rexresearch.com



Nathan BALL

Powered Rope Ascender









http://www.atlasdevices.com/
nate.ball@atlasdevices.com

Atlas Power Ascender

The Atlas Power Ascender, now known in the U.S. Military as the APA, is a powerful tool that enables “reverse rappelling” up buildings and other vertical surfaces at unprecedented speeds.

Using Atlas Devices' patented rope interaction design, the lightweight APA can pull a fully-loaded soldier or firefighter up a rappelling line at up to 10 ft/sec, as well as tow vehicles and even remotely move equipment and casualties.

With the capability to reach the top of a building or cliff in only seconds, new advantages are gained in urban warfare, rescue operations, industrial access, and beyond.



www.Wikipedia

Nathan Ball




Nathan "Nate" Barker Ball (born May 13, 1983 in Newport, Oregon) works as a host on the PBS Kids show Design Squad. Ball has appeared in an episode of Myth Busters, a History Channel special on Batman technology, in an insurance advertisement, and in a FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman season 4 episode.

He holds two degrees in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a B.S. (2005) and an M.S. (2007).

He won the Lemelson-MIT Prize in 2007.

He co-founded a business to develop the ATLAS Powered Rope Ascender, a tool he helped create that enables "reverse rappelling" up vertical surfaces at high speed.[1]

He is listed as the co-inventor on 6 patent applications. [2][3]

He is a two-time NCAA All-American pole-vaulter and MIT’s outdoor record holder in the sport, with a record jump of 16' 8 ¾".[4][5]



http://web.mit.edu/invent/a-winners/a-ball.html

Nathan Ball

Nathan "Nate" Ball's passion for invention was coursing through his veins long before he could define the word. He recalls digging up the family garden at two years old to build, wreck and rebuild mud dams and underground forts. In fourth grade he created a bottle-rocket launcher that shot two-liter bottles of water 100 feet skyward. This was followed by a hovercraft powered by a vacuum cleaner motor that he constructed in sixth grade.

By the time Ball was in the eighth grade, he was attempting to build a Tesla coil in his parent's garage, making capacitors out of glass bottles and aluminum foil. "I saw Tesla coils on the Internet shooting lightening," said Ball. "It was the coolest thing I'd ever seen, and I knew I had to build one."

Amazingly, Ball never touched a machine tool until he reached college. He credits limited resources during his formative years to his ability to think unconventionally about problems and engineer efficient solutions.

Now 23, Ball is pursuing his Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and intends to graduate in 2007. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from MIT in 2005.

He currently researches his master's thesis at MIT's BioInstrumentation Laboratory, which is run by his advisor, Hatsopoulos Professor of Mechanical Engineering Ian W. Hunter. Under Hunter and Research Scientist Andrew Taberner, another advisor, Ball was challenged to use the lab's novel Lorentz-force actuator to create a dual-action, rapid-fire delivery technology that increased drug volume delivery, which he created within two months.

Now awaiting livestock trials, Ball and his colleagues anticipate the needle-free injection technology having applications in animal husbandry, and they hope it may someday be employed for safe, inexpensive, mass inoculation of humans in developing and developed countries. Commercialization of the work is funded in part by partner Norwood Abbey, Inc. of Melbourne, Australia.

Additionally, in 2004, Ball founded Atlas Devices, LLC with three other mechanical engineering students at MIT to develop and commercialize the ATLAS Powered Rope Ascender, which uses a rope-handling mechanism conceived by Ball. This portable device can raise more than 250 pounds at 10 feet per second, giving rescuers, emergency personnel and soldiers faster and more controllable climbing capabilities. The U.S. Army recently awarded funding for their invention.

Ball is a co-applicant of six patents and the co-author of numerous peer-reviewed articles. His awards and achievements include the SAIC Award in the 2005 Soldier Design Competition, sponsored by the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT, for his team's ATLAS Powered Rope Ascender. He also won the Luis DeFlorez Award for outstanding ingenuity and creativity from MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2005 for an electric scooter.

Inspired by his mother, who is a music teacher, and father, who is an engineer, Ball also enjoys sharing his passion for science and invention with others. In February 2007, Ball will be featured as a mentor to eight budding engineers as co-host of PBS’s new series "Design Squad." The show aims to excite middle-school students about science and engineering by combining elements of reality TV with fun and educational engineering challenges. Additionally, Ball also mentors fifth grade boys in science and engineering at Fletcher Maynard Academy in Cambridge, Mass.

Ball is a native of Newport, Oregon where he was raised with his two sisters. He is a two-time NCAA All-American pole-vaulter and MIT’s indoor/outdoor record holder in the sport (16' 6" indoor, 16' 8 ¾" outdoor). He currently serves as the school's head pole vault coach.

Ball is also trained in classical piano. For fun, he enjoys playing jazz keyboard and beat-boxing.

Current Update:

Ball received his M.S. (2007) and B.S. (2005) in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For his master's thesis at MIT's BioInstrumentation Laboratory, Ball was challenged by advisors, Hatsopoulos Professor of Mechanical Engineering Ian W. Hunter and Research Scientist Andrew Taberner, to use the lab's novel Lorentz-force actuator to create a dual-action, rapid-fire delivery technology that increased drug volume delivery, which he created within two months.



http://web.mit.edu/invent/n-pressreleases/n-press-07SP.html
    
MIT GRADUATE STUDENT WINS $30,000 LEMELSON-MIT STUDENT PRIZE FOR LIFE-SAVING INVENTIONS

Nathan Ball's inventions include a device to "fly" to tops of buildings and another to significantly improve mass inoculations

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (February 14, 2007) – The ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound used to be the stuff of comic-book fantasy. Nathan Ball, a 23-year-old graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and this year’s winner of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, has invented a device that makes the fantasy a reality.

With the help of Ball's ATLAS Powered Rope Ascender, a fully loaded firefighter could reach the top of a 30-story building in only 30 seconds, compared to the six minutes or more it often takes to trudge up stairs with 80 to 100 pounds of equipment. The device, which is the size of a hand-held power tool, can lift a 250-pound load more than 600 feet into the air at nearly 10 feet per second, all on a single battery charge.

"Ingenuity, creativity and passion seem to course through Nate's blood," said Merton Flemings, director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, which sponsors the annual award. "His battery-powered rope ascender and needle-free injection technology both have life-saving capabilities and many commercial applications."

"Nate is also an inspiring and committed mentor for young inventors. This combination of attributes made him our top choice for this year’s $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize," Flemings added.

Up, Up and Away!

In November 2004, Ball and three colleagues entered the Soldier Design Competition sponsored by the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. The competition called for a high-powered device to enable rapid vertical mobility.

Ball called the challenge unprecedented, as the original specifications called for a device that weighed less than 25 pounds and could lift 250 pounds 50 feet into the air, in five seconds. "That's more than five horsepower in a 25-pound package," he explained. "That's a power-to-weight ratio higher than a Dodge Viper's — we did the math. To have that much power in that small of a package is a heck of a challenge."

Through a combination of resourcefulness and "the highest-tech equipment we could afford," such as drill batteries and a few high-power density motors, Ball and his colleagues invented a device that could hoist 250 pounds of weight 50 feet into the air in seven seconds — only two seconds slower than the competition's specification.

The novel aspect of the ATLAS ascender is its rope-handling mechanism. Similar to the way an anchor is raised and lowered on a ship, the device relies on the capstan effect, which produces a tighter grip each consecutive time a rope is wrapped around a cylinder. The grip continues to tighten as more weight is applied to the line.

In his design, a standard-sized rope (between three-eighths and five-eighths of an inch) is weaved between a series of specially configured rollers that sit on top of a turning spindle. As the battery-powered spindle rotates, it continuously pulls rope through the device. "We currently have three patents pending for the rope interaction and other iterations on the device" said Ball.

Ball and his colleagues founded Atlas Devices, LLC to develop and market the ATLAS Powered Rope Ascender. He has upgraded the original design, and the device is now powered by high-density, lithium-ion batteries created by A123Systems. Ball said the new power system immediately dropped the device's weight by several pounds and significantly increased its speed.

"The latest configuration weighs 20 pounds and peaks at 10 feet per second," he said. "A123Systems has a 150-foot steam tower we were able to use for testing. We successfully completed a 100-foot continuous ascent to the tower’s platform in 14 seconds."

Ball envisions his invention having practical applications in rescue work, recreational climbing and cave exploration, as well as urban warfare situations. "It can help people complete tasks more efficiently and without depleting energy they would otherwise use climbing ladders and carrying heavy gear," he said.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Another of Ball's stand-out inventions is an improvement in the needle-free injection technology developed at MIT's BioInstrumentation Laboratory. Under the direction of his advisors Ian W. Hunter and Andrew Taberner in the BioInstrumentation Laboratory, Ball was challenged to use the lab's novel Lorentz-force actuator to create a dual-action, rapid-fire delivery technology that increased drug volume delivery.

Within two months, he had not only come up with a solution to the problem, but had built and tested a prototype device.

"Nate's achievement is simply breathtaking and will have potentially a huge impact on drug delivery and, hence, healthcare," said Ball's advisor Professor Hunter.

Now awaiting livestock trials, Ball and his colleagues anticipate the needle-free injection technology having applications in animal husbandry. Beyond that, they hope the device may someday be employed for safe, inexpensive, mass inoculation of humans in developing and developed countries. Commercialization of the work is funded in part by partner Norwood Abbey, Inc. of Melbourne, Australia.

Inventor, Student, Reality-Show Host

Ball's interest in invention does not stop with his own creations; he also dedicates himself to mentoring and advising aspiring inventors.

"Coming from a family of teachers and having such strong support from my parents, I felt it imperative to share that with other young inventors," he said. "My parents helped me find my passion early in life and instilled in me a way to maintain it. To help other young inventors discover science is amazing and watching their first moment of discovery is very rewarding."

Ball has been deeply involved as a technical advisor and co-host of "Design Squad," a new engineering-based reality show for kids ages 9-13 that will air nationally on PBS beginning in February 2007. He helped brainstorm and test challenge ideas that he said would "require clever problem solving, ingenuity, and some classic mess-making." Ball hopes that through this program, kids will be empowered to explore and embrace the elements of engineering that surround them each day.

Program Expands to Recognize Other Exceptional Inventors

In its ongoing effort to expand its reach and recognize outstanding up-and-coming inventors, the Lemelson-MIT Program is offering two new $30,000 Student Prizes this year.

Michael Callahan is the inaugural winner of the Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a graduate student in Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering who has invented a method to intercept neurological signals near the source of vocal production and convert the signals into speech. He hopes to make it possible for people with limited speech or movement abilities to communicate.

