the remaining dolly pairs from the input chain 31a and (through their left and center interior magnets 56c, 56a (FIGS. 20-22), respectively) couples the first left dolly (D)1 to a sorter magnet 35h (FIG. 27) on the left side chain 31h and the first right dolly (D)2 to a fixed electromagnet 77 adjacent to the right side chain 31i.

On the next input- and side-chain cycle, the interlocking magnets 57a-b (FIGS. 20-22) on these first two dollies are disengaged; and the first left dolly (D)1 (FIG. 27) is pulled straight forward to a guide sprocket 32h(2).

On the following cycle, a central computer signal uncouples the first right dolly (D)2 from the fixed magnet 77 and couples it (through its right interior magnet 56b (FIGS. 20-22)) to a sorter magnet 35i (FIG. 27) on the right side chain 31i which pulls it straight forward to its guide sprocket 32i(2). On this cycle, and on every other cycle thereafter, all the remaining dolly pairs (D)3-(D)4, etc. (FIGS. 23-25) on the input chain 31a are advanced one space d.

On this same cycle, the first left dolly (D)1 (FIG. 27) is redirected by its guide sprocket 32h(2) onto a side-chain path 31h which gradually converges with the input chain 31a. This convergence terminates a few cycles later with a zero-speed point at a delivery sprocket 32h(3), separated from the input chain 31a by the dolly-magnet lateral separation b (FIGS. 20-22). At the point of tangency t (FIG. 27), central computer signals uncouple this left dolly (D)1 (through its left interior magnet 56c (FIGS. 20-22)) from the left side-chain magnet 35h (FIG. 27) and couple it (through its center interior magnet 56a) to the adjacent input-chain magnet 35a; and this dolly and its individual unit (U)1 move forward on the input chain 31a.

The first right dolly (D)2 (FIGS. 23-25) proceeds through this same convegence one cycle behind the first left dolly (D)1 (and is followed in turn by the second left dolly (D)3 and second right dolly (D)4, etc.); and the string of individual units (U)1-n thus travels onward to the acceleration chain 31c (FIG. 26) and main chain 31e in the same manner described above for the double units (U--U)1-n.

(If the caster-support and the pin-and-hole coupling alternative 53, 61-63 (FIGS. 18A-22A) is used for dolly operations, the guide sprockets 32h (2), 32i(2) (FIG. 27) can be moved outward a sufficient distance to permit clearance between the dolly coupling plate extensions 66 (FIGS. 20A-22A) and the casters 53 on the adjacent dolly; and the two individual dollies, after being uncoupled jointly from the input-chain solenoid pair 35a (FIG. 27) and coupled separately to the left and and right side-chain solenoid pairs 35h, 35i, can be pulled forward together to the guide sprocket before the one-after-the-other advancement sequence is commenced.)

In the sorter configuration used here for illustration, the actual sorting process starts when the first double unit (U--U)1 (FIGS. 23-25) on the acceleration chain 31c (FIG. 26) reaches the point of tangency t with the main chain 31e. Here, in accordance with central computer signals based on the optimum sorting program for that moment, this double unit can either be switched to a mainchain magnet 35e (by coupling with the center interlocked dolly magnet 57a-b (FIGS. 20-22) and carried forward on the main chain to the first interior sprocket 32ee(1) (FIG. 26) or it can be switched to a main sprocket magnet 35es (by coupling with the right interlocked dolly magnet), carried around the main sprocket perimeter to the point of tangency with a deceleration chain 31x or 31w switched to one of these deceleration chain magnets 35x or 35w (by coupling with the left interlocked dolly magnet) and then switched to an output chain magnet 35z or 35y (by coupling with the center interlocked dolly magnet).

If the double unit is carried forward to the first interior sprocket 32ee(1), it can be either continued forward on the main chain (by maintaining the coupling with the center interlocked dolly magnet) or, depending on its programmed destination, switched to an interior-sprocket magnet 35ee (by coupling with the right interlocked dolly magnet).

If switched, the double unit can be carried half-way around the sprocket perimeter, switched to a magnet 35ef on the next interior sprocket 32ef(1) (by coupling with the left interlocked dolly magnet), carried half-way around this sprocket perimeter, and switched again either to a magnet 35f on the next main chain 31f (FIG. 15) (by coupling with the center interlocked dolly magnet) or to a magnet 35ff on the next interior sprocket 32ff(1) by coupling with the right interlocked dolly magnet).

