DISPENSING MECHANISM FOR CENTRALIZED ROBOTIC GANTRY
A vending arrangement for computerized vending machines, retail displays, automated retail stores, utilizes a centralized, robotic gantry associated with companion modules for vending a plurality of selectable products. The modularized design enables deployment of half-sized or larger, full sized machines. The robotic gantry is deployed in a centralized module disposed adjacent display and inventory modules. Inventory modules can be fitted to both gantry sides, and doors can be fitted to the gantry front or rear. The gantry comprises an internal, vertically displaceable elevator utilizing a central conveyor for laterally, horizontally moving selected items from associated display and inventory positions to a vending position. Computerized software enables the display and vending functions, and controls elevator movement to dispense products from twin sides of the gantry by appropriately controlling the conveyor.
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CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
This application is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 13/228,320, filed Sep. 8, 2011, and entitled “Dispensing Mechanism for Centralized Robotic Gantry,”, which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Ser. No. 12/806,862, filed Aug. 23, 2010, and entitled “Modular Vending With Centralized Robotic Gantry,” which claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/237,604, filed Aug. 27, 2009, which applications are incorporated herein by reference. This application also claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/380,810, filed Sep. 8, 2010, and entitled “Dispensing Mechanism and Centralized Robotic Gantry”, which is incorporated herein by reference.
The present system relates generally to automated and modularized vending machines that can be custom deployed in diverse configurations. More specifically, the present system relates to automated vending systems utilizing an improved robotic dispensing module and associated inventory modules that can be assembled and configured to create diverse vending arrangements, with components linked together via a virtual integrated network.
2. Description of the Related Art
Numerous vending machines exist for selling or vending diverse products through an automated, or ‘self-service’ format. Vending reached popularity in the late 1800's with coin-operated devices dispensing diverse merchandise. More recently vending machines have evolved to include robotic dispensing components, and/or PCs and virtual interfaces. These new vending platforms have emerged in the marketplace under the popular descriptions “automated retail,” “interactive retail,” and/or “interactive retail displays.” Such vending machines may be deployed within a variety of commercial or public settings. They typically include illuminated displays that seek to offer convenient purchasing.
In the vending arts, machines historically have a similar design and orientation that make them unable to easily change machine sizes and configurations, inventory storage sizes and product form factors without rebuilding or redesigning the machine. Typically machines are “one size fits all”. There are some models of traditional vending machines that allow additional inventory areas to be added on, but these models do not utilize a robotic dispensing unit to move the product from the shelf to the collection area and rely on gravity (drop) systems. Because of the expense of robotic delivery systems and the configuration of these systems, these machines have been constrained to serving one user at a time through one side of the machine. In addition the machines come in a single size format and two machines have to be stacked adjacently to expand site capacity. In more modern robotic machines, the size of the machines tends to be larger than traditional vending machines and units cannot be reduced based on the robotic architecture and production of the machine. In all of these machines, the robotic dispensing system is built as a continuation of the inventory system and cannot be easily separated.
The present system introduces a preferred mechanism for dispensing items in a vending machine or automated retail store. It is preferably used in conjunction with an isolated and centralized robotic dispensing system that can support multiple inventory areas and technologies within those areas. The present system provides the ability to collect items delivered from a variety of inventory dispensing systems from multiple sides. It also provides the ability to deliver these collected items to users out of multiple sides of the machine allowing more than one person to simultaneously conduct transactions within the same machine, or to function with one or more inventory cabinets without any major modifications to the mechanism.
There is great value in having a common mechanism that can handle receiving merchandise from multiple inventory cabinets with various types of inventory tray dispensing mechanisms.
Being able to use multiple types of inventory tray mechanisms with a single dispensing system allows a greater range of possible inventory that can be dispensed. Specialized inventory trays can be customized to fit merchandise of varying form factors and still use the common centralized robotic dispensing system with reliability. This allows the machine to adapt and evolve over time without having to redesign the end dispensing system saving cost and development time.
These various inventory areas can be used with the same dispensing system allowing a great deal of flexibility in how the machine is configured. A machine can be composed of inventory elements, display units and a central dispensing area “strung together” enabling the machine footprint to grow/contract depending on environmental constraints. Inventory solutions can be updated and reconfigured to work with the central dispensing mechanism without significant customization of the dispensing mechanism, allowing for rapid accommodation of new types and amounts of merchandise for purchase or promotion.
