US20070119328A1 - Cartridge ejection and data acquisition system - Google Patents

Cartridge ejection and data acquisition system Download PDF

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Publication number
US20070119328A1
US20070119328A1 US11281300 US28130005A US2007119328A1 US 20070119328 A1 US20070119328 A1 US 20070119328A1 US 11281300 US11281300 US 11281300 US 28130005 A US28130005 A US 28130005A US 2007119328 A1 US2007119328 A1 US 2007119328A1
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Prior art keywords
cartridge
unit
smoke
adapted
ejection
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Legal status (The legal status is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the status listed.)
Abandoned
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US11281300
Inventor
Christopher Maglio
Brian Miller
Robert Haynes
Donald Henry
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MLH TECHNOLOGIES LLC
MLH Tech LLC
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MLH Tech LLC
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    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F42AMMUNITION; BLASTING
    • F42BEXPLOSIVE CHARGES, e.g. FOR BLASTING, FIREWORKS, AMMUNITION
    • F42B12/00Projectiles, missiles or mines characterised by the warhead, the intended effect, or the material
    • F42B12/02Projectiles, missiles or mines characterised by the warhead, the intended effect, or the material characterised by the warhead or the intended effect
    • F42B12/36Projectiles, missiles or mines characterised by the warhead, the intended effect, or the material characterised by the warhead or the intended effect for dispensing materials; for producing chemical or physical reaction; for signalling ; for transmitting information
    • F42B12/46Projectiles, missiles or mines characterised by the warhead, the intended effect, or the material characterised by the warhead or the intended effect for dispensing materials; for producing chemical or physical reaction; for signalling ; for transmitting information for dispensing gases, vapours, powders or chemically-reactive substances
    • F42B12/48Projectiles, missiles or mines characterised by the warhead, the intended effect, or the material characterised by the warhead or the intended effect for dispensing materials; for producing chemical or physical reaction; for signalling ; for transmitting information for dispensing gases, vapours, powders or chemically-reactive substances smoke-producing, e.g. infrared clouds
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A01AGRICULTURE; FORESTRY; ANIMAL HUSBANDRY; HUNTING; TRAPPING; FISHING
    • A01BSOIL WORKING IN AGRICULTURE OR FORESTRY; PARTS, DETAILS, OR ACCESSORIES OF AGRICULTURAL MACHINES OR IMPLEMENTS, IN GENERAL
    • A01B79/00Methods for working soil
    • A01B79/005Precision agriculture
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A01AGRICULTURE; FORESTRY; ANIMAL HUSBANDRY; HUNTING; TRAPPING; FISHING
    • A01CPLANTING; SOWING; FERTILISING
    • A01C23/00Distributing devices specially adapted for liquid manure or other fertilising liquid, including ammonia, e.g. transport tanks, sprinkling wagons
    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F41WEAPONS
    • F41BWEAPONS FOR PROJECTING MISSILES WITHOUT USE OF EXPLOSIVE OR COMBUSTIBLE PROPELLANT CHARGE; WEAPONS NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • F41B11/00Compressed-gas guns, e.g. air guns; Steam guns

Abstract

An ejection system includes a frame; a controller unit coupled to the frame and adapted to receive a command input; a cartridge ejection unit coupled to the frame and adapted to eject a cartridge in response to the received command input; and a recording unit coupled to the controller unit and adapted to record data when the cartridge is ejected.

Description

    BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • 1. Field of the Invention
  • The principles of several embodiments of the present invention generally related to an electromechanical system, and more specifically to an electromechanical cartridge ejection and data acquisition system.
  • 2. Discussion of the Related Art
  • When applying agricultural chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc., to a target area (e.g., a predetermined agricultural field) via aerial application, it is generally desirable to maximize the amount of agricultural chemical that reaches the target while minimizing the amount of chemical that is applied to non-target areas (e.g., neighboring agricultural fields, schools, residential areas, business areas, etc.). As all aerially applied agricultural chemicals are capable of drifting, it is important to take practice aerial application techniques that help to minimize or prevent drift over non-target areas. Indeed, companies and individuals in the agricultural chemical application industry face the increasing possibility of litigation due to chemical drift as schools, residential areas, and the like, continue to encroach upon agricultural fields.
  • Without accurate information related to meteorological conditions existing at different altitudes over and within the vicinity of the target area (i.e., localized meteorological conditions) such as humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, an aerial applicator cannot be sure whether it is safe to apply agricultural chemicals. For example, it is generally ineffective, and often illegal, to aerially apply agricultural chemicals in the presence of wind speeds that are greater than 10 MPH as the agricultural chemicals drift excessively outside the target area. Additionally, agricultural chemicals may drift excessively as aerosols in an atmosphere having a low humidity or high temperature, rather than condense into droplets that precipitate more readily in an atmosphere having a high humidity or low temperature.
  • In the past, smoke has been used to indicate localized meteorological conditions such as wind direction and speed, wherein the smoke is generated by placing a tire in the target area, dousing the tire with kerosene, and burning the tire. Such a solution, however, generates toxic fumes that are often as environmentally unfriendly as the agricultural chemicals are when applied to non-target areas. To avoid burning tires, it has been proposed to equip aircraft with instrumentation that generates navigational information (e.g., information indicating latitude and longitude of the aircraft) and that determines the meteorological conditions within the vicinity of the aircraft. Meteorological conditions vary at different altitudes over the ground. Accordingly, solutions relying solely on aircraft mounted instrumentation cannot determine meteorological conditions existing between the flight path of the aircraft and the surface of the target area (i.e., localized surface meteorological conditions).
  • Without the knowledge of meteorological conditions as they exist at all altitudes over and within the vicinity of the target area, however, aerial applicator pilots essentially estimate the probability that agricultural chemicals will excessively drift onto non-target areas if released from the aircraft at particular altitudes and adjust their flight path to compensate for the probability of drift. Aerial applicator pilots, however, may sometimes estimate incorrectly, resulting in contamination or destruction of crops and significant health risks to people in non-target areas. It was recognition of these and other facts that created the impetus for the development of principles associated with several embodiments of the present invention.
  • SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • Several embodiments of the invention advantageously address the needs above as well as other needs by providing a cartridge, a cartridge ejection unit, and an ejection system and related methods. In one embodiment, an end cap of a smoke cartridge includes a nozzle adapted to be coupled to the end of a smoke cartridge; an aperture defined within a first surface of the nozzle; and a channel extending tortuously through the nozzle, the channel being in fluid communication with the aperture and the interior of the smoke cartridge.
  • In another embodiment, a smoke cartridge includes a first tube; a nozzle coupled to the first tube, the nozzle having a channel extending tortuously therethrough and an aperture in fluid communication with the channel; a pressure-sensitive activation unit fixed inside the first tube and coaxially aligned with the aperture; and a smoke capsule inside the first tube and in fluid communication with the channel.
  • In another embodiment, a cartridge ejection unit includes a magazine housing adapted to contain a plurality of cartridges; an actuator unit coupled to the magazine housing and adapted to exert a force on a cartridge contained within the magazine housing and eject the cartridge from the magazine housing; a cartridge moving unit coupled to the magazine housing and adapted to align the plurality of cartridges with the actuator unit; and an alignment block coupled to an end portion of the magazine housing and adapted to orient a cartridge aligned with the actuator unit.
  • In another embodiment, an ejection system includes a frame; a controller unit coupled to the frame and adapted to receive a command input; a cartridge ejection unit coupled to the frame and adapted to eject a cartridge in response to the received command input; and a recording unit coupled to the controller unit and adapted to record data when the cartridge is ejected.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • The above and other aspects, features and advantages of several embodiments of the present invention will be more apparent from the following more particular description thereof, presented in conjunction with the following drawings.
  • FIG. 1 illustrates a functional block diagram of a cartridge ejection and data acquisition system according to several embodiments of the present invention.
  • FIG. 2 illustrates an exemplary message structure employed in accordance with principles of several embodiments of the present invention.
  • FIG. 3 illustrates a functional block diagram of a controller subsystem according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 4 illustrates a functional block diagram of a remote interface module subsystem according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 5 illustrates a functional block diagram of a cartridge subsystem according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 6 illustrates a functional block diagram of a meteorological subsystem according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 7 illustrates a functional block diagram of a recording subsystem according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 8 illustrates a functional block diagram of a digital video recording unit according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 9 illustrates a functional block diagram of a video overlay unit according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 10 illustrates a functional block diagram of a power subsystem according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 11 illustrates a block diagram of a pre-flight diagnostic according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 12 illustrates a block diagram of an in-flight ejection protocol according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 13 illustrates a block diagram of an in-flight recording protocol according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 14 illustrates a block diagram of a post-flight upload protocol according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 15 illustrates a piping and instrument diagram of a cartridge ejection unit according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 16 illustrates an exterior perspective view of a pod according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 17A illustrates a first interior perspective view of the pod shown in FIG. 16 including a cooling assembly in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 17B illustrates an interior perspective view of the pod shown in FIG. 16 including a cooling assembly in accordance with another embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 18 illustrates a second interior perspective view of the pod shown in FIG. 16.
  • FIG. 19 illustrates a perspective view of a cartridge retainment unit according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 20 illustrates a bottom view of the cartridge retainment unit shown in FIG. 19.
  • FIG. 21 illustrates a perspective view of a cartridge according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • FIG. 22 illustrates a cross-sectional view of the cartridge shown in FIG. 21 along line I-I′.
  • FIGS. 23 and 24 illustrate an ignition assistor in accordance with various embodiments of the present invention.
  • Corresponding reference characters indicate corresponding components throughout the several views of the drawings. Skilled artisans will appreciate that elements in the figures are illustrated for simplicity and clarity and have not necessarily been drawn to scale. For example, the dimensions of some of the elements in the figures may be exaggerated relative to other elements to help to improve understanding of various embodiments of the present invention. Also, common but well-understood elements that are useful or necessary in a commercially feasible embodiment are often not depicted in order to facilitate a less obstructed view of these various embodiments of the present invention.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION
  • The following description is not to be taken in a limiting sense, but is made merely for the purpose of describing the general principles of exemplary embodiments. The scope of the invention should be determined with reference to the claims.
  • According to principles of several embodiments of the present invention, a cartridge ejection and data acquisition system facilitates the collection of information related to localized surface meteorological conditions and recordation of navigational data and other meteorological data.
  • FIG. 1 illustrates a functional block diagram of a cartridge ejection and data acquisition system according to several embodiments of the present invention.
  • Referring to FIG. 1, the cartridge ejection and data acquisition system 100 (herein referred to as the “system”) includes a controller subsystem 110, a remote interface subsystem 120, a cartridge subsystem 130, a navigation subsystem 140, a meteorological subsystem 150, a recording subsystem 160, a power subsystem 170, and, optionally, one or more auxiliary subsystems 180. The remote interface subsystem 120 includes a user display 122 coupled to the controller subsystem 110 via a user display interface 124. The cartridge subsystem 130 includes a cartridge ejection unit 132 comprised of an actuator unit 134 coupled to a cartridge retainment unit 136. The recording subsystem 160 is further coupled to a video source 101 (e.g., a digital video camera) and, as will be discussed in greater detail below, includes a digital video recording (DVR) unit 162 coupled to a video overlay (VOB) unit 164.
  • In embodiments where the system 100 is implemented in conjunction with an aerial agricultural chemical applicator (e.g., spray device 103), a spray subsystem 190 can be coupled to the controller subsystem 110.
  • As illustrated, each of the aforementioned subsystems 120 to 190 are coupled to the controller unit 110 such that the subsystems can transmit messages to each other via an instrumentation bus 105 (e.g., wired, wireless, or a combination thereof). Moreover, the power subsystem 170 is coupled to the controller, cartridge, navigation, meteorological, recording, and auxiliary subsystems 110, 130, 140, 150, 160, and 180, respectively, via an instrumentation power bus 107.
  • The controller subsystem 110 controls and coordinates the operations of the other subsystems. The remote interface subsystem 120 provides an interface enabling a user to command the system 100 to perform various actions as well as provides a means for displaying the status of the system 100 and various subsystems. The cartridge subsystem 130 provides an interface that controls the ejection of cartridges from the cartridge ejection unit 132, monitors the status of the actuator unit 134, and determines how many cartridges remain within the cartridge retainment unit 136. The navigation subsystem 140 collects navigational telemetry data associated with the system 100 such as latitude, longitude, current time, current date, horizontal speed, and, optionally, vertical speed and/or altitude and transmits the aforementioned navigational telemetry data (e.g., every 1000 milliseconds) to the controller subsystem 110. The meteorological subsystem 150 collects meteorological telemetry data associated with local meteorological conditions within the vicinity of the system 100 such as air temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, and, optionally, air speed and transmits the aforementioned meteorological telemetry data (e.g., every 1000 milliseconds) to the controller subsystem 110. In one embodiment, the controller subsystem 110 acquires the collected navigational and meteorological telemetry data (collectively referred to herein simply as “telemetry data”). The recording subsystem 160 records video data associated with video segments generated by a video source 101 and telemetry data acquired by the controller subsystem 110 and is adapted to transmit the recorded video and telemetry data. In one embodiment, the recording subsystem 160 is adapted to overlay video data with the telemetry data acquired by the controller subsystem 110. The power subsystem 170 provides power voltages necessary to operate the various aforementioned subsystems 110 to 160 and 180. One or more auxiliary subsystems 180 can be provided to add functionality not otherwise provided by the system 100.
  • In embodiments where the system 100 is implemented in conjunction with an aerial agricultural chemical applicator the spray subsystem 190 transmits status information regarding the spray device 103 to the controller unit 110.
  • FIG. 2 illustrates an exemplary message structure employed in accordance with principles of several embodiments of the present invention.
  • Referring to FIG. 2, messages transmitted over the instrumentation bus 105 contain framing and addressing information, source and destination addresses, message length, payload, and integrity check data. As shown, each message includes, for example, start of header (SOH) data 202 and a check byte (CHK) 204 that, together provide message framing, a source address (Src) 206 identifying the subsystem sending the message, a destination address (Dst) 208 identifying subsystem to which the message is intended (i.e., the recipient subsystem), a message length identifier (Len) 210 identifying the length of the payload, a payload portion 212 containing the information to be acted upon by the recipient subsystem, and integrity check portion (CRC) 214. In one embodiment, each recipient subsystem responds to the transmitted message within a predetermined amount of time. In one embodiment, a recipient subsystem responds by transmitting reply message indicating: 1) that the transmitted message was received properly and can be acted upon; 2) that the transmitted message was not received properly and should be retransmitted; or 3) the transmitted message was properly received but the payload is invalid.
  • The controller subsystem 110 is adapted to transmit messages to the remote interface subsystem 120, the cartridge subsystem 130, the recording subsystem 160, and any auxiliary subsystems 180 via the instrumentation bus 105. As will be discussed in greater detail below, the controller subsystem 110 is further adapted to receive messages transmitted by the aforementioned remote interface, cartridge, navigation, meteorological, recording, and auxiliary subsystems 120, 130, 140, 150, 160, and 180, respectively, via the instrumentation bus 105.
  • In one embodiment, the controller subsystem 110 transmits Reset Request messages to any of the aforementioned subsystems, requesting that the recipient subsystem reset itself.
  • In one embodiment, the controller subsystem 110 transmits Status Request messages to any of the aforementioned subsystems, requesting that the recipient subsystem transmit a Status Reply message indicating the health of the recipient subsystem. In one embodiment, Status Request messages are periodically transmitted to the remote interface subsystem 120 (e.g., every 100 milliseconds) and to the cartridge and recording subsystems 130 and 160 (e.g., every 1000 milliseconds).
  • In one embodiment, messages transmitted by the controller subsystem 110 to the remote interface subsystem 120 include remote interface display messages, instructing the user display interface 124 drive the user display 122 to display information associated with a predetermined button according a predefined attribute. Accordingly, remote interface display messages indicate the resolution to which the information is to be displayed, the size with which the information is to be displayed (e.g., small or large), a blink rate with which the information is to be displayed (e.g., none, 1 second, ¼ second, etc.), a color which the predetermined button is to be backlit with (e.g., green, orange, red, etc.), and the particular button with which the information to be displayed is associated (e.g., video button, drop button, system button, etc.).
  • In one embodiment, messages transmitted by the controller subsystem 110 to the cartridge subsystem 130 include an eject command message instructing the actuator unit 134 to eject a cartridge from a predetermined cartridge retainment unit 136. In one embodiment, the eject command message is transmitted upon receiving a drop request message from the remote interface subsystem 120.
  • In one embodiment, messages transmitted by the controller subsystem 110 to the digital video recording unit (DVR) 162 includes a DVR Start Video message, instructing the DVR unit 162 to begin recording video data; a DVR Start Telemetry message, instructing the DVR unit 162 to begin recording telemetry data; a DVR Stop Telemetry message, instructing the DVR unit 162 to stop recording telemetry data; a DVR Shutdown message, instructing the DVR unit 162 to shut down; and a Telemetry message containing telemetry data acquired by the controller subsystem 110. In one embodiment, the Telemetry message is periodically transmitted to the DVR and VOB units 162 and 164 (e.g., every 1000 milliseconds). In one embodiment, the DVR Start Video and DVR Start Telemetry message are transmitted upon receiving a video request message from the remote interface subsystem 120.
  • Telemetry data contained within the Telemetry message includes, for example, system status/information flag (e.g., video data recording, cartridge ejected, sprayer on, altitude calculated from GPS, auxiliary I/O status, GPS altitude is negative, vertical speed is negative, south latitude, east longitude, etc.), current time (e.g., transmitted as SSMMHH), current date (e.g., transmitted as MMDDYY), longitude, fractional longitude, latitude, fractional latitude, GPS lock status (e.g., none, 2D, 3D, etc.), vertical speed in meters/second (e.g., transmitted as binary value XXXX with an implied decimal point between third and fourth digits), horizontal speed in knots (e.g., transmitted as binary value XXXX with an implied decimal point between third and fourth digits), course (e.g., transmitted as binary value XXXX with an implied decimal point between third and fourth digits), barometric pressure in millibars (e.g., transmitted as binary value XXXXX with an implied decimal point between fourth and fifth digits), temperature in degrees Centigrade (e.g., transmitted as binary value XXXX with an implied decimal point between third and fourth digits), external voltage in tenths of volts (e.g., transmitted as binary value XX with an implied decimal point between the digits), horizontal dilution of precision in tenths (e.g., transmitted as binary value XXX with an implied decimal point between second and third digits), horizontal dilution of precision in tenths (e.g., transmitted as binary value XXX with an implied decimal point between second and third digits), GPS quality indication (e.g., no lock, non-differential GPS lock, differential GPS lock, estimated GPS lock, etc.), GPS altitude in tenths of meters, humidity in tenths of percent, and altitude.
  • In one embodiment, the Telemetry message further contains attribute information instructing the VOB unit 164 to overlay the aforementioned telemetry data with the video data in accordance with predetermined row, column, color, and display attributes. For example, the attribute information instructs the overlay unit 164 to overlay data representing latitude in a manner such that it is displayed as XXXYY.ZZZZZA (where XXX is degrees, YY is minutes, ZZZZZ is fractional minute, and A is the N/S indication), data representing longitude in a manner such that it is displayed as XXXYY.ZZZZZA (where XXX is degrees, YY is minutes, ZZZZZ is fractional minute, and A is the E/W indication), data representing current time in a manner such that it is displayed as HHMMSS (where HH is hour, MM is minute, and SS is second), data representing current date in a manner such that it is displayed as MMDDYY (where MM is month, DD is day, and YY is year), data representing horizontal speed in a manner such that it is displayed as XXX.X knots, data representing air speed in a manner such that it is displayed as XXX mph, data representing altitude in a manner such that it is displayed as XXXXX feet in normal video if altitude is computed from barometric pressure or as XXXXX feet in reverse video if altitude is obtained via the navigational subsystem 140, data representing lock type in a manner such that it is displayed as XX (where XX is NO, 2D, 3D, or ??—representing no lock, 2D, 3D, or unknown, respectively), data representing humidity in a manner such that it is displayed as XXX % (where XXX is the relative humidity in percent). In another embodiment, the overlay messages instruct the overlay unit 164 to overlay data representing a video file indicator in a manner such that it is displayed as XX or blank (where XX indicates that the video recording is in progress and blank indicates that video recording is not in progress) and data representing a cartridge event tag in a manner such that it is displayed as XX in normal video or blank if a cartridge was successfully ejected and displayed as XX in reverse video if a cartridge was unsuccessfully ejected (where XX indicates the cartridge number).
  • In one embodiment, messages transmitted by the remote interface subsystem 120 to the controller subsystem 110 include the aforementioned video request and drop request messages in addition to system request message.
  • The cartridge subsystem 130 is adapted respond to the eject command message by ejecting a cartridge and transmitting reply message indicating that a cartridge was executed (e.g., because a next available cartridge was ejected from within a particular cartridge retainment unit 136 or because a cartridge ejected from within a particular cartridge retainment unit 136 was not the next available cartridge), that a cartridge was not ejected (e.g., because no cartridge retainment unit 136 contains cartridges), or that a cartridge was not ejected due to insufficient power applied to the actuator unit 134 or because cartridge ejection unit 132 is otherwise prevented from ejecting cartridges.
  • As mentioned above, the controller subsystem 110 is adapted to coordinate operations of the aforementioned remote interface, cartridge, recording, navigation, meteorological, and auxiliary subsystems 120, 130, 140, 150, 160, and 180, respectively.
  • Accordingly, and with reference to FIG. 3, the controller subsystem 110 includes one or more embedded processing units (MPU) 302, an external flash memory 304, a global positioning system (GPS) unit 306, a network interface 308, a plurality of (e.g., three) digital expansion connectors 310, an analog expansion connector 312, a digital I/O port 320, at least one configuration port 322, and a subsystem interface 324.
  • In one embodiment, the MPU 302 is based on various PC-104 standards and has 128 Kbytes of main memory, 3840 bytes SRAM, and 1024 bytes EEROM, 2 hardware URTs, and a plurality of (e.g., 52) I/O lines. In one embodiment, the external flash memory 304 is provided as to Atmel AT41DB041 4 mbit Data Flash Memories for a total of 1 mbytes of non-volatile memory. In one embodiment, the navigational subsystem 140 is physically embodied as the GPS unit 306 (e.g., provided as a Garmin GPS-15 module, GPSFlight GPSF-UBLOX GPS module, or the like, or combinations thereof). In another embodiment, however, the navigational subsystem 140 is physically embodied as any suitable device or array of devices that are electrically connected to the controller subsystem 110 (e.g., from within an aircraft). In one embodiment, the network interface 308 is provided as a radio modem capable of communicating over a desired network (e.g., BlueTooth, HomeRF, IEEE 802.11x, 802.20, and its successors or cellular wireless networks, etc.). In one embodiment, digital expansion connectors 310 are used to support any digital sensors within the navigational or meteorological subsystems 140 or 150. Likewise, analog expansion connectors 312 are used to support any analog sensors within the navigational or meteorological subsystems 140 or 150.
  • In one embodiment, the configuration port 322 is provided as a shared RS-232 port. In another embodiment, commands received via the configuration port 322 to configure the network interface 308 and the GPS unit 306. In another embodiment, the controller subsystem 110 communicates directly with the DVR unit 162 via the configuration port 322.
  • In one embodiment, the subsystem interface 324 is provided as a multidrop RS-485 link. In another embodiment, the remote interface and cartridge subsystems 120 and 130, in addition to the VOB unit 164, communicate with the controller subsystem 110 via the power subsystem 170 using the subsystem interface 324.
  • As mentioned above, the remote interface subsystem 120 provides a user interface for the system 100 and includes a user display 122 coupled to a user display interface 124. In one embodiment, and with reference to FIG. 4, the remote interface subsystem 120 includes the aforementioned user display 122 and user display interface 124 provided within an enclosure 402. In one embodiment, the user display 122 includes video, drop, and system buttons 404, 406, and 408. The user display interface 124 includes a printed circuit board (PCB) 410 supporting a processor 412 and a controller interface component 414 that facilitates communication between the processor 412 and the controller unit 110 via the aforementioned subsystem interface 324.
  • When actuated by a user, the video, drop, and system buttons 404, 406, and 408, respectively, close a circuit within the user display interface 124 that is configured to transmit the aforementioned video, drop, and system request messages, respectively, to the controller subsystem 110. In one embodiment, the video, drop, and system buttons 404, 406, and 408 are provided as pushbuttons, each coupled to a backlit light crystal display (LCD) (e.g., a 36×24 LCD). In one embodiment, the user display interface 124 is adapted to drive the video, drop, and system buttons 404, 406, and 408 in accordance with remote interface display messages transmitted by the controller subsystem 110. The LCDs of the video, drop, and system buttons 404, 406, and 408 are driven by the processor 412 to display information associated with results of any of the aforementioned video, drop, and system request messages, respectively. Further, each LCD can be backlit in a plurality of colors including, for example, red, green and, optionally, orange (e.g., by multiplexing red and green rapidly) depending on the status of a particular subsystem associated with the button.
  • In an exemplary embodiment, the video button 404 is backlit in green to indicate that the DVR unit 162 is operational but not recording, backlit in red to indicate that the DVR unit 162 is recording, or backlit in flashing red to indicate that there is a fault within the recording subsystem 160. In one embodiment, when backlit in flashing red, the video button 404 displays a “FAULT” message indicating that a fault in DVR unit 162 has been detected, a “NO CAM” message indicating that no video source is detected by the VOB unit 164, and a “NO VIDEO” message indicating that no video source is detected by the DVR unit 162.
  • In an exemplary embodiment, the drop button 406 is backlight in green to indicate that the cartridge ejection unit 132 is disarmed and, therefore, cannot eject a cartridge, backlit in red to indicate that the cartridge ejection unit 132 is armed and, therefore, can eject a cartridge, and backlit in flashing red to indicate that there is a fault within the cartridge subsystem 130. In one embodiment, when backlit in flashing red, the drop button 406 displays a “FAULT” message indicating that a fault in the cartridge subsystem 130 has been detected, a “MAG EMPTY” message indicating that magazines of all cartridge retainment units are empty, a “NO A INDEX” message indicating that a first magazine (e.g., magazine “A”) failed to index to the next cartridge, a “NO B INDEX” message indicating that a second magazine (e.g., magazine “B”) failed to index to the next cartridge. In another embodiment, when backlit in green, the drop button 406 displays the number of cartridges remaining within the cartridge retainment unit 136.
  • In an exemplary embodiment, the system button 408 is backlit in green to indicate that the system 100 is operational, all subsystems are operational, the GPS unit 206 has a 3D lock, and the user has calibrated (e.g., zeroed) the barometric pressure, is backlit in orange to indicate that the CPS unit 206 has a 2D lock, is backlit in red to indicate that the CPS unit 206 has no lock or the that the barometric pressure has not been calibrated. In another embodiment, the system button 408 displays the air temperature and relative humidity when backlight in green and orange. In another embodiment, when backlit in red, the system button 408 displays a “ZERO BP?” message when the barometric pressure can be calibrated and displays a “NO LOCK” message when the barometric pressure has been calibrated and the GPS unit 206 does not have a lock. In another embodiment, when backlit in flashing red, the system button 408 displays a “FAN SPEED” message indicating the fan speed within the system is below minimum, a “FAULT” message indicating a fault has been detected within the system 100, a “INVAL HUM” message indicating an invalid humidity reading, a “LOW VOLT” message indicating the system voltage is below a minimum, a “NO DVR” message indicating the DVR unit 162 is inoperative, a “NO MAG” message indicating cartridge retainment unit is present, a “NO PRESS” message indicating the actuator system 132 is not pressurized, a “NO AIRSPD” message indicating that a sensor within meteorological subsystem 150 is not sensing air speed, a “NO BAROM” message indicating that a sensor within meteorological subsystem 150 is not sensing barometric pressure, a “NO HUM” message indicating that a sensor within meteorological subsystem 150 is not sensing humidity, a “NO BTEMP” message indicating inability to sense temperature from barometric pressure sensor, a “NO HTEMP” message indicating inability to sense temperature from humidity sensor, a “OVER TEMP” message indicating a high temperature from the meteorological subsystem 150, in addition to any of the displayed messages associated with the video and drop buttons.
  • As mentioned above, the cartridge subsystem 130 provides an interface that controls the ejection of cartridges from the cartridge ejection unit 132, monitors the status of the actuator unit 134, and determines how many cartridges remain within a particular cartridge retainment unit 136. Accordingly, and in one embodiment exemplarily illustrated in FIG. 5, the cartridge subsystem 130 includes a processor PCB 502 and at least one sensor PCB 504. In an exemplary embodiment, the processor PCB 502 supports a processor 506, controller interface component 508 adapted to communicate to the controller unit 110 via the aforementioned subsystem interface 324, and at least one sensor interface component 510 adapted to facilitate communication between the processor 506 and a corresponding sensor PCB 504. In an exemplary embodiment, each sensor PCB 504 supports sensor circuitry 518 adapted to detect characteristics associated with a cartridge retainment unit 136 operably proximate thereto within the cartridge ejection unit 132 and transmit messages corresponding the detected characteristics to the processor 506 via a corresponding sensor interface component 510.
  • In embodiments where the actuator unit 134 is implemented as a pneumatically operated actuator unit, the processor PCB 502 supports components adapted to receive, as an input, a message indicating that the air pressure within the actuator unit 134 is OK (e.g., via a voltage from a pressure switch sensed through a first optical isolation circuit 512). In embodiments where the actuator unit 134 is implemented as an electrically controlled, pneumatically operated actuator unit, the processor PCB 502 further supports components adapted to output actuation power (e.g., 12 VDC) to operate the actuator unit 134.
  • In embodiments where the system 100 is implemented in conjunction with the aerial agricultural chemical applicator, the processor PCB 502 supports components adapted to receive, as inputs, a message indicating that the aircraft ignition switch is on (e.g., via a voltage from an aircraft ignition switch sensed through a second optical isolation circuit 514) and that the spray device 103 is on (e.g., via a voltage from a spray system switch sensed through a third optical isolation circuit 516).
  • In another embodiment the processor PCB 502 may also support components adapted to receive, as inputs, data representing a fan tachometer and differential air pressure to compute air speed (e.g., via a voltage from a dynamic pressure sensor 520).
  • In one embodiment, the sensor circuitry 518 supported by a sensor PCB 504 includes Hall Effect sensors adapted to detect magnetic fluctuations within a cartridge retainment unit 136 adjacent thereto that indicate, for example, the number of cartridges remaining therein, whether the remaining cartridges are properly indexed after an ejection event, etc.
  • As mentioned above, the meteorological subsystem 150 collects meteorological telemetry data associated with meteorological conditions within the vicinity of the system 100 such as air temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, and, optionally, air speed. Referring to FIG. 6, the meteorological subsystem 150 is physically embodied as a sensor array 600 including, for example, an air temperature sensor 602, a barometric pressure sensor 604, a humidity sensor 606, and an airspeed sensor 608. In one embodiment any of the aforementioned sensors may be digital or analog. Where the sensors are analog the aforementioned analog expansion connector 312 is connected between the analog sensor and the controller subsystem 110. In one embodiment, the analog expansion connector includes a multiplexer 610 coupled to the analog sensor(s) and an analog-to-digital (A/D) converter 612 coupled between the multiplexer and the embedded processing unit 302 of the controller subsystem 110. The sampling rates of the multiplexer 610 and A/D converter 612 may be optimized to allow for collection of sufficient digital information without exceeding the processing capabilities and/or storage capacities of the embedded processing unit 302 of the controller subsystem 110.
  • As mentioned above, the recording subsystem 160 records video data associated with video segments generated by a video source 101, recording telemetry data acquired by the controller subsystem 110, transmitting the recorded video and telemetry data, and overlaying the video data with the telemetry data acquired by the controller subsystem 110. Accordingly, and with reference to FIG. 7, the recording subsystem 160 includes a digital video recording unit (DVR) 162 and a video overlay (VOB) unit 164, wherein the DVR unit 162 coupled to the input of the video source 101 and wherein the VOB unit 164 is coupled to the output of the video source 101.
  • Referring now to FIG. 8, the DVR unit 162 includes a DVR main board portion 810, a frame grabber portion 820, and a network portion 830. In one embodiment, the DVR main board portion 810 and the frame grabber portion 820 communicate to each other via a PC-104 interface 802 as do the frame grabber portion 820 and the network portion 830.
  • The DVR main board portion 810 includes a processor 812, a first (e.g., serial) I/O link 814 to the controller subsystem 110 coupled to the processor 812, a second (e.g., digital) I/O link 815 coupled to an input of the video source 101 and the processor 812, and a storage device interface 816 coupled between a storage device 817 (e.g., an IDE storage device) and the processor 812. In one embodiment, the processor 812 is adapted to output a video source command signal (e.g., a TTL signal) turning the video source 101 on in response to a DVR Start Video message transmitted by the controller subsystem 110 and received via the first I/O link 812.
  • The frame grabber portion 820 is adapted to receive a composite video signal from the VOB unit 164 (e.g., an NTSC video signal generated by the video source 101 and overlaid with data contained within the Telemetry message) and forward the received composite video signal to the DVR main board portion 810. In one embodiment, the processor 812 is adapted to receive data contained within the Telemetry message transmitted by the controller subsystem 110 via the first I/O link 812, in addition to data within a composite video signal stream provided by the frame grabber portion 820 via the PC-104 interface 802, and store the received data in the storage device 817 (e.g., in an MPEG4 format) via the storage interface 816. In one embodiment, data is stored within the storage device 817 for until a predetermined amount of time has elapsed from receipt of the DVR Start Video message. In another embodiment, data within a single composite video stream is stored as a separate file within the storage device 817.
  • The network portion 830 is provided as a network card (e.g., an IEEE 802.11b network card) adapted to transmit data stored within the storage device 817 to a base station (not shown) via, for example, an FTP protocol over a wireless link. In one embodiment, the network portion 830 transmits the stored data to the base station periodically or when one or more predetermined conditions are met. Once the data is transmitted, the storage device 817 may be purged of data and be prepared to store new data sets.
  • In one embodiment, the base station includes a processor (e.g., a Windows-based PC), a serial Modem enabling communication over standard phone lines, and a network access point (e.g., Ethernet WiFi). Due to certain federal regulations, the DVR subsystem 160 is configured to transmit the system data only when, for example, the DVR subsystem 160 is on the ground. Accordingly, the DVR subsystem 160 can be configured to automatically transmit the system data when a value of a portion of the sensor data (e.g., altitude, barometric pressure, groundspeed, air temperature, or the like, or combinations thereof) is greater than or less than a predetermined value or through a user-initiated command via the controller subsystem 110.
  • Referring to FIG. 9, the VOB unit 164 includes a PCB 902 supporting a processor 904, a basic overlay board (BOB) 906, and support components including, for example, a video input 908, a video output 910, and a controller interface component 912. In one embodiment, the BOB 906 is adapted to accept video signals (e.g., NTSC) from the video source 101 having been turned on by the video source command signal output by the DVR main board portion 810, insert data contained within the Telemetry message transmitted by the controller subsystem 110 in a textual format specified by the Overlay Attribute message also transmitted by the controller 110, thereby forming a composite video signal, and output the composite video signal to the frame grabber portion 820.
  • As mentioned above, the power subsystem 170 provides power to the system 100. In one embodiment, the power provided by the power subsystem 170 is distributed to the cartridge, navigation, meteorological, and recording subsystems 130, 140, 150, and 160, respectively, in accordance with instructions output by the controller subsystem 110. Accordingly, and with reference to FIG. 10, the power subsystem 170 includes a first voltage regulator (VR1) 1002 coupled to an external power source, an internal battery 1004 coupled to the first VR 1002, second and third VRs 1006 and 1008, respectively, coupled to the internal battery 1004, a voltage divider 1010 coupled between the internal battery 1004 and the controller subsystem 110, a relay 1012 coupled between the internal battery 1004, the controller subsystem 110, and fourth, fifth and sixth VRs 1014, 1016, and 1018, respectively.
  • The first VR 1002 receives an input power having a first voltage (e.g., 28 VDC), steps down the input power to a second voltage sufficient to charge the internal battery 1004 (e.g., 13.8 VDC), and outputs the second voltage to the internal battery 1004. In one embodiment, the second voltage is selected using a 3 to 5 A with the GND terminal floated above ground using a resistor having a predetermined value.
  • The second and third VRs 1006 and 1008 receive the second voltage from the internal battery 1004 and output third and fourth voltages (e.g., 12 VDC and 5 VDC, respectively) to the instrumentation power bus 107 circuit and the controller subsystem 110, respectively. The controller subsystem 110 monitors the voltage of the internal battery 1004 via an external voltage (Vext) output by voltage divider 1010. In one embodiment, the voltage divider includes 90.9 Kohm and 60.4 Kohm resistors and provides a monitoring voltage range of 0 to 15.3 volts.
  • The relay 1012 includes a FET circuit and switches the second voltage to the fourth to sixth VRs 1014 to 1018. Upon receipt of the switched second voltage, the fourth and fifth VRs 1014 and 1016 output fourth and fifth voltages (e.g., 5 VDC and 12 VDC) to the DVR unit 162 and the sixth VR 1018 outputs a sixth voltage (e.g., 12 VDC) to the instrumentation power bus 107.
  • Having described the functional characteristics of, and interrelationships between the various aforementioned subsystems, a discussion of their cooperative operation will now be described with reference to FIGS. 11 to 14.
  • In embodiments where the system 100 is implemented in conjunction with an aerial agricultural chemical applicator (e.g., spray device 103), the system 100 undergoes a pre-flight diagnostic 1100 described with respect to FIG. 11, wherein the system 100 receives its operating power via the power system of the aircraft (step 1102). Upon receiving the operating power, the controller subsystem 110 outputs a message instructing the power subsystem 170 to provide power to the DVR unit 162 and the instrumentation power bus 107 (step 1104). When the controller subsystem 110 determines that the aircraft's ignition is on, the controller subsystem 110 transmits a message to the DVR unit 162, instructing it to disable the network portion 830 (step 1106).
  • The controller subsystem 110 then transmits Status Request messages and acquires Status Reply messages from, for example, the cartridge and recording subsystems 130 and 160 (step 1108). If any of the aforementioned subsystems report the presence of a fault, the remote interface subsystem 120 displays, via the aforementioned video, drop, and system buttons 404, 406, and 408, the reported fault conditions (step 1110). In one embodiment, the user can acknowledge/clear the reported fault conditions by pressing the particular video, drop, or system button(s) on which the fault information is displayed (step 1112). If Status Reply messages by the cartridge and recording subsystems 130 and 160 indicate proper operation, the system button 408, for example, is driven to indicate that the barometric pressure can be calibrated (step 1114). Thus, when a user presses the system button 408, the controller subsystem 110 instructs a barometric pressure sensor 604 to undergo a calibration process. In one embodiment, the GPS unit 306 automatically attempts to acquire satellites via a 2D or 3D lock (step 1116). Accordingly, the system button 408 is driven accordingly during satellite acquisition. Subsequently, the system 100 is ready for in-flight operation (step 1118).
  • According to principles of several embodiments of the present invention, cartridges can be ejected onto a target area during flight according to an ejection protocol 1200 described with respect to FIG. 12. In one embodiment, the cartridge is provided as a smoke cartridge that indicates localized surface meteorological conditions (e.g., wind direction across the target area surface) that, when ejected, enables a pilot to adjust flight paths in a manner that maximizes spraying over the target area and minimizes spraying or drift in non-target areas.
  • Upon approach to the target area, the drop button 406 is backlit in green, indicating that the cartridge ejection unit 132 is disarmed (step 1202). Prior to applying any agricultural chemical to the target area, the user presses the drop button 406 once to arm the cartridge ejection unit 132, thereby changing the backlight color of the drop button 406 from green to red (step 1204). In one embodiment, if the user does not press the drop button 406 within a predetermined amount of time during which it stays backlit in red, the cartridge ejection unit 132 becomes disarmed and the drop button 406 is backlit in green (step 1206). If the user presses the drop button 406 within the predetermined amount of time, the smoke cartridge will be ejected (step 1208). When a smoke cartridge is ejected successfully, the drop button 406 is backlit in green and the number of cartridges remaining within the cartridge ejection unit 132 is displayed. If a smoke cartridge is unsuccessfully rejected (e.g., because the actuator unit 134 is not sufficiently pressurized, the next cartridge is not properly indexed, etc.), the drop button 406 is backlit in flashing red and a fault message is displayed.
  • Once successfully ejected onto the target area, the smoke cartridge generates a smoke plume that can be recognized by a video source 101 during flight according to a recording protocol 1300 described with respect to FIG. 13. Accordingly, and prior to applying the agricultural chemical, the video button 404 is backlit in green, indicating that the DVR unit 162 is operational but not recording (step 1302). Upon approaching the target area, just prior to applying any agricultural chemical to the target area, the user presses the video button 404 once to initiate recording by the DVR unit 162, thereby changing the backlight color of the video button 404 from green to red while the recording is in process (step 1304). In one embodiment, recording is initiated when the controller subsystem 110 transmits the DVR Start Video message and the DVR Start Telemetry message to the recording subsystem 160. The DVR unit 162 terminates recording video automatically after a predetermined amount of time (see step 1306) after which the controller subsystem 110 transmits the DVR Stop Telemetry message to stop recording telemetry data (step 1308). In one embodiment, the video button 404 displays the name of the video file being recorded. If, for example, the storage device 817 is full, the video button 404 is backlit in flashing red and a fault message is displayed.
  • As mentioned above, the spray subsystem 190 of an aerial applicator can be coupled to the controller subsystem 110 wherein the spray subsystem 190 is adapted to transmit a spray status message to the controller subsystem 110 indicating when the spray device 103 is activated. In one embodiment, data contained within the spray status message is included within the Telemetry message that is overlaid with the video signal generated by the video source 101 by the VOB unit 164 and provides a record of the location in which the agricultural chemical was applied.
  • After the data is recorded and stored within the storage device 817, it can be transmitted to a base station via the network portion 830 according to a transmission protocol 1400 described with respect to FIG. 14. The process begins at step 1402. In one embodiment, the recorded data is transmitted when one or more predetermined conditions are met (step 1404). For example, the recorded data is transmitted when the controller unit 110 determines that the aircraft ignition is off. In another example, the recorded data is transmitted when conditions sensed by the navigational and/or meteorological subsystems 140 and/or 150 (e.g., air temperature, barometric pressure, altitude, air speed, etc.) indicates the aircraft is on the ground.
  • To transmit the recorded data, the controller subsystem 110 instructs the DVR unit 162 to activate the network portion 830 and initiate uploading the recorded data to the base station (step 1406). In one embodiment, the controller subsystem 110 transmits a Status Request message to the DVR unit 162 at predetermined intervals to determine whether the uploading is complete (step 1408). When the upload operation is complete, the controller subsystem 110 transmits a DVR Shutdown message to the DVR unit 162 (step 1410). In one embodiment, the controller subsystem 110 transmits a Status Request message to the DVR unit 162 at predetermined intervals to determine whether the DVR unit 162 has shut down (step 1412). After the shutdown has been completed (i.e., when the DVR unit 162 ceases to transmit Status Reply messages) for a predetermined amount of time (e.g., 1 minute), the controller subsystem 110 disables the instrumentation power bus 107 (step 1414).
  • In one embodiment, if the controller subsystem 110 determines the external voltage Vext to be below a predetermined level, the controller subsystem 110 transmits the aforementioned DVR Shutdown message to the DVR unit 162, regardless of the status of the uploading. If the DVR unit 162 cannot shut down in response to the DVR Shutdown message, it responds with a CANCEL response. Accordingly, the controller subsystem 110 periodically transmits the DVR Shutdown message to the DVR unit 162 until the DVR unit 162 ceases to respond.
  • Having described the general functional characteristics of, and interrelationships between the various aforementioned subsystems, and various methods that can be implemented using the same, a detailed discussion will now be provided with respect to physically manifested embodiments of the system 100 and various other subsystems.
  • FIG. 15 illustrates a cartridge ejection unit 132 in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention. In the diagram, electrical interconnections are shown in solid lines while pneumatic interconnections are shown in cross-hatched lines.
  • Referring to FIG. 15, the cartridge ejection unit 132 includes an actuator unit 134 and a cartridge retainment unit 136.
  • In one embodiment, the cartridge retainment unit 136 contains cartridges 1502 which can be individually ejected during operation of the actuator unit 134. As will be discussed in greater detail below, the cartridges 1502 contain systems adapted to perform substantially any process. Additionally, the cartridges 1502 can be advanced (i.e., indexed) within the cartridge retainment unit 136 along the direction of the arrow to enable sequential ejection of the cartridges 1502.
  • In the illustrated embodiment, the aforementioned sensor circuitry 518 is arranged proximate to the cartridge retainment unit 136 to detect magnetic fluctuations within the cartridge retainment unit 136 that indicate, for example, the number of cartridges remaining therein, whether the remaining cartridges are properly indexed after an ejection event, etc.
  • In the illustrated embodiment, the actuator unit 134 includes an air compressor 1504 a, an air pressure switch 1506, an air reservoir tank 1504 b, and a cylinder assembly 1507 including a solenoid 1508, and a cylinder 1510. The cylinder 1510 includes a single acting spring return mechanism 1512 coupled to an internal piston 1514 which, in turn, is coupled to a striking rod 1516. Although only one cylinder assembly 1507 and one cartridge retainment unit 136 are illustrated, it will be appreciated that the actuator can include any number of cylinder assemblies 1507 and a corresponding number of cartridge retainment units 136. For example, the actuator unit 134 may include two (or four) cylinder assemblies 1507 and two (or four) cartridge retainment units 136.
  • The air compressor 1504 a provides a primary source of pressurized air which is stored in the air reservoir tank 1504 b and used to supply pressurized air to the cylinder 1510. The air pressure switch 1506 activates the air compressor 1504 a when the air pressure within the actuator unit 134 falls below a first predetermined pressure value and deactivates the air compressor 1504 a when the air pressure within the actuator unit 134 rises above a second predetermined pressure value. The solenoid 1508 selectively opens and closes the cylinder 1510 to pressurized air provided by the air compressor 1504 a in response to a signal generated upon a user pressing the aforementioned drop button 406.
  • According to principles of several embodiments of the present invention, the striking rod 1516 is provided with a tip 1518 configured to contact a pressure-sensitive activation unit (see, for example, 2211 in FIG. 22) of a cartridge 1502 provided in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention and aligned therewith. Air admitted into the cylinder 1510 via the solenoid 1508 forces piston 1514 and striking rod 1516 toward a cartridge 1502 aligned therewith in the cartridge retainment unit 136. In one embodiment, the tip 1518 of the striking rod 1516 contacts the pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211 of the cartridge 1502 with sufficient force to simultaneously eject the cartridge 1502 from the cartridge retainment unit 136 and to initiate a process (e.g., a chemical reaction) within the cartridge 1502 (i.e., activate the cartridge 1502). After one cartridge 1502 is ejected from the cartridge retainment unit 136, another cartridge is automatically aligned with the tip 1518 of the striking rod 1516.
  • FIG. 16 illustrates an exterior perspective view of a pod according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • According to several embodiments of the present invention, and with general reference to FIGS. 16 to 18, the aforementioned subsystems 110 and 130 to 170 are provided within a pod 1600. In one embodiment, the remote interface subsystem 120 is located externally to the pod 1600 where it is accessible to the user (e.g., in a cockpit of an aircraft). In another embodiment, the pod 1600 is configured to be mounted onto a surface (e.g., a hard point of an aircraft) such that the cartridges 1502 can be ejected in, for example, a downward direction. Notwithstanding the discussion provided here, it will be appreciated that the pod 1600 can also be mounted onto substantially any desired a surface (e.g., a hard point of a ground vehicle, a stationary structure, etc.).
  • Referring to FIG. 16, the pod 1600 includes a frame 1601 formed of a material such as aluminum and having at least one ejection unit support portion 1602 and an interface support portion 1603. Two ports 1604 are included within the ejection unit support portion 1602. In one embodiment, each port 1604 is defined by upper (e.g., first) and lower (e.g., second) bracket portions 1605 and 1606, respectively. In another embodiment, the ports 1604 further include longitudinal sidewall portion (see, for example, 1703 in FIG. 17A), and a terminal frontwall portion (see, for example, 1808 in FIG. 18). Also illustrated is a first retainment pin opening 1607 formed within the cartridge retainment unit 136, a retainment pin 1608 received within the first retainment pin opening 1607, and a constant force spring 1610 implemented in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention. As also illustrated, the pod 1600 includes first to third cover units 1612 a to 1612 c, respectively, forming a covering structure 1611 that defines an interior space where the aforementioned subsystems 110 and 140 to 170 are located. A first opening (e.g., an air intake opening) 1614 a is defined within the first cover unit 1612 a. In one embodiment, a plurality of second openings (e.g., air circulation openings) 1614 b are defined within, for example, the ejection unit support and interface support portions 1602 and 1603 of the frame 1601.
  • In one embodiment, the first and third cover units 1612 a and 1612 c, respectively, are formed of a material such as plastic while the second cover unit 1612 b is formed of a material such as aluminum. In another embodiment, the second cover unit 1612 b serves as a structural member of the pod 1600, wherein the pod 1600 is mounted to the desired surface via the second cover unit 1612 b.
  • In one embodiment, the air circulation openings 1614 b allow air cleaned by a cooling unit (see, for example, 1710 in FIG. 17A or FIG. 17B) to circulate through, and exit the interior space defined by the covering structure 1611, thereby cooling the aforementioned subsystems 110 and 140-170.
  • In one embodiment, the port 1604 of each cartridge ejection unit is adapted to receive and secure a cartridge retainment unit 136. In another embodiment, the number of cartridge retainment units 136 that can be received and secured by the ejection unit support portion 1602 corresponds to (e.g., is equal to) the number cylinder assemblies 1507 included within the actuator unit 134. For example, the actuator unit 134 includes two cylinder assemblies 1507 and the ejection unit support portion 1602 includes two ports 1604.
  • As will be discussed in greater detail below, the cartridge retainment unit 136 is secured within a respective port 1604 upon inserting a retainment pin 1608 into a first retainment pin opening 1607 and a second retainment pin opening (see, for example, 1804 in FIG. 18).
  • FIG. 17A illustrates a first interior perspective view of the pod shown in FIG. 16 including a cooling assembly in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.
  • Referring to FIG. 17A, the ejection unit support portion 1602 includes a cylinder assembly opening 1701, a discharge opening 1702, and the aforementioned longitudinal sidewall portion 1703. As illustrated, the pod 1600 further includes a processing unit 1704, a heat-sink 1706, the aforementioned cooling unit 1710, a plurality of port guides 1720, and a cartridge containment unit 1730. In the illustrated embodiment, the cooling and filtering assembly includes mounting elements 1711, a fan 1712, an air intake 1713, an inlet prefilter 1714, an air filter 1715, an air box 1716, and an air box lid 1717. Also in the illustrated embodiment, the cartridge containment unit 1730 includes a solenoid 1731, a plunger 1732, a spring 1733, a connection rod 1734 having first and second terminal ends 1735 a and 1735 b, a horn 1736, a gate 1737, and a pad 1738. Further, the actuator unit 134 is shown to further include compressor air supply lines 1722 and cylinder air supply lines 1724.
  • As shown, the aforementioned actuator unit 134 is coupled to an external (e.g., upper) surface of the upper bracket portion 1605 and is concealed, for example, by the second and/or third cover units 1612 b and/or 1612 c, respectively. The cylinder assembly opening 1701 is defined within the upper bracket portion 1605 to receive the tip 1518 of striking rod 1516 and allow, as will be discussed in greater detail below, a cartridge 1502 to be ejected from the cartridge retainment unit 136. The discharge opening 1709 is defined within the lower bracket portion 1606 to receive a cartridge 1502 that has been ejected from the cartridge retainment unit 136 and allow the ejected cartridge 1502 to exit the pod 1600.
  • The aforementioned subsystems 110 and 140-170 (e.g., included within processing unit 1704), in addition to the aforementioned sensor assembly 600, are coupled to the interface support portion 1602 of the frame 1601 that is concealed, for example, by the first cover unit 1612 a. In one embodiment, the battery 1004 is coupled to the ejection unit support portion 1602. In the illustrated embodiment, the heat-sink 1706 is coupled to the processing unit 1704 to transfer heat away from the electrical components included therein.
  • As shown, the aforementioned sensor circuitry 518 can be coupled to the longitudinal sidewall portion 1703 such that it is operably proximate to a cartridge retainment unit 136 received within the port 1604.
  • In one embodiment, the compressor and cylinder air supply lines 1722 and 1724, respectively, provide the pneumatic interconnections described above with respect to FIG. 15. Thus, the compressor air supply lines 1722 connect the air compressor 1504 a and the air reservoir tank 1504 b (e.g., via suitable fittings) while each cylinder air supply line 1724 connects the air compressor 1504 a with a respective cylinder assembly 1507 (e.g., via suitable fittings).
  • According to principles of several embodiments of the present invention, the aforementioned subsystems 110 and 140-170 are air cooled via the cooling unit 1710. In one embodiment, the cooling unit 1710 is provided as an integral unit and may be mounted to the first cover unit 1612 a via mounting elements 1711 such that the air intake 1713 is aligned with the air intake opening 1614 a defined within the first cover unit 1612 a. The fan 1712 is in fluid communication with the air intake 1713 and pulls air from outside the covering structure 1611, through the first opening 1614 a, into the air intake 1713, and into the inlet prefilter 1714 (e.g., a centrifugal filter) where heavy particles (e.g., dirt, oil, aerosols, etc.) are removed from the pulled air. The pre-filtered air then flows through the air box 1716 to the air filter 1715 where fine particles are removed from the air stream and is finally directed through an exhaust opening of the air box lid 1717 where the cleaned air flows around and cools the aforementioned subsystems 110 and 140-170 which are, for example. The flow path described above is exemplarily shown in FIG. 17 at the dashed line 1718.
  • In another embodiment, and as exemplarily shown in FIG. 17B, the cooling unit 1710 may consist solely of the aforementioned fan 1712. In this embodiment, the fan 1712 is mounted to, for example, a region of the interface support portion 1603 between the processing unit 1704 and the air intake opening 1614 a defined within the first cover unit 1612 a. In the illustrated embodiment, the aforementioned sensor array 600 may be coupled to a region of the interface support portion 1603 location immediately downstream of the air intake opening 1614 a. As also illustrated in FIG. 17B, the battery 1004 may be coupled to a region of the interface support portion 1603 location between the processing unit 1704 and the sensor array 600.
  • Referring back to FIG. 17A, and in accordance with principles of several embodiments of the present invention, the cartridge retainment unit 136 is substantially prevented from experiencing traverse, longitudinal, or axial movement once received and secured within the port 1604. In one embodiment, a plurality of cartridge retainment unit port guides 1720 are coupled to internal surfaces of the port 1604 and are dimensioned such that, when coupled to the internal surfaces of a port 1604, conform to exterior dimensions of the cartridge retainment unit 136 to substantially prevent transverse or longitudinal movement of the cartridge retainment unit 136 within port 1604. By substantially preventing transverse, longitudinal, and axial movement of the cartridge retainment unit 136 within the port 1604, cartridges 1502 can be reliably and consistently ejected and activated by the actuator unit 134. In another embodiment, the cartridge retainment unit port guides 1720 are formed of a polymeric material such as an acetal to reduce friction and wear between the frame 1601 and the cartridge retainment unit 136.
  • According to principles of several embodiments of the present invention, cartridges 1502 can be substantially prevented from accidentally falling out of the within a cartridge retainment unit 136. In one embodiment, the cartridge containment unit 1730 is coupled to a region of the frame 1601 constituting an external surface of the lower bracket portion 1606 and can substantially prevent a cartridge 1502 from accidentally falling out of the pod 1600. The solenoid 1731 may be provided as a pull type solenoid, magnetically coupled to plunger 1732. Spring 1733 is coupled between the solenoid 1731 and a terminal end of the plunger 1732. A first terminal end 1735 a of the connection rod 1734 is coupled (e.g., rotatably) to a terminal end of the plunger 1732 while a second terminal end 1735 b of the connection rod 1734 is coupled (e.g., rotatably) to horn 1736. The horn 1736 is fixedly connected to a first (e.g., external) surface of the gate 1737 and the gate 1737 is connected (e.g., hingedly) to the region of the frame 1601 constituting the external surface of the lower bracket portion 1606. A pad 1738 is coupled to a second (e.g., internal) surface of the gate 1737 and protrudes from the internal surface of the gate 1737 such that the pad 1738 is proximate to, or contacts, a portion of a cartridge 1502 that has been indexed for ejection.
  • When the solenoid 1731 is deactivated, spring 1733 naturally biases the plunger 1732, and thus the connection rod 1734 in an extended position, resulting in the gate 1737 at least partially closing the discharge opening 1709. When the solenoid 1731 is activated, the spring 1733 is compressed and the plunger 1732 is magnetically and linearly biased into a retracted position. The rotatable connection between the connection rod 1734 and the horn 1736 translates the linear retracting motion into a rotating motion of the gate 1737, resulting in the gate 1737 rotating to open the discharge opening 1709 about its hinged connection to the region of the frame 1601 constituting the external surface of the lower bracket portion 1606. Accordingly, the gate 1737 acts as a trap door to at least partially overlap the discharge opening 1709 and the ejection opening 1918. As a result, cartridges are prevented from inadvertently falling out of the pod 1600 when no ejection event has occurred. In one embodiment, the solenoid 1731 is activated either immediately before or substantially when the solenoid 1508 of a corresponding cylinder assembly 1507 is activated to eject a cartridge 1502. In one embodiment, a cover (e.g., formed of a polymeric material) (not shown) is attached to the frame 1601 to cover each cartridge containment units 1730.
  • FIG. 18 illustrates a second interior perspective view of the pod shown in FIG. 16.
  • Referring to FIG. 18, a retainment pin guide 1802 can be provided with the aforementioned second retainment pin opening 1804 defined therein. In the illustrated embodiment, a catch 1806 is attached to a portion of the frame 1601 constituting terminal frontwall portion 1808 of port 1604.
  • In one embodiment, the retainment pin guide 1802 is attached to region of the interior sidewall surface 1704 within the port 1604 such that the second retainment pin opening 1804 becomes substantially aligned with the first retainment pin opening 1607 when the cartridge retainment unit 136 is properly inserted into port 1604. A retainment pin 1608 can be inserted into the aligned first and second retainment pin openings 1607 and 1804, respectively, thereby substantially preventing axial movement of the cartridge retainment unit 136 along the length of port 1604.
  • In one embodiment, the catch 1806 is adapted to mate with strike included within the cartridge retainment unit 136 (see, for example, 1915 in FIG. 19). The catch 1806 may, for example, be provided as a three-way spring ball tension catch having, for example, an 8.5 lb release load (e.g., applied by a user pulling on handle 1914 to remove the cartridge retainment unit 136 from its respective port). Once the catch 1806 is mated to a respective strike, axial movement of the cartridge retainment unit 136 along the length of port 1604 is substantially prevented.
  • FIG. 19 illustrates a perspective view of a cartridge retainment unit according to one embodiment of the present invention.
  • Referring to FIG. 19, a cartridge retainment unit 136 according to principles of several embodiments of the present invention includes a magazine assembly 1910 and a cartridge moving unit 1920. The magazine assembly 1910 includes a magazine housing 1911, an alignment block 1912, a magazine end cap 1913, and, optionally, a handle 1914. The alignment block 1912 includes the aforementioned strike 1915 and a catch mechanism 1917. A first opening 1916 (e.g., a rod opening) is formed through a first portion of the magazine housing 1911 and a second opening 1918 (e.g., an ejection opening) is formed through a second portion of the magazine housing 1911, opposite to the first opening 1916. The cartridge moving unit 1920 includes a ram 1922, a plastic glide 1924, and a sensor target 1926.
  • In one embodiment, the alignment block 1912 is coupled to a first end portion of the magazine housing 1911, the magazine end cap 1913 is coupled to a second end portion of the magazine housing 1911, and, optionally, the handle 1914 is coupled to an external surface of the magazine end cap 1913. Accordingly, the magazine housing 1911, alignment block 1912, and magazine end cap 1913 provide a magazine assembly 1910 defining at least a semi-closed interior space within which the cartridge moving unit 1920 and cartridges 1502 are disposed.
  • In one embodiment, the magazine housing 1911 defines the exterior dimensions to which the interior dimensions of the port 1604 substantially conform. In another embodiment, a first opposing pair of first interior surfaces of the magazine housing 1911 (e.g., top and bottom oriented interior surfaces of the magazine housing 1911 as shown in FIG. 19) and a second opposing pair of interior surfaces of the magazine housing 1911 (e.g., left and right oriented interior surfaces of the magazine housing 1911 as shown in FIG. 19) conform substantially to the length and width (e.g., diameter), respectively, of the cartridges 1502 disposed therein to minimize movement of the cartridges 1502 in all directions except along the length of the magazine housing 1911.
  • In one embodiment, the first opening 1916 is formed through one of the first pair of opposing interior surfaces and is adapted to receive the tip 1518 of striking rod 1516. In one embodiment, the second opening 1918 is formed through the other of the first pair of opposing interior surfaces and is configured so as to allow a cartridge 1502 to be ejected from the magazine 1910 when the tip 1518 contacts the cartridge 1502. In yet another embodiment, the catch mechanism 1917 is arranged between the first and second openings 1916 and 1918, respectively.
  • According to principles of various embodiments, the cartridge moving unit 1920 applies a substantially constant force to the cartridges 1502 regardless of the number of cartridges 1502 contained within the magazine assembly 1910. In one embodiment, the cartridge moving unit 1920 includes a ram 1922 coupled to a rear interior surface of the magazine housing 1911 via the aforementioned constant force spring 1610 (see, for example, FIG. 16). Accordingly, the cartridge moving unit 1920 pushes against the remaining cartridges 1502 when a cartridge 1502 is ejected. As a result, a consecutively disposed cartridge 1502 is indexed for a subsequent ejection event. In one embodiment, the cartridge moving unit 1920 further includes a means for reducing a force hindering motion of the ram 1922 between the first and/or second pair of opposing interior surfaces (e.g., a plastic glide 1926 around edge portions of the ram 1922. In a further embodiment, the cartridge moving unit 1920 further includes a sensor target 1926 (e.g., a magnet) for the aforementioned sensor circuitry 518 to detect and generate signals based on results of the detection.
  • In one embodiment, the catch mechanism 1917 is adapted to partially overlap a portion of the cartridge 1502 between the first and second openings 1916 and 1918 and protrude from the contact surfaces 2002 a and 2004 a. Configured as described above, the catch mechanism 1917 retains the cartridge 1502 within the magazine housing 1911 until the force generated by the tip 1518 of striking rod 1516 exceeds both the force applied by the ram 1922 and a frictional force between the catch mechanism 1917 and the cartridge 1502. In another embodiment, the catch mechanism 1917 is configured so as to deflect the cartridge 1502 away from the standoff elements 2002 and 2004 as it is being ejected to reduce friction between the standoff elements 2002 and 2004 and the cartridge 1502.
  • FIG. 20 illustrates a bottom view of the cartridge retainment unit shown in FIG. 19.
  • As shown in FIG. 20, the alignment block 1912 includes first and second standoff elements 2002 and 2004, each having a contact surface 2002 a and 2004 a, respectively, in addition to the catch mechanism 1917. In one embodiment, the catch mechanism 1917 includes an ejection roller 2006.
  • In one embodiment, the standoff elements 2002 and 2004 substantially control the orientation of the cartridge 1502 between the first and second openings 1916 and 1918 to a desired orientation within the magazine assembly 1910 such that the cartridges 1502 can be reliably and consistently ejected and activated by the actuator unit 134. Accordingly, the contact surfaces 2002 a and 2004 a of the first and second standoff elements 2002 and 2004, respectively, both contact the exterior surface of a cartridge 1502 indexed between the first and second openings 1916 and 1918 and have dimensions conforming to those of the cartridge 1502. In one embodiment, the first and second standoff elements 2002 and 2004 are spaced apart from each other by a predetermined distance, are substantially parallel to each other, and are substantially parallel to a longitudinal axis of the cartridge 1502.
  • As illustrated, the catch mechanism 1917 includes an ejection roller 2006 that is adapted to facilitate movement of the cartridge 1502 as it is being ejected from the magazine housing 1911. In one embodiment is the ejection roller 2006 is provided as a bearing, a bushing, or the like, and may be rotatably coupled between the standoff elements 2004 and 2006.
  • As discussed above, the cartridge retainment unit 136 facilitates the ejection of cartridges 1502 and is magnetically coupled to sensor circuitry 518 mounted within port 1604. In accordance with several alternate embodiments, however, the cartridge retainment unit 136 may be replaced with a similarly dimensioned component (e.g., an auxiliary subsystem 180) containing any desired active and/or passive system and the sensor circuitry 518 may be configured to electrically communicate with the auxiliary subsystem 180. Accordingly, it is possible to add functionality to the cartridge ejection and data acquisition system 100 as desired.
  • According to several embodiments of the present invention, the cartridge retainment unit 136 can retain a cartridge 1502 adapted to perform substantially any process or combination of processes. Moreover, the cartridge retainment unit 136 can retain a plurality of cartridges 1502 adapted to perform identical or different processes. For purposes of discussion, the term “process” encompasses both active and passive processes employed in electrical systems, chemical systems, nuclear systems, biological systems, and the like, or combinations thereof. Exemplary processes include, for example, sensory processes, data storage processes, communications processes, descent-assistance processes, discharge processes, timing processes, and the like, and combinations thereof. Accordingly, and within cartridges 1502 adapted to perform a combination of processes, systems adapted to perform each process can be coupled together directly (e.g., via a suitable electrical, chemical, mechanical connection, etc.) or via a controller adapted to synchronize initiation of the various processes. The aforementioned processes can be initiated either dependently or independently of the ejection event itself. In one embodiment, the sensory, data storage, communications, descent-assistance, and discharge processes can be initiated by an electronic signal. In another embodiment, initiation of sensory, data storage, communications, descent-assistance, and discharge processes can be delayed in accordance with a timing process. In such an embodiment, initiation of the timing process is dependent upon the ejection event itself while initiation of the sensory, data storage, communications, descent-assistance, and/or discharge processes is dependent upon the timing process. Systems within cartridges adapted to perform timing processes include a timing device such as a clock, a fuse, or the like, or combinations thereof.
  • Systems within cartridges adapted to perform sensory processes include, for example, weather/environmental sensors, electromagnetic sensors, acoustic/vibration sensors, navigational sensors, and the like.
  • In one embodiment, weather/environmental sensors generate data characterizing weather/meteorological conditions (e.g., humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed, air temperature, rain levels, etc.) in the environment surrounding an ejected cartridge, the presence of certain gases (e.g., propane, cyanide, ozone, etc.), biological materials, chemical materials, nuclear materials, etc., present in the environment surrounding an ejected cartridge (e.g., as the ejected cartridge descends and/or after the ejected cartridge has reached its target area), and the like.
  • In one embodiment, electromagnetic sensors generate data characterizing substantially any wavelength. (or range of wavelengths) of electromagnetic radiation (e.g., radiowave, microwave, infra-red, ultra-violet, X-ray, visible, low-light, etc.) sensed in the environment surrounding an ejected cartridge (e.g., as the ejected cartridge descends and/or after the ejected cartridge has reached its target area). Such electromagnetic sensors may, for example, be provided as radio or microwave antennae, a camera (e.g., video, still-picture, or a combination thereof), and the like. In one embodiment, a camera can be provided as a pan/tilt camera system mounted within, on a side of the cartridge, or on the nose (i.e., downwardly facing portion) of the cartridge. Such a camera system can be coupled to a system adapted to perform a communications process and can, therefore, be remotely controlled by a user.
  • In one embodiment, acoustic/vibration sensors generate data characterizing sound or other vibrations sensed in the environment surrounding an ejected cartridge (e.g., as the ejected cartridge descends and/or after the ejected cartridge has reached its target area). In one embodiment, the acoustic sensors provided can generate data characterizing sound having frequencies audible to humans (i.e., sounds having a frequency between 20 hertz and 20,000 hertz), infrasound (i.e., sounds having a frequency between 10 hertz to 0.001 hertz), and ultrasound (i.e., sounds having a frequency above 20,000 hertz).
  • In one embodiment, navigational sensors generate data characterizing, the latitude, longitude, altitude, etc., of an ejected cartridge (e.g., as the ejected cartridge descends and/or after the ejected cartridge has reached its target area). In one embodiment, the navigational sensors may be provided as devices such as global positioning systems (GPS) and the like.
  • Systems within cartridges adapted to perform data storage processes include, for example, any suitable electronic and/or chemical data storage system.
  • Systems within cartridges adapted to perform communications processes include communications devices such as radio or microwave transmitters that transmit data generated by the aforementioned systems adapted to perform sensory processes (e.g., either in real-time or after it has been stored as a result of a data storage process), radio or microwave receivers that receive instructions to initiate processes, transceivers, beacons, and the like. In one embodiment, the transmitters transmit data to a receiver located, for example, within the pod 1600, somewhere on the structure to which the pod 1600 is mounted, or at some location remote to the pod 1600 and the structure to which the pod 1600 is mounted (e.g., within a remotely located vehicle, within a hand-held device, etc.). In another embodiment, beacons are provided as radio beacons, strobed or continuous infra-red or visible light emitting lamps (e.g., halogen, LED, etc.), chemical flares, sound-emitting beacons (e.g., for use in navigation applications, etc.) and the like.
  • Systems within cartridges adapted to perform descent- assistance processes include, for example, deployable parachutes or other descent-assistance devices that can slow the speed of an ejected cartridge as it descends through the air. In one embodiment, the descent-assistance device may be provided as a servo of a piezoelectric driven fin, nose, etc. that can help to steer the cartridge 1502 toward a target as it descends through its environment (e.g., air or water).
  • Systems within cartridges adapted to perform discharge processes can discharge, for example, pesticide (e.g., to kill unwanted pests such as rodents, insects, etc.), tear gas, radar countermeasures (e.g., chaff), dye (e.g., phosphorescent, colored, etc), smoke, heat (e.g., via chemical flare), and the like. In one embodiment, the cartridge may, for example, be provided as a bomb, a mine, a flash grenade, or other similar device containing an explosive material. An exemplary cartridge, containing a system adapted to discharge a plume of smoke concurrently with an ejection event, will now be discussed in greater detail with respect to FIGS. 21 to 24.
  • As shown in FIG. 21, a cartridge 1502 includes a system implemented to discharge a plume of smoke. Such a cartridge 1502 can include a first (e.g., exterior) tube 2102, a first (e.g., activation) end cap 2110 coupled to a first end of the exterior tube 2102, and second (e.g., cartridge base) end cap 2120 coupled to a second end of the exterior tube 2102, wherein the exterior tube 2102 is contains a smoke generating material (not shown). The cartridge 1502 may, for example, be about 6.47 inches in length. The activation end cap 2110 includes a nozzle 2112 formed of complementary first and second nozzle sections 2112 a and 2112 b. An aperture 2114 is defined within the nozzle 2112 through which smoke exits the cartridge 1502.
  • In one embodiment, the exterior tube 2102 is formed of a material such as spiral wrapped paper. The exterior tube 2102 may, for example, be about 5.94 inches in length and have an outer diameter of about 1.97 inches and an inner diameter of about 1.65 inches.
  • Referring to FIG. 22, the cartridge 1502 further comprises a process capsule 2230 (e.g., a smoke generating capsule) disposed within the exterior tube 2102. In the illustrated embodiment, the smoke capsule 2230 includes a second (e.g., interior) tube 2232 containing a smoke generating material 2234 capable of generating smoke upon being ignited and sealed at one end thereof with a capsule base cap 2236. As illustrated, the activation end cap 2110 further includes the aforementioned pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211 (e.g., pressure-sensitive detonation unit such as a shotgun primer) fixed within the nozzle 2112. In the illustrated embodiment, each nozzle section of nozzle 2112 includes a main body 2213, a lip 2215 protruding away from the main body 2213 and configured to overlap the first end of the exterior tube 2102, a debris trap 2217 defined within the main body 2213, and an activation unit stage 2219 defined within the main body 2213. As illustrated, the cartridge base end cap 2120 includes main body 2221 and a lip 2223 protruding from the main body 2221, a cavity 2225 formed within the main body 2221, and a ballast material 2227 (e.g., a clay puck) disposed within the cavity 2225. In one embodiment, the ballast material 2227 ensures that the activation end cap 2110 is oriented in an upward direction when the cartridge 1502 is ejected over a target area that may include water (e.g., in a cranberry field). Also illustrated is a thermally insulative material 2240 (e.g., air) arranged between the interior surface of the exterior tube 2102 and the exterior surface of the interior tube 2232.
  • In one embodiment, the interior tube 2232 may, for example, be about 4 inches in length and have an outer diameter of about 1.63 inches and an inner diameter of about 1.25 inches.
  • In one embodiment, the capsule base cap 2236 is sealed to an end of the interior tube 2232 via a friction fit. In another embodiment, the capsule base cap 2236 is provided as a paper cap.
  • In one embodiment, the smoke generating material 2234 comprises a mixture of about 50% sugar (e.g., sucrose) and about 50% KNO3. In other embodiments, the smoke generating material 2234 may comprise a mixture of about 48% KNO3, about 46% sulfur (S), about 3% sucrose, and about 3% charcoal or a mixture of about 50% pigment, about 30% potassium chlorate (KClO3), and about 20% sugar (e.g., lactose). In one embodiment of the present invention, the smoke capsule 2230 contains enough smoke generating material 2234 to generate between about 1½ to about 2½ minutes worth of smoke. For example, the smoke capsule 2230 may contain about 80 grams of smoke generating material 2234. It will be appreciated that the amount of smoke generating material 2234 within the smoke capsule 2230 may be varied as desired. Although not explicitly shown, a first end of the interior tube 2232 may be sealed using a rupturable sealing material (or structure) capable of being ruptured upon activation of the pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211.
  • In one embodiment, each nozzle section 2112 a and 2112 b, respectively, includes a main body 2213 configured to be inserted into and extend beyond the exterior tube 2102 and to abut against a first end of the smoke capsule 2230. Further, each nozzle section 2112 a and 2112 b is formed from a polymeric material sufficiently resistant to thermal deformation from heat generated upon detonating the pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211, upon igniting the ignition-assisting film, and upon igniting the smoke generating material 2234 while also being resistant to mechanical deformation due from the physical impacts during ejection from the pod 1600 and upon collision with the target area (e.g., an agricultural field). Accordingly, the nozzle sections 2112 a and 2112 b, in addition to the cartridge base end cap 2120, can be formed from a thermoset or a thermoplastic (e.g., Nylon 66) via any suitable process such as injection molding or the like.
  • In one embodiment, the debris trap 2217 is provided as a channel formed in the main body 2213 that extends tortuously through the thickness of thereof such that the debris trap 2217 is in fluid communication with the smoke generating capsule and with the environment external to the nozzle section. In one embodiment, the debris trap 2217 is hollow. In another embodiment, the debris trap 2217 is not filled with a choke material. By providing the debris trap 2217 as a tortuous channel, exhaust material (i.e., hot particulate material, heavier than the smoke generate) is prevented from exiting the cartridge 1502, thereby helping to minimize the risk that the activated cartridge 1502 is a fire hazard within the target area.
  • In one embodiment, the activation unit stage 2219 of each nozzle section includes a recess pattern formed within the main body 2213 that is substantially conformal to exterior dimensions of the pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211 and receives the edge of the pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211.
  • Thus, to form the activation end cap 2110, a first portion of the pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211 is inserted into the activation unit stage 2219 of one of the first and second nozzle sections 2112 a and 2112 b. The activation unit stage 2219 of the other of the first and second nozzle sections 2112 a and 2112 b is subsequently introduced to receive a second portion of the pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211, thereby coupling the first nozzle section 2112 a with the second nozzle section 2112 b and forming the nozzle 2112. Moreover, upon coupling the first and second nozzle sections 2112 a and 2112 b, portions of each debris trap 2217 arranged above the activation unit stage are substantially aligned to form a tapered aperture 2114 that is coaxially aligned with, and completely exposes the pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211 to the tip 1518 of the striking rod 1516.
  • In one embodiment, the main body 2221 is configured to be inserted into and extend beyond the exterior tube 2102 and to abut against a second end of the smoke capsule 2230. In another embodiment, the lip 2223 is configured to overlap the second end of the exterior tube 2102 and, optionally, be overlapped by the aforementioned ejection guide 2004.
  • FIGS. 23 and 24 illustrate an ignition assistor in accordance with various embodiments of the present invention.
  • Referring generally to FIGS. 23 and 24, an ignition-assistor may be provided between the activation end cap 2211 and the smoke generating material 2234 to increase the efficiency with which smoke is generated by the smoke generating capsule 2230.
  • Referring to the embodiment exemplarily illustrated in FIG. 23, the ignition-assistor includes an ignition-assisting material 2302 sandwiched between two rupturable films 2304. In one embodiment, the rupturable films 2304 are formed from a material such as MYLAR, saran, etc., and have thickness enabling them to rupture when pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211 is ignited. In one embodiment, the ignition-assisting material 2302 has a higher volatility than smoke generating material 2234 contained within the smoke capsule 2230. For example, the ignition-assisting material 2302 may be provided as about 3 grams of a mixture of about 50% black powder and about 50% potassium nitrate (KNO3).
  • Referring to another embodiment exemplarily illustrated in FIG. 24, the ignition assistor includes an ignitable compound 2402 disposed on, for example, the smoke generating material 2234. In one embodiment, the ignitable compound has a higher volatility than the smoke generating material 2234. For example, the ignitable compound can be formed by mixing black powder mixed with a solvent such as lacquer thinner to form a paste. The lacquer thinner evaporates, leaving a solid form of black powder. In another embodiment the ignitable compound includes a dry chemical mixture that is pressed firmly into the interior tube 2232 and compacted to the point that it holds its within the interior tube 2232.
  • Having described the structure of an exemplary cartridge 1502 in accordance with various embodiments of the present invention illustrated in FIGS. 21 to 24, an exemplary method of assembling the aforementioned cartridge components will now be provided. Initially, the nozzle 2112 is inserted into the exterior tube 2102. Upon inserting the nozzle 2112, the pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211 is positionally fixed within the recess patterns of the combined activation unit stages 2219, thereby allowing the tip 1518 of the striking rod 1516 to reliably and consistently contact the pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211 with sufficient force to eject the cartridge 1502 from the cartridge retainment unit 136 and to activate (e.g., detonate) the pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211. The smoke capsule 2230 is inserted into the exterior tube 2102 in such a manner as to abut against the activation end cap 2110. Any of the aforementioned ignition assistors exemplarily discussed with respect to FIGS. 23 and 24 are provided between the activation end cap 2110 and the smoke generating material 2234. Subsequently, the cartridge base end cap 2120 is coupled to the second end of the exterior tube 2102 (e.g., with the ballast material 2227 arranged within cavity 2225). According to principles of several embodiments, the activation and cartridge base end caps 2110 and 2120, respectively, can be coupled to the exterior tube 2102 via any known means (e.g., glue, pins driven through the exterior tube 2102 and into the main bodies 2113 and 2221, etc.).
  • Upon detonating the pressure-sensitive activation unit 2211 of the cartridge 1502 constructed as discussed above, the aforementioned ignition assistor ignites and serves as a means for igniting the smoke generating material 2234 within the smoke capsule 2230 and causing the smoke generating material 2234 to generate smoke, wherein the generated flows through the combined debris traps 2215 through the aperture 2114 and emerges outside the cartridge 1502 as a plume of smoke. In one embodiment, the combined effects of the activation end cap 2110 and the thermally insulative material 2240 enables the cartridge 1502 shown in FIGS. 21 and 22 to not burn skin or other materials that come into contact with exterior surfaces thereof, even when the skin or other material is directly over the aperture 2114 or in direct contact with the exterior surface of the exterior tube 2102.
  • In light of the various embodiments described above, it will be appreciated that the system 100 may be adapted for use in a multitude of applications other than determining localized meteorological conditions to facilitate aerial agricultural pesticide spraying. For example, the cartridge 1502 discussed above can be used in determining localized meteorological conditions to facilitate aerial pesticide spraying in “Rights of Way” such as railroads, gas transmission pipelines, high voltage transmission lines, etc. Moreover, the cartridge 1502 discussed above can be used to mark agricultural fields having mature crops ready for harvest, to mark agricultural fields in need of pesticide spraying, etc.
  • Apart from agricultural use, it is appreciated that the embodiments described may be readily extended to applications involving cartridge placement in a target area that is either hazardous or difficult to reach, monitoring processes, detection, tracking processes, rescue operations, crowd/riot control, forest/brushland maintenance, and the like.
  • For example, cartridges can be used as a marker. The marking cartridge can include an infra-red or visible light emitting beacon, flare, dye, smoke, etc. Such a marker cartridge can, for example, be ejected from the cartridge retainment unit 136 to facilitate helicopter extraction landing zone. Similar cartridges may also be used in rescue applications to identify the location of a person in need of rescue, or mark the location of a leak (e.g., oil, chemical, water, etc.). Similar cartridges may also be used by a port control authority/harbor commission working with port captains and pilots to help guide ships in inclement weather while bringing ships to berth. Cartridges containing a dye and that break upon impact with the ground may be used to mark areas of interest (e.g., the U.S. Coast Guard or U.S. Army Corp of Engineers can mark weak areas in a levee system, or the Department of Forestry can mark trees and brush to be removed.)
  • Cartridges provided with, for example, chemical flares can be ejected over target areas where controlled burning of brush is required.
  • Suitably equipped cartridges may be used to outline the border of an oil spill, or contaminated area. Such cartridge systems may include, for example, a GPS or other navigational system and radio transmitter that relays its position to a receiver. In use, several of these cartridges can be ejected along the edge of the contaminated area to produce a real time plot of the growth of the contamination.
  • Suitably equipped cartridges may be used in security applications by ejecting cartridges from the cartridge retainment unit 136 around an area that needs to be secure. Such cartridges may include, for example, acoustic/vibration and/or motion sensors and/or a video camera and a radio transmitter. Fitted as described above, the cartridge notifies the receiver if an intruder is breaching the security line.
  • Cartridges equipped, for example, with a descent-assistance device (e.g. parachute) and a tear gas discharge system may be employed in crowd-control applications.
  • Cartridges equipped with any combination of suitable weather/environmental sensors, navigational sensors, a radio transmitter, and, optionally, a descent-assistance device (e.g. parachute) can be used to monitor storm conditions within the atmosphere as the cartridge descends.
  • Cartridges equipped with any combination of suitable video camera and/or still-picture camera can photograph or video objects above or below it during descent and/or while on the ground.
  • Cartridges can be equipped to generate data characterizing the presence of standing water. After being dropped in a dry area, the cartridge will remain dormant until the presences of water is detected. The cartridge then becomes active and transmits its location to a receiver. Such data can then be used by city governments to monitor possible flood locations and also set priorities for implementing mosquito control programs.
  • A cartridge can be adapted for being ejected into the water and contain sensors, such as, sonar for underwater mapping. Sonar cartridges could also be used as a listening device to detect sea life, seismic activity (e.g. underwater volcanoes), and man-made vessels.
  • Cartridges equipped with any combination of chemical, biological, and/or radiological sensors and a transmitter can be used as detection devices. When ejected from the cartridge retainment unit 136 over a target area (e.g., a hazardous area), such a cartridge detects the presence of a known substance and relays, to the receiver, the detectable levels of substance present in the target area. Use of such cartridges would be benefited by Homeland Security, military, and EPA applications. Such cartridges may also be equipped with a descent-assistance device (e.g. a parachute), enabling the cartridge to detect levels of a substance through different altitudes in the atmosphere.
  • In light of the various embodiments described above, it will be appreciated that the pod 1600 may be mounted to structures or vehicles other than aerial applicators. For example, the pod 1600 may be mounted to commercial aircraft (e.g., passenger airplanes, cargo airplanes, etc.), reconnaissance blimps, unmanned aerial vehicles, watercraft (e.g., boats, buoys, submersible watercraft, etc.), platforms located within a target area, and the like.
  • Although it has been described above that one cartridge is ejected in response to an eject command transmitted from the controller subsystem 110 to the actuator unit 134, it will be appreciated that a series of cartridges (equipped, for example, with a smoke discharge system) may be ejected automatically in one of two modes. For example, in a “rapid fire” mode, a predetermined number, or all cartridges within the cartridge retainment unit 136 are immediately ejected upon being indexed. In a “slow fire” mode wherein a predetermined number or all cartridges within the cartridge retainment unit 136 are ejected after having been indexed for a predetermined amount of time) in response to an eject command transmitted from the controller subsystem 110 to the actuator unit 134.
  • In one embodiment, a plurality of pods 1600 are used by one or more users in one or more locations (e.g., zip codes, cities, counties, states, countries, geographic regions, climatic regions, etc.), and data generated by the cartridges ejected therefrom is transmitted to a host system where the data is compiled, categorized according to the type of information the data characterizes, and made available as a composite information source. Accordingly, the composite information source enables comprehensive monitoring of environmental patterns (both natural and man-made) such as global warming, pollution, urban growth, storm damage, pesticide use, weather patterns, and the like, in locations where the system 100 described above is used. In one embodiment, the composite information source is provided as a time-lapse composite image of the categorized data overlaid onto map specific to a location selected by a user of the composite information source.
  • While the invention herein disclosed has been described by means of specific embodiments, examples and applications thereof, numerous modifications and variations could be made thereto by those skilled in the art without departing from the scope of the invention set forth in the claims.

Claims (41)

  1. 1. An end cap of a smoke cartridge, comprising:
    a nozzle adapted to be coupled to the end of a smoke cartridge;
    an aperture defined within a first surface of the nozzle; and
    a channel extending tortuously through the nozzle, the channel being in fluid communication with the aperture and the interior of the smoke cartridge.
  2. 2. The end cap of claim 1, wherein the nozzle includes thermoplastic material.
  3. 3. The end cap of claim 1, wherein the nozzle includes thermoset material.
  4. 4. The end cap of claim 1, wherein the nozzle includes unitary sections.
  5. 5. The end cap of claim 1, further comprising a pressure-sensitive activation unit fixed within the nozzle.
  6. 6. The end cap of claim 5, wherein the pressure-sensitive activation unit and the aperture are coaxially aligned.
  7. 7. The end cap of claim 1, wherein the aperture is tapered.
  8. 8. A smoke cartridge, comprising:
    a first tube;
    a nozzle coupled to the first tube, the nozzle having a channel extending tortuously therethrough and an aperture in fluid communication with the channel;
    a pressure-sensitive activation unit fixed inside the first tube and coaxially aligned with the aperture; and
    a smoke capsule inside the first tube and in fluid communication with the channel.
  9. 9. The smoke cartridge of claim 8, wherein the aperture and the first tube are coaxially aligned.
  10. 10. The smoke cartridge of claim 8, wherein the pressure-sensitive activation unit is fixed within the nozzle.
  11. 11. The smoke cartridge of claim 8, wherein the smoke capsule includes:
    a second tube; and
    a smoke generating material within the second tube.
  12. 12. The smoke cartridge of claim 11, further comprising an ignition assistor between the pressure-sensitive activation unit and the smoke generating material.
  13. 13. The smoke cartridge of claim 12, wherein the ignition assistor includes an ignition-assisting material sandwiched between to rupturable films.
  14. 14. The smoke cartridge of claim 12, wherein the ignition assistor includes an ignitable compound.
  15. 15. The smoke cartridge of claim 8, further comprising insulating material between the smoke capsule and the interior surface of the first tube.
  16. 16. The smoke cartridge of claim 8, further comprising:
    a base cap coupled to the first tube; and
    ballast material between the base cap and the smoke capsule.
  17. 17. The smoke cartridge of claim 8, wherein the smoke generating material includes potassium nitrate (KNO3) and sugar.
  18. 18. The smoke cartridge of claim 8, wherein the smoke generating material includes potassium nitrate (KNO3), sulfur (S), sugar, and charcoal.
  19. 19. The smoke cartridge of claim 8, wherein the smoke generating material includes potassium chlorate (KClO3), sugar, and pigment.
  20. 20. A cartridge ejection unit, comprising:
    a magazine housing adapted to contain a plurality of cartridges;
    an actuator unit coupled to the magazine housing and adapted to exert a force on a cartridge contained within the magazine housing and eject the cartridge from the magazine housing;
    a cartridge moving unit coupled to the magazine housing and adapted to align the plurality of cartridges with the actuator unit; and
    an alignment block coupled to an end portion of the magazine housing and adapted to orient a cartridge aligned with the actuator unit.
  21. 21. The cartridge ejection unit of claim 20, wherein the cartridge moving unit includes:
    a ram disposed within the magazine housing; and
    a constant force spring connected between the magazine housing and the ram.
  22. 22. The cartridge ejection unit of claim 20, wherein the alignment block includes a standoff element having a contact surface that contacts a cartridge aligned with the actuator unit.
  23. 23. The cartridge ejection unit of claim 22, further including a catch mechanism coupled to the standoff element and adapted to partially overlap a cartridge aligned with the actuator unit, wherein the aligned cartridge is between the actuator unit and the catch mechanism.
  24. 24. The cartridge ejection unit of claim 23, wherein the catch mechanism includes an ejection roller coupled to the standoff element.
  25. 25. An ejection system, comprising:
    a frame;
    a controller unit coupled to the frame and adapted to receive a command input; and
    a cartridge ejection unit coupled to the frame and adapted to eject a cartridge in response to the received command input.
  26. 26. The ejection system of claim 25, further comprising a recording unit coupled to the controller unit and adapted to record data when the cartridge is ejected.
  27. 27. The ejection system of claim 25, wherein the cartridge includes a weather/environmental sensor.
  28. 28. The ejection system of claim 25, wherein the cartridge includes a data storage system.
  29. 29. The ejection system of claim 25, wherein the cartridge includes a communications device.
  30. 30. The ejection system of claim 25, wherein the cartridge includes a descent-assistance device.
  31. 31. The ejection system of claim 25, wherein the cartridge includes a discharge system.
  32. 32. The ejection system of claim 25, wherein the cartridge ejection unit is adapted to initiate a process within a cartridge upon ejecting the cartridge.
  33. 33. The ejection system of claim 26, wherein the recording unit is adapted to record video data representing a video segment generated by a video camera.
  34. 34. The ejection system of claim 33, wherein the video camera is adapted to be operated by a user.
  35. 35. The ejection system of claim 26, wherein the recording unit is adapted to record navigational data.
  36. 36. The ejection system of claim 26, wherein the recording unit is adapted to record meteorological data.
  37. 37. The ejection system of claim 25, further comprising a cooling assembly coupled to the frame, the cooling assembly adapted to cool the controller unit.
  38. 38. The ejection system of claim 25, wherein the cartridge ejection unit includes:
    a cartridge retainment unit adapted to contain a plurality of cartridges, the cartridge retainment unit including an ejection opening defined therein through which the cartridges are ejectable; and
    an actuator unit coupled to the cartridge retainment unit and adapted to eject cartridges through the ejection opening.
  39. 39. The ejection system of claim 38, wherein the cartridge retainment unit is detachably coupled to the frame.
  40. 40. The ejection system of claim 38, further comprising circuitry coupled to the frame, the circuitry adapted to communicatively couple the cartridge retainment unit with the controller unit.
  41. 41. The ejection system of claim 38, further comprising a gate moveably coupled to the frame and adapted to selectively overlap with the ejection opening.
US11281300 2005-11-16 2005-11-16 Cartridge ejection and data acquisition system Abandoned US20070119328A1 (en)

Priority Applications (1)

Application Number Priority Date Filing Date Title
US11281300 US20070119328A1 (en) 2005-11-16 2005-11-16 Cartridge ejection and data acquisition system

Applications Claiming Priority (2)

Application Number Priority Date Filing Date Title
US11281300 US20070119328A1 (en) 2005-11-16 2005-11-16 Cartridge ejection and data acquisition system
PCT/US2006/061008 WO2007076186A3 (en) 2005-11-16 2006-11-16 Cartridge ejection and data acquisition system

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