Title:
Apparatus and methods for providing a retractable mast
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
Apparatus and methods for raising a retractable mast comprise engaging at least three flat flexible strips such that each strip forms a side of a mast. Each strip comprises a set of tabs and slots disposed along opposite edges of the strips. The housing may further comprise a feed mechanism operable to interlock the at least three lengths of flexible strips by drawing the strips together causing each tab of each strip to engage with a slot of an adjacent flexible strip. In addition, the apparatus may comprise a controller module operable to control extending and retracting the mast. The apparatus may be incorporated in a robotic device operable to travel in at least a horizontal plane and extend the retractable mast.



Inventors:
Woodruff, Christopher D. (Palmetto, FL, US)
Groah, Kevin (Mims, FL, US)
Woodruff, George E. (Titusville, FL, US)
Application Number:
11/406500
Publication Date:
11/23/2006
Filing Date:
04/19/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
B65H54/22
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
VANAMAN, FRANK BENNETT
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
LOWE HAUPTMAN BERNER, LLP (1700 DIAGONAL ROAD, SUITE 300, ALEXANDRIA, VA, 22314, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A method for raising a retractable mast, comprising: engaging at least three flexible strips such that each strip forms a side of a mast, each strip comprising a first edge portion, a second edge portion and a body there between, whereby a set of tabs and slots disposed along opposite edges of each of the at least three flexible strips engage opposing slots and tabs disposed on the edge portions of adjacent flexible strips.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein engaging further comprises engaging at least three identical flat flexible strips.

3. The method of claim 1, wherein engaging further comprises engaging alternating sets of tabs and slots disposed along opposite edges of each of at least three flat flexible strips.

4. The method of claim 1, wherein engaging further comprises drawing the at least three flexible strips together from a point within the mast, by operation of a drive mechanism within the mast.

5. The method of claim 1, further comprising automatically extending at least one electronic signal carrying cable from a base of the mast to a top of the mast, the cable maintaining continuous continuously as the mast is raised and retracted.

6. The method of claim 1, further comprising shielding the mast with a protective cover as the mast is raised and retracted.

7. The method of claim 1, further comprising determining a height to which the mast is raised.

8. The method of claim 1, further comprising synchronizing raising and retracting a plurality of masts.

9. The method of claim 1, further comprising rotating a threaded shaft in an essentially vertical axis, the shaft thread engaging slots disposed on at least one side of the mast.

10. An apparatus for forming a retractable mast, comprising: a support structure; at least three lengths of flexible strips, the strips stored within the support structure, each strip including: a first planar surface substantially parallel to a second planar surface; a first edge portion, a second edge portion, and a body there between; a plurality of tabs and slots disposed along the lengths of opposing first and second edge portions; a feed mechanism mounted to the support member, the feed mechanism operable to interlock the at least three lengths of flexible strips by engaging each tab of each of the at least three flexible strips with a slot of an adjacent flexible strip; and a controller module operable to control extending and retracting the mast.

11. The apparatus of claim 10, comprising three flat flexible strips.

12. The apparatus of claim 10, wherein alternating sets of slots and tabs are formed on each edge of the at least three lengths of flexible strips.

13. The apparatus of claim 10, wherein each tab disposed along one edge portion of each strip is substantially opposite a slot disposed along the other edge portion of the strip.

14. The apparatus of claim 10, wherein at least one flexible strip comprises a plurality of angled slots spaced along the length of the flexible strip, wherein the feed mechanism comprises a threaded shaft extending in a substantially vertical axis from a base of the mast, and wherein the threaded shaft further comprises a helical thread disposed on an exterior surface of the threaded shaft, the helical thread operable to engage a portion of the plurality of angled slots.

15. The apparatus of claim 14, wherein the threaded shaft comprises a coaxial bore.

16. The apparatus of claim 10, further comprising a retractable shield operable to surround the mast as the mast is extended.

