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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R030073/1
Title: Rapid fault-recovery strategies for resilient robot swarms
Principal Investigator: Tarapore, Dr D
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Sch of Electronics and Computer Sci
Organisation: University of Southampton
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 01 June 2018 Ends: 31 March 2021 Value (£): 215,174
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Artificial Intelligence Robotics & Autonomy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Information Technologies Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
11 Jan 2018 EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel Jan 2018 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Robots are increasingly becoming an important part of our day-to-day lives, automating tasks such as keeping our homes clean, and picking/packing our parcels at large warehouses. An aging population and the need to substitute human workers in dangerous and repetitive tasks have now resulted in new tasks on the horizon (e.g., in agriculture automation and environmental monitoring), requiring our robots to do more, to work in large-numbers as part of a swarm (a large team of robots), to coordinately sense and act over vast areas, and efficiently perform their mission. However, our robot swarms to date are unprepared for deployment; unable to deal with the inevitable damages and faults sustained during operation, they remain frail systems that cease functioning in difficult conditions. The goal of this project is to remedy this situation by developing algorithms for robot swarms to rapidly -- in no more than a few minutes -- recover from faults and damages sustained by robots of the swarm.

The existing fault-tolerant systems for robot swarms are limited. They are constrained to only diagnose faults anticipated a priori by the designer, which can hardly encompass all the possible scenarios a robot swarm may encounter while operating in complex environments for extended periods of time. The multitude of robots in a swarm and the large number of intricate ways they can interact with each other makes it difficult to predict potential faults and predefine corresponding recovery strategies; which may explain why none of the existing fault-detection and fault-diagnosis systems have been extended to provide fault-recovery mechanisms for robot swarms. Therefore, in order to design fault-tolerant algorithms for robot swarms, we need to move beyond the traditional approaches relying on fault-diagnosis information for fault recovery.

Fault recovery in a robot swarm may instead be formulated as an online behavior-adaptation process. With such an approach, the robots of the swarm adapt their behavior to sustained faults by learning via trial-and-error new compensatory behaviors that work despite the faults. However, the current approaches to learning new robot swarm behaviors are time-consuming, requiring several hours. Therefore, such approaches are inappropriate for behavior adaptation (learning new swarm behaviors) for rapid fault recovery.

Behavior adaptation for effective fault recovery requires the robot swarm to creatively and rapidly learn new compensatory swarm behaviors online, that work despite the sustained faults, effectively recovering the swarm from the faults. The proposal will address these requirements by investigating data-efficient machine learning techniques for rapid online behavior adaptation, guided by creatively and automatically generated intuitions -- evolved offline -- of working swarm behaviors. The resulting system would have a significant impact on long-term operations of robot swarms, and open up new and interesting applications for their deployment, such as the monitoring of large bodies of water for pollutants using a swarm of autonomous surface vehicles.
Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.soton.ac.uk