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Robots working in teams need a method to ensure that they do not duplicate effort. A new technique allows robots to remain resilient when faced with intermittent communication losses on the battlefield. The α-shape, provides an efficient method for resolving goal conflicts between multiple robots that may want to visit the same area during missions including unmanned search and rescue, robotic reconnaissance, perimeter surveillance and robotic detection of physical phenomena, such as radiation and underwater concentration of lifeforms.

Researchers from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory and the University of Nebraska, Omaha Computer Science Department collaborated.

In environments where the robots cannot communicate widely due to needing to stay covert, clutter leading to radios not working for long distance communications, or to preserve battery or bandwidth for more important messages, the robots will need a method to coordinate with as few communications as possible.

This coordination is accomplished through sharing their next task with the team, and select team members will remember this information, allowing other robots to ask if any other robot will perform that task without needing to communicate directly with the robot that selected the task.

“This research enables coordination between robots when each robot is empowered to make decisions about its next tasks without requiring it to check in with the rest of the team first,” Army researcher Dr. Bradley Woosley said. 

The technique uses a geometric approximation called α-shape to group together regions of the environment that a robot can communicate with other robots using multi-hop communications over a communications network. This technique is integrated with an intelligent search algorithm over the robots’ communication tree, as reported by army.mil.