Swarm of tiny drones explores unknown environments
This work, presented in Science Robotics on 23 October, forms a significant step in the field of swarm robotics. The challenge comes from the fact that the tiny 33-gram drones need to navigate autonomously while having extremely limited sensing and computational capabilities. The joint research team – with researchers from TU Delft, University of Liverpool and Radboud University of Nijmegen – tackled this challenge by drawing inspiration from the relative simplicity of insect navigation.
Inspiration from nature
Insect swarms have inspired roboticists to think that small robots may also be able to overcome their individual limitations by operating in a swarm. Swarms of small and cheap robots would be able to perform tasks that are currently out of reach of large, individual robots. For instance, a swarm of small flying drones would be able to explore a disaster site much quicker than a single larger drone. Such swarms have not been realised yet.
Over the last four years, a joint research team of the universities of TU Delft, University of Liverpool, and Radboud University of Nijmegen, financed by the Dutch national science foundation NWO Natural Artificial Intelligence programme, has strived to design a swarm of tiny drones able to explore unknown environments. The goal of the research project was to make steps towards using swarms of drones in search-and-rescue scenarios.
The main idea was that in the future, rescue workers will be able to release a swarm of tiny drones to explore a disaster site such as a building that is about to collapse. The swarm of drones will enter the building, explore it, and come back to the base station with relevant information. The rescue workers can then focus their efforts on the most relevant areas – for instance, where there are still people inside.
In the project tiny drones were equipped with cameras and sent out in an indoor office environment to find two dummies representing victims in a disaster scenario. This proof-of-concept search-and-rescue task clearly showed the advantage of having a swarm. Within 6 minutes, a swarm of 6 drones was able to explore about 80% of the open rooms – which would be impossible for one of the drones alone. Furthermore, swarming also turned out be useful for redundancy. One drone found a victim, but due to a hardware failure of the camera, it could not bring back any images. Luckily, another drone captured the victim on camera as well.
“The biggest challenge in achieving swarm exploration lies at the level of the individual intelligence of the drones”, says Kimberly McGuire, the PhD student who has performed the project. “In the beginning of the project, we focused on achieving basic flight capabilities such as controlling the velocity and avoiding obstacles. After that, we designed a method for the small drones to detect and avoid each other. We solved this by having each drone carry a wireless communication chip and then making use of the signal strength between these chips – this is like the number of bars shown on your phone that decrease when you move away from your WiFi router in your home. The main advantages of this method are that it does not require extra hardware on the drone and that it requires very few computations.”
The most daunting challenge in the way of swarm exploration, is the difficulty of making small robots navigate an unknown environment by themselves. The reason for this is that tiny robots are very limited in terms of sensing and computation.
Again, nature provided important inspiration. Insects do not make highly detailed maps. Instead, they retain landmarks and behaviorally relevant places like food sources and their nest. “The main idea underlying the new navigation method is to reduce our navigation expectations to the extreme: we only require the robots to be able to navigate back to the base station”, says Guido de Croon, principal investigator of the project. “The swarm of robots first spreads out into the environment by having each robot follow a different preferred direction. After exploring, the robots return to a wireless beacon located at the base station.”
“The proposed navigation method is a novel type of bug algorithm”, adds Kimberly McGuire. “Bug algorithms do not make maps of the environment but deal with obstacles on the fly. In principle, detailed maps are very convenient, because they allow a robot to navigate from any point in the map to any other point, along an optimal path. However, the costs of making such a map on tiny robots is prohibitive. The proposed bug algorithm leads to less efficient paths but has the merit that it can even be implemented on tiny robots.”
The Latest on: Swarm robotics
via Google News
The Latest on: Swarm robotics
- SwarmFarm lands $4.5m to scale up robotson October 6, 2020 at 7:20 pm
Agritech start-up SwarmFarm Robotics has landed a 4.5m funding round, as the company looks to scale up its autonomous farming technology to farms across Australia and internationally.
- India Working On Directed Energy Weapons, Swarm Drones: IAF Chiefon October 5, 2020 at 12:04 pm
Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria on Monday said India has initiated the process for indigenous development of futuristic military systems like directed energy weapons, optionally manned combat ...
- Landmark court decision says robots can’t be inventors. But the fight isn’t overon October 2, 2020 at 9:21 am
The United Kingdom's highest court tossed out a case that would've established that machines can be creative and win patents for their inventions ...
- What tiny surfing robots teach us about surface tensionon October 1, 2020 at 7:02 am
Propelled by chemical changes in surface tension, microrobots surfing across fluid interfaces lead researchers to new ideas.
- The robot smaller than the width of a hairon September 29, 2020 at 10:32 am
By toggling the laser back and forth between the front and back legs, the robot walks. It would take less than a week to make a swarm of a million robots, which Itai Cohen and Paul McEuen Labs hope ...
- Fendt's swarm robot concept gets new seeding unit and three wheel designon September 29, 2020 at 9:02 am
Fendt has redesigned its Xaver swarm robots, with a new seeding unit, three wheel format, and increased technology.
- Robots and magnetic soap: scientists rethink oil spill clean-upson September 29, 2020 at 1:01 am
Incidents such as tanker stranding in Mauritius stress need for quick and effective solutions ...
- Scientists create a microscopic robot that ‘walks’on September 28, 2020 at 4:28 pm
Scientists at Cornell University have created a tiny micro-robot that "walks" using four legs. Invisible to the naked eye, 10 of the computer chip bots could fit within the full stop at the end of ...
- AI-driven robot swarms evaluated to create larger and more efficient fleetson September 26, 2020 at 10:21 pm
Researchers at the University of Southampton are investigating how to coordinate swarms of up to 100 autonomous vehicles that can work with a limited number of human operators. Electronics and ...
- Insect-inspired robots that can jump, fly and climb are almost hereon September 25, 2020 at 11:46 pm
A whole arm of robotics is focusing on insect-size robots -- and smaller. What might humans be capable of if we could command a tiny army of simple machines that could fly, skim the water and even ...
via Bing News