The possibilities for robotic teams
Robot teams will be essential for solving certain complex tasks. So, where might you encounter robot teams in the future? In this step, we look at some of the future applications for robotic teams and discuss how they will work together in different environments.
Factories and warehouses
Robots can be asked to fetch and bring items to the counter using a computer-based order system. If an item is too bulky, two robots will automatically cooperate to fetch and deliver the item.
A manufacturing process may require more complex coordination. A human supervisor will issue a command to a team of mobile robots on the factory floor and the team will need to jointly plan and negotiate who is going to do what, based on current individual capabilities. Executing the task will require constant re-planning and monitoring so that the work progresses or adapts from the agreed joint plan.
Search and rescue
The team will first be provided with information about the area they need to search and will be “briefed” about the nature of their responsibilities. This might be gathering information or delivering emergency supplies.
From here onwards, the robots need to create a joint plan of the initial steps and search policy that they will follow during the actual search activity. Executing the mission will require constant updating and sharing of a combined environmental model.
Robot teams work together to harvest fruits or collect vegetables from the ground in a large production field with a single human supervisor. The robots need to coordinate their team movements and minimise their total travel path to reduce costs and complete the harvest within the shortest time period. While collecting the harvest, they will update a shared model of overall progress using their localisation and perception systems. They will inform the human supervisor of any practical problems they face in terms of robotic hardware problems or difficult to access terrain due to water and other environmental hazards.
Other types of robot teams, such as drones may help the farmer to achieve the highest yields on his fields by imaging the land, analysing the images and advising the farmer on soil treatment methods.
Robot teams may work together to clean the streets from litter on Friday to Saturday night so that streets are clean by the morning.
Teams of flying robots can help to survey a large construction site for information of work progress and help to optimise management.
Buildings and structures such as bridges and masts can be surveyed for their repair needs. Teams of robots can execute survey tasks more quickly and accurately and the robots can carry different sensing capabilities (3D geometric mapping, thermal mapping, X-rays imaging, ultrasonic crack detection, etc.)
Exploring the seabed
Offshore oil and gas production often requires structural fixes deep under the water. A prime example of a past need for semi-autonomous robots was the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion when millions of tonnes of oil could have been prevented flooding into the sea, if suitable robots had been available to plug the flow.
Today autonomous marine vessel inspection is becoming widespread. Autonomous gliders are monitoring the oceans to take environmental measurements to inform the geosciences. Robots also support the maintenance of communications infrastructure by repairing underwater cables.
Can you think of a further example where teams of robots will be key to solving a problem, rather than an individual robot?
© The University of Sheffield