On February 16, the first recipient of the Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will be announced by Lemelson Foundation chair Dorothy Lemelson, Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson and Alan Cramb, dean of the School of Engineering. Details about the winner will be posted on www.rpi.edu/lemelson/.

On May 3, the winners of these Student Prizes will join together for a panel discussion at the Museum of Science, Boston. The 3:00 p.m. panel is open to the public and included in the Exhibit Hall admission.

About the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize

The $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is awarded annually to an MIT senior or graduate student who has created or improved a product or process, applied a technology in a new way, redesigned a system, or demonstrated remarkable inventiveness in other ways. A distinguished panel of MIT alumni and associates including scientists, technologists, engineers and entrepreneurs chooses the winner.

About the Lemelson-MIT Program

The Lemelson-MIT Program recognizes outstanding inventors, encourages sustainable new solutions to real-world problems, and enables and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention.

Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the world's most prolific inventors, and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by the Lemelson Foundation, a private philanthropy that celebrates and supports inventors and entrepreneurs in order to strengthen social and economic life. More information on the Lemelson-MIT Program is online at http://web.mit.edu/invent/.



Patents

DEVICE TO ENABLE ROPE PULLING FUNCTIONALITY USING A ROTATIONAL POWER SOURCE
US2007194290

A device capable of pulling an object (e.g., a person) by or up a tensioning member (e.g., a rope) is provided. The device can be configured to mate to any location of the tensioning member, and subsequently interface with a rotational power source (such a mechanical drill). Once interfaced, an output of the rotational energy source can be rotationally coupled to a rotating drum of the device wherein the drum is in communication with the tensioning member. With the addition of power, the drum(s) can pull the tensioning member through the device and allow for a continuous force to be applied to an object attached to the device or attached to the tensioning member. The use of such a convenient and low-cost power source allows for an economic, portable, and simple to use device capable of lifting and/or pulling heavy loads.

FIELD OF INVENTION

[0003] This invention relates to devices for moving an object by pulling on a tensioning member to which the object is attached. More particularly, the invention relates to a device that couples to a rotational power source in order to lift or pull heavy objects by pulling on a rope or cable.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0004] Winches are typically used to lift heavy loads or pull loads across horizontal obstacles. Winches are either motor-driven or hand powered and utilize a drum around which a wire rope (i.e. metal cable) or chain is wound. Manually lifting or pulling heavy objects is not a viable option due to the strength required to lift or pull such objects. Often, fatigue and injury result from manually lifting or pulling such objects. This is why winches are used; they possess massive pulling and towing capabilities, and can serve well for handling heavy objects.

[0005] However, winches are limited in their usefulness for several reasons. First, the cable or rope is fixed permanently to the drum, which limits the maximum pull distance and restricts the towing medium to only that rope or cable. Second, the winch must be permanently or semi-permanently fixed to a solid structure to be used, limiting its placement and usability. Third, controlled release of tension is not a capability of many winches, further limiting usability.
[0006] As such, there is a need in the art for a versatile, portable, low cost, and easy to use device capable of lifting or pulling a load a desired distance and/or height.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0007] The presently disclosed embodiments provide devices capable of lifting or pulling an object (e.g., a person) up or along a tensioning member (e.g., a rope). More specifically, the device is capable of mating to any location of the tensioning member thereby eliminating the need to thread an end of the tensioning member through the device, and the device is further capable of being powered by a rotational power source (portable or fixed) such as a mechanical drill. The use of such a convenient and low-cost power source allows for an economic, simple to use, and easy to carry, portable device capable of lifting and/or pulling heavy loads. Various aspects of the device are disclosed below.

[0008] In one aspect, the device includes an input for rotational power wherein the input includes an interface capable of removably engaging a rotational power source. The rotational power source can be any device (portable or fixed) capable of supplying a rotational power to the device. For example, the rotational power source can include a mechanical power drill, a hand crank, an air wrench, or any device having a mechanically powered rotating shaft. Additionally, the device can include a physical attachment capable of attaching the device to the rotational power source.

[0009] The device can further include a rope pulling mechanism which includes at least one rotating drum (or a plurality of rotating drums) having a longitudinal axis and a circumference, and a guide mechanism configured to receive a tensioning member (e.g., a rope). The guide mechanism can be further configured to guide the tensioning member onto, around at least a portion of the circumference of, and off of the rotating drum as the drum rotates. In one embodiment, the longitudinal axis of the rotating drum is parallel with a longitudinal axis of the tensioning member thereby allowing the drum to act, in general, as a capstan. In another embodiment, a plurality of rotating drums can be utilized wherein the longitudinal axis of each drum is substantially perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the tensioning member thereby allowing the drums to act, in general, as a pulley system. In an exemplary embodiment, an outer surface of the rotating drum has a surface characterized by a anisotropic friction.

[0010] In any of these embodiments, the rotating drum(s) can be configured to receive an output (i.e., a rotating force) from an engaged rotational power source capable of rotating the drum at a desired speed. In response to the output of the rotational power source, the rotating drum can continuously pull the tensioning member through the device. The device can couple the rotating drum to the output of the rotational power source via a gear box, or the rotating drum can be coupled directly to the rotational power source.

[0011] The device can include various safety features capable of locking the device at a desired position along the length of the tensioning member. For example, the device can include a gearbox having a worm gear, and/or the device can include a cam-lock positioned at various locations of the device and in communication with the tensioning member.

[0012] Additionally, the device can further include an attachment point capable of attaching an object to the device. For example, the object can be a person (in the case of lifting a person along a length of the tensioning member), or the object can be a non-movable object (such as in the case of utilizing the device as a portable winch).

[0013] In another aspect, the device can include a rope pulling mechanism including a rotating drum wherein the rope pulling mechanism can be coupled to a tensioning member at any position along a length of the tensioning member thereby eliminating the need to thread an end of the tensioning member through the device. Further, the device can include an input for rotational power which includes an interface capable of removably engaging a rotational power source. The input can further be configured to couple an output of the rotational power source (i.e., a rotational power) to the rope pulling mechanism thereby enabling the device to apply a tension to the tensioning member in response to an output from the rotational power source.

[0014] These aspects and others will be discussed in detail below.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0015] The following figures provide illustrative examples of various embodiments of the present invention. The figures are not meant in any way to limit the scope of any embodiment of the presently disclosed devices, systems or methods of use.




[0016] FIG. 1 is a diagrammatic view of an exemplary embodiment of the presently disclosed device;

[0017] FIG. 2 is a diagrammatic view of an alternative embodiment of the presently disclosed device;

  


[0018] FIG. 3 is a diagrammatic side view of an exemplary embodiment of the presently disclosed device;

[0019] FIG. 4 is a diagrammatic side view of an alternative embodiment of the presently disclosed device;





[0020] FIG. 5 is a view of an exemplary embodiment of a rope-pulling mechanism of the presently disclosed device;

[0021] FIG. 6A is a view of an exemplary embodiment of a rotating drum of the rope pulling mechanism of FIG. 5;

[0022] FIG. 6B is a top view of the embodiment of FIG. 6A;



[0023] FIG. 7 is an embodiment of a rope pulling mechanism of the presently disclosed device; and

[0024] FIG. 8 is a representation of showing a rotational power source disengaged from the presently disclosed device.



DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0025] The presently disclosed embodiments provide devices capable of lifting or pulling an object (e.g., a person) up or along a tensioning member (e.g., a rope). More specifically, the device is capable of mating to any location of any type of tensioning member (e.g., various types, various lengths, various diameters, etc.), and subsequently being interfaced with and powered by a rotational power source (such a mechanical drill). The use of such a rotational power source allows for a low cost, simple to use, easy to carry device capable of lifting and/or pulling heavy objects. In use, the device can be clipped to either a climbing harness or Swiss seat, or can be attached to a grounded object to act as a winch.

[0026] As will be discussed in detail below, the device can provide a smooth, controlled, continuous pull while raising (or lowering) an object (e.g., person). Further, the device can be easy and intuitive to use by minimally trained or untrained personnel. In order to perform various functions, the device can apply its pulling force both at high force levels, for portable winching applications, or at fast rates, for rapid vertical ascents. As a safety feature, the device can include a safety lock mechanism that prevents unwanted reverse motion of the rope or cable. These and other aspects of the presently disclosed device will be discussed in detail below.

[0027] FIG. 1 diagrammatically illustrates an exemplary embodiment of the presently disclosed device 1. As shown, a rotational power source (e.g., a power drill) 2 can interface with the device 1. The rotational power source 2 can be a portable device or a fixed device. Typically, the rotational power source 2 can include a housing 2a and a drill output 2b. In an exemplary embodiment, the rotational power source is a mechanical drill. The ability to interface a low cost, every day power drill 2 to the device 1 can provide significant cost savings and simplicity to use of the device 1.

[0028] Depending on the rotational power source 2 used to power the system, different pulling rates and load capabilities can be achieved. Also, as will be discussed below, adjusting components of the gearbox 3 can produce a desired pulling force. Exemplary embodiments of the rotational power source 2 include a DeWalt 36V cordless hammer drill, p/n DC900KL, the DeWalt 36V cordless rotary hammer, p/n DC232KL, or the DeWalt 36V cordless impact wrench, p/n DC800KL, all as powered by 36V high-power Lithium Ion battery packs, manufactured by A123 Systems, Inc, of Watertown, Mass. The extremely high power to weight ratio (3000 W/kg) of these battery packs makes the DeWalt 36V cordless tools allows for high loads and high pulling rates, and allows for maximum versatility as a cordless power tool. In alternative embodiments, the rotational power source 2 can include the 24V Panasonic cordless rotary hammer, p/n EY6813NQKW, or other 28V, 24V, 18V, 14.4V or 12V cordless drill systems. Those skilled in the art will appreciate that various other power drills are within the spirit and scope of the present invention.

[0029] Various other types of rotational power sources 2 can be utilized by the presently disclosed device. For example, the rotational power source 2 can be a hand crank, an air wrench, rotary saw, rotary hammer, or any device having a rotating shaft. As will be appreciated by those skilled in the art, various other rotational power sources are within the spirit and scope of the present invention.

[0030] The output of the rotational power source 2 can be coupled to a rotating drum 8 of the device 1. The output of the rotational power source 2 is the rotating shaft of the rotating power source 2. As such, coupling the output of the rotational power source to the rotating drum provides a rotating force to the rotating drum. FIG. 1 illustrates an exemplary embodiment wherein the output is coupled to the rotating drum via a gear box 3. As will be appreciated by those skilled in the art, the gears of the gearbox 3 can be selected in order to provided a desired force from the rotational power source 2 to the rotating drums 8 (and ultimately to the tensioning member 6). The rotational coupling between the rotational power source 2 and the gearbox 3 can be accomplished via the chuck of the rotational power source 2, or by various other means known in the art. In an alternative embodiment, as shown in FIG. 2, the rotational power source 2 can be coupled directly to the rotating drum(s) 8 thereby eliminating the need for the gear box 3. Such coupling can be achieved via a drill chuck or as otherwise known in the art. Those skilled in the art will appreciate that the rotating drum(s) 8 of the device 1 can be mated to the output of the rotational power source 2 in a variety of manners and remain within the spirit and scope of the present invention.