By a sequence of switching operations, with the spacing of unit coupling on the chain and sprocket magnets programmed to avoid intersection conflicts, the sorter can rapidly deliver the units to the deceleration and output chains 31x, 31z, etc., for the various local and long-haul destinations in the system.

To minimize unit travel in the sorter (FIG. 14), the output position o for any particular connecting service can be located diametrically opposite the input position i; and to eliminate transport or loader travel around the sorter, each transport can alternate its service between two different origin/destination points T(1)a, T(1)b or S(2), S(3) (FIG. 1) -- with the sorter input position T(1)a(i) or S(2)i (FIG. 14) for one such point adjacent to the sorter output position T(1)b(o) or S(3)o for the other and vice versa T(1)a(o), T(1)b(i), and S(2)o, S(3)i.

The typical sorter S(1) illustrated here (FIGS. 1, 14-15) serves a combination of local and long-haul origins and destinations. The input procedure for units U arriving in local transports X from terminals T(1)a, T(1)b throughout the adjacent regions has been described above. The input procedure is the same for units arriving in long-haul transports XX from other sorters S(2), S(3) in the system -- except that these long-haul transports (large airplanes, trains and perhaps buses and watercraft) will typically carry several hundred units, possibly in multiple levels, and will require the use of larger loaders (possibly with multiple levels or with pantographs 24 (FIGS. 1-11) adequate to reach the upper transport levels) and perhaps the assignment of multiple output and input positions S(2)o, S(2)oo, etc. (FIG. 14) for each such transport.

The output procedure for the units U (FIG. 1) sorted for local transports X serving local terminals T(1)a, T(1)b in the regions adjacent to this sorter S(1), and for long-haul transports XX serving other sorters S(2), S(3) in the system, is simply the reverse of the input procedure.

After discharging its double-unit columns onto loader tracks 8 (FIG. 10) (or conveyor tracks) for delivery to input chains 31a-b (FIG. 15), each transport is loaded -- by just the reverse of the process described above -- with the units (assembled in double-unit columns on output chains 31y-z) which have arrived a few moments earlier on other long-haul or local transports and have been sorted for destinations served by this particular vehicle and delivered to the appropriate output positions. (The loaders used to deliver arriving units from incoming transports to input positions can, if desired, be shifted immediately to adjacent output positions as by means of lateral belts so that they can load departing units for delivery to outgoing transports.)

The operation at the output positions follows the above-described input procedure, but with the direction and movement of the units reversed. The output-chain magnets 35z (FIGS. 23-25), coupled to the center interlocked magnet 57a-b on each double dolly, move the double units (U--U)l-n in sequence onto the inclined connector track 70 and up the rollers to loader track extensions 23 (or conveyor tracks). As the first double unit (U--U)1 leaves its double dolly (D--D)1, the spring-loaded unit rods 7 (FIG. 6) return to their at-rest position and, by lowering the catches 6 on each half of the double unit (U--U)2 immediately to the rear, couple the two double units together. (Once the first double unit (U--U)1 reaches the loader track extension 23 (FIGS. 23-25) at the upper end of the connector track 70, the loader belts help to pull the following mechanically-coupled double units (U--U)2-n onto the connector and loader tracks; and this pull from the double-unit column on the belts will be sufficient to load the last few double units which have no push from units on dollies behind them.)

The double dollies on the output chain 31z, after having their double units unloaded in this manner, are advanced to a transverse distributor chain 31r (FIGS. 15, 25) where (in accordance with coupling-power-guide signals from the central computer 75) they are circulated in the above-described sinusoidal pattern and delivered as necessary to accommodate double-unit columns arriving at adjacent input chains 31a-b.