17. The apparatus of claim 10 further comprising a cable management system operable to maintain a continuous electrical connection between at least one electrical device disposed within the housing and at least one other electrical device mounted on a top of the mast while the mast is extended and retracted.

18. The apparatus of claim 17, wherein the cable management system comprises a slip ring operable to maintain at least 15 continuous electrical connections.

19. The apparatus of claim 10 further comprises a control unit in electrical communication with the controller module, the control unit operable by a user to control the extending and retracting of the mast.

20. The apparatus of claim 19, wherein the control unit is in wireless communication with the controller module.

21. The apparatus of claim 10, further comprising a transport mechanism whereby the apparatus is operable to travel along a surface under control of the controller module.

22. The apparatus according to claim 10, further comprising a harness operable to allow an individual to operate the apparatus while harnessed to the individual.

23. The apparatus according to claim 10, further comprising a suitcase wherein the housing is removeably mounted within the suitcase.

24. A robot, comprising a housing, the housing further comprising: a transport mechanism operable to propel the housing along a surface; a lift mechanism operable to form a retractable mast, the lift mechanism including: at least three lengths of flexible strips; a feed mechanism operable to draw the at least three lengths of flexible strips together and form the retractable mast; and a controller module operable to control an operation of the transport mechanism and the lift mechanism.

Description:

CLAIM OF PRIORITY UNDER 35 U.S.C. §119

The present Application for Patent claims priority to U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/674,345 entitled “Autonomous or Controlled Robot for Undervehicle Inspection” filed Apr. 19, 2005, U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/674,346 entitled “Sensor/Camera Back Pack Lift” filed Apr. 19, 2005, and U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/755,054 entitled “Zipper Mast Lift” filed Dec. 30, 2005, assigned to the assignee hereof and hereby expressly incorporated by reference herein.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The disclosed embodiments relate to lift mechanisms, and more particularly, to apparatus and methods for forming a retractable rigid mast.

Lift mechanism technology includes, but is not limited to, hydraulic, pneumatic, and link type structures that may be combined together to form a rigid structure.

BACKGROUND

Extendable masts have seen applications in both the commercial and military markets. For example, electronic packages mounted atop retractable masts include communication and sensor devices, i.e., antennas, cameras and microphones, for collecting sensory data and/or transmitting the collected data to a remote location.

Various mast designs with interlocking webs are known. However the designs of previous interlocking mechanisms have generally required specialized manufacturing processes and manual adjustment by persons of specialized knowledge of the design both during the manufacturing process and during the operation of the lift mechanism, to ensure proper registration of the components forming the mast.

Because of the nature of the mast, structural integrity of the mast may be critically diminished due to the failure of a relatively small number of interlocking segments. Furthermore, even small registration errors may cause the mast to bind during formation resulting in a failure to raise the mast. Ensuring proper registration without human intervention is critical in remote use application wherein an operator may not be available to ensure that the pieces of the mast interlock correctly.

Furthermore, previous designs may not have used identical mast components utilizing repeating patterns of interlocking mechanisms to ensure accurate registration of adjacent mast elements. Although slight deviations may not be sufficient to prevent the mast from being formed, even small variations may cause the mast to twist, resulting in instability and an inability to accurately determine a direction in which a device at the top of the mast is pointed.

As the deployment of mobile surveillance and communication systems increases, a lightweight, portable, mobile, and reliable retractable platform support systems may be desirable.

BRIEF SUMMARY

In one aspect, a method operable for raising a retractable mast comprises engaging at least three flexible strips such that each strip forms a side of a mast. Each strip further comprises a first edge portion, a second edge portion and a body there between, whereby a set tabs and slots disposed along opposite edges of each of the at least three flexible strips engage opposing slots and tabs disposed on the edge portions of adjacent flexible strips.

