Distributed Control of Multi-Robot Systems Engaged in Tightly Coupled Tasks

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NASA mission concepts for the upcoming decades of this century include exploration of sites such as steep cliff faces on Mars, as well as infrastructure deployment for a sustained robotic/manned presence on planetary and/or the lunar surface. Single robotic platforms, such as the Sojourner rover successfully flown in 1997 and the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) which landed on Mars in January of 2004, have neither the autonomy, mobility, nor manipulation capabilities for such ambitious undertakings. One possible approach to these future missions is the fielding of cooperative multi-robot systems that have the required onboard control algorithms to more or less autonomously perform tightly coordinated tasks. These control algorithms must operate under the constrained mass, volume, processing, and communication conditions that are present on NASA planetary surface rover systems. In this paper, we describe the design and implementation of distributed control algorithms that build on our earlier development of an enabling architecture called CAMPOUT (Control Architecture for Multi-robot Planetary Outposts). We also report on some ongoing physical experiments in tightly coupled distributed control at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA where in the first study two rovers acquire and carry an extended payload over uneven, natural terrain, and in the second three rovers form a team for cliff access.

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