Swimming pool game inspires robot detection

Mar 18, 2009
Rafael Fierro is an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of New Mexico. Credit: University of New Mexico

Scientists have used a popular kids swimming pool game to guide their development of a system for controlling moving robots that can autonomously detect and capture other moving targets.

Engineers from Duke University and the University of New Mexico have used the simple pursuit-evasion game "Marco Polo" to solve a complex problem -- namely, how to create a system that allows robots to not only "sense" a , but intercept it.

Such systems have broad applications, ranging from security systems to track unwanted intruders like enemy ships or burglars, to systems that create radiation or environmental hazard maps, or even track endangered species.

The main challenge facing researchers is developing the to control the robots and their without direct human guidance.

The goal of the game "Marco Polo" is for the person who is "it" to tag another person, who then becomes the new pursuer. However, pursuers must keep their eyes closed. At any time, the pursuer can call out "Marco," and everyone else must respond by saying "Polo." In this way, the pursuer can gradually estimate where the targets are in the pool and where they might go.

"Games give us a good way of making these highly complex problems easier to visualize," said Silvia Ferrari, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. Ferrari and colleague Rafael Fierro, associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of New Mexico, published the results from their latest experiments online in the Journal on Control and Optimization, a publication of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

"Just as in 'Marco Polo,' we needed to create a way that permits mobile robots to detect other moving objects and make predictions about where the targets might go," Ferrari said. "When done efficiently, the mobile sensor switches from pursuit mode to capture mode in the shortest amount of time."

Ferrari's laboratory had already developed a similar type of algorithm, known as cell decomposition, in which space is broken down into a series of distinct cells. Past experiments allowed a to move through space without colliding with stationary obstacles.

The latest experiments included not only robots equipped with camera sensors, but also stationary camera sensors, which allowed for "coverage" of all the cells within the space.

"The idea is that multiple sensors are deployed in the space to cooperatively detect moving targets within that space," Fierro said. "As the sensor makes more detections, it is better able to predict the likely path of the intruder. The ultimate path taken by the robot sensor is one that maximizes the probability of detection and minimizes the distance needed to capture the target."

While the security and military applications of this type of detection system are obvious, Fierro also points out that the new algorithms can be used in other ways to detect targets that aren't necessarily intruders.

"Targets could be completely different things, like mines or explosives, or chemical or radiation leaks," Fierro said. "The robots can use their sensors to keep track of the detected locations and build a 'map' to let people know where to go or not to go."

The algorithms could also be used to help explain natural phenomena, such as the behaviors of members of a wolf pack as they chase and capture their prey.

The latest experiments were conducted at the University of New Mexico and involved intruders moving in straight lines at a constant speed.

"We are now developing algorithms that will more closely mimic the real world by giving intruders the ability to take evasive actions," Ferrari said. "The other main issue is to ensure that all the different mobile sensors can communicate with each other at all times and coordinate their activities based on that communication."

Source: Duke University (news : web)

Explore further: Robots recognize humans in disaster environments

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Game provides clue to improving remote sensing

Jan 27, 2009

A newly developed mathematical model that figures out the best strategy to win the popular board game CLUE© could some day help robot mine sweepers navigate strange surroundings to find hidden explosives.

First steps toward autonomous robot surgeries

May 06, 2008

The day may be getting a little closer when robots will perform surgery on patients in dangerous situations or in remote locations, such as on the battlefield or in space, with minimal human guidance.

Feelers for insect robots

Jun 03, 2005

Many insects sense their way around their immediate surroundings by means of moving feelers. Now research scientists have applied this active spatial recognition of objects to create a new mechatronic type ...

Robot Swarms Get First Real Test

May 17, 2005

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $100,000 grant for University of Wyoming researchers to determine if swarms of mini-robots can successfully detect the sources of chemical or biological hazards. The research tea ...

Send in the robots -- Robot teams handle hazardous jobs

May 02, 2007

Searching buildings for weapons of mass destruction and supply routes for improvised bombs are extremely dangerous but important jobs. That's why Scott DeLoach is working to create robots and robot teams to handle these and ...

Recommended for you

US official: Auto safety agency under review

9 hours ago

Transportation officials are reviewing the "safety culture" of the U.S. agency that oversees auto recalls, a senior Obama administration official said Friday. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been criticized ...

Out-of-patience investors sell off Amazon

10 hours ago

Amazon has long acted like an ideal customer on its own website: a freewheeling big spender with no worries about balancing a checkbook. Investors confident in founder and CEO Jeff Bezos' invest-and-expand ...

Ebola.com domain sold for big payout

10 hours ago

The owners of the website Ebola.com have scored a big payday with the outbreak of the epidemic, selling the domain for more than $200,000 in cash and stock.

Hacker gets prison for cyberattack stealing $9.4M

14 hours ago

An Estonian man who pleaded guilty to orchestrating a 2008 cyberattack on a credit card processing company that enabled hackers to steal $9.4 million has been sentenced to 11 years in prison by a federal judge in Atlanta.

Magic Leap moves beyond older lines of VR

15 hours ago

Two messages from Magic Leap: Most of us know that a world with dragons and unicorns, elves and fairies is just a better world. The other message: Technology can be mindboggingly awesome. When the two ...

User comments : 0