An apparatus for forming a retractable mast may include a support structure for support at least three lengths of flat flexible strips stored on spools. Each flexible strip may include a first planar surface substantially parallel to a second planar surface, a first edge portion, a second edge portion, and a body there between. Disposed along the lengths of opposing first and second edge portions is a plurality of tabs and slots preferably disposed in a repeating pattern.

In addition, the housing may further comprise a feed mechanism operable to interlock the at least three lengths of flexible strips by drawing the at least three strip together causing each tab of each of the at least three flexible strips to engage with a slot of an adjacent flexible strip.

Furthermore, the apparatus may comprise a controller module operable to control extending and retracting the mast.

Another aspect of the apparatus may include a robot device comprising a housing further comprising a transport mechanism operable to propel the housing along a surface and a lift mechanism operable to form a retractable mast.

The robotic lift mechanism may include at least three lengths of flat flexible strips, a feed mechanism operable to draw the flexible strips together and form the retractable mast. In addition, the housing may include a controller module operable to control an operation of the transport mechanism and the lift mechanism.

For efficiency in the manufacturing process, the strips forming the mast should be identical and the pattern of slots and tabs disposed on both edges of the strip should be repeating.

Additional aspects and advantages of the disclosed embodiments are set forth in part in the description which follows, and in part are obvious from the description, or may be learned by practice of the disclosed embodiments. The aspects and advantages of the disclosed embodiments may also be realized and attained by the means of the instrumentalities and combinations particularly pointed out in the appended claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The disclosed embodiments will hereinafter be described in conjunction with the appended drawings provided to illustrate and not to limit the disclosed embodiments, wherein like designations denote like elements, and in which:

FIG. 1 is a perspective drawing of a lift mechanism forming a retractable mast from a set of flexible strips;

FIG. 2 is a view taken along lines 2-2 of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a plan view of a portion of one embodiment of the flexible strip according to FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is a plan view of a portion of another embodiment of the flexible strip according to FIG. 1;

FIG. 5 is partial side view of two adjacent flexible strips interlocking to form the retractable mast of FIG. 1;

FIG. 6 is a block diagram of the lift mechanism according to FIG. 1;

FIG. 7A and 7B are perspective drawings of components of a cable management system according to FIG. 1;

FIG. 8 is a perspective drawing of one embodiment of a weather shield for protecting the lift mechanism of FIG. 1;

FIG. 9 is an environmental drawing of one embodiment of a backpack incorporating the lift mechanism of FIG. 1.

FIG. 10 is an embodiment of a robotic device incorporating the lift mechanism of FIG. 1;

FIG. 11 is a block diagram of the robotic device according to FIG. 10;

FIG. 12A is a perspective drawing of one embodiment of a suitcase incorporating the lift mechanism incorporating the lift mechanism of FIG. 1; and

FIG. 12B is a perspective drawing of another embodiment of a suitcase incorporating the lift mechanism incorporating the lift mechanism of FIG. 1.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

FIG. 1 illustrates one embodiment of an apparatus 10 for raising a retractable mast 100 formed from at least three flat flexible strips 102, 104, 106, each strip having a set of tabs and slots disposed along opposite edges of the strips so that the tabs of one strip engage the slots of an adjacent strip in an interlocking relationship to hold the strips in a rigid formation. The strips may be identical to reduce manufacturing and production costs.

Non-limiting, the lift mechanism apparatus 10 of FIG. 1 illustrates a camera/sensor package 168 and microphone 182 being elevated by a mast 100 rising from a base unit 78 that further comprises three pairs of spaced apart upright support members 70 preferably mounted on a partially shown support surface 79. Each pair of upright support members 70 respectively supports a spool assembly 82, 84 and 86 rotatably mounted along a horizontal axis.

FIG. 1 further illustrates a feed mechanism 80 mounted to the base 78. The feed mechanism 80 is operable to draw together strips 102, 104, and 106 from spools 82, 84, and 86. The strips may pass around rollers 76 that may include a cambered surface 81 operable to press against the body of each strip thereby inducing the inward camber 108, 110, 112 illustrated in the mast section view of FIG. 2.

