If there's one thing I don't want to see, it's a whole swarm of robots running into each other. Chaos! Fortunately, Georgia Tech roboticists are working on it.
(Safe Swarm Robotics video)
"When you have too many robots together, they get so focused on not colliding with each other that they eventually just stop moving," said Georgia Tech roboticist Magnus Egerstedt, director of Georgia Tech's Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Machines. "Their safety behaviors take over and the robots freeze. It's impossible for them to go anywhere because any movement would cause their bubbles to pop."
Egerstedt has created a solution. His team's new algorithms allow any number of robots to move within inches of each other, without colliding, to complete their task -- swapping locations on his lab floor. They are the first researchers to create such minimally invasive safety algorithms.
In technical speak, the bots are using a set of safe states and barrier certificates to ensure each stays in its own safe set throughout the entire maneuver.
"In everyday speak, we've shrunk the size of each robot's bubble to make it as small as possible," said Egerstedt. "Our system allows the robots to make the minimum amount of changes to their original behaviors in order to accomplish the task and not smack into each other."
In a 1944 Isaac Asimov story the need for robots to work together arises The story revolves around Dave (DV-5), a mining robot with six subsidiary robots to boss around:
[Powell] watched the posturings of the robots on the visiplate. They were bronzy gleams of smooth motion against the shadowy crags of the airless asteroid. There was a marching formation now, and in their own dim body light, the rough-hewn walls of the mine tunnel swam past noiselessly, checkered with misty erratic blobs of shadow. They marched in unison, seven of them, with Dave at the head.
(Read more about multiple robot team)