(Where a special baggage unit U(b) (FIGS. 4-5) arriving at a sorter S (FIGS. 14-15) contains bags for more than one destination, these bags can be placed on empty dolly trays on the input chain and delivered through the sorter to the output chains for their respective destinations. Here they can be consolidated in special baggage units arriving from other transports or fed into the sorter at appropriate times by the central computer 75 from a special-unit storage circuit 78a consisting of connector chains 31s and a storage chain 31t with the same sinusoidal speed patterns s(c), s(a) (FIG. 28) described above the acceleration and input chains, respectively. If desired, special seat units can also be used in the system, equipped with swivel chairs, desks, or other equipment meeting special passenger desires; and these units can be kept in similar storage circuit 78b (FIGS. 14-15) in the sorter for assignment as needed. Special food and beverage units can be received from incoming transports and cleaned and restocked to meet the needs of outgoing transports in a kitchen 79a connected to this storage circuit by an input-output chain 31k; and special lavatory units can be emptied and cleaned in an additional facility 79b with a similar connection 31l.)

As soon as a local or long-haul transport X, XX (FIG. 1) is loaded L at a sorter S(1), it departs. When a local transport X arrives at one of its local terminals T(1)a, the units U,U(b) for the local destinations served by this terminal are unloaded L by the exact reverse of the loading procedure described above, and as soon as these units have come to rest in the terminal, each passenger takes his coat and bags from the baggage compartment beneath his seat U or the special baggage unit U(b) to the rear and proceeds to his destination.

When a long-haul vehicle XX arrives at one of its other sorters S(2), the units for the local terminals T(2)a, T(2)b served by this sorter are unloaded L, sorted S by local destination, and loaded L into local transports X for transportation to these terminals as described above.

The basic combination of chains and sprockets in the sorter arrangement described above can be expanded to accommodate any necessary degree of system complexity.

In a system with a large number of local terminals and sorters, the long movements of units perpendicular to the sorter main chains can be expedited as by an arrangement of upper-level transverse chains 31v (FIGS. 29-30) served by strategically located transition chains 31u -- with the power in the transition-chain magnets increased as necessary to provide the coupling strength for the transition slopes and with the chain links articulated vertically (as well as horizontally) to accommodate the upward and downward curves of these slopes. Alternatively, these perpendicular unit movements can be accommodated by providing additional columns of interior sprockets 32ee-ff, etc. (FIG. 15) and by programming unit inputs on alternate magnets on each main chain 31e-f.

To achieve extremely large sorters, this arrangement can be expanded vertically by the addition of a second sorter floor -- with units in the local and long-haul transports positioned so that the loaders can serve the upper and lower levels consecutively. Operations in a complex system of this kind can, if desired, be further facilitated by providing an intermediate level of subsorters between the main sorters and the local terminals.

For continuous operation of a 36-position sorter of the configuration illustrated here (FIGS. 29-30), with a sorter speed of 4.4 feet/second (3 mph) as described and assuming that half of the units to be sorted involve individual passengers, the internal travel time from the input to the output connector tracks will range from 11/2 minutes for the shortest movement to 3 minutes for the longest movement. With belt-actuated loading and unloading of the shuttle-operated transports as described, the typical turn-around time at the sorter will be 3 to 5 minutes. The total transfer time at this sorter for a typical passenger will thus average approximately 6 minutes.

The convenience of this system can be further increased, if desired, by a pick-up and delivery arrangement between the local terminals and the origins and destinations of passengers at their homes or places of business or congregation.

This arrangement can make use of special local vehicles which can be shortened versions of the loader L described above (FIGS. 1, 9-11), with the unit-clamping track arrangement described for the transports 8a-c, 18a-c, 29 but without pantographs.

In the departure movement, such vehicles can provide individual units or small groups of units for boarding by passengers and baggage at the passengers' actual points of origin and carry these units to the nearest local terminal. Here they can be coupled with other units in any desired order by mating the vehicle and terminal tracks and, by actuating the vehicle belts, engaging the unit-footrest catches with units already on the terminal tracks.

In the arrival movement, units received at a local terminal from a sorter or from another local terminal can be uncoupled as by a solenoid plunger which is centered between the tracks 8a,b for each unit column and which, when actuated by a signal in the terminal, lifts the coupling rod 7 and catch 6 (FIG. 6) on adjacent units as the first of these units is advanced by the terminal belts 9 (FIG. 9) to a mated vehicle with a slightly higher belt speed. This vehicle can then carry a single unit or small group of units from the local terminal to the passengers' actual points of destination, where they take their baggage and alight.