[0031] Next, FIG. 1 illustrates that the rotational power source 2 additionally includes a physical attachment 5 to the device 1. The physical attachment 5 allows the rotational power source 2 to apply a directional torque to the rope pulling mechanism 4 with respect to the body of the rotational power source 2. Further, the physical attachment 5 allows for added stability and safety in order to ensure that the rotational power source 2 does not detach from the device while in use. As will be apparent to those skilled in the art, the physical attachment 5 can include various forms. For example, the physical attachment 5 can include a direct attachment of a drill chuck (not shown) of the rotational power source 2 to the device 1. Further, the rotational power source 2 can include an extension (not shown) which can be received in a "key-hole" element (not shown) of the device 1 so as to lock the device 1 to the rotational power source. In one example, clearly shown in FIGS. 3 and 4, the physical attachment 5 can include a first circular element 5a and a second circular element 5b capable of encircling portions of the rotational power source 2 so as to maintain the rotational power source 2 in communication with the device 1. As will be apparent to those skilled in the art, the physical attachment 5 of the device 1 to the rotational power source 2 can be accomplished in a wide variety of manners.

[0032] FIG. 1 further diagrams the tensioning member 6 being acted upon by the device 1. The tensioning member 6 can include any elongate resilient element capable of withstand a tension. For example, the tensioning member 6 can include strings, ropes, cables, threads, fibers, filaments, etc. Furthermore, the tensioning member 6 can be of any diameter and/or length. Those skilled in the art will appreciate that various examples of such tensioning members 6 are within the spirit and scope of the present invention.

[0033] As shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, the device 1 can include a tensioning member guide mechanism 9 which allows for proper positioning of the tensioning member 6 on the rotating drum(s). Once properly positioned, a rope pulling mechanism 4 can be activated by the rotational power source 2 to provide a controlled and continuous force on the tensioning member 6 thereby allowing for a object attached to the tensioning member 6 or, alternatively, an object (e.g., a person) attached to the device to be raised or pulled a desired distance. As will be discussed below, an advantage of the presently disclosed device is that the rope pulling mechanism 4 (including the guide mechanism 9 and rotating drum(s) 8) can be mated to any location of the tensioning member 6. As such, the present device 1 eliminates the need to thread an end of the tensioning member 6 into the device prior to use.

[0034] FIG. 3 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of the device 1 in use. As shown (see arrows), the tensioning element 6 can enter the device 1 and be guided into a rope pulling mechanism 4. The rope pulling mechanism 4 comprises a tensioning member guide mechanism 9 (as diagrammed in FIGS. 1 and 2) and at least one rotating drum 8 wherein the guide member 9 can properly position the tensioning member 6 onto the rotating drum(s). Next, the device can include an attachment point 7 capable of anchoring the device to a grounded body (e.g., a load when pulling a load up the tensioning member, or a stable body when acting as a portable winch). This attachment point 7 can allow all tension imposed by the rope pulling mechanism 4 on the tensioning member 6 to be relayed to the grounded body through the device 1 itself, rather than through the body of the rotational power source 2. In the embodiment of FIG. 3, the attachment point 7 can be positioned collinear with the tensioning element 6 and with the longitudinal axis of the output of the rotational power source 2 so as to increase the ease of use and ergonomics of the device 1. In such an embodiment, when the tensioning member 6 is under tension, the system, comprising the device 1 and rotational power source 2, will be suspended in a neutrally stable orientation between the distal end of the tensioning element 6 and the attachment point 7.

[0035] Looking in more detail at FIG. 3, the elongate tensioning member 6 enters the device 1 horizontally, in accordance with the primary longitudinal axis of the drive of the device 1, the device comprising the rope pulling mechanism 4 and gearbox 3 (optional). The device can be further capable of receiving and mating to the rotational power source 2. Once the tensioning member is positioned and the rotational power source 2 activated, the tensioning member 6 can be pulled into the device 1 as indicated by the directional arrow. The tensioning member 6 exits the device 1 via the rope pulling mechanism 4 in a vertical orientation. As indicated, the tensioning member 6 is free of any additional imposed tension as the member 6 leaves the device 1. Tension in the tensioning member 6 is relayed to ground via the attachment point 7. In this embodiment, the device 1 and rotational power source 2 can rest in a neutrally stable orientation, suspended between the tensioning member 6 and the attachment point 7.

[0036] The device can additionally include various safety features capable of preventing the device from unwanted backward motion relative to the tensioning member 6. For example, the gearbox 3 can include a worm gear. As will be appreciated by those skilled in the art, if the gearbox 3 includes a worm gear on the input side which is coupled to a spur or other gear as part or all of the output side of the gearbox 3, the device 1 will not be back-drivable, meaning the rope pulling mechanism 4 will remain locked to all imposed tension in the system even if the rotational power source 2 is removed. As will be discussed in relation to FIG. 8, the capability to disengage the rotational power source 2 from the device 1 while leaving the device 1 under tension enables multiple devices 1 to be utilized in tandem, all powered by moving the rotational power source 2 from device to device, increasing the tension in each respective tensioning member 6 along the way.

[0037] As a further safety feature, equal facility for locking the device 1 against back-tension may be enabled by placing a frictional cam-lock 10 where the tensioning member 6 enters the device 1. This cam-lock 10 utilizes self-help to increase gripping force against the tensioning member 6 in response to increased tension, thereby locking the tensioning member 6 against movement out of the device 1, and allowing movement into the device 1 as depicted by the arrow. As will be appreciated by those skilled in the art, the cam-lock 10 can also be placed at different locations in the device 1, such as after the rope pulling mechanism 4, with the same functionality being enabled. Furthermore, those skilled in the art will appreciate that various other safety/locking devices can be incorporated in the device 1 while remaining within the spirit and scope of the present invention.

[0038] FIG. 4 depicts an alternative embodiment of the device with a rearranged component configuration. As shown, the tensioning member 6 can enter the device 1 vertically, in accordance with the directional arrow. The tensioning member 6 then can exit the rope pulling mechanism 4 and device 1 vertically and without tension, in accordance with the second directional arrow. Tensile force imposed by the rope pulling mechanism 4 on the tensioning member 6 can be relayed through the device 1 to the attachment point 7' which can provide an anchor to a grounded body, and which may be oriented collinear with the taut side of the tensioning element 6, to allow the device 1 and rotational power source 2 to rest in a more usable neutral orientation during use.

[0039] As described above, the rope pulling mechanism 4 of the device 1 is capable of engaging and pulling the tensioning member 6 through the device. Various exemplary embodiments of the rope pulling mechanism 4 are described in U.S. Provisional Patent Application 60/717,343, filed September 2005, entitled "Powered Rope Ascender and Portable Rope Pulling Device," and U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/376,721, filed Mar. 15, 2006, entitled "Powered Rope Ascender and Portable Rope Pulling Device," which are expressly incorporated herein by reference.

[0040] FIG. 5 is a view of the distal end of the device 1 utilizing an exemplary embodiment of the rope pulling mechanism as disclosed in the above-identified incorporated applications. As shown, the rope pulling mechanism includes a rotating drum 8 and a guide mechanism 9. The rotating drum 8 includes a longitudinal axis and a circumference wherein the longitudinal axis is positioned substantially parallel to a longitudinal axis of the tensioning member thereby allowing the drum 8 to act, in general, as a capstan. Further, the guide member 9 is configured to receive the tensioning member 6, and further configured to guide the tensioning member 6 onto, around at least a portion of the circumference of, and off of the rotating drum 8.

[0041] FIGS. 6A and 6B show views of an exemplary embodiment of the rotating drum. In this embodiment, the operation of a rope pulling device 1 can be aided by designing the surface of the rotating drum 8 to have anisotropic friction properties. In particular, the drum can be designed to have a high friction coefficient in a direction substantially about its circumference and a lower friction coefficient in a substantially longitudinal direction. In an exemplary embodiment, the rotating drum is a cylinder; however, as will be apparent to those skilled in the art, various other shapes can be used and are meant to be encompassed by the word "drum". As shown in FIG. 6A, the surface of the drum 8 can include longitudinal splines to create this anisotropic friction effect. In this embodiment, a cylinder, preferably constructed of aluminum or another lightweight metal or material, is extruded to include the illustrated longitudinal splines. More specifically, as clearly shown in FIG. 6B, the rotating drum 8 can include longitudinal shaped-shaped splines 20 and a hole for a shaft with a keyway cutout 24. Forming the longitudinal splines as shaped features angled into the direction of motion of the rotating drum 8 further enhances the friction between the rope and the drum. Additionally, various weight-reducing holes 22 can also be utilized to minimize weight of the entire device.

[0042] FIG. 7 shows an alternative embodiment wherein the rope pulling mechanism 4 can include a plurality of rotating drums 8, generally acting in the manner of pulleys, which interact with the tensioning member 6 to pull the tensioning member 6 through the device 1. As shown, the longitudinal axis of the rotating drums 8 are positioned substantially perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the tensioning member 6. In this embodiment, the output of the gearbox 3 is coupled rotationally to at least one of the rotating drums 8. When an initial tension is imposed on the tensioning member 6, either by the working load or by the rope pulling mechanism 4, a partial or full wrap of the tensioning member 6 around each drum 8 provides an amplified tensile force due to the capstan effect, and thereby increases the frictional force between the rotating drums 8 and the tensioning member 6. Alternatively, the output of the drill 2 can be rotationally coupled directly to one or more of the rotating drums 8 without going through an additional gearbox 3.

[0043] As will be appreciated by those skilled in the art, the various embodiments of the device can allow for a variety of uses. For example, in one embodiment, the object can be attached to the distal end of the tensioning element 6 with the attachment point 7 of the device 1 anchored to a grounded point, thus pulling the object toward the stationary device 1. In an alternative embodiment, the object can be connected to the attachment point 7 of the device 1, with the distal end of the tensioning element 6 being fixed to a grounded point, in operation thereby pulling the device 1 and its load along the tensioning element 6 toward the fixed distal end. As such, the device 1 and rotational power source 2 can be suspended in a stable orientation between the distal end of the tensioning element 6 and the attachment point 7, regardless of the relative orientation of those two points. This allows loads to be pulled horizontally, vertically, or at any angle in between, with the weight of the rotational power source 2 imposing minimal off-axis moments to the tensioning element 6, and thereby positioning the device 1 and rotational power source 2 suspended in an orientation of higher ergonomic usability to the operator.