Locking mechanisms disposed on opposing edges of the strips are brought together by action of the feed mechanism 80 and a mast having a triangular cross section (see FIG. 2) is formed, raising platform 194 that supports camera/sensor package 168.

Non-limiting, the feed mechanism 80 comprises a threaded shaft 156 rotatably mounted to the base 78 along a substantially vertical axis of rotation, and may be positioned at a center of a triangle formed by the three strips 102, 104 and 106 as best depicted in FIG. 2. Rotated by a motor 170 mounted on the base 78 through a belt drive 94, chain drive or other appropriate linkage arrangement, the threaded shaft 156 comprises a helical thread 92 operable to extend or lower the mast 100 by engaging at least one row of angled slots 144 disposed along the length of at least one of strips 102, 104, and 106, as depicted in FIG. 3. Non-limiting, threaded shaft 156 may operate to engage all strips forming mast 100, as depicted in FIG. 2, or in other embodiments, threaded shaft 156 may be operable to engage only one or some number of strips less than the number of strips forming the mast 100. For example, in one embodiment, only one strip may comprise angled slots 144 and the threaded shaft is configured to engage only the strip comprising the angled slots 144.

Furthermore, FIG. 1 illustrates threaded shaft 156 having a coaxial bore 88 operable to allow a multiconductor cable 98 to extend from base 78 to the devices mounted on the platform 194 at the top of the mast 100.

FIG. 2 shows a section view of mast 100 illustrating the inward camber 108, 110, 112 that may result from the flexing of strips 104, 106, 108 respectively, to engage the opposing edges of the strips. Specifically, a tab 116 disposed on an edge of a first strip 102 may engage a slot 114 disposed on the edge of an adjacent strip 104. The slots 114 and tabs 116 on adjacent strips may be arranged such that at any sectional slice of the mast, a tab 116 disposed on an edge of each strip 102, 104, and 106, engages a slot 114 on an adjacent strip.

In addition, FIG. 2 illustrates the threaded shaft 156 that in some embodiments may have a sufficient outside diameter to simultaneously engage angled slots 144 (see FIG. 3) spaced along the length of strips 102, 104, and 106. In other embodiments, the threaded shaft 156 may engage a single strip 102.

A coaxial bore 88 formed within the threaded shaft 156 may permit at least one signal cable 98 to extend from the base 78 of the apparatus 10, through a passageway 85 formed by strips 102, 104, and 106 along a vertical axis through the length of the mast 100. The at least one signal cable 98 may interconnect at least one device, i.e., camera/sensor 168, mounted on top of the rotatable platform 194 at the top of the mast 100 to components located in the base 78 of the apparatus 10.

Furthermore, in another embodiment (not shown), the feed mechanism 80 may include a motor mounted within a cavity 89 formed in at least one of spools 82, 84, and 86, operable to drive at least one cambered roller 76 having a gear or sprocket (not shown) having teeth operable to engage the spaced openings 118 (FIG. 5) to drive the strips together, or to separate the strips.

Accordingly, the mast 100 formed is sufficiently rigid for use in environments experiencing external forces such as vibration and wind. Furthermore, in some embodiments, the lift mechanism 10 may be embodied as part of a backpack device 180 carried by an individual, as shown in FIG. 9; as part of a robotic terrain traversing device 208, as shown in FIG. 11; and as part of a suitcase 242, as shown in FIG. 12.

FIG. 3 illustrates a flat flexible strip 102 incorporated in the lift mechanism 10 shown in FIG. 1, wherein the helical thread 92 of threaded shaft 88 engages angled slots 144 spaced along the length of strip 102. Even though the threaded shaft 88 may engage the angled slots 144 of a single strip 102, because strips 102, 104, and 106 are interlocked above the connection point 125 (see FIG. 5), the threaded shaft 88, when rotated, operates to draw all of strips 102, 104, and 106 from their respective spools 82, 84, and 86 (see FIG. 1).

