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1. (WO2019032651) UNIVERSAL GRIPPER FOR TOTE AND SUB-TOTE TRANSPORT
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CLAIMS

We claim:

1. A universal gripper for transporting at least one of a tote and a sub-tote, comprising:

a frame;

a pair of projecting pieces, at least one of which is translationally mounted along one side of the frame;

a drive mechanism configured to position the pair of projecting pieces so as to align with a pair of slots on one of the tote and sub-tote;

wherein engagement of the pair of projecting pieces within the tote or sub-tote supports the tote or sub-tote on the gripper for transport.

2. The universal gripper of claim 1, wherein the projecting pieces comprise tines that are oriented orthogonally to the frame and configured to move orthogonally with respect to the frame to engage within slots of the sub-tote.

3. The universal gripper of claim 2, wherein the tines support the sub-tote on a single side of the sub -tote.

4. The universal gripper of claim 2, further comprising a lifting tab on each of the tines in the pair of tines, the lifting tabs configured to lock a sub-tote onto the universal gripper.

5. The universal gripper of claim 2, wherein the tines are mounted on a single side of the frame and configured to move toward and away from each other along the side of the frame.

6. The universal gripper of claim 5, wherein the tines are configured to operate with different sized sub-totes by moving toward or away from each other along the side of the frame.

7. The universal gripper of claim 1, wherein the projecting pieces comprise pins that are oriented parallel to the frame and configured to move in a plane parallel to the frame to engage within slots of the tote.

8. The universal gripper of claim 1, wherein the universal gripper is configured to be mounted to a Cartesian robot for translating and rotating the universal gripper.

9. The universal gripper of claim 1, wherein the universal gripper is configured to be mounted to a six-axis robot for translating and rotating the universal gripper.

10. The universal gripper of claim 1, wherein the universal gripper is configured to operate at a workstation for transferring sub-totes between totes.

11. The universal gripper of claim 1, wherein the tines are mounted on a single side of the frame and configured to move toward and away from each other along the side of the frame.

12. A universal gripper for transporting a sub-tote in a reference coordinate system comprising x, y and z orthogonal axes, the universal gripper comprising:

a pair of tines mounted on the universal gripper with a spacing that is configured to vary along the x-axis, the pair of tines each including a length extending along the z axis;

a lifting tab on at least one of the pair of tines, the lifting tab extending away from the length of the tine;

a drive mechanism configured to move one or both tines of the pair of tines along the x-axis;

wherein the universal gripper is configured to secure the sub-tote on the universal gripper by locking the pair of tines within a pair of slots of the sub-tote by the lifting tab.

13. The universal gripper of claim 12, wherein the universal gripper is configured to secure the sub-tote on the universal gripper by positioning the pair of tines along the x-axis by the drive mechanism into alignment with the pair of slots in the sub-tote, moving the pair of tines along the z-axis to position the pair of tines within the pair of slots with the lifting tab passing through a slot of the pair of slots, and moving the pair of tines along the x-axis by the drive mechanism to lock the lifting tab within the slot.

14. The universal gripper of claim 12, the universal gripper further comprising a frame oriented in a plane comprising the x and y axes, wherein the pair of tines are translationally mounted on a side of the frame and configured to move along the x-axis by the drive mechanism to work with sub-totes of different sizes having pairs of slots spaced different distances from each other.

15. The universal gripper of claim 12, further comprising a processor for controlling a spacing of the pair of tines with respect to each other along the x-axis.

16. The universal gripper of claim 12, wherein the sub-tote is seated within a tote, and wherein the pair of tines are configured to move along the z-axis into a space between an outer wall of the sub-tote and an inner wall of the tote.

17. The universal gripper of claim 12, further comprising a hub on which the frame is mounted, wherein the hub configured to rotate the frame, and a sub-tote secured on the universal gripper.

18. A system comprising a universal gripper mounted to a robot for transporting a sub-tote in a reference coordinate system comprising x, y and z orthogonal axes between first and second totes, the system comprising:

a pair of tines mounted on the universal gripper with a spacing that is configured to vary along the x-axis, the pair of tines each including a length extending along the z axis;

a lifting tab on at least one of the pair of tines, the lifting tab extending away from the length of the tine;

a first drive mechanism on the universal gripper configured to move one or both tines of the pair of tines along the x-axis;

at least a second drive mechanism on the robot configured to move the universal gripper along the z-axis and at least one of the x and y axes;

wherein the universal gripper and robot are configured to securing the sub-tote on the universal gripper by locking the pair of tines within a pair of slots of the sub-tote by the lifting tab; and

wherein the robot is configured to move the sub-tote, secured on the universal

gripper from the first tote to the second tote.

19. The system of claim 18, wherein universal gripper and robot are configured to secure the sub-tote on the universal gripper by positioning the pair of tines along the x-axis by the first drive mechanism into alignment with the pair of slots in the sub-tote, moving the pair of tines along the z-axis by the at least second drive mechanism to position the pair of tines within the pair of slots with the lifting tab passing through a slot of the pair of slots, and moving the pair of tines along the x-axis by the first drive mechanism to lock the lifting tab within the slot.

20. The system of claim 18, the universal gripper further comprising a frame oriented in a plane comprising the x and y axes, wherein the pair of tines are translationally mounted on a side of the frame and configured to move along the x-axis by the first drive mechanism.

21. The system of claim 18, further comprising a processor for controlling the first drive mechanism and the at least second drive mechanism.

22. The system of claim 18, wherein the robot is a six-axis robot configured to translate and rotate the universal gripper.

23. The system of claim 22, wherein the six-axis robot is configured to transport the sub-tote from any position within the first tote to any position in the second tote.

24. The system of claim 22, wherein the six-axis robot is configured to rotate the sub-tote from any orientation about the z-axis in the first tote to any orientation about the z-axis in the second tote.

25. The system of claim 18, wherein the robot is a Cartesian robot configured to translate the universal gripper.

26. The system of claim 25, further comprising a hub on the universal gripper for rotating the sub-tote about the z-axis as it is transferred between the first and second totes.

27. A method for transporting a sub-tote in a reference coordinate system, the method comprising:

(a) moving a pair of tines in along a first axis to positions aligned with a pair of slots of the sub-tote;

(b) moving the pair of tines along a second axis, orthogonal to the first, through the slots, such that a lifting tab on at least one of the tines passes through at least one of the slots;

(c) moving the pair of tines along the first axis such that the at least one lifting tab is misaligned with, and prevented from passing through, the one or more slots to secure the sub-totes on at least one of the tines; and

(d) transporting the sub-tote once secured on at least one of the tines.

28. The method of claim 27, wherein the sub-tote is empty and said step (d) comprises a decanting step to move the empty sub-tote from a first tote to a second tote to free up space in the first tote.

29. The method of claim 27, wherein said step (d) comprises linearly translating the sub-tote.

30. The method of claim 27, wherein said step (d) comprises rotating the sub-tote.