Underwater Collective Robotics
The research field of collective robotics draws inspiration from natural systems and aims to engineer their attractive properties into de-novo, synthetic systems. So far, most of the success stories in collective robotics have been in 2-dimensional – mostly ground-based – systems. A much less developed area in collective robotics is the 3-dimensional underwater domain, which comes with a unique set of opportunities. However, there are currently high barriers to entry for experimental work in this area due to the high-cost, large size, and high maintenance requirements of state-of-the-art robots.
In this project, we have developed the BlueBot: a novel underwater robot with the right mechanical attributes for being used in large-scale collectives. It uses a low-cost propulsion mechanism that allows for a high number of degrees of freedom at a reasonable cost. This makes it sufficiently maneuverable to navigate complex environments with moving obstacles, such as other robots. The BlueBot is designed in a manner that is easy to manufacture and has little to no maintenance requirements: it can be fully built in under 8 hours for under $200. Additionally, it has been miniaturized as far as possible to minimize the size of the experimental setups required for experiments with a large-scale collective.
BlueBots can interact with each other to exhibit collective behaviors in a BlueSwarm. A custom-designed, quasi-omnidirectional vision system based on active beacons allows the robot to infer the relative positions and bearings of neighboring robots at a high rate, allowing for fast reactions to a dynamic environment. In the next phase, the project will demonstrate an array of collective behaviors on a large-scale BlueSwarm.