[0044] As briefly mentioned above, while in use, the device 1 can be disengaged from the rotational power source 2 while keeping a desired tension on the tensioning member 6. FIG. 8 shows such an embodiment wherein the tension between the tensioning member 6 and the ground 11 can be maintained due to the restriction of backward motion of the tensioning member 6 by either a cam-lock 10 or by a non-backdrivable gearbox 3 (each discussed above). The functionality enabled by this configuration is such that multiple devices 1 can be used in tandem with the same rotational power source 2 moving between devices 1 to increase tension sequentially in multiple tensioning members 6, such as in tent guys, or truck tie-downs.

[0045] A person of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the configurations described above are not the only configurations that can employ the principles of the invention. The system and method described above, utilizing a rope pulling mechanism comprising a rotating drum and a rope guide mechanism, powered by a rotational power source such as a motorized drill or other rotational device, can be practically employed in various other configurations. As such, any configuration or placement of all the parts, rotational power source, gearbox, and rotating drum/guide assembly with relation to one another could be deployed by a person of ordinary skill in keeping with the principles of the invention. Additionally, various components can be added or subtracted to the device and/or system while remaining within the spirit and scope of the present invention.

[0046] The lifting and pulling of heavy objects is a wide-ranging task inherent in many endeavors, commercial, domestic, military, and recreational. The presently disclosed device, a portable rope pulling and climbing device, can solve many problems associated with using current lifting and pulling technology, including but not limited to: accommodating multiple types and diameters of flexible tensioning members, being able to attach to the flexible tensioning member without threading a free end through the device, and being capable of providing a smooth continuous pull. Furthermore, the presently disclosed embodiments provide a device which itself can travel up or along a rope, provide a device which is easy and intuitive to use, provide a device which can let out or descend a taut flexible tensioning member at a controlled rate with a range of loads, and further, provide a device and method that is usable in and useful for recreation, industry, emergency, rescue, manufacturing, military, and other applications.

[0047] A person of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate further features and advantages of the presently disclosed device based on the above-described embodiments. For example, specific features from any of the embodiments described above as well as those known in the art can be incorporated into the presently disclosed embodiments in a variety of combinations and subcombinations. Accordingly, the presently disclosed embodiments are not to be limited by what has been particularly shown and described. Any publications and references cited herein are expressly incorporated herein by reference in their entirety.



POWERED ROPE ASCENDER AND PORTABLE ROPE PULLING DEVICE
US2008017838

A device for pulling an elongate member includes a powered rotational motor having an output and a rotating drum connected to the output of said rotational motor where the rotating drum has a longitudinal axis and a circumference. The device further includes a guide mechanism for guiding the resilient elongate element onto, around at least a portion of the circumference of, and off of, the rotating drum. When the powered rotational motor turns the rotating drum, the rotating drum thereby continuously pulls the resilient elongate element through the device

FIELD OF INVENTION

[0002] This invention relates to devices for moving an object by pulling on an elongate element to which the object is attached. More particularly, the invention relates to a device that can lift or pull heavy objects by pulling on a rope or cable.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0003] Winches are typically used to lift heavy loads or pull loads across horizontal obstacles. Winches are either motor-driven or hand powered and utilize a drum around which a wire rope (i.e. metal cable) or chain is wound. Manually lifting or pulling heavy objects is not a viable option due to the strength required to lift or pull such objects. Often, fatigue and injury result from manually lifting or pulling such objects. This is why winches are used; they possess massive pulling and towing capabilities, and can serve well for handling heavy objects.

[0004] However, winches are limited in their usefulness for several reasons. First, the cable or rope is fixed permanently to the drum, which limits the maximum pull distance and restricts the towing medium to only that rope or cable. Second, the winch must be fixed to a solid structure to be used, limiting its placement and usability. Third, controlled release of tension is not a capability of many winches, further limiting usability.

[0005] Current technology in rope ascenders used by people for vertical climbing consists of passive rope ascenders which must be used in pairs. These rope ascenders function as a one-way rope clamp, to be used in pairs. By alternating which ascender bears the load and which ascender advances, upward motion along a rope can be created.

[0006] Passive ascenders such as these are severely limited in their usefulness for several reasons. First, they rely on the strength of the user for upward mobility. Thus, passive ascenders are not useful in rescue situations where an injured person needs to move up a rope. Second, the need to grip one ascender with each hand limits multi-tasking during an ascent because both hands are in use. Third, the rate and extent of an ascent are limited to the capabilities of the user. Fourth, the diamond grit used to grip the rope is often too abrasive, destroying climbing ropes for future use. Fifth, the type of rope to be used is limited by what the ascenders' one-way locks can interact properly with.

[0007] Raising heavy loads upward via cable is accomplished by winches pulling from above the load, or by a device such as a hydraulic lift that pushes from below. Passive rope ascenders are useless for moving a dead weight load upward along a rope. U.S. Pat. No. 6,488,267 to Goldberg et al., entitled "Apparatus for Lifting or Pulling a Load" is an apparatus which uses two passive ascenders along a rope with a pneumatic piston replacing the power a human would normally provide. Thus, this powered device is limited in its usefulness by the same factors mentioned above. In addition, the lifting capacity and rate of ascent are is limited by the power source that fuels the pneumatic piston.

[0008] A further drawback of this design is that at any reasonable rate the load will experience a significant jerking motion in the upward direction during an ascent. Therefore, fragile loads will be at risk if this device is used.

[0009] It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide an apparatus for lifting or pulling heavy loads which solves one or more of the problems associated with the conventional methods and techniques described above.

[0010] It is another object of the present invention to provide an apparatus for lifting or pulling heavy loads which can be manufactured at reasonable costs.

[0011] It would also be desirable as well to be able to attach any such rope pulling device to a rope at any point along that rope without having to thread an end of the rope or cable through the device. This would increase the usability of such a device considerably over other rope pulling and climbing devices, allowing for instance a user to attach himself for ascent at a second story window past which a rope hangs.

[0012] Other objects and advantages of the present invention will be apparent to one of ordinary skill in the art in light of the ensuing description of the present invention. One or more of these objectives may include:

(a) to provide a line pulling device that can handle a range of rope types, cables, and diameters;

(b) to provide a device which does not require an end of the rope or cable to be fixed to the device;

(c) to provide a device which provides a smooth, controlled, continuous pull;

(d) to provide a device which itself is capable of traveling upward along a rope or cable smoothly and continuously to raise a load or a person;

(e) to provide a device which is easy and intuitive to use by minimally trained or untrained personnel;

(f) to provide a device which can let out or descend a taut rope or cable at a controlled rate with a range of loads;

(g) to provide a device which can apply its pulling force both at high force levels, for portable winching applications, and at fast rates, for rapid vertical ascents;

(h) to provide a device with a safety lock mechanism that prevents unwanted reverse motion of the rope or cable;

(i) to provide a device that can attach to a rope or cable at any point without having to thread an end of the rope or cable through the device;

j) to provide a device that is not limited in its source of power to any particular type of rotational motor; and

(k) to provide a device that is usable in and useful for recreation, industry, emergency, rescue, manufacturing, military, and any other application relating to or utilizing rope, cable, string, or fiber tension.

[0024] Still further objects and advantages are to provide a rope or cable pulling device that is as easy to use as a cordless power drill, that can be used in any orientation, that can be easily clipped to either a climbing harness or Swiss seat, that can be just as easily attached to a grounded object to act as a winch, that is powered by a portable rotational motor, and that is lightweight easy to manufacture.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0025] The invention provides a rope or cable pulling device that preferably accomplishes one or more of the objects of the invention or solves at least one of the problems described above.

[0026] In a first aspect, a device of the invention includes a powered rotational motor having an output and a rotating drum connected to the output of said rotational motor where the rotating drum has a longitudinal axis and a circumference. The device further includes a guide mechanism for guiding the resilient elongate element onto, around at least a portion of the circumference of, and off of the rotating drum. When the powered rotational motor turns the rotating drum, the rotating drum thereby continuously pulls the resilient elongate element through the device.

[0027] A device of the invention can conveniently be configured as a portable hand-held device, and in particular, can be configured as a portable rope ascender. Further aspects of the invention will become clear from the detailed description below, and in particular, from the attached claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0028] FIG. 1 provides a diagrammatic view of a device of the invention;

[0029] FIG. 2 shows an isometric view of an embodiment of the invention, showing a motor, batteries, handle, rotating drum, guiding rollers, safety clamp, tensioning roller and clip-in attachment point;





[0030] FIG. 3 shows a front view of the device of FIG. 2;

[0031] FIG. 4 shows a side view of the device of FIG. 2;





[0032] FIG. 5 shows a close-up profile and isometric view of the rotating drum of the device of FIG. 2;

[0033] FIG. 6 shows an isometric view of an alternative embodiment of the invention;




[0034] FIG. 7 shows a front view of the embodiment of FIG. 6;

[0035] FIG. 8 shows a side view of the embodiment of FIG. 6;




[0036] FIG. 9 illustrates a further embodiment of the invention;

[0037] FIG. 10 shows isometric view of the embodiment of FIG. 9; and

[0038] FIG. 11 shows a side view of the embodiment of FIG. 9.







DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0039] Referring now to FIG. 1, a device 100 of the invention for pulling a resilient elongate element such as a cable or a rope 114 is illustrated diagrammatically. The device includes a rotational motor 102 from which the pulling motion of the device is derived. A number of different types of motors, such as two or four stroke internal combustion engines, or ac or dc powered electric motors, could be employed to provide the rotational motion desired for pulling the rope or cable. A motor power source 104 can also be included that is appropriate to the rotational motor used, such as gasoline or other petroleum products, a fuel cell, or electrical energy supplied in ac (such as from a power outlet in a typical building) or dc (such as from a battery) form. In one preferred embodiment, the rotational motor is a dc electric motor and the motor power source is one or more rechargeable lithium ion batteries.

[0040] The rotational motor can also have speed control 106 and/or a gearbox 108 associated with it to control the speed and torque applied by the rotational motor to the task of pulling a rope. These elements can be integrated into a single, controllable, motor module, be provided as separate modules, or be provided in some combination thereof. In one embodiment, speed control elements can be provided integrally with a dc rotational motor, while a separate, modular gearbox is provided so that the gearing, and thus the speed and torque characteristics of the rope pulling device, can be altered as desired by swapping the gears.

