As robots become more common sights in our workplaces, they are becoming increasingly collaborative and capable of working effectively together.
Such advances are driven by advances such as the recent MIT project to improve collaboration and coordination between robots. A recent EU-backed project is bringing such technologies to the shipyard. The CARLOS project was recently completed to showcase the use of automation in a semi-structured environment.
Researchers at the University of Lincoln propose taking a leaf out of the animal kingdom and using insect-like swarms to do the job.
“Nature is one of the best sources of inspiration for solutions to different problems in different domains, and this is why swarm robotics has developed into such an important area of study. It takes insights from the behaviors and coordination capabilities of social insects, where the success of a group in accomplishing a task relies heavily on the interactions among its members. Among social insects, the use of pheromones is one of the most effective means of communication, but for the swarm robotics community it has also been one of the most difficult to reproduce,” they say.
Whilst that is largely theoretical, a team from West Virginia University have developed an algorithm that they believe will help coordinate drones operating on team assignments.
“Someone on the ground sets an area to be scanned by the UAVs. Within the area, the person selects different priority points for information-gathering. The algorithm then sets what coordinates are surveyed by which UAVs, and determines a plan for them so that it also covers as much of the area as possible without depleting the battery life,” they say.
“The technology is not bypassing the ground station, not taking over the flight plan. It is just giving the ground station help to complete a complex mission with three planes at once.”
The new algorithm has been developed for the Raven military drone. There are some 19,000 in operation around the world, but despite them only being sold in packs of three, they are typically flown individually.
Search and Surveillance
The drones are usually used by the military for scanning wide areas for search and surveillance missions, such as intelligence gathering or reconnaissance.
Whilst their military use is widespread, they also have civilian applications, whether in agriculture, forest management or utility surveillance.
Being able to work collectively together with other drones will expand their use considerably, and it will be fascinating to watch how the industry responds to this newfound capability.