Social Potential Field Implementation
Small robots swarm as they explore a DOE facility.
The INL has implemented social potential fields on a collection of 12 robots using a combination of IR obstacle avoidance, light sensing and audible chirping. The effect is that each robot exerts both an attractive and repulsive force field. The attractive field, based primarily on sound, can either can discourage robots from moving too far away (an essential aspect of stable swarming behavior) or can actively pull other robots towards itself as in the case of the “come hither” chirp emitted by a robot that has found an area of interest, such as a spill. The repulsive field discourages robots from coming too close and is comprised of sound (robots avoid chirps above a certain volume) and the various obstacle avoidance sensors, which include infrared, light sensing, and bump sensing as a last resort. By displacing elements of command, control and communication onto the environment, our implementation of social potential fields enables:
- Self-organizing, self-regulating cooperative behavior;
- Online learning and adaptation;
- Emergent intelligence;
- Flexible autonomy;
- Implicit communication.
Through these advantages, our embodied use of social potential fields seems to bring us closer to the insect world. However, adopting this paradigm does not come without a price. Individual robot behavior, much like the behavior of an individual ant, is difficult if not impossible to predict.