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Flying Robot Swarm Takes Off

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Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network

Researchers looked to biology to answer questions about controlling the behavior of robot swarms.

Credit: EPFL

The Ecole Polytechnic Federale de Lausanne is experimenting with flying robots that would create a communications network for rescuers in disaster areas. Researchers involved in the Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network project have equipped 10 flying robots with autopilot capabilities to control altitude, airspeed, and turn rate, and have designed a microcontroller that uses three sensors—a gyroscope and two pressure sensors. The robots have a global positioning system module for logging flight journeys, and the swarm controllers running Linux are connected to an off-the-shelf USB Wi-Fi dongle.

Army ants serve as the inspiration for the way the flying robots lay and maintain communications pathways between a base node and users in the environment. Deployed as node micro air vehicles (MAVs), the flying robots spread out to create a grid for depositing and detecting virtual pheromone through local communication. And as ant MAVs, the robots travel along this grid until they reach an unoccupied position, which then becomes a node MAV, to extend the grid until there is a connection with the target user in the environment.

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