Micro Autonomous System and Technology Collaborative Technology Alliance Program, a long titled research group sponsored by the US Military, is behind the latest innovation in robotic reconnaissance. Send a group of small autonomous robots into a building, and they collaborate in searching and mapping the entire structure. There is no centralized control computer, or external control mechanism guiding the robots on their mission. They independently come to the conclusion on what is to be done in the most efficient manner. (see more about another set of autonomous robots here.) Team member Henrik Christensen, from Georgia Tech University, explains, “There is no lead robot, yet each unit is capable of recruiting other units to make sure the entire area is explored. When the first robot comes to an intersection, it says to a second robot, 'I'm going to go to the left if you go to the right.'" This is very similar to Georgia Tech’s other collaborative robots., except an overhead camera is not needed.
Data collected by the swarm of robots is collected into a local area map by each using a graph-bases system called simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM). This allows the robot to broadcast what they have discovered while learning what the others have done. This works in conjunction with GPS, but also allows the bots and handlers to know what is happening even when GPS signal is interrupted. Georgia Tech developed the navigation technology, the vision portion, a camera and laser scanner, comes from the Institute of Technology/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the networking portion comes from of Pennsylvania.
The humble beginning have the robots just rolling around on level surfaces, but the overall scope of the project will see the same bots with the ability to crawl, jump, and even fly about as it collects information. Further scanners are planned, a sonar style sensor, night vision, whiskers to sense objects and walls in the dark, and infrared for detection of object giving off heat.
According to Georgia Tech, the following schools and companies have joined the effort, “North Carolina A&T State University, the University of California Berkeley, the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan, the University of New Mexico, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and two companies: BAE Systems and Daedalus Flight Systems.”
Fukushima has shown that search and rescue robots are invaluable to relief efforts and saving human lives.
Pictures and video via Georgia Tech