|Researchers designed a swarm of drones to explore unknown areas / Photo Credit: Chesky (via Shutterstock)|
Researchers from TU Delft, University of Liverpool, and Radboud University of Nijmegen presented their study on drones exploring unknown environments by themselves, as reported by Delft University of Technology of science press release website Science Daily. The team’s research was financed by the NWO Natural Artificial Intelligence programme, a Dutch national science foundation.
Over the last four years, the researchers strived to design a swarm of tiny drones to explore unknown areas. The goal is to use the drones in search-and-rescue operations. With that in mind, rescue workers will release a swarm of drones to explore a particular disaster area. The drones will explore the area and return to the base with relevant information. The rescuers can focus on the “most relevant areas” of a disaster site.
In the study, drones were equipped with cameras and were released in an indoor office environment to locate two dummies. The dummies act as victims in a disaster scenario. In just six minutes, six drones were able to explore “about 80% of the open rooms,” which would be impossible for one drone to do. One drone found a dummy, but the camera’s hardware failed, preventing it from taking a photo of the victim. Fortunately, another drone was able to photograph the victim.
Ph.D. student Kimberly McGuire noted, “The biggest challenge in achieving swarm exploration lies at the level of the individual intelligence of the drones. In the beginning of the project, we focused on achieving basic flight capabilities such as controlling the velocity and avoiding obstacles.”
McGuire and her colleagues made each drone carry a wireless communication chip to detect and prevent them from bumping each other. “The main advantages of this method are that it does not require extra hardware on the drone and that it requires very few computations,” McGuire added. Another challenge is making the tiny drones navigate around an area by themselves, as they are “very limited in terms of sensing and computation.”
The researcher’s project is one of the most contributions in the field of swarm robotics.