This central dispensing system design allows greater reliability of dispensing by providing a uniform broader surface area (landing pad) for products to dispense. It also reduces axes of motion by 1 (e.g. X, Y, and Z reduces to Y and Z motion) by eliminating excess movement through inefficient placement of inventory and robotic components. Elimination of excess movement reduces potential points of failure and additional calibration and programming, in addition to increasing power efficiency and delivery speed. This design affords the ability to dispense out of multiple sides of the machine allowing more than one user to use the machine at the same time.
It is thus desirable to provide a method and mechanism that enables a wide range of inventory to be dispensed to a user with a common end dispensing system. It is also desirable to be able to isolate this mechanism in a standalone structure that can be attached to one or more inventory areas.
The present system consists of a conveyor, product collection wings, elevator mechanism, and supports that make up a robotic gantry. In the present system's preferred configuration, it is connected to a series of physical merchandise displays, promotional/digital signage, automated mechanical/dispensing, and/or transactional modules that can be assembled and configured to create an automated retail store, vending unit, or interactive retail display of any size and link together via a virtual integrated network. The present system allows for a highly customizable vending machine of different sizes and configurations that can dispense a wide array of items all utilizing a common robotic dispensing module.
In accordance with one aspect of the present system, there is a robotic elevator operated by one or more motors that delivers a landing platform to meet items that are located in various inventories. The elevator positions itself at a close height proximity that prevents items from being damaged as they are dispensed from their holding area onto the robotic platform.
In accordance with another aspect of the present system, the platform consists of a conveyor that can rotate in either direction to move the collected item to a designated user collection area.
In accordance with another aspect of the present system, the conveyor delivers the item into a secure designated collection area that consists of a space to receive the dispensed items and a method to secure the internal dispensing mechanism in order to prevent tampering by a user, or injury to the user.
In accordance with another aspect of the present system, the inventory areas are attached to the centralized robotic dispensing mechanism. These inventory areas can vary in size to accommodate different product mixes but attach to the central robotic dispensing system in the same manner.
In accordance with another aspect of the present system, the display areas can vary in size, configuration and appearance to fit the products or items being merchandised.
This system and design improves the efficiency of dispensing items by allowing one or more inventory areas of various sizes to be attached to a centrally located and common robotic collection and dispensing system. Because of this design, there is no need for redundancy of expensive robotic components when increasing inventory size. By isolating the inventory retrieval and dispensing mechanism from the inventory storage area, a multitude of different inventory areas can be attached without the need to redesign this subcomponent when altering machine size or configuration. These inventory areas can employ various mechanisms that feed into the dispensing mechanism. These inventory areas can also alter to accommodate a wide range of items in quantity and size.
The present system provides a common robotic dispensing system to service more than one user in parallel. By providing an isolated and centrally located mechanism, multiple users can engage with a system simultaneously. Purchased items are queued based on time of transaction and dispensed accordingly. This provides a great advantage by removing the constraint of one user at a machine at one time. This is a pronounced advantage in crowded or popular venues, where queues may form in front of machines. The dual-sided machine allows for almost double the users to be serviced in the same amount of time by providing two portals for transaction and product dispensing within a single machine platform. It also enables greater flexibility in merchandising/designing the machine in that each side of the machine can take on a different look/feel, but be accessed by the same robotic mechanism.
The present system enables separation of the purchasing/transactional components of the vending platform with the dispensing components, allowing inventory and completion of the process to occur in a different location from the selection of merchandise and payment transaction. One such scenario: a physical space is inhabited by a central dispensing mechanism that attaches to adjacent inventory dispensing towers; users retrieve their purchases out of multiple sides of this mechanism after completing the transaction at screens. These screens can be integrated within this location or located remotely.
This new centralized robotic vending mechanism increases the flexibility in dispensing capability in product size, shape, and orientation. In addition, it decreases the axes of motion and potential points of error by creating a more efficient mechanism and process of dispense. As a result, the machine's size, capacity and shape can change without duplication of expensive robotic components. This design also allows multiple users to simultaneously purchase items in the machine at two different parallel locations at the machine, while utilizing the same robotic dispensing mechanism. This doubles the service capacity of the machine. This also establishes a modular machine assembly convention whereby the robotic dispensing mechanisms are housed in one distinct section of the machine (the totem) and the inventory sections are separate segments that can affix to the totem to expand or contract depending on space and business considerations, without necessitating redesign of the machine's hardware or software.
