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June 13, 2006

other tech: Flying and ground independent robots team up for search task

A team of autonomous flying and ground-based robots have successfully cooperated to search for and locate targets in the streets of an urban warfare training ground in the US. The system could help in search and rescue efforts and military operations – and even has the potential to include humans in the team. They hid bright orange boxes in the streets between buildings. An autonomous robot aircraft with a wingspan of 2.5 metres, and four autonomous ground vehicles in the form of modified model monster trucks, called Clodbusters, then set out to pinpoint the boxes’ locations.

"If the air vehicle sees something, then the ground vehicles are aware of it and will decide whether to investigate," explains Grocholsky. "Each robot has an idea of what it thinks is going on, in terms of probabilities of a target being in a particular place."

The researchers hope this distributed model will scale up easily, so that large networks of many different robots, sensors and even humans could be patched into a team.

"A key advantage of this approach is the way the information available to the robots is anonymised," says Grocholsky. There is no need for complicated coordination of the different elements of the team – each just uses any information it gets to help with its own goals.

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