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New Control System Enables Robot Collaboration

A new system combines simple control programs to enable fleets of robots — or other “multiagent systems” — to collaborate in unprecedented ways.

The technology factors in uncertainty — the odds, for instance, that a communication link will drop, or that a particular algorithm will inadvertently steer a robot into a dead end — and automatically plans around it.

Working together with Jon How, the Richard Cockburn Maclaurin Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, and his student Chris Maynor, the researchers are currently testing their system in a simulation of a warehousing application, where teams of robots would be required to retrieve arbitrary objects from indeterminate locations, collaborating as needed to transport heavy loads. The simulations involve small groups of iRobot Creates, programmable robots that have the same chassis as the Roomba vacuum cleaner.

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Also: Watch a NASA Q&A about 3D Robotic Vision.