FIGS. 4 is a detailed view of a portion of flexible strip 102′ and illustrate one embodiment wherein tabs 116 and slots 114 are alternatingly disposed along opposite edges 130, 132 of a flat flexible strip 102′ separated by a middle body portion 146. The tabs and slots shown on strip 102′ are similar to the tabs and slots used in the angled slot embodiment of strip 102. The specific configuration of the strip 102′ is such that each tab 116 may be disposed opposite a slot 114 on the strip 102′ ensuring when using identical strips, a tab 116 on a first strip aligns with a slot 114 on a last strip when adjacent strips are engaged.

The configuration of tabs 116 and slots 114 disposed along an edge 130 of a strip is non-limiting, provided that a tab on one strip engages a slot on an adjacent strip. For ease of manufacturing, one tab and slot design is preferred. Accordingly, a tab on one edge 130 is opposite a slot on the opposing edge 132. For example, a set of alternating tabs 116 and slots 114 may encompass a repeating pattern (not shown) of two tabs followed by two slots along edge 130 for the length of the strip 102. On the opposing edge 132, a repeating pattern of two slots followed by two tabs must be formed for the mast to interlock. Accordingly, any known pattern may be used,

FIG. 5 illustrates two strips 102′, 104′, comprising the slot and tab design illustrated in FIG. 4, being drawn together and engaging at the connection point 125. In some embodiments, when in a retracted state, some number of slots and tabs at the top of the mast, where the platform 194 is mounted, remain fully engaged and may be permanently fixed together so as to register or align the tabs and slots on adjacent strips thereby facilitating proper engagement of the strips when forming the mast 100. Facilitating the engagement of each tab and slot is especially important in unattended applications, for example in unmanned sites and lift mechanism operating under remote control.

Each tab 116 is sized to engage a slot 114 of an adjacent strip as the strips are drawn together. Once engaged, the outward force created by the camber 108, 110, and 112 operates to maintain the rigidity of the mast 100.

The material comprising flexible strips 102, 104, and 106, and the specific dimensions of the strips, tabs 116, and slots 114 may be predetermined by persons of ordinary skill in the art, upon review of the disclosure and without undue experimentation based upon the operational requirements of the lift mechanism 10, i.e., the weight of a device mounted on top of the mast 100, the height of the mast 100, and the environmental stresses to be experienced by the lift mechanism 10.

Furthermore, the lift apparatus 10 has been engineered to facilitate the manufacturing of the apparatus 10. Specifically, the disclosed slot and tab design may permit the manufacture of identical strips for all strips forming mast 100, regardless of a specific predetermined height of the extended mast. Furthermore, the strips are substantially flat, allowing them to be stored on spools without undue concern that a tab or slot of one layer may engage a tab or slot of a subsequent layer thereby causing the apparatus to bind.

Although the exemplary embodiments illustrated and discussed herein may comprise three strips, other embodiments may employ more strips based upon user specific operational requirements.

In the exemplary embodiments discussed herein, each strip may be composed of 0.25 inch thick Type 301 hardened stainless steel. In other embodiments, the flexible strips may be made of a synthetic material, such as plastic, a flexible ceramic, or a composite material.

Referring back to FIG. 4, in some embodiments, the width 134 of the body 146 of the strip may be 0.820 inches and the tab depth 120 may be 0.040 inches. Furthermore, the length 126 of each tab 116 may be approximately 0.248 inches and the outer corners of each tab 116 may be rounded, having a radius R3 of approximate 0.030 inches, allowing the tab 116 to easily engage the opposing slot 114.