Objects of the present system are to provide a product vending machine, automated retail machine, or self-service machine where items are stored inside a secure area and delivered to a user upon a successful transaction in an automated manner.
A basic object is to provide an improved design for product dispensing that cost effectively increases versatility, efficiency, and reliability of the system. This includes, improved product containment systems to increase product storage capacity, ease and efficiency of product handling, dispensing, structural integrity, modularity, customization, shipping/assembly, access and loading of the machine.
Another basic object of the present system is to provide a more effective and flexible vending machine design that can be adapted for its deployment environment by reusing a common dispensing component.
The present system provides a system and method to efficiently configure and deploy a vending system that accomplishes the following:
- a) To provide a system design that can efficiently and effectively dispense a wide range of items (various sizes, shapes and types) in an automated (self-service) platform.
- b) To optimize the inventory storage space inside of an automated retail machine, vending machine or other type of self-service machine.
- c) To optimize the configuration of the machine into one of several formats including half-size (single inventory tower+totem), dual-sided dispensing (two sides of the machine activated to dispense) and isolated display+totem (spreading merchandising components away from the storage and mechanical dispensing of the machine.
- d) To provide a design for a single robotic dispensing system to support multiple iterations of inventory/storage systems in a flexible and easily configurable/alterable manner.
- e) To provide a design for a single robotic dispensing system to support one or more inventory areas that can “plug into” or be built onto a secondary dispensing system.
- f) To provide a design for a single robotic dispensing system that can support multiple configurations (size, shape, etc.) in an automated retail, vending or self-service system based on optimizing the machine for the venue, or merchandising program.
- g) To provide a design for a single robotic system/machine platform to vend items out of multiple sides of a machine enabling more than one user to use the machine simultaneously.
- h) To build a system that can efficiently and effectively allow more than one user to use a single automated retail store machine (or vending machine or self service machine) concurrently.
- i) To provide a cost-effective system design that increases the efficiency of product delivery by opening multiple transaction portals in a machine that utilizes the same centralized mechanism.
- j) To provide a system where a common robotic dispensing system can support multiple users in an automated retail store, or vending machine, or self-service machine.
- k) To provide a system that isolates a robotic dispensing mechanism from the rest of an automated retail, vending or self-service machine so it can be used with a variety of inventory configurations.
- l) To design a system that allows for a larger envelope of products to dispense in the same area, by increasing the surface area for products to dispense and decreasing physical barriers (probable jam locations) within the dispensing mechanism.
- m) To design a system that reduces the number of potential moves or axes of motion (e.g. reduces robotic movement to Y and Z vs. X, Y and Z motion) that a product and or robot need to make in order to dispense an object in a self-service, vending, and/or automated retail platform utilizing robotic technology.
- n) To design a system that reduces the distance of robotic movement needed to dispense an object in a self-service, vending, and/or automated retail platform utilizing robotic technology.
- o) To design a system that utilizes inventory “zones” where multiple inventory technologies can be leveraged to dispense an item to a central robotic dispensing mechanism.
- p) To design a central dispensing mechanism that perceptually distances automated retail and self-service from existing vending technologies.
- q) To design an independent dispensing mechanism that is contained in a smaller area of a machine in order to independently ship and assemble the inventory and robotic/dispensing components of a system for greater efficiency in deployment.
- r) To design a centralized dispensing mechanism that is less subject to the forces of torque/structure across a machine by consolidation of mechanism in a “central core”.
- s) To design a centralized dispensing mechanism that uses two supports instead of four in an elevator structure to better compensate for torque caused by unlevel surfaces on which the machine rests.
- t) To eliminate one axis of movement in a robotic dispensing mechanism in an automated retail/self-service machine.
- u) To design a centralized dispensing mechanism in order to enable peripheral merchandising capabilities (displaying merchandise on both sides of a customer) when they are shopping at an automated retail machine's touch screen, or transaction portal,
- v) To design a vending, or automated retail machine that allows co-branding (2 distinct branded wings/sides and 2 distinct branded faces—two fronts) to exist within the same machine as created by a modularized store (delineation of display) and dual-sided dispensing capability driven by a centralized robotic design.
