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?

In previous work, I treated robots as cells in a 1-dimensional cellular automaton. Each robot ?cell state? consists of its distance and orientation in 2-dimensional space in relation to neighboring robots. Using a reactive control architecture, these robots are able to establish and maintain formations defined by a single mathematical function. The viability of this approach was demonstrated in simulation with thousands of robots and on a physical platform with twelve custom robots. In order to attain formations necessary for applications such as the solar reflector, the algorithm must be generalized to 2- and 3-dimensional cellular automata. I now extend the algorithm to show how it can be generalized to 2-dimensional grid formations defined by multiple functions in order for form grid structures.

Cellular Automata for Control and Interactions of Large Formation of Robots

Ross A. Mead