[0041] A rotating drum 110 is connected to the rotational motor, either directly or through a gearbox (if one is present). It is the rotating drum, generally in the manner of a capstan, that applies the pulling force to the rope that is pulled through the device 116. In a preferred embodiment of the invention, the rotating drum provides anisotropic friction gripping 112 of the rope. In particular, in a preferred embodiment, the surface of the rotating drum has been treated so that large friction forces are created in the general direction of the pulling of the rope (substantially around the circumference of the drum), and smaller friction forces are created longitudinally along the drum so that the rope can slide along the length of the drum with relative ease.

[0042] In the alternative embodiment of the rope interaction assembly depicted in FIGS. 9, 10 and 11, the rotating drum is split into sections. These sections rotate between stationary sections which contain guide rollers that move the rope from one wrap to the next. This embodiment also makes use of the splined drum to exploit the anisotropic friction when advancing the rope from each wrap to the next.

[0043] A rope or cable is also referenced in FIG. 1. The device of the present invention is intended to be able to be able to pull any elongate resilient element that can withstand a tension. Cables and ropes are the most common of these, but the invention is not meant to be limited by the reference to ropes or cables.

[0044] A preferred embodiment of a rope pulling device 100 of the invention is shown in FIGS. 2 (Isometric view), 3 (front view) and 4 (side view). In this embodiment, rotational motor 4 applies rotational power to rotating drum 8 via gearbox 6. Batteries 3 apply necessary power to motor 4. A rope handling mechanism guides a rope to and from the rotating drum. In particular, rope 21 enters through rope guide 1 and continues through safety clamp 2. The rope is further guided tangentially onto the rotating drum 8 by a pulley 7 and rotating guide 15. Once the rope is on the drum 8 it is guided around the drum 8 by the rollers 9 (and non-labeled adjacent rollers). On the last turn, the rope passes between the tensioning roller 10 and the drum 8. A user attaches to the device, such as by a tether, at attachment point 11.

[0045] As noted above, the operation of a rope pulling device of the invention can be aided by designing the surface of the rotating drum 8 to have anisotropic friction properties. In particular, the drum can be designed to have a high friction coefficient in a direction substantially about its circumference and a lower friction coefficient in a substantially longitudinal direction. In the embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 2 through 4, the surface of the drum is provided with longitudinal splines to create this anisotropic friction effect. A preferred embodiment of such a splined drum is shown in FIG. 5. In this embodiment, a cylinder, preferably constructed of aluminum or another lightweight metal or material, is extruded to include the illustrated longitudinal splines. More specifically, the rotating drum 8 embodiment of FIG. 5 can include longitudinal shaped-shaped splines 12 and a hole for a shaft with a keyway cutout 14. Forming the longitudinal splines as shaped features angled into the direction of motion of the rotating drum 8 further enhances the friction between the rope and the drum. A person skilled in the art will recognize that the drum of FIG. 5 is one preferred embodiment and that other features or methods of manufacture can be used to create the desired anisotropic friction effect.

[0046] Weight-reducing holes 13 can also be utilized to minimize weight of the entire device.

[0047] Returning now to FIGS. 2-4 to further describe the features and operation of this embodiment of a rope pulling device of the invention, rope 21 enters the device through the clip-in rope guide 1. As illustrated, a solid loop is provided, however, the rope guide 1 is preferably a carabiner-type clip into which the rope is pushed, rather than having to thread the rope through by its end. The rope then passes through the safety clamp 2, which allows rope to only move through the device in the tensioning direction.

[0048] In the case that rope is pulled backward through the device by any means, the safety clamp 2 grips the rope and pinches it against the adjacent surface. The handle on the safety clamp 2 allows a user to manually override that safety mechanism, by releasing the self-help imposed clamping force which the clamp applies to the rope against the body of the device. The safety clamp 2 is simply one as used in sailing and rock climbing, and uses directionally gripping surfaces along a continuously increasing radius to apply a stop-clamping force proportional to the rope tension which squeezes the rope against its guide.

[0049] After passing through the safety clamp, the rope is wrapped past the pulley 7 which guides the rope tangentially to the drum. The set of rollers 9 folds away from the drum, allowing the user to wrap the rope the designated number of times around the drum (in this case 5). After having wrapped the rope to the specified spacing, the rollers 9 fold back against the drum and are locked in place. The tensioning roller 15 squeezes the last turn of the rope against the splines in order to apply tension to the free end of the rope. Since the capstan effect occurs as:

T1=T2e<([mu][theta])> [1]

Where T2 is the tension off the free end (exiting tensioning roller 15), T1 is the tension in the rope as it enters through the rope guide 1, [mu] is the frictional coefficient between the rope and the rotating drum 8, and [theta] is the amount the rope is wrapped around the rotating drum 8 in radians. An initial tension in the free end exiting roller 10 is necessary to achieve any kind of circumferential gripping of the rope around the capstan, i.e. T2 cannot be 0. By squeezing the rope against the capstan splines 1 with the tensioning roller 10, T2 tension is created by the last turn as it makes a no-slip condition which is reflected back through each turn to achieve a large tension at the first turn, T1.

[0050] Since the rope guide 1 has a clip-in and the rollers 9 and tensioner 10 attached to roller support 18 fold away from the drum via pivot 17 (a person of skill in the art will note that the roller support is not limited to pivotal movement-any sliding motion, rotation, or combination thereof can suffice to move roller support 18 away), loading the rope into the device does not require stringing a free end through the device. The device can thus accommodate any length of rope and can join or detach from the rope at any point. This is a significant advantage over standard winch systems which must only use the length of rope or cable that is already attached, and which must be confined to one particular position and orientation for operation.

[0051] A person skilled in the art will also note that the rollers 9 can be held from within the rotating drum 8, positioned and held by stationary cylindrical segments fixtured to the gearbox 6 from solid supports located within rotating drum 8. Rotating drum 8 could thus be segmented with rollers 9 positioned in between segments of drum 8 at the same interval as in FIGS. 2-4. This circumvents the need for an external roller support 18, allowing for a elongate tensioning member to be wrapped around drum 8 and guided by rollers 9 roller support 18 in the way. An embodiment that utilizes this configuration is depicted in FIGS. 10 (isometric view), 11 (side view), and 12 (side view including rope illustration).

[0052] Longitudinal splines 12 on drum 8 improve the operation of the illustrated embodiment. These features create and use the anisotropic friction behavior along the drum which allows a wrap of a rope or cable to grip the drum circumferentially while moving readily along that drum axially. Exemplary splines 12 are jagged in the forward rotational direction in FIG. 5 where the illustrated drum is intended to apply force in a counterclockwise direction. The additional grip provided by the exemplary drum 8 maximizes the capstan effect in equation [1] created by a tensioned cable wrapped around a drum, significantly increasing the circumferential gripping, while still allowing axial motion of the wrap along the drum. This, combined with the axial force applied by rollers 9, overcomes a significant problem faced by others attempting to use a turning capstan (cylindrical drum) to advance a rope while maintaining a free end.

[0053] In a standard winch, rope is progressively built up on the rotating drum. If one were to attempt to maintain a free end of the rope and have the rope travel through the winch and exit continuously, a problem would arise. First, as shown by equation [1], without tension T2 on the free end, no pulling force can be applied to the rope. Additionally, since the rope grips around the drum circumferentially while under tension, even if T2 is artificially created, the rope will wrap back on itself because of spiraling of the wraps. Due to the uneven tension and uneven placement of that tension along the drum, an axial restoring force appears which pulls the taut first wrap (T1) toward the loose wrap at tensioner 10. When the rope wraps back on itself, it binds, preventing any further pulling.

[0054] In the illustrated device, the rollers 9 positioned along the capstan provide a restoring force in the axial direction to keep the wraps from backing up and binding. The rotating guide 15 applies back-force to the first (and tightest) wrap where tension is T1 (and therefore the most force is necessary to move that wrap down the drum). The splines 12 facilitate the use of the rollers 9 and rotational guide 15 by allowing circumferential gripping and torque application in the correct rotational direction, while allowing the tensioned wraps to be moved axially along the drum as they enter and exit the device. While this particular embodiment works well as illustrated, any sort of material or feature (such as other edge profiles, re-cycling sliders, pivots, and rollers) providing similar anisotropic friction conditions could be used as effectively.

[0055] An additional embodiment of the splined drum is one that changes diameter along its longitudinal axis in order to aid axial movement of wraps along its body. This could aid in the movement of the high-tension wraps as pushed by the rollers 9.

[0056] This illustrated embodiment of the rope pulling device enables new capabilities in pulling ropes and cables at high forces and speeds. The embodiment described utilizes a high-power DC electric motor 4, as built by Magmotor Corporation of Worcester, Mass. (part number S28-BP400X) which possesses an extremely high power-to weight ratio (over 8.6 HP developed in a motor weighing 7 lbs). The batteries 3 utilized are 24V, 3AH Panasonic EY9210 B Ni-MH rechargeable batteries. The device incorporates a pulse-width modulating speed control, adjusted by squeezing the trigger 16, that proportionally changes the speed of the motor. This embodiment is designed to lift loads up to 250 lbs up a rope at a rate of 7 ft/sec. Simple reconfigurations of the applied voltage and gear ratio can customize the performance to lift at either higher rates and lower loads, or vice-versa.

[0057] Any embodiment of the design as described above can be used to apply continuous pulling force to flexible tensioning members (strings, ropes, cables, threads, fibers, filaments, etc.) of unlimited length. Also since the design allows for attachment to such a flexible tensioning member without the need of a free end, significant versatility is added. The design allows for a full range of flexible tensioning members to be utilized for a given rotating drum 8 diameter, further enhancing the usability of such a pulling device.

[0058] A further embodiment of the invention is illustrated in FIGS. 6, 7 and 8. This embodiment operates on a number of the same simple principles as the embodiment of FIGS. 2 though 4, but relies on slightly different implementations of those principles. Rope enters the device by wrapping around the safety cam 2. This cam is a modified version of a Petzl Grigri rope belayer/descender, and uses a self-help pinching mechanism to prevent unwanted backward motion of a rope or cable. The handle allows the user to manually override that safety clamp in order to control a descent or back-driving of the rope through the device.

[0059] After the safety cam 2, the rope is wrapped around the pulleys 7 to be guided tangentially onto the rotating drum 8 within the spiral of the helix guide 19. The rope is wrapped through the turns of the helix guide 19, and the tensioning roller housing 20 is opened away from drum 8 to accept the rope as it goes through. Then the tensioning roller housing 20 is closed and clamped tight to the base of the helix guide S, which applies pressure from the tensioning roller 10 to the rope, clamping the rope against the tensioning drum 22.