These and other objects and advantages of the present invention, along with features of novelty appurtenant thereto, will appear or become apparent in the course of the following descriptive sections.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
In the following drawings, which form a part of the specification and which are to be construed in conjunction therewith, and in which like reference numerals have been employed throughout wherever possible to indicate like parts in the various views:
For purposes of disclosure, the following co-pending U.S. utility applications, which are owned by the same assignee as in this case, are hereby incorporated by references, as if fully set forth herein:
(a) Pending U.S. utility application Ser. No. 12/589,277, entitled “Interactive and 3-D Multi-Sensor Touch Selection Interface For an Automated Retail Store, Vending Machine, Digital Sign, or Retail Display,” filed Oct. 21, 2009, by coinventors Mara Segal, Darrell Mockus, and Russell Greenberg, that was based upon a prior pending U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/107,829, filed Oct. 23, 2008, and entitled “Interactive and 3-D Multi-Sensor Touch Selection Interface for an Automated Retail Store, Vending Machine, Digital Sign, or Retail Display”;
(b) Pending U.S. utility application Ser. No. 12/589,164, entitled “Vending Machines With Lighting Interactivity And Item-Based Lighting Systems For Retail Display And Automated Retail Stores,” filed Oct. 19, 2009 by coinventors Mara Segal, Darrell Mockus, and Russell Greenberg, that was based upon a prior pending U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/106,952, filed Oct. 20, 2008, and entitled “Lighting Interactivity And Item-Based Lighting Systems In Retail Display, Automated Retail Stores And Vending Machines,” by the same coinventors; and,
(c) Pending U.S. utility application Ser. No. 12/798,803, entitled “Customer Retention System and Process in a Vending Unit, Retail Display or Automated Retail Store” filed Apr. 12, 2010, by coinventors Mara Segal, Darrell Mockus, and Russell Greenberg, that was based upon a prior pending U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/168,838 filed Apr. 13, 2009, and entitled “Customer Retention System And Automated Retail Store (Kiosk, Vending Unit, Automated Retail Display And Point-Of-Sale)”, by coinventors Darrell Scott Mockus, Mara Segal and Russell Greenberg.
(d) Pending U.S. utility application Ser. No. 12/806,862, entitled “Modular Vending with Centralized Robotic Gantry” filed Aug. 23, 2010, by coinventors Darrell Mockus, Mara Segal, and Russell Greenberg, that was based upon a prior pending U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/237,604 filed Aug. 27, 2009, and entitled “System And Method For Dispensing Items In An Automated Retail Store Or Other Self-Service System (Including Vending And Self-Service Check-Out Or Kiosk Platforms)”: by co-inventors Darrell Scott Mockus, Mara Segal and Russell Greenberg, and priority based on said application is claimed.
With initial reference directed to
Preferably conveyor tray 107 has a pair of retractable, product collection wings 106 that open in response to wing hinge assembly 108 when the elevator is in place to collect items that are dispensed from inventory area(s) in modules placed on either side of the dispensing gantry 100. Wings 106 span the distance between the conveyor and the inventory shelves caused by the necessary existence of the frame structure to support the conveyor elevator.
The generally rectangular product collection wings 106 are disposed on either side of the conveyor 105 to direct selected products upon the conveyor to vend. The retractable wings 106 are actuated by the wing motor 113 (514
The elevator motor 117 (507
With additional reference directed to
A variety of door configurations known in the art can be employed. For example, the display doors can be smaller or larger, and they can be located on one or both sides of the control column 211. The display doors can have multiple square, oval, circular, diamond-shaped, rectangular or any other geometrically shaped windows. Alternatively, the display area can have one large display window with shelves inside.
A customizable, lighted logo area 201 (
Speakers 215 are mounted in the column 211. A camera 216 capable of capturing video and still images is also mounted in the column 211. The machine components are set on casters 217 with feet that can be retracted for moving or lowered to position a machine in a deployed location.
Display doors 210 can be attached to the inventory cabinets via a piano hinge 218 running the full height of the door. The necessary electrical and control wiring connects via a wiring harness 221 located on the interior of the inventory cabinet near the hinge connection. These piano style hinges are located on the exterior corners of the inventory cabinets. They are covered with simple metal paneling if they are not in use. The totem doors 211 are attached in a similar manner using a piano hinge 218. The necessary electrical and control wiring connect to a wiring harness located in the interior of the totem door (wiring harness not depicted).
