System allows different robot vehicles to cooperate

Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) will this week give the Army a demonstration of an advanced way to allow dissimilar robotic vehicles to communicate autonomously.

The Collaborative Unmanned Systems Technology Demonstrator (CUSTD), should show how two small-scale aircraft and a full-size automobile can perform a complex, interactive mission without human intervention.

“We believe our system represents the leading edge of demonstrating collaborative autonomous vehicle capabilities,” says principal research engineer Lora Weiss.

“This system demonstrates not only the collaborative interoperability possible among dissimilar vehicles, but also the numerous sensing technologies that can be included onboard as interchangeable payloads — chemical and infrared sensors, still and video cameras, and sophisticated signal- and data-processing.”

The GTRI system uses two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have nine-foot wingspans, seven-pound scientific-instrument payloads, and GPS for navigation. The unmanned ground vehicle is a Porsche Cayenne.

The aircraft require human guidance during takeoff, but while aloft they become autonomous for both navigation and target-locating tasks. The Porsche is fully autonomous.

In a typical scenario, the two aircraft seek out a target from somewhere withn a wide area. When a plane spots the target, it radios its location using GPS coordinates to the unmanned ground vehicle, which then finds its way around buildings and along roads to the target.

At the same time, the UAV asks the second aircraft to fly to the target and use its sensors to gain more information.

One new technique that is showing promise is to use an ‘auction’-type algorithm that lets robotic vehicles ‘bid’ for a given task. Using this method, unmanned vehicles can autonomously divide up work on the spot in the most efficient way.

In a GTRI experiment, UAVs using a market-based approach cut the travel required to complete a task by nearly half.

Because the system is standards compliant, it builds in future interoperability with other unmanned systems produced by different vendors. “If upcoming systems are going to be able to communicate, as well as operate with the control-system designs now being developed, they’ll need to be standards compliant,” says Weiss.