Swarms of robots will assist farmers and rescue workers
A group of researchers led by an SDU Professor and two private robot companies are behind the HERD project, enabling rescue workers to deploy multiple drones on a mission or farmers to have groups of robots working in the field simultaneously.
You may have seen a robot on a field already or a drone used by rescue workers to locate a person in distress.
A team of scientists will now develop technologies that allow a farmer to use multiple collaborating robots in the same field and for rescue workers to deploy a swarm of drones to strengthen the rescue effort.
- It is a technological challenge to manage and control a large group of robots partly because they must cooperate intelligently. The end-user must be able to specify which task the robots should solve and how, Professor Anders Lyhne Christensen says and elaborates:
- Current technologies work well when a farmer needs to control a single robot, but they are inadequate when multiple cooperating robots are in play.
Partnership with companies
Professor Anders Lyhne Christensen from the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Institute at the University of Southern Denmark leads the new robot project, which has been named HERD.
Aalborg University, CBS, and the Danish Technological Institute are partners, alongside two private technology companies: AgroIntelli in Aarhus, which develops agricultural robots, and the Aalborg-based company Robotto, which develops drone systems.
The research project went live in November 2021 and will run for almost four years. The partners have received 4.5 DKK million from the Innovation Fund Denmark. HERD has a total budget of DKK 17 million, with the two private companies investing more than 7 million kroner in resources.
Solving tasks together
The project aims to develop technology that enables a group of robots to solve a task together. The partners will also design user interfaces that allow a rescue worker to control an entire swarm of drones during a rescue operation or put a farmer in control of multiple robots working on his field.
Finally, the HERD project will also examine the business potential and organizational challenges of using collaborative robots with contributions from Copenhagen Business School (CBS).
It immediately becomes more complicated if the farmer wants to use multiple robots simultaneously and, for example, get them to divide several assignments between them.
The first step is to enable several robots to solve tasks for AgroIntelli and Robotto, says Anders Lyhne Christensen from SDU.
- AgroIntelli has developed agricultural robots, which solve tasks independently, where a farmer can keep track of a single robot in the field. It immediately becomes more complicated if the farmer wants to use multiple robots simultaneously and, for example, get them to divide several asignments between them or take over each other's assignments, says Anders Lyhne Christensen.
Project manager Alea Scovill from AgroIntelli sees excellent potential in simultaneously using multiple robots in the field.
- A fleet of field robots significantly improves a farmer’s capacity. There can be done much more in a shorter time. It is especially beneficial in cases when the time window for completing an operation is small.
How can several robots collaborate?
The partners also hope to present new solutions for deploying multiple drones for rescue operations or inspections.
- For us, it is about studying how several robots can collaborate on a task and how we can enable a single operator to control them all. We must develop intuitive and efficient ways in which the end-user can quickly get an overview and adapt the robots' task, says Anders Lyhne Christensen.
At the same time, the technologies must be robust enough to be used in highly dynamic environments due to wind, weather, and surroundings, he says.
20 drones are better than one
According to the researchers behind HERD, swarm robotics technology opens new areas and significant opportunities.
- Today, we are limited by the fact that you can only control one robot at a time. If we can teach the robots to work together as a group or swarm, we can use them for everything from construction tasks to inspection and production in the future. You can search more quickly if you, for example, can put 20 drones on the mission instead of one, says the SDU professor.
With his colleague, professor Ulrik Pagh Schultz, who is head of the drone section at SDU, Anders Lyhne Christensen will be responsible for researching and developing robot control and artificial intelligence in the project.
If we can teach the robots to work together as a group or swarm, we can use them for everything from construction tasks to inspection and production in the future
Aalborg University is in charge of the project that deals with human-robot interaction, while CBS is responsible for the project that deals with commercial and organizational aspects.
The robot center at the Danish Technological Institute is also involved, as they have great interest and experience within robot systems. AgroIntelli and Robotto, which work with agricultural robots and drone systems, respectively, work with specific use cases where deploying multiple cooperating robots can be beneficial.
- The collaboration with the two innovative companies is crucial since their concrete case studies guide our research and ensure that it will have a real-world impact, Anders Lyhne Christensen emphasizes.
About the project
The research project HERD - Human-AI collaboration: Engaging and controlling swarms of Robots and Drones with a total budget of DKK 17.1 million, of which DKK 4.5 million is research funding from the Innovation Fund Denmark through DIREC. The project was launched in November, 2021 and will run for three years and nine months.
SDU is leading with project. Aalborg University, Danish Technological Institute, and Copenhagen Business School are also partners. So are the private robot company AgroIntelli from Aarhus and the drone company Robotto from Aalborg. The companies invest more than 7 million kroner in usecases, manpower and resources.
The aim is to develop robot technology that allows robots and drones to collaborate in groups/swarms. At the same time, the team behind the project must build user interfaces that can be used efficiently by end-users like farmers or rescue workers using robots and drones. Finally, the project will also look at the business opportunities and the organizational challenges associated with using swarms of collaborating robots.
Meet the researcher
Anders Lyhne Christensen is a professor from The Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Institute at the University of Southern Denmark