Social potential fields: A distributed behavioral control for autonomous robots
A Very Large Scale Robotic (VLSR) system may consist of from hundreds to perhaps tens of thousands or more autonomous robots. The costs or robots are going down, and the robots are getting more compact, more capable, and more flexible. Hence, in the near future, we expect to see many industrial and military applications of VLSR systems in tasks such as assembling, transporting, hazardous inspection, patrolling, guarding and attacking. In this paper, we propose a new approach for distributed autonomous control of VLSR systems. We define simple artificial force laws between pairs of robots or robot groups. The force laws are inverse-power force laws, incorporating both attraction and repulsion. The force laws can be distinct and to some degree they reflect the `social relations' among robots. Therefore we call our method social potential fields. An individual robot's motion is controlled by the resultant artificial force imposed by other robots and other components of the system. The approach is distributed in that the force calculations and motion control can be done in an asynchronous and distributed manner. We also extend the social potential fields model to use spring laws as force laws. This paper presents the first and a preliminary study on applying potential fields to distributed autonomous multi-robot control. We describe the genetic framework of our social potential fields method. We show with computer simulations that the method can yield interesting and useful behaviors among robots, and we give examples of possible industrial and military applications. We also identify theoretical problems for future studies.
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