Jerry B. Weinberg, Ph. D.
Acting Associate Provost for Research and
Dean The Graduate School

In 2000, NSF and NASA met to discuss harvesting solar power in space to help meet future energy needs. One solution that received considerable attention was the use of robots to form a solar reflector. Imagine a space shuttle arriving in orbit, its bay doors opening, and a collection of thousands of individual robots, each with a piece of the reflector attached to them, float out into space. These robots then navigate themselves to form a large parabolic structure, which is then used to harvest solar energy. How can this swarm, or massive collection that moves with no group organization, coordinate to form an organized, global structure, or formation? Once organized, how can this formation be effectively controlled?

The approach of our project is to utilize reactive robot control strategies and treat the formation as a cellular automaton, which consists of a lattice of computational units, or cells. A robot is chosen as the seed, or starting point, of the formation. A desired formation, defined as a geometric function, is communicated to the seed. Relationships and states are communicated locally to robots in the seed?s neighborhood, which propagates changes in each robot?s neighborhood in succession. Using sensor readings, robots attempt to acquire and maintain the calculated relationship with their neighbors. Despite only local communication, the calculated relationships between neighbors results in the overall organization of the desired global structure. Thus, a movement command.

Algorithms for Control and Interaction of Large Formations on Robots

Ross A. Mead