Each slot 114 may be shaped to have a maximum slot length opening 122, i.e., 0.250 inches, which is slightly larger than the length 126 of a tab 116. Furthermore, in one embodiment, the width 124 of a slot 114, i.e., 0.060 inches, may be sufficient large to allow the tab 116 and slot 114 to engage at a point of engagement 125, where the strips require maneuvering room to properly engage, as shown in FIG. 5. The outer corners 127 of the slot 114 may have a radius R1 of 0.030 inches flowing into a rounded shoulder 128 that has a radius R2, i.e., 0.022 inches, in an opposite direction, allowing the tab 116 to easily engage the slot 114 and slide into position. Once engaged, the tab 116 is held securely in the slot by being pressed against shoulders 128 formed on both ends of the slot 114, the width of the slot 136, being only 0.100 inch at that point.

FIG. 6 is a block diagram illustrating the control logic for the lift mechanism 10 of FIG. 1 and comprises a controller module 162 electrically connected to at least one lift motor 170. Electrically connected to the controller module 162 is a control interface 164 operated by a user to raise and lower the mast 100. The control interface 164 may communicate with the controller module 162 via a wired or wireless data link.

The controller module 162 may include an application-specific integrated circuit (“ASIC”), or other chipset, processor, logic circuit, or other data processing device. Controller module 162 may also include memory, which may comprise volatile and nonvolatile memory such as read-only and/or random-access memory (RAM and ROM), EPROM, EEPROM, flash, or any memory common to computer devices.

The controller module 162 may comprise logic that calculates the height of the mast 100 based upon a predetermined formula based upon a run time of the motor 170. An indication of the mast height provided to the user may allow the user to raise the mast 100 to a user determined height, or may allow the controller 162 to raise the mast 100 to a predetermined height by controlling the activation time of the motor 170. Furthermore, the controller module 164 may comprise inputs and outputs 160 that may be connected to other lift mechanisms 10 so as to permit multiple lift mechanism 10 to operate in a master/slave relationship. For example, synchronizing the raising and retracting of a plurality of masts 100 to the same or to different heights based upon predetermined or user selectable inputs may be useful in situations requiring addition support, for example, to form a horizontal surface large enough to support the landing or take-off of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

Power module 172 may comprise any source of power suitable for use by the lift mechanism 10 and may include AC or DC inputs as well as AC and DC output capability. Non-limiting, the power module 172 may include a power cable to a source of AC power as well as NiMH and Li-ion rechargeable batteries. The power module 172 is operable to deliver required power to the control interface 164, the controller module 162, the lift motor(s) 170, the devices on top of the mast 100, as well as any other devices requiring electric power.

In addition, the lift mechanism 10 may include a cable management system (CMS) 166 (see FIG. 1) that is operable to control the deployment of multi-conductor cable 98, extending from the base 96 of the lift mechanism 10 through the coaxial bore 88 in the threaded shaft 156 and upwards through the center of the mast to electronic equipment, e.g., camera/sensor 168, microphone 192, lights 206, and/or other devices mounted on rotating platform 194.

One embodiment of the CMS 166 includes a slip ring mechanism 228, illustrated in FIG. 7. The slip ring 228 is mounted on one side of a rotatably mounted spool (not shown), carrying the multi-conductor cable 98. Electrical leads on one end of the cable 98 may be permanently connected to a plurality of contacts 231 disposed on one side of the slip ring 228. A plurality of concentric conductive tracings 229 disposed on a side of the slip ring 228 opposite from the spooled cable 98, is operable to maintain contact with a plurality of rows 97 of brush contacts disposed on a stationary portion 230 of the CMS 166, as the slip ring 228 rotates. Although only one row of brush contacts is necessary, multiple rows of contacts 97 may be used to guarantee contact.

Further, one end of a second multi-conductor cable 99 is connected to a plurality of terminals 93 on an outer portion of the stationary portion 230. The other end of cable 99 may then be connected to controller module 162, power module 172 and/or other devices supplying signals to or receiving signals from the mast mounted devices.

For example, in other embodiments, the output of the mast supported devices may be fed into recording devices (not shown), the recording devices operable to store the received data for later analysis. Non-limiting, such recording devices may include, analog and digital devices sound and video data received from a mast mounted microphone 192 and camera 168.

FIG. 8 illustrates one embodiment of an automatically deployable mast shield apparatus 174. Under certain environments, the mast 100 may be subject to potentially destructive material which may threaten proper operation of the lift mechanism. For example, rain may pass through openings in the mast 100 and potentially enter the base of the lift mechanism. Furthermore, dust or dirt may clog the slots and freezing rain may lock up the mast 100. Accordingly, a mast shield apparatus 174 that operates to automatically surround the mast 100 as the mast is raised and automatically retracts when the mast is retracted may be beneficial. Furthermore, a mast shield apparatus may be beneficial in applications, i.e., trade shows, where a retractable mast having an esthetically pleasing covering is appropriate.

The mast shield apparatus 174 may comprise a housing 171 that is mounted over a lift mechanism (not shown). In one embodiment the housing 171 includes three pairs of upright support members 173 preferably mounted on a partially shown support surface 77. Each pair of support members 173 is operable to support a spring powered roller 176 further comprising a spool of mast protecting material 175. Non-limiting, the mast protecting material 175 may be comprised of canvas, a synthetic material, or any suitable material and have a width larger than the flexible strips comprising the underlying mast 100. Furthermore, the top of each strip 175 is securely fastened to the top of the mast 100 or may be fastened to the platform 194 depicted in FIG. 1.

As the mast is raised, the spring loaded spools operate to deploy the shield material 175 while at the same time applying tension to a spring (not shown) disposed within each spool 176. Non-limiting, tensioned rollers are known to those of ordinary skill in the art, and any suitable spooling mechanism may be incorporated.

In one embodiment, a retaining rail 181 is operable to align the shield material 175 in front of the mast 100, at which point a guide mechanism 186 may operates to force the edges 178, 179 of the shield 175 together as the strips 175 are drawn off their respective spool 176. Opposing edges 178, 179 of adjacent strips 175 may employ an attachment mechanism, e.g., Velcro, a plastic or metal zipper arrangement, or other known mechanism, to removably connect the strips 175 together as the mast is raised. As the mast is retracted, the edges 178, 179 disengage after passing through the guide mechanism 186.

FIG. 9 illustrates a backpack embodiment 180 incorporating the lift mechanism 80 of FIG. 1. The lift mechanism may be operated as it is carried by an individual, or may be placed on the ground after being transported to a location. Non-limiting, the exemplary backpack lift 180 may include a lift housing 182, a harness including shoulder straps 196 and belt 198, a hand-held controller 184, and a camera or other sensor device 168 mounted on the rotating platform 194 of the extendable mast 100.

The backpack lift housing 182 may further include a position locator, such as a global positioning system (GPS); communications equipment, and a control/indicator panel 188. The control/indicator panel may be wired to modules within the lift housing and may include controls and indicators pertaining to all backpack lift functions, including, but not limited to battery charging connector terminals, manual controls of backpack functions, an indicator of remaining battery power, and geographical position as determined by the GPS.

Furthermore, an antenna 190 mounted on the backpack lift housing 182 may allow a hand held remote control device 184 to communicate with a transceiver mounted inside the housing 182. The remote control device 184 may comprise a viewing screen 202 and controls 204 operable by the user to control the raising and lowering of the mast as well as the operation of any apparatus, e.g., camera 186, microphone 192, and light 206 mounted on platform 194. Non-limiting, a communications link between the backpack 182 and the remote control unit 184 may be wired or wireless and may include, but is not limited to: an infrared network such as an Infrared Data Association (“IrDA”)-based network; ultrasonic, a short-range wireless network; a Bluetooth® technology network; a ZigBee® protocol network; an ultra wide band (“UWB”) protocol network; and a home radio frequency (“HomeRF”) network.