[0060] Operation of this embodiment by a user is identical to that of the embodiment described above; the trigger 16 is squeezed, controlling the speed of the motor 4, which applies torque to the rotating drum 8 through the gearbox 6. The rope is gripped around the rotating drum 8 by the tension T1 on the rope entering the device, as guided by the safety cam 2 and pulleys 7, and according to equation [1]. The tension T2 which is necessary to make the device work is applied via the tensioning roller 10, as it is clamped by the tensioning roller housing 20. However, unlike the previous embodiments, instead of creating a no-slip condition to achieve T2, a dynamic friction is utilized to tug on the rope, creating the needed tension in the free end.

[0061] This is accomplished by the tensioning drum 22 having a larger diameter than the rotating drum 8. Since both are attached to the same drive shaft out of the gearbox 6, they have the same rotational velocity. But because of the bigger diameter on the tensioning part of the drum 22, the surface velocity is greater. Because more turns (and the higher tension turns) in the rope are along the original diameter on the drum 8, rope is fed at the rotational velocity times the diameter of drum 8. Since the tensioning drum 22 has a greater diameter, it constantly slips against the surface of the rope. The normal force of the rope against drum 22 is increased by the tensioning roller, allowing for a greater pulling force to be created by drum 22. Thus, the dynamic friction against the last turn of the rope creates a constant T2 which is the basis for the operation of the device, as per equation [1].

[0062] The problem of the rope wrapping back on itself is solved with the helix guide 19, which guides the rope onto and off of the rotating drum 8. Splines may not be used in this version, since it is more useful for smaller loads and the anisotropic friction is not a required feature. The helix guide 19 continually pushes the wraps axially down the drum 8, since the helix 19 is stationary and the rope must move. It provides the same function as the rollers 9 in the preferred embodiment, however with more friction. The helix 19 also still accommodates utilization of the rope or cable at any point, and the design for this embodiment does not require a free end of the rope to be strung through.

[0063] A user attaches to the device (or attaches an object to the device, or the device to ground) via the attachment point 11 as in the previous embodiment. The ergonomic handle 5 with speed-controlling trigger 16 provide easy use similar to that of a cordless drill. The batteries and motor can be the same as in the previous embodiment. This embodiment of the design, however, may be less expensive to manufacture and more useful in applications where continuous pulling of a flexible tensioning member is necessary under lower loads (e.g., less than 250 lbs).

[0064] An alternative embodiment depicted in FIGS. 9 (isometric view), 10 (side view) and 11 (side view including rope illustration). As previously noted with respect to FIGS. 2 through 4, the guide rollers 9 are mounted to a non-rotating section of the device in order to guide the wraps of the rope down the rotating drum 8. In that embodiment, the rollers 9 are mounted to the roller support 18. However, this embodiment requires the support 18 to be moved away from the rotating drum 8 in order to wrap the rope onto the capstan.

[0065] An alternative is to mount the guide rollers 9 to stationary mounts 25 placed between rotating drum sections 8 as depicted in FIGS. 10, 11 and 12. These stationary mounts are held stiff with respect to the device via the rotational constraints 24. The contour of the rotational constraints 24 allows for the rope to be wrapped around the capstan in a spiral fashion, with the wraps guided from one to the next by the guide rollers 9. The rollers 9 in this embodiment are held in place by the guide roller bolts 27. The axis of the bolts is oriented radially inward to the rotational axis of the rotating drum 8. A person skilled in the art will note that the orientation of the guide rollers 9 with respect to the circumference and rotational axis of the rotating drum sections 8 is not limited to that of this particular example-other roller orientations will still accomplish the task of moving the rope through each wrap.

[0066] The mounting of the entire capstan assembly embodiment is such that it replaces everything below the gearbox 6 in either of the two aforementioned embodiments. The capstan assembly base 23 mounts to the gearbox 6, with a drive shaft extending through both, all the way to the capstan end plate 28. The rotating drum sections 8 are locked to the drive shaft, and radial bearings are inside each stationary section 25, the capstan assembly base 23, and the capstan end plate 28.

[0067] The rope is guided onto the first rotating section 8 by the same guide pulley 7, and is then wrapped in a helical fashion around the assembly, going through each gap between the guide rollers 9. Finally, it is slipped between the tensioning roller 10 and the final stationary section 25, and the tensioner lever 26 is closed. The tensioning roller 10 is pressed against the rope, and is held in place by a latch that keeps the tensioner lever 26 tight against the capstan end plate 28.

[0068] After the tensioning roller 10 is closed and force is thus applied to the last wrap of the rope on the capstan, the devices is ready to be used. Using this embodiment, the rope can be fully engaged and disengaged from the device without threading an end through the mechanism.

[0069] A smaller version of this device could use the same sort of helical guide 19 and dynamic friction tensioner 10 to advance unlimited lengths of any sort of tensioning material, and could be particularly useful in the manufacture of cord materials such as steel cable, rope, thread, yarn, dental floss, and electrical conductors.

[0070] A person of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the configurations described in FIGS. 1-11are not the only configurations that can employ the principles of the invention. The system and method described above, utilizing circumferential gripping of a rotating drum while pulling with a free end of a tensioning member can be practically employed in other configurations. While certain features and aspects of the illustrated embodiments provide significant advantages in achieving one or more of the objects of the invention and/or solving one or more of the problems noted in conventional devices, any configuration or placement of all the parts, motor, battery, gearbox, and rotating drum/guide assembly with relation to one another could be deployed by a person of ordinary skill in keeping with the principles of the invention.

[0071] The lifting and pulling of heavy objects is a wide-ranging task inherent in many endeavors, commercial, domestic, military, and recreational. Current technology for portable lifting and pulling devices is limited to passive rope ascenders, as in climbers'equipment, and winches and come-alongs, which all have severe limitations for the power sources, rate of pulling, and types of tensioning members they can utilize.

[0072] The present invention, a portable rope pulling and climbing device, can solve many problems associated with using current lifting and pulling technology, including but not limited to: accommodating multiple types and diameters of flexible tensioning members, being able to attach to the flexible tensioning member without threading a free end through the device, providing a smooth continuous pull, providing a device which itself can travel up or along a rope, to provide a device which is easy and intuitive to use, to provide a device which can let out or descend a taut flexible tensioning member at a controlled rate with a range of loads, and to provide a device and method that is usable in and useful for recreation, industry, emergency, rescue, manufacturing, military, and other applications.

[0073] A person of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate further features and advantages of the invention based on the above-described embodiments. For example, specific features from any of the embodiments described above as well as in the Appendix below may be incorporated into devices or methods of the invention in a variety of combinations and subcombinations, as well as features referred to in the claims below which may be implemented by means described herein. Accordingly, the invention is not to be limited by what has been particularly shown and described, except as indicated by the appended claims or those ultimately provided. Any publications and references cited herein are expressly incorporated herein by reference in their entirety.



MULTIPLE LINE POWERED ROPE ASCENDER AND PORTABLE HOIST
WO2008060450

A multiple-rope or multiple-cable pulling device is provided for positioning a load. The device can include an electronic controller that interprets a user's input from an interface such as a trigger or a joystick, and activates electronically controlled motors that drive one or more rope pulling mechanisms, such as winches. When the winches pull in or pay out cable in accordance with the controller's demand, the load is moved along the desired trajectory as specified by the user through the device interface.

FIELD OF INVENTION

This invention relates to devices for moving an object by pulling on two or more tensile elongate elements to which the object is attached. More particularly, the invention relates to a device that attaches to and preferentially pulls on multiple ropes or cables for positioning a load in multidimensional workspaces.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Existing methods of gaining access to large vertical faces such as the sides of buildings or rock faces are limited to either minimal 1 -dimensional access capabilities, such as single rope rappelling systems for climbers, rescuers, or window washers, or large, bulky installations such as cranes, scaffolding, or external elevators.

Window washing systems that utilize standard rappelling equipment are limited in their access to the side of a building by the single line from which the operator hangs. In order to move laterally for any significant distance, the operator must descend to the bottom of the building, return to the rooftop and reposition his line, and then re-descend to the desired position. Similarly, climbers and rescue personnel who wish to access a specific point on a rock face or other vertical site must descend from directly above the desired position. When access to the ideal starting position above the target is not available, the operator may face extreme difficulty in accessing the desired position and must resort to additional support personnel or equipment to provide lateral movement capabilities.

For large buildings where it may be appropriate to do so, scaffolding systems can be set up, either stationary or movable, to provide 2 dimensional access to the entire building face where needed. However, any system capable of providing such access requires significant cost, space, setup time, and operation time. Alternatively, ground lift systems such as cranes or vertical hoists can be used, but face similar limitations of cost, space, and access provided. A device that can be quickly, cheaply, and easily deployed which can give an operator precise, safe, and reliable access to vertical workspaces, such as sides of buildings and rock faces, would be of significant benefit to a variety of users. Rescue personnel could descend from a high point adjacent to the victim, instead of directly from above, and approach them laterally without disturbing loose and potentially dangerous objects, overhead obstacles, or the victim. Window washers could access an entire building face without needing to reset overhead lines, and construction workers could deliver equipment and personnel quickly and easily to many points on a high worksite. Additional functionality could be found in the entertainment industry, running high wires to pull actors into the air and manipulate their position in 2 dimensions remotely without the need for overhead rolling track carrier systems, as well as other setups where such carrier systems are needed. Other uses include installing, positioning and uninstalling overhead speaker and light systems at concerts and sporting events, as well as positioning camera systems.

Similarly, positioning loads in 3 dimensional spaces is commonly accomplished by large, bulky systems such as overhead gantries or cranes that are not designed for portability or low cost. The ability to use a single low-cost device to accurately position loads, including workers, could be significantly advantageous for situations where a load manipulation system must be modular, quickly deployable, or able to fit and maneuver in confined spaces. Still another application where a 2 or 3 dimensional load positioning system would have further advantages over existing load positioning technology such as conventional hoists with swinging booms is in a hospital, where heavy patients must be maneuvered from stretchers to operating tables. Conventional hoists with swinging arms are impractical because the trajectory of the boom and the patient require that the entire area be clear to avoid collisions with equipment. It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide an apparatus for lifting or pulling heavy loads and controlling their position in 1, 2 or 3 dimensions which solves one or more of the problems associated with the conventional methods and techniques described above. Another object of the present invention is to position loads vertically by ascending or descending a rope or cable fixed above the load.

Another object of the present invention is to optionally utilize one or more ropes or cables affixed overhead and at a distance from one another in order to facilitate two dimensional or three dimensional positioning of a load, be it a person or an object.

It is also an object of the present invention to be able to manipulate a single rope, so that if multidimensional positioning is not required, the same device can still be utilized for powered ascent and descent in a single dimension. It would also be desirable to be able to attach any such rope pulling device to a rope at any point along that rope without having to thread an end of the rope or cable through the device. This would increase the usability of such a device considerably over other rope pulling and climbing devices, allowing for example a user to attach the load or himself to the device for ascent that starts at an elevation well above the lower end of the rope.

