The Trend Toward Distributed Robotics: Page 2 of 3

The distributed approach to robotics systems is just gaining ground but could one day be a key component of smart factories and even smart cities.

all of the time? What should happen if a robot fails? We expect extra collaboration to make jobs faster and to save energy, but if done badly it could have just the opposite effect.

“If I want to collaborate with robots the question then becomes how do I do it and one of the main issues is communications,” Gini said. “Do have communication with one robot? All the other robots? Just some? Do I have a central controller that tells teach robot what to do and allocates space to each robot? