Distributed Robotics

Our robotic team for this project consists of two types of robots. The first type is a larger, heavy-duty robotic platform, called the ranger. It is used to transport and deploy a number of small, mobile sensor platforms called scouts, the second type of robot, into the environment.
Many reconnaissance and surveillance tasks require the use of multiple small yet highly capable robots. The individual robots must be easily deployable and able to move efficiently yet traverse obstacles or uneven terrain. They must be able to sense their environment, act on their sensing, report their findings, and accept commands to operate in a coordinated manner. We call these robots scouts.
Rangers add functionality to the team in two ways. First, using their greater size and power, rangers add range and mobility to the team. Rangers carry the scouts to the mission site and launch them into position using a spring-powered ``gun.'' Second, using their greater computational resources, rangers add intelligence to the team. Rangers do complex perception (e.g., vision processing) on behalf of the scouts and coordinate all of the robots in the team. Together, the scouts and rangers form a hierarchical team capable of carrying out complex missions in a wide variety of environments.

The original scout design was a ball. The idea for the scout came out of earlier work I have done with students for AAAI robotic competitions. One of the tasks was to find and collect squiggle balls using autonomous robots. Squiggle balls move straight, but change direction in unpredictable ways when they encounter an obstacle. They have no computer, just a set of batteries and an eccentric motor. So, the idea was to replace an uncontrollable and fast moving ball with a rolling robot ball and get the same ability to cover terrain fast. The second idea was to increase the terrain coverage by launching the robots with a launcher. This would allow them to reach farther away places. No matter how a ball lands it is ready to roll and get its job done. The project started from these two fundamental insights. The design of the scout was subsequently modified to make it into a cylindrical shape, so it could fit standard grenade launchers, but the basic idea remained the same.

This project has been funded by DARPA/MTO and is currently funded by NSF. You can find more information about this project, including multiple videos.

Relevant papers:

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