Title:
Unpowered End Effector for Dispensing Apparatus
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A mechanical picking system for a x-y picker dispensing apparatus that includes at least one substantially horizontal shelf operable for supporting a product, and a picker assembly which further includes an unpowered end effector. The unpowered end effector includes a plurality of receiving fingers and a holding area. The unpowered end effector is rotatable with respect to the shelf to enable the fingers to transfer the product from the shelf to the holding area.



Inventors:
Kirschner, Jonathan (Powder Springs, GA, US)
Slagley, David (Roswell, GA, US)
Credle, William S. (Roswell, GA, US)
Application Number:
11/876427
Publication Date:
04/23/2009
Filing Date:
10/22/2007
Assignee:
The Coca-Cola Company (Atlanta, GA, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
211/153
International Classes:
A47F5/02; A47F5/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
RANDALL, JR., KELVIN L
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
EVERSHEDS SUTHERLAND (US) LLP (ATLANTA, GA, US)
Claims:
1. A mechanical picking system for a x-y picker dispensing apparatus, comprising: at least one substantially horizontal shelf operable for supporting a product; and a picker assembly comprising an unpowered end effector; wherein the unpowered end effector comprises a plurality of receiving fingers and a holding area wherein the unpowered end effector is rotatable with respect to the shelf to enable the fingers to transfer the product from the shelf to the holding area.

2. The system of claim 1, wherein the holding device comprises a plurality of curved fingers.

3. The system of claim 1, wherein the unpowered end effector is rotatable between a receiving position and a substantially vertical holding position.

4. The system of claim 3, further comprising a receiving slide rod positioned upward of the picking system operable to rotate the unpowered end effector into the receiving position upon an impact with a substantially horizontal surface.

5. The system of claim 4, wherein the unpowered end effector is rotated by the first slide rod using a cam and a spring.

6. The system of claim 1, wherein the substantially horizontal shelf comprises a product support for holding the position of the product.

7. The system of claim 6, wherein the product support comprises a plurality of shelf fingers.

8. The system of claim 7, wherein the plurality of receiving fingers of the unpowered end effector are positioned to fit between the plurality of shelf fingers of the product support such that the unpowered end effector can vertically move above and below the shelf.

9. The system of claim 8, wherein the unpowered end effector while in the receiving position can move vertically between the plurality of shelf fingers of the product support to engage the product; and wherein the unpowered end effector can rotate into the holding position from the weight of the product transitioned onto the holding area.

10. The system of claim 1, wherein the dispensing apparatus further comprises a dispensing device operable to receive the product delivered by the unpowered end effector.

11. A method of vending a product from an x-y dispensing apparatus, comprising: positioning an end effector of a picker assembly under a product positioned on a substantially horizontal shelf; moving the end effector upward to lift the product off of the shelf with the end effector; rotating the end effector to hold the product; and dispensing the product from the dispensing apparatus.

12. A notification system for a dispensing apparatus, comprising: an event device affixed to a picker assembly wherein the event device is operable to create an event upon successful capture of a product by the picker assembly; and a detection device for sensing the event.

13. The system of claim 12, wherein the event device comprises a piezo electric spark device.

14. The system of claim 13, wherein the event is a piezo electric spark.

15. The system of claim 12, wherein the detection device comprises a acoustic sensor or optical sensor to detect the event.

16. The system of claim 12, further comprising a computing device connected to the detection device to determine whether a successful pick occurs and to determine whether to dispense the product, attempt to re-pick the product, or supply a refund.

17. A pill door for a dispensing apparatus, comprising: a dispensing chute for dispensing a product from the dispensing apparatus to a consumer; and a rotation device to rotate the product from a substantially horizontal position to a substantially vertical position.

18. The system of claim 17, further comprising the dispensing chute being positioned at least three feet above the ground.

19. The system of claim 17, wherein the rotation device comprise a rotation wall position at an angle to cause the product to rotate.

20. The system of claim 17, wherein the dispensing chute comprises a rake to remove the product from an end effector of a picking assembly.

