A document poses, and suggests a program of research for answering, questions of how to achieve autonomous operation of herds of cooperative robots to be used in exploration and/or colonization of remote planets. In a typical scenario, a flock of mobile sensory robots would be deployed in a previously unexplored region, one of the robots would be designated the leader, and the leader would issue commands to move the robots to different locations or aim sensors at different targets to maximize scientific return. It would be necessary to provide for this hierarchical, cooperative behavior even in the face of such unpredictable factors as terrain obstacles. A potential-fields approach is proposed as a theoretical basis for developing methods of autonomous command and guidance of a herd. A survival-of-the-fittest approach is suggested as a theoretical basis for selection, mutation, and adaptation of a description of (1) the body, joints, sensors, actuators, and control computer of each robot, and (2) the connectivity of each robot with the rest of the herd, such that the herd could be regarded as consisting of a set of artificial creatures that evolve to adapt to a previously unknown environment. A distributed simulation environment has been developed to test the proposed approaches in the Titan environment. One blimp guides three surface sondes via a potential field approach. The results of the simulation demonstrate that the method used for control is feasible, even if significant uncertainty exists in the dynamics and environmental models, and that the control architecture provides the autonomy needed to enable surface science data collection.

This work was done by Marco B. Quadrelli of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Software category.

This software is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Karina Edmonds of the California Institute of Technology at (818) 393-2827. Refer to NPO-40723.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Controlling Herds of Cooperative Robots

(reference NPO-40723) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the April, 2006 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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