Other objects and advantages of the present invention will be apparent to one of ordinary skill in the art in light of the ensuing description of the present invention. One or more of these objectives may include:

(a) to provide a line pulling device that can handle a range of rope types, cables, and diameters;

(b) to provide a device that can interface with 1 or more ropes and control each rope independently;

(c) to provide a device which does not require an end of the rope or cable to be fixed to the device;

(d) to provide a device which provides a smooth, controlled, continuous pull;

(e) to provide a device which itself is capable of traveling upward along ropes or cables smoothly and continuously to raise a load or a person;

(f) to provide a device which is easy and intuitive to use by minimally trained or untrained personnel;

(g) to provide a device which can pay out, or descend, ropes or cables at a controlled rate for a range of loads; - A -

(h) to provide a device which can apply its pulling force both at high force levels, for portable winching applications, and at fast rates, for rapid vertical ascents; (i) to provide a device with a safety lock mechanism that prevents unwanted reverse motion of the rope or cable; (j) to provide a device that can attach to a rope or cable at any point without having to thread an end of the rope or cable through the device; (k) to provide a device that is not limited in its source of power to any particular type of rotational motor;

(1) to provide a device that is usable in and useful for recreation, industry, emergency, rescue, manufacturing, military, and any other application relating to or utilizing rope, cable, string, or fiber tension; (m)to provide a device that can be operated remotely, either via wireless communication, remote wired interface, or other means;

(n) and to provide a device that interprets a user's input and translates it into the desired motion vector of the load through space in 1, 2 or 3 dimensions.

Still further objectives and advantages are to provide a rope or cable pulling device that is as easy to use as a cordless power drill, that can be used in any orientation, that can be easily clipped to a climbing harness, Swiss seat, or other static load suspension equipment, that can be just as easily attached to a grounded object to act as a winch, that is powered by a portable rotational motor, and that is lightweight and easy to manufacture. While a number of objectives have been provided for illustrative purposes, it should be understood that the invention described below is not limited to any one of the illustrative objectives. It should further be understood that these illustrative objectives are stated in terms of the inventors' view of the state of the art, the objectives themselves are thus not prior art or necessarily known beyond the inventors.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The invention provides a multiple-rope or multiple-cable pulling device that preferably accomplishes one or more of the objects of the invention or solves at least one of the problems described above.

In a first aspect, a device of the invention includes an electronic controller that interprets a user's input from an interface such as a trigger or a joystick, and preferentially activates electronically controlled motors that drive one or more rope pulling mechanisms, such as winches. When the winches pull in or pay out cable in accordance with the controller's demand, the load is moved along the desired trajectory as specified by the user through the device interface.

An embodiment of the invention can be incorporated into a convenient portable hand-held motorized device, and in particular, can be configured as a portable hoist. Further aspects of the invention will become clear from the detailed description below, and in particular, from the attached claims.

The present invention can provide a useful solution because at minimum, its operation only requires the space of the straight-line trajectory through which the load and the ropes must move, as opposed to conventional boom hoists which require a larger work volume to accomplish the same movement. Additionally, the installation of the present invention to accomplish multidimensional load movement can be much lower profile and lower impact than that of a conventional hoist, by requiring only either 2 or 3 stationary fixture points for operation.

By utilizing a two-rope device, the operator can position the load or himself anywhere along a vertical plane passing through the two rope connection points by independently and simultaneously controlling and adjusting the lengths of the ropes actively fed through the device during its operation. Note that the load, here, can be an object, a person, or the operator, and that the ropes can be replaced by cables or other tensile elongate elements.

By utilizing a three-rope device, the user can position the load anywhere within a three dimensional space. By adjusting the relative lengths of rope above the device, its position can be controlled to anywhere within the volume of space projected downward from the three rope attachment points. Note again that the load, here, can be an object, a person, or the operator, and that the ropes can be replaced by cables or other tensile elongate elements. For greater load carrying capacity or movement within geometrically constrained spaces, such as a warehouse with tall items obstructing the desired path of the load, a device capable of manipulating 4 or more ropes could be utilized to provide added positional control beyond the capability of a 2 or 3 -rope device.

The control of a multiple rope device can be achieved through a variety of configurations. One configuration consists of the device presenting to the operator one interface for each of the ropes passing through the device, be it a trigger, a switch, or a joystick. In this case, the operator manually controls the relative lengths and speeds of the ropes passing through the device, causing the ropes to move in the upwards or downwards directions as needed.

A second configuration consists of the device presenting to the operator an interface, for example a joystick, that allows the operator to input his intended direction for the load, whereby the device computes and automatically adjusts the incoming and outgoing rope lengths and speeds to accomplish the task. In the two rope device case, with the device and operator positioned with one attachment point above and to the left and the other attachment point above and to the right, the operator can input, for example, an up, down, right, or left intended direction on the interface in order to move in that direction. Intended diagonal directions, such as up-left, up-right, down-left, and down-right could also be accepted and delivered by the device. Such a configuration would be very useful for positioning the load within a plane, for example against a wall.

This configuration can be extended to three dimensional positioning within a volume, where again the operator inputs an intended direction and speed, and the device computes and delivers the corresponding three rope feed rates to move the load in the intended direction at the intended speed.

A third configuration consists of the device operator himself acting as the device controller. The operator may manually indicate rope directions and speeds independently of one another by squeezing a single trigger associated with each rope, or by manually activating each respective motor controller by some other means. One such configuration for 2 dimensional movement would comprise 2 triggers, each corresponding to one rope. The operator would pull a trigger to pull in rope, and pull a second trigger or button to release that rope. A parallel setup would correspond to the second rope. By preferentially pulling in and paying out ropes via manual control, the operator can move himself or the load along the desired trajectory. This means of control may also serve useful as a backup in conjunction with any automated controller associated with the device. A person of ordinary skill in the art will note that this manual control setup can be extrapolated to 3 rope, and thus 3 dimensional control, and even additional ropes beyond 3 as a situation may call for.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS







Figure 1 provides a diagrammatic view of a device of the invention for positioning a load;

Figure 2 provides a diagrammatic view of the device of Figure 1 in 2 dimensional use, with definitions of ropes and reference angles for trajectory computation by the device controller;

Figure 3 provides a diagrammatic view of a further embodiment of a device of the invention for positioning a load;



  


Figure 4 provides diagrammatic view of a further embodiment of a device of the invention for positioning a load;

Figure 5 shows a schematic view of a person operating the device of Figure 1 in 2 dimensions;






Figure 6 illustrates an isometric view of a device according to the diagram of Figure 1 in use with two ropes and an operator as a load;

Figure 7 provides a front isometric view of the device of Figure 6;

Figure 8 provides a rear isometric view of the device of Figure 6;





Figure 9 provides a rear isometric view of the device of Figure 6 with a cover of the device removed; Figure 10 provides a side view of the device of Figure 9 with the cover removed; and

Figure 11 provides an additional side view of the device of Figure 9 with the cover removed.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Referring now to Figures 1 and 2, a device 100 of Ihe invention for positioning a load 110 in 2 dimensions is illustrated diagrammatically.

A user of device 100 provides an input to the device through the user interface 112 in accordance with the direction he wants to move the load, be it an object, another person, or himself. The device control 114 interprets the command and sends applicable signals to the speed controls 116,118 in charge of each of the rope interaction mechanisms 120,122. The signals are such that each of the mechanisms will create a velocity vector Vi5V2 along its own rope 124,126, which will sum with the velocity vector of the other rope or ropes to create the desired load trajectory. Sensors 128,130 detecting the angle [theta]i, [theta]2 of the ropes with respect to vertical to provide position feedback to the device controller 114, which then updates the necessary speed of each rope feed 132,134 to maintain the desired trajectory. The equation describing the velocity vectors of each rope as dependent on the respective angles of each rope to vertical is as follows:

Equation 1: Rope velocity calculation from rope angles with respect to vertical

Where Vx is the velocity of the first rope being pulled toward the device, V2 is the velocity of the second rope being pulled toward the device, [theta]\ is the angle that the first rope enters the device, 02 is the angle that the second rope enters the device, Vx is the component of the intended velocity in the X direction, and V[gamma] is the component of the intended velocity in the Y direction. Note that [theta]\ and 02 are measured clockwise from vertical at the points where the first rope and second rope enter the device, respectively. The intended velocity, FLOAD, is inputted by the operator through the user interface 112, via a joystick for example, and is proportional to the degree to which the joystick is pressed by the operator in a given direction. FLOAD is then decomposed into velocity components Vx and Vy. At times, Vx and Fy can be negative or zero.

Figure 2 provides a diagrammatic view of a 2 dimensional device 100 and provides a pictographic description of the angles and variables in Equation 1, as described above. A person of ordinary skill in the art will note that the corresponding velocity equation pertaining to 3 dimensional movement must reference 2 angles for each rope in order to fully define the load's position with respect to ground. These angles would be measured by angular sensors positioned on the device and in contact with the ropes, as in the 2 dimensional case. Lastly, because the orientation of the device 100 may change with respect to ground, it is highly advantageous to include a tilt sensor, accelerometer, or other means of detecting the device's orientation in space, in order to correct for any off-axis positioning of the device itself that may occur during movement. While closed loop feedback control could be used with this embodiment of the invention, it is not required for operation of device 100. With each side of the device under manual control, for example, offering a proportional speed trigger for each rope interaction as the user interface, a user could still achieve satisfactory 2 or 3 dimensional positioning capability by controlling each vector separately. Once the device controller 114 determines the requisite motor speeds to accomplish the desired trajectory, it sends velocity signals to the respective speed controllers 116,118, which then activate the motors 136,138, and optionally gearboxes 140,142, accordingly. The motors 136,138 and gearboxes 140,142 then provide rotational power to the rope pulling mechanisms 132,134, which pull the ropes through the device 144,146. A person skilled in the art will note that it is easy to enable remote operation of the device by separating the user input physically from the invention itself. User input would then be relayed to the device either through a remote cable, a wireless communication device, or other remote means. In a preferred embodiment of the invention, DC motors are utilized for their high power and low weight, though a person skilled in the art will note that the functionality of the device can be enabled by any powered rotational motor, or other power delivery mechanism. An exemplary power source 148 for powering the motors, as well as the device controller, could be a battery, especially a rechargeable batter such as a lithium ion battery.

