Swarm robotics is the study of robotic systems consisting of a large
group of relatively small and simple robots that interact and
cooperate with each other in order to jointly solve tasks that are
outside their own individual capabilities. Swarm
robotic systems typically exhibit interesting properties such as
high degrees of parallelism, redundancy, and robustness. They are
also highly adaptive to changes in the environment, and show good
scalability to increased problem and/or swarm size.
At IDSIA, we have been involved in two EU-funded projects related to swarm robotics: Swarm-bots (2001-2005) and
Swarmanoid (2006-2010). Swarm-bots was concerned with the design, implementation and control of the s-bots: a swarm of
small robots moving on a combination of tracks and wheels that can self-organize and self-assemble. Swarmanoid goes a step further, aiming at
the development and control of a heterogeneous swarm consisting of three different types of robots: foot-bots, which move over the ground and have
capabilities that are similar to those of the s-bots, eye-bots, which fly and have the capability to attach to the ceiling, and hand-bots, which have
arms and grippers to manipulate objects and are able to climb in the vertical space using a rope. The Swarmanoid project is now finished. A video showing the results of the Swarmanoid project won a best video award at AAAI-11. See also the article in New Scientist.
Foot-bots forming a dynamic chain for navigation
Very recently, two new projects have been approved. One is the NCCR on robotics: a large initiative funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation,
involving many partners all around Switzerland. Another is a Sinergia project, also funded by the Swiss NSF,
in colaboration with the LIS lab of Dario Floreano at EPFL and with the CSG
group of Bernhard Plattner at ETHZ. News about these new projects will appear here soon.
Ducatelle F., Di Caro G. A., Pinciroli C., Mondada F. and Gambardella L. M. (2011). Communication assisted navigation in robotic swarms: self-organization and cooperation. Proceedings of the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), San Francisco, US, September 2011.
Self-organized cooperation in a heterogeneous robotic swarm
We study self-organized cooperation in a heterogeneous robotic swarm
consisting of two sub-swarms. The robots of each sub-swarm play
distinct roles based on their different characteristics. We
investigate how the swarm as a whole can solve complex tasks through
a self-organized process based on local interactions between the
sub-swarms. We focus on an indoor navigation task, in which we use a
swarm of wheeled robots, called foot-bots, and a swarm of flying
robots that can attach to the ceiling, called eye-bots. Foot-bots
have to move back and forth between a source and a target location.
Eye-bots are deployed in stationary positions against the ceiling,
with the goal of guiding foot-bots. We study how the combined system
can find efficient paths through a cluttered environment in a
distributed way. The key component of our approach is a process of
mutual adaptation, in which foot-bots execute instructions given by
eye-bots, and eye-bots observe the behavior of foot-bots to adapt
the instructions they give. The system is based on pheromone
mediated navigation of ant colonies, as eye-bots function as
stigmergic markers for foot-bots. Through simulation, we show that
the system finds feasible paths in cluttered environments, converges
onto the shortest of two paths, and spreads over different paths in
case of congestion.
Ducatelle, F., Di Caro, G., Pinciroli C., and Gambardella, L. M. (2011). Self-organized Cooperation between Robotic Swarms. Swarm Intelligence, Volume 5, Issue 2. 2011.
Mobile stigmergic markers for navigation in a heterogeneous robotic swarm
We study self-organized navigation in a heterogeneous robotic swarm
consisting of two types of robots: small wheeled robots, called
foot-bots, and flying robots that can attach to the ceiling, called
eye-bots. The task of foot-bots is to navigate back and forth
between a source and a target location. The eye-bots are placed in a
chain on the ceiling, connecting source and target using infrared
communication. Their task is to guide foot-bots, by giving local
directional instructions. The problem we address is how the
positions of eye-bots and the directional instructions they give can
be adapted, so that they indicate a path that is efficient for
foot-bot navigation, also in the presence of obstacles. We propose
an approach of mutual adaptation between foot-bots and eye-bots.
Our solution is inspired by pheromone based navigation of ants, as
eye-bots serve as mobile stigmergic markers for foot-bot navigation.
Supporting Navigation in Multi-Robot Systems through Delay Tolerant Network Communication
We study a problem of navigation in networked
multi-robot systems. The robots are deployed in a confined area,
where they move around and solve tasks. They communicate with each
other through an infrared communication device, so that an ad hoc
network is formed among them. Due to the limited range and line of
sight nature of the infrared communication, this network has
intermittent connectivity. The question we address is how a
particular robot can use this network to find a target location that
is indicated by another robot (e.g., the other robot has identified
a task to be serviced by the searching robot). All other robots are
involved in tasks of their own, and do not change their movements to
help the searching robot find its destination. However, they do
offer support by forwarding messages over the network. We propose a
new algorithm based on routing in ad hoc and delay tolerant networks
that can run on the network formed between the robots and provide
navigation information to the searching robot. We evaluate the
validity of our approach both in simulation and through an
implementation on a group of 16 e-puck robots.