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Utah State University: Robots Robots Everywhere!

 

January 30, 2008

Wei Ren, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Utah State University in Logan, UT, has received the National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award for his proposal "Distributed Multi-vehicle Cooperative Control - A Consensus Theoretical Approach". The CAREER Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the NSF's most prestigious awards in support of the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization. Ren's research focus is on deriving a consensus theoretical framework for distributed multi-vehicle cooperative control with particular emphasis on distributed multi-vehicle formation clustering and rigid body attitude synchronization problems. Can multiple robots work together? Well, in the past, Ren says, "There was a central station that sent commands to every robot on the team, which was not efficient because if the central station failed, then the entire system or operation would fail." Ren's research will attempt to distribute the intelligence to each robot and show that if one robot fails, it won't affect the entire team - that the mission could continue. When asked if his research might lead to an application with the potential to reduce the high number of human casualties in war, his response - there is a high potential. The deployment of several flying robots into situations too dangerous for humans, where they each gather information and then report it back for analysis and assessment is one possible future application of his research. It's possible, and the potential result? Less risk for humans engaged in war or any other type of dangerous activity throughout the globe. Ren referred to the concept of multiple robots as a kind of multivision, where many eyes have the capability to view a wide variety of perspectives, and then combine their findings by sharing information. His focus will be on finding out how many robots can work as a team by communicating with each other. With numerous potential applications in mind, Ren will design novel algorithms that drive the intelligence in these robots. He is clearly committed to the philosophy of NSF which focuses on the basic research, wanting people to gain an understanding of how these robots work, and to understand their behavior. His research is expected to lead to numerous possible future applications of robots. Examples include robots working in environmental monitoring, border patrol, search and rescue, and mining to name a few. Put 10 robots in a room together, Ren illustrates, and each can only sense or communicate with a few of its neighbors. They have autonomous control capabilities with an on-board controller. Ren wants to see how they work as a team. The CAREER grant will enable Ren to build a basis for future contributions to research and education about multiple robots and their potential to benefit our world. Robots that vacuum are already available to consumers. Maybe one day we'll have robots driving us to work and school or even mowing our lawns - as a team. Ren will begin the research phase of his project in April 2008, and complete it in March 2013. The big question Aggies want to know is - will Ren's Robots do homework?
Source: Utah State University
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