A rope pulling mechanism is referenced in Figure 1. The device of the present invention can function with this rope pulling mechanism comprising any one of a variety of existing mechanisms designed to pull in and pay out ropes, cables, or other tensile elongate elements under load, including but not limited to: conventional cable winches, capstan winches, self-tailing winches or mechanisms, grooved or splined pulleys, and other friction drives. In a preferred embodiment, the mechanisms for pulling ropes or other elongate tensile elements are constructed using the principles of published PCT application no. WO 2006/113844 entitled "Powered Rope Ascender and Portable Rope Pulling Device," which application is incorporated herein by reference. In one embodiment, the devices of WO 2006/113844 could be used as the rope interaction devices 120,122 of unit 100.

In one embodiment, the rope pulling mechanisms comprise a rotating drum that is connected to the motor, either directly or through a gearbox (if one is present). It is the rotating drum, generally in the manner of a capstan, that applies the pulling force to the rope that is pulled through the device 100. In one embodiment, the rotating drum provides anisotropic friction gripping of the rope. In particular, the surface of the rotating drum can be treated or configured so that large friction forces are created in the general direction of the pulling of the rope (substantially around the circumference of the drum), and smaller friction forces are created longitudinally along the drum so that the rope can slide along the length of the drum, particularly when guided in such a manner by a rope guide, with relative ease. In other configurations, including when the rope runs over the drum for less than one full revolution of the drum, vanes on the drum can guide the rope to the center of the drum where those or other vanes help to grip the rope for pulling by the rotating drum. Such vaned drums are illustrated in Figures 9 to 11 below along with exemplary rope guides for guiding the rope onto and off of the rotating drum. The rope pulling mechanism, any associated rope guide, or the device 100 itself or one of its elements, may also include a brake for holding the rope or ropes The brake may be manual actuated, electrically actuated upon a signal from the device controller 1 14, and/or may operate continuously in a one way or ratchet mode in which the rope may be pulled through the device in a direction that allows the load to be lifted, but grabs or brakes movement of the rope if the device begins to slip down the rope or ropes

In the illustrated embodiment, the rope pulling mechanisms 132,134 and control elements 114,116, 118 are integrated into a single unit 100 This embodiment can provide advantages when the operator is the "load" 110 That is, a single integrated unit 100 for lifting or moving the operator is advantageous in that the operator can use the user interface 112 to operate the device while the operator is being lifted or moved In other embodiments, the user interface 112, for example, could be separated from the device 100 so that an operator could operate the device 100 remotely to lift or move a load 1 10 other than the operator Similarly, the rope interaction mechanisms 120,122 could be separated and not provided in an integral unit 100 Such an embodiment might be useful under certain circumstances to provide o[pi]entational stability for a large load - for example, a large rectangular load might have four rope pulling mechanisms, one on each top comer of the load, with all of the rope interaction mechanisms communicating with a common user interface 112 and controller 1 14 In such an embodiment, each rope interaction device 120,122 could be provided with its own power source 148

A rope or cable 124,126 is also referenced in Figure 1 The device of the present invention is intended to be able to pull any elongate resilient element that can withstand a tension Cables and ropes are the most common of these, but the invention is not meant to be limited by the reference to ropes or cables

A further embodiment of a device for positioning a load 200 is illustrated by reference to Figure 3 This device 200 is set up for 3 dimensional positioning of a load or operator within a volume The relationship between the user input 212, device controller 214, and rope interaction mechanisms 220,222 is the same as in the embodiment of Figure 1, but this embodiment includes an additional rope interaction mechanism 224 in parallel with the first two, enabling a third dimension of load positioning by pulling three ropes 226,228,230 through the rope interaction mechanisms illustrated as 232,234,236. A power source 248 can also be provided for all of the device controller and the rope interaction mechanisms, or separate power sources can be provided. A person of ordinary skill in the art will note that where it may be applicable, additional rope interaction mechanisms may be added in parallel with the first three to enable more precise movement where needed, such as movement around obstacles in a warehouse, or when overhead attachment points for load suspension limit the capability of a three rope device.

In a further embodiment of the invention, as shown in Figure 4, the device 300 may be split into separate segments, with each rope interaction mechanism 332,334 located at the overhead fixture point 336,338 of each rope or cable 324,326. The load 310 is suspended between the fixture points by the ropes or cables. To achieve multidimensional load positioning, the fixture points of the rope handling mechanisms must be placed some distance apart. Sensors on the device, in contact with the ropes, indicate the rope angle with respect to a fixed axis to provide position feedback to the device controller 314, as in the embodiment of Figure 1. The user inputs through user interface 312 his desired trajectory into the device controller 314, which either remotely or directly sends velocity signals to each of the overhead rope pulling mechanisms. As the rope pulling mechanisms appropriately pull in or pay out rope, the suspended load is moved along the desired trajectory. This embodiment may be suitable for more permanent installations, or situations where having the load positioning device travel along with the load is unfeasible. A power source 348 in this embodiment could be centrally located for connection to the cable interaction mechanisms 332,334 and controller 314, or, each device could have its own power source. Especially in the latter case, the user interface and controller could be provided, for example, by a personal computer, or a handheld digital device such as a PDA.

In another embodiment, the device may be fixed with respect to ground, and the ropes or cables are guided to the load via pulleys located on ceilings, walls, or other fixture points. In cases such as this, where the cable position with respect to the device would not change as a function of load position due to both the device and the first pulleys being fixed with respect to ground, the angular position feedback sensors would need to be located either at the load attachment point or at the last pulley before the load, where the angles of the ropes with respect to a fixed reference such as horizontal or vertical would change as a function of the load's position.

Figure 5 shows a schematic view of an operator moving in 2 dimensions using the device of Figure 1. The device 1 is attached to a point on the load, or the harness on the operator in this case, via the clip-in point 2. Upon the operator's input to the device 1 to move left, the left rope in neutral position 7 is pulled into the device 1, and the right rope in neutral position 10 is paid out of the device 1, and the operator advances toward the left position 3. After the operator has reached the desired left position 3, the left rope has been advanced to its left position 6 and the right rope has also been moved to its left position 9. Upon the operator's input to the device 1 to move toward the right, the left rope 6 is now paid out of the device, and the right rope 9 is pulled into the device, thereby translating the operator toward the right position 5. At this final point, the right rope is now in its right position 11, and the left rope is also in its right position 8, and the operator 5 is suspended in his desired place.

Figure 6 depicts a three-dimensional view of the device operator 4, hanging in neutral position from a preferred embodiment of the device 1. The operator 4 is tethered to the device's clip-in point 2 via a tensile lanyard 18, both of which are visible in Figure 7, as well as other Figures. The device is high enough above the operator that he can utilize the device for positioning without the device obstructing his work envelope. As depicted in Figure 5, the left rope 7 goes into the left rope interaction 12, and the right rope 10 goes into the right rope interaction 13. Control is achieved by adjusting the joystick 17 on the control box 16, which is attached by a short coiled remote cable 15 to the device 1. This allows the device to remain overhead and out of the way, while still allowing easy controllability for the operator.

Figures 7 and 8 show an embodiment of the invention. The ropes enter the left rope interaction 12 and right rope interaction 13, and exit each respective pulling mechanism on each side. A plastic housing 14 covers the chassis and internal components of the device for ruggedness and safety. A coiled remote cable 15 brings electrical signals back and forth from the control box 16 into the device, and the joystick

17 shown on the control box 16 is a preferred method of control for 2 or 3 dimensions. The operator attaches himself to the clip-in point 2 via some tensile lanyard 18, which may be long enough to hang the operator well below the device such that his work envelope is not obstructed by the device. A carrying handle 19 offers easy transport to and from a work or rescue site.

Figure 9, 10 and 11 depict an embodiment of the invention without the plastic housings 14 installed. The left and right rope interactions 12 and 13 are shown without their safety covers, and all underlying components are exposed for viewing. The battery pack 24 supplies electrical power to the motor controller 25, which may contain two or three separate channels, depending on the number of separate rope interactions in the device. One channel is required for each interaction. In this case, a dual channel controller is utilized. The motor controller 25 preferentially applies power to one motor

22 or the other so as to move the load along the desired trajectory. Referring to the left side only for the purpose of this description, the motor 22 applies a rotational torque at a velocity to the backside of the gearbox 21, which then applies a different torque at a different velocity into the left rope interaction 12. Operation is identical for the right side, but with the motor, gearbox, and rope interaction pertaining to that side. The chassis structure 20 holds the components together and provides the tensile elements from which the load hangs.

For safety, an electromechanical safety brake 23 is attached to the back of each motor 22. Such a safety brake requires electrical power to disengage. Before applying power to the motor 22, the motor controller 25 must apply power to the safety brake 23 to release its grip on the back end of the motor shaft. Upon release, the motor 22 can rotate and power the rope interaction to which it is attached. When in the unpowered locked position, the brakes provide a mechanical lock to the rope interaction mechanisms that prevents unwanted motion of the device and load. Thus, even upon power failure, the device and load will remain safely held in place. A person skilled in the art will note that such a brake could be installed on either end of either the motor or gearbox to achieve this safety functionality. Additionally, any suitable power-off brake, whether pneumatically, mechanically, or otherwise released, can provide the same safety functionality as described. The illustrated embodiments can utilize a high-power DC electric motor, as built by Magmotor Corporation of Worcester, MA (part number S28-BP400X, for example) which possesses an extremely high power-to weight ratio (over 8.6HP developed in a motor weighing 7 lbs). The power source can include batteries such as 24V, 3AH Panasonic EY9210 B Ni-MH rechargeable batteries. The device incorporates a pulse- width modulating speed control, adjusted by the device controller, that proportionally changes the speed of the motor. The controller can be implemented on a variety of digital microprocessor devices with instructions and calculations coded in software, firmware, or the like.

A person of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that a variety of sensors will suffice to provide positional feedback to the device controller. In the preferred embodiment, angular sensors located on the device indicate the rope's angle with respect to a fixed reference, such as horizontal or vertical. In the alternative embodiment, the angular sensors can be located on the overhead rope pulling mechanisms or at the load attachment point. Other examples of sensors that could work include but are not limited to: rotary encoders on the motors or the outputs of the rope pulling mechanisms, linear or rotary sensors in contact with the rope, optical sensors on the device detecting the length of rope pulled through, and accelerometers on the device that provide inertial position, velocity or acceleration feedback.

A person of ordinary skill in the art will also recognize that the configurations described above are not the only configurations that can employ the principles of the invention. The system and method described above, utilizing multiple rope or cable pulling mechanisms to position loads in 2 and 3 dimensions, can be practically employed in other configurations. While certain features and aspects of the illustrated embodiments provide significant advantages in achieving one or more of the objects of the invention and/or solving one or more of the problems noted in conventional devices, any configuration or placement of all the parts, user interface, device controller, speed controller, power source, gearbox, sensors, and rope pulling mechanisms with relation to one another or to ground could be deployed by a person of ordinary skill in keeping with the principles of the invention.



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