With primary reference directed to
The machine software is composed of a number of segments that all work in concert to provide an integrated system. Logical area 302 provides the interface to deal with all of the machine's peripherals such as sensors, keypads, printers and touch screen. Area 303 handles the monitoring of the machine and the notifications the machine provides to administrative users when their attention is required. Area 304 controls the reporting and logging on the machine. All events on the machine are logged and recorded so they can be analyzed later for marketing, sales and troubleshooting analysis. Logical area 305 is responsible for handling the machine's lighting controls.
Logical area 306 is the Inventory Management application. It allows administrative users on location to manage the inventory. This includes restocking the machine with replacement merchandise and changing the merchandise that is sold inside the machine. Administrative users can set the location of stored merchandise and the quantity.
Logical area 307 is the retail store application. It is the primary area that consumers use to interface with the system. Logical area 308 handles the controls required to physically dispense items that are purchased on the machine or physically dispense samples that are requested by a consumer. This area reads the data files that tell the machine how many and what types of inventory systems are connected to the machine. Logical area 309 controls the inventory management system allowing authorized administrative users to configure and manage the physical inventory in the machine. Area 310 controls the payment processing on the machine. It manages the communication from the machine to external systems that authorize and process payments made on the machine. Area 311 is an administrative system that allows an authorized user to manage the content on the machine. This logical area handles the virtual administrative user interface described previously. The content can consist of text, images, video and any configuration files that determine the user's interaction with the machine.
The latter applications interface with the system through an application layer designated in
Computer 450 (
Digital connections are seen on the right of
An open frame power supply 505 (
Power supply 505 (
Subroutine 600 (
The dispensing motor information is used by the dispenser control to turn on the motor that dispenses the product until a mechanical switch is activated determining the product has been dispensed to the gantry elevator. Because of the centralized layout of the robotic gantry, it does not matter which inventory system is connected or even what side from which the product is being dispensed. It only matters what shelf the product is on so the elevator can move to the correct height to collect the product. Step 610 reads in all of the screen templates 611 that determine the layout of the visual selection interface. Step 612 checks if there are any fatal errors. If there are fatal errors, it routes to step 605, otherwise the process continues at step 613. Step 613 reads in all of the screen templates 611 that determine the layout of the user interface and all of the screen asset files 614 associated with the screen templates 611.
These asset files can be images or extended markup files that represent buttons, header banners graphics that fit into header areas, directions or instructions that are displayed in designated areas, image map files that determine which area on an image corresponds represents which area on the physical facade or images representing the physical façade. These assets are cached into local memory in the application. Step 615 checks if there are any fatal errors. If there are fatal errors, it routes to step 605, otherwise the process continues at step 616. Step 616 reads and parses the product catalog files 617. The product catalog stores all of information, graphics, specifications, prices and rich media elements (e.g. video, audio, etc.) for each item or product in the system. Each element is organized according to its identification number. These elements can be stored in a database or organized in a file folder system. These items are cached in application memory. Step 618 checks if there are any fatal errors. If there are fatal errors, it routes to step 605, otherwise the process continues at step 619. Step 619 reads in all of the system audio files 620 and the file that the stores the actions with which each audio file is associated. Audio files can be of any format, compressed or uncompressed such as WAV, AIFF, MPEG, etc. An XML file stores the name of the application event and the sound file name and location. Step 621 checks if there are any fatal errors. If there are fatal errors, it routes to step 905, otherwise the process continues at step 622. Step 622 does a system wide hardware check by communicating with the system peripherals and controllers 302 and 308 (
Subroutine 700 (
Step 709 uses this information to move the elevator tray assembly 107 (
With reference directed to
With reference directed to
With reference directed to
With reference directed to
It will be understood that certain features and subcombinations are of utility and may be employed without reference to other features and subcombinations. This is contemplated by and is within the scope of the claims.
As many possible embodiments may be made of the invention without departing from the scope thereof, it is to be understood that all matter herein set forth or shown in the accompanying drawings is to be interpreted as illustrative and not in a limiting sense.
1. A modularized vending machine, retail display, or automated retail store comprising:
- a central robotic gantry comprising an upright enclosure with a pair of sides and a front and a back, an internal elevator, means for vertically moving the elevator within the gantry, the elevator comprising a transverse conveyor for moving items laterally;
- at least one inventory cabinet attached to at least one gantry side;
- at least one door fitted upon the front or back of the gantry, the doors comprising a product vend area; and
- at least one display module proximate said gantry, the display module containing items to be vended, the display module comprising a plurality of physical displays in which items to be vended are visibly housed.
International Classification: G07F 11/16 (20060101);