Still referring to the backpack lift of FIG. 9, harness 196 may slip over the shoulders of an individual and fasten in place by means of a buckle or other attachment mechanism commonly used in backpacks. Rechargeable batteries 200 provide electric power for the lift mechanism and may be mounted in the backpack or on the belt 198. The batteries 200 may be NiMH and Li-ion rechargeable batteries or other battery material providing high efficiency power output.

FIG. 10 illustrates a robotic lift apparatus 208 comprising the lift mechanism of FIG. 1 incorporated within a robotic device 210 and FIG. 11 illustrates one embodiment of a block diagram according to the robotic lift mechanism of FIG. 12. Such a robotic lift apparatus 208 may be beneficial to military and law enforcement agencies in providing surveillance at different elevations.

Mounted in a housing 210 equipped with a transport system, e.g., treads 214, a mast 100 may be extended through an opening 218 in the housing 210, raising a camera 168 and/or other devices mounted on a platform 194. A power module 232 mounted within the housing 210 may comprise rechargeable batteries that may be recharged using an external mounted terminal 216. Although treads 214 may be incorporated in the robot lift apparatus 208, robots and robot drive units are known. Accordingly, the actual robot drive unit 226 incorporated may comprise wheels or any other available mechanism.

In some embodiments, the robot 208 may comprise a controller module 224 operable to control the various operations of the robot, including, but not limited to travel along a surface via a robot drive unit 226, operating lift mechanism 170, and operating the camera/sensor 168 or other device mounted on top of the mast 100. The controller module may further include an application-specific integrated circuit (“ASIC”), or other chipset, processor, logic circuit, or other data processing device. Controller module 224 may also include memory, which may comprise volatile and nonvolatile memory such as read-only and/or random-access memory (RAM and ROM), EPROM, EEPROM, flash, or any memory common to computer devices.

In addition, the robot may comprise a transceiver 222 allowing the robotic lift mechanism 208 to operate under control of a remote control unit, such as the remote control unit 184, illustrated in FIG. 9. The remote control unit 184 may comprise a transceiver 234 and a user interface module 236, wherein the user interface module 236 may interface with the viewer 202 and controls 204, as shown in FIG. 9. In other embodiments, the user interface module 236 may be a desktop device or may incorporate a personal computer (PC) operating software code specifically written to control the robotic lift mechanism 208.

Furthermore, in other embodiments, the robotic lift mechanism 208 may, under control of a program stored within the controller module, be configured to operate autonomously without user intervention. Such autonomous operations may include traveling to a desired location, extending the retractable mast, activating the camera or other sensor, and transmitting data to a receiving station.

FIGS. 12A and 12B illustrate a portable lift mechanism 242 comprising a lift mechanism 248 incorporated within a suitcase 260 configured to be easily transported by an individual. The suitcase 260 may be made of aluminum, titanium, plastic or other material commonly used to transport electronic apparatus and may include wheels 244 and an extendable handle 246. The suitcase 260 may include several compartments 256, 252, and 254 for storing lift mechanism 248, a remote control unit 184, a camera 168 or other sensor, cables, batteries, and etc. The wheeled suitcase may lay flat on a surface, such that the lift mechanism 248 may operate without being removed from the suitcase, once lid 250 is removed or raised. In some embodiments, the lift mechanism housing 248 may be removeably mounted, enabling the lift mechanism 248 to be removed from the suitcase prior to use.

While the foregoing disclosure shows illustrative embodiments, it should be noted that various changes and modifications could be made herein without departing from the scope of the described embodiments as defined by the appended claims. However, for efficiency in the manufacturing process, the strips forming the mast should be identical and the pattern of slots and tabs disposed on both edges of the strip should be repeating. Furthermore, in order to maximize the length of strip on a spool as well as to minimize binding of the strips as the strips are drawn or deposited on their respective spool, the strips should be substantially flat.

Furthermore, although elements of the described embodiments may be described or claimed in the singular, the plural is contemplated unless limitation to the singular is explicitly stated.