Description:

TECHNICAL FIELD

This invention relates generally to end effectors of a dispensing apparatus and more specifically relates to an unpowered end effector.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Dispensing apparatuses such as vending machines are being developed to incorporate x-y picker assemblies for picking products from a x-y product grid. The picker assemblies employ motorized end effectors that actually grab the product form the x-y product grid. The motorized end effector thus requires wires, wire-harnesses, and other electrical and mechanical components to effectuate the picking of the product. Therefore, the initial cost and the required maintenance of the picker assembly may be increased.

Thus, there is a need in the art for a low-cost, low maintenance picker assembly for picking products from x-y product grids

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

One embodiment of the application includes a mechanical picking system for a x-y picker dispensing apparatus. The mechanical picking system includes at least one substantially horizontal shelf operable for supporting a product, and a picker assembly which further includes an unpowered end effector. The unpowered end effector includes a plurality of receiving fingers and a holding area. The unpowered end effector is rotatable with respect to the shelf to enable the fingers to transfer the product from the shelf to the holding area.

Another embodiment of the application includes a method of vending a product from an x-y dispensing apparatus. The method includes positioning an end effector of a picker assembly under a product positioned on a substantially horizontal shelf, moving the end effector upward to lift the product off of the shelf with the end effector, rotating the end effector to hold the product, and dispensing the product from the dispensing apparatus.

Yet another embodiment of the application includes a notification system for a dispensing apparatus. The notification system includes an event device affixed to a picker assembly wherein the event device is operable to create an event upon successful capture of a product by the picker assembly, and a detection device for sensing the event.

Yet another embodiment of the application includes a pill door for a dispensing apparatus. The pill door includes a dispensing chute for dispensing a product from the dispensing apparatus to a consumer, and a rotation device to rotate the product from a substantially horizontal position to a substantially vertical position.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 illustrates a dispensing apparatus according to an exemplary embodiment of the application.

FIG. 2 illustrates shelf fingers according to an exemplary embodiment of the application.

FIG. 3 illustrates a x-y product grid according to an exemplary embodiment of the application.

FIG. 4 illustrates a picker assembly according to an exemplary embodiment of the application.

FIG. 5 illustrates an exploded view of a picker assembly according to an exemplary embodiment of the application.

FIG. 6 illustrates a holding position of an unpowered end effector according to an exemplary embodiment of the application.

FIG. 7 illustrates an event device attached to a picking assembly according to an exemplary embodiment of the application.

FIG. 8 illustrates a pill door according to an exemplary embodiment of the application.

FIG. 9 illustrates a pill dispensing chute according to an exemplary embodiment of the application.

FIG. 10 illustrates a rotating device of a pill dispensing chute according to an exemplary embodiment of the application.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Generally described, the present application relates to a picker assembly for a dispensing apparatus such as a vending machine that dispenses products such as cans, bottles, boxes, etc., to a waiting consumer. The dispensing apparatus may dispense a number of different products out of various rows of shelves through the use of a picker assembly which is part of a x-y positioning assembly. The picker assembly may include an unpowered end effector operable for removing the product from the shelf. The unpowered end effector does not require a motor, servo, or any other electrically driven means for picking a product. Therefore, the unpowered end effector reduces the upfront design, cost, and maintenance required for the existing powered picking systems.

In an exemplary embodiment, the unpowered end effector is rotatable about an axis between a receiving position and a holding position. Through the movement of the picker assembly by the x-y positioning assembly, the unpowered end effector can engage the product in the receiving position and transfer the product from the shelf to the unpowered end effector in the holding position using the weight of the product. Once the picker assembly possesses the product in the holding position, the picker assembly can deliver the product to a dispensing area for retrieval by the consumer or for any other use.

The application now will be described more fully hereinafter with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which exemplary embodiments of the application is shown. This application may, however, be embodied in many different forms and should not be construed as limited to the embodiments set forth herein; rather, this embodiment is provided so that this disclosure will be thorough and will fully convey the scope of the application to those skilled in the art. Like numbers refer to like elements throughout the number of figures.

FIG. 1 is an illustrative view of a dispensing apparatus 12 for use with the unpowered end effector 28 of the picker assembly 18. The dispensing apparatus 12 may include a number of shelves 14 oriented in a number of rows. The shelves 14 are configured to support products 16 to be dispensed. The products 16 may be cans, bottles, boxes, or any other product desired to be dispensed.

The shelf 14 may be inclined as known in the art and includes dividers as known in the art to provide a number of inclined “chutes,” which allow product, especially round product, to slide or roll down to the front of the shelf under the influence of gravity. Any method or device for moving the products along the shelf is contemplated herein.

As illustrated in the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 2, at the front edge of the shelf 14 is provided a product support. The product support may be a retention feature in each row to secure the product to the end of the shelf 14. In an exemplary embodiment, the product support includes a comblike lip configuration provided by a number of spaced-apart “shelf fingers” 15 that may extend generally upwardly from the front edge of the shelf 14. Other configurations may be used herein.

The products 16 may be aligned on the shelf 14 in the individual chutes. The products 16 in the chutes may vary. The combination of the rows of shelves 14 and the chutes within the rows form an x-y product grid 17 on the dispensing apparatus 12 as shown in the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 3.

The dispensing apparatus 12 also includes a x-y positioning assembly for negotiating the x-y product grid 17. In an exemplary embodiment, the x-y positioning assembly includes a horizontal device 20 and a vertical device 22. The horizontal device 20 may include two substantially horizontal rods 21 extending across a portion of the width of the dispensing apparatus in a substantially parallel orientation. One of the rods may be positioned substantially at the top of the dispensing apparatus 12 and the second rod may be positioned substantially at the bottom of the dispensing apparatus. The vertical device 22 may include a vertical rod 23 affixed to the horizontal device 20 such that the vertical rod 23 may move horizontally across the horizontal device 20. A motor assembly (not shown) may be included to move the vertical device 22 along the horizontal device 20.

A picker assembly 18 may be affixed to the vertical device 22 operable to move up and down the vertical device. A motor assembly (not shown) may be included to move the picker assembly along the vertical device.

In this exemplary embodiment, the combined motion of the vertical device 22 along the horizontal device 20 and the motion of the picker assembly 18 along the vertical device 22 allows the picker assembly 18 to positioning the x-y product grid 17. A controller may be used to control the x-y positioning assembly and to position the picker assembly 18 at a desired location on the x-y product grid 17.

It should be understood that the x-y positioning assembly described herein is merely an exemplary embodiment. Any system capable of moving the picker assembly 18 across the x-y product grid 17 is contemplated herein, including without limitation a system of any number of vertical or horizontal devices to effect movement or a robotic arm system.

FIG. 4 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a picker assembly 18. The picker assembly 18 includes an unpowered end effector 28. In an exemplary embodiment, the unpowered end effector 28 includes a receiving area 30 and a holding area 32. The receiving area 30 engages the product 16 on the shelf 14 and transfers the product 16 to the holding area 32.

The receiving area 30 may include a number of receiving fingers 31. In an exemplary embodiment, the receiving fingers 31 may be substantially linear in shape and be spaced. The holding area 32 may include a number of curved holding fingers 33 appropriate for supporting a product 16 in place. The holding area 32 may not include curved fingers but may include a solid structure capable of supporting a product or any other variation thereof. The unpowered end effector 28 may be rotatable about a shaft 39. The shaft 39 may engage a cam follower arm 42 which may permit the shaft to rotate between the receiving position and the holding position.

FIG. 5 illustrates an exploded view of the picker assembly 18. It should be understood that the picker assembly 18 is not limited to this embodiment but may be any configuration capable of transferring the product 16 from the receiving area 30 to the holding area 32. In the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 5, a cam block 34 engages with a main plate 36 to form a cam reception area 35, 37 for a cam follower arm 42. The portion of the cam follower arm 42 that engages the cam reception area 35, 37 may include ball bearings 42. The cam follower arm 42 also connects with a shaft 39 to permit the unpowered end effector 28 to rotate between the receiving and the holding positions. The cam follower arm 42 and the shaft 39 may further connect with a spring damper system 43 to effect the motion of the cam. The connection may be made through a damper arm 44 or any other suitable mechanism.

The unpowered end effector 28 is ultimately rotated through the cam system described herein. A receiving slide rod 38 may be positioned with respect to the cam follower arm 42 to push the cam follower arm 42 and rotate the unpowered end effector 28 into the receiving position. The top end of the receiving slide rod 38 may contact a surface to force the receiving slide rod 38 downward in relation to the cam follower arm 42. The downward motion of the receiving slide rod 38 will cause the rotation of the cam follower arm 42.

The picker assembly 18 may further include a holding slide rod 40 positioned with respect to the cam follower arm 42 to push the cam follower arm 42 and rotate the unpowered end effector 28 into the holding position. The bottom end of the holding slide rod 40 may contact a bottom surface to force the holding slide rod upward in relation to the cam follower arm 42. The upward motion of the holding slide rod 40 will cause the rotation of the cam follower arm 42.

Operation of the Picker Assembly

The following is an example of the operation of the unpowered end effector 28 in dispensing a product from a shelf. The unpowered end effector 28 dispenses the product 16 by capturing the product 16 from the shelf fingers 15 of the shelf 14. The unpowered end effector 28 begins in the receiving position. In the receiving position, the unpowered end effector 28 is rotated such that the fingers 30 are angled downward from vertical. In an exemplary embodiment, the fingers 30 are rotated approximately fifteen to forty-five degrees off vertical The angle of rotation, however, may be any angle appropriate for engaging the product 16 on the shelf fingers 15.

Fingers 30 of the unpowered end effector 28 are positioned between the shelf fingers 15 of the shelf 14. The picker assembly 18 then moves upward causing the fingers 30 to remove the product 16 from the shelf fingers 15. The fingers 30 may capture the product by pushing, pulling, scraping, lifting, or performing any other action that forces the product 16 from the shelf fingers 15. After removing the product 16 from the shelf fingers 15, the product 16 falls through gravity to the holding area 32 of the unpowered end effector 28. The weight of the product 16 on the holding area 32 causes the unpowered end effector 28 to rotate to the holding position. In an exemplary embodiment, the holding position is a substantially vertical position as shown in the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 6. The picker assembly 18 may then move through the x-y positioning system to any desired location to dispense or deliver the product 16.

In an exemplary embodiment of operation, the picker assembly 18 resides in the lower left corner of the dispensing apparatus 12. The picking assembly 18 may then move vertically along the x-y positioning assembly to cause the receiving slide rod 38 to contact a horizontal surface. The impact of the receiving slide rod 28 with the horizontal surface forces rotation of the cam follow arm 42 and thereby rotates the unpowered end effector 28 into the receiving position. It should be understood that any method or system to get the unpowered end effector 28 in the receiving position is contemplated herein.

Likewise, the holding slide rod 40 may contact a bottom surface to reset the unpowered end effector 28 into the holding position. In this exemplary embodiment, since the holding position is substantially vertical, the unpowered end effector 28 will not impact any of the shelves 14 or the shelf fingers 15 when moving across the x-y product grid 17. The unpowered end effector 28 may then selectively be placed in the receiving or holding position as may be desired.

Notification of Picking

To ensure that a product 16 was picked by the picker assembly 18, the dispensing apparatus 12 may utilize a picking notification system to determine whether a product 16 was successfully picked. The picking notification system provides a low cost and low maintenance system to sense the picking of a product 16.

Picking notification may come from any event device 50 that creates an event detectable by a detection device (not shown) in the dispensing apparatus 12. The event may be a piezo electric spark, a noise, a light, or any other detectable event. In an exemplary embodiment of the unpowered end effector 28, illustrated in FIG. 7 the event device 50 may be positioned about the shaft 39 in relation to the unpowered end effector 28. The rotation of the unpowered end effector 28 from the receiving position to the holding position may cause the shaft 39 to rotate thereby causing the piezoelectric spark device to make a piezoelectric spark. A detection device may be located in the dispensing apparatus 12 that can sense the piezo electric spark through heat, light, or any other emissions and therefore notify the dispensing apparatus 12 that a product 16 has been picked. The detection device may be based on sound, electrical disturbance or light. An example is a sound, light or electrical noise detector located inside the vendor that is programmed to listen for a response from the emitter positioned onto the picker, at the exact time interval when the product should be dropped into the picker.

In another exemplary embodiment, the dispensing apparatus 12 may be notified of a successful picking of a product 16 through detection of sound relating to the picking. For the unpowered end effector 28, a significant noise will be made from the transition of the product 16 from the receiving area 30 to the holding area 32. A detection device may then detect the noise and alert the dispensing apparatus 12 that a successful picking of the product 16 occurred.

Dispensing apparatus 12 also may include a computer system (not shown) integrated with the detection device and the dispensing apparatus to control its operation. As known by those of skill in the art, the computer system may include a general purpose computer, a special purpose computer, or other programmable data processing apparatus designed to control the operation of the dispensing apparatus and store information regarding the operation and use of the dispensing apparatus. The computer system may include a computer-readable memory that can direct the computer or other programmable data processing apparatus to implement a series of operational steps to be performed on the computer or other programmable apparatus to produce a computer implemented process. The computer system also may include a hard drive for storing information on the status of the x-y product grid, operating conditions, and use by consumers.

The computer system may be programmed to instruct the dispensing apparatus on how to operate based on the information gathered from the detection device. If the detection device determines that a product has been successfully picked, the computer system can instruct the dispensing apparatus to dispense the product to the consumer. If the detection device determines that a product was not successfully picked, then the computer system may instruct the dispensing apparatus to attempt to re-pick the product, pick the product from a different location in the x-y product grid, or refund the consumer's money.

Pill Door Dispensing Chute

The present application further includes a pill door 100 for the dispensing apparatus 12. As known by those of ordinary skill in the art, a pill door 100 is essentially the door of a vending machine. An embodiment of a pill door is shown in FIG. 8. As shown in an exemplary embodiment of FIG. 9, the pill door 100 may be configured to operate with any x-y picking vending machines. The pill door 100 may include a dispensing chute 102 for dispensing the product 16 through the pill door 100 to a consumer. The dispensing chute 102 may include a rake 104 for removing the product 16 from an end effector 28 of a picking assembly 18. The rake 104 may include rake fingers 106 that extend from a back portion of the pill door 100 towards the x-y product grid 17 of the dispensing apparatus 12. In an exemplary embodiment, the rake fingers 106 are spaced to interface the holding area 32 of the unpowered end effector 28 such that the unpowered end effector 28 may move from above the rake 104 to below the rake 104 to allow the rake fingers 106 to remove the product 16. The rake fingers 106 may be declined to permit the product 16 to move into the dispensing chute 102 of the pill door 100.

If the product 16 is positioned in the horizontal orientation, the pill door 100 may include a rotation device 108. An exemplary embodiment of a rotation device 108 is illustrated in FIG. 10. The rotation device 108 of FIG. 10 includes a rotation wall 110 oriented at approximately a 45 degree angle. It should be understood that the rotation wall 110 may be at any angle that forces the product 16 to rotate to a substantially vertical position. In an exemplary embodiment, the rotation wall 110 creates space for a chute that is slightly larger than the product. The slightly larger opening permits the product 16 to rotate smoothly in the dispensing chute 102. The product 16 moves down the rake 106 and into the rotation device 108 through the force of gravity. The rotation wall 110 then forces the product 16 to rotate into a substantially vertical position as it moves further down the dispensing chute 102. The dispensing chute 102 may include an opening 112 on the other surface of the pill door 160. The opening 112 allows the consumer to have access to a dispensed product 16. Due to the rotation device 108, the consumer may then receive a product 16 oriented in a substantially vertical position.

The rotation device 108 has the advantage of smoothly rotating and dispensing the product 16 to the user. Because the pill door 100 is to be used with an x-y picking vending machine, the picker assembly 18 can provide the product 16 at any desired location within the dispensing apparatus 12. In an exemplary embodiment, the dispensing chute 102 may be positioned above the waist of an average consumer. For example, the dispensing chute 102 can be at a height that does not require the customer to severely bend over to retrieve the dispensed product from the opening. In an exemplary embodiment, the dispensing chute 102 is approximately four feet from the ground. The height can be set to meet ADA requirements or any other height.

The pill door 100 may further include a money return device positioned above the waist of an average consumer. The height of the money return device is positioned to prevent the consumer from having to bend over to retrieve change or a refund of its money.

Many modifications and other embodiments of the application will come to mind to one skilled in the art to which this application pertains having the benefit of the teachings presented in the foregoing descriptions and the associated drawings. Therefore, it is to be understood that the application is not to be limited to the specific embodiments disclosed and that modifications and other embodiments are intended to be included within the scope of the appended claims. Although specific terms are employed herein, they are used in generic and descriptive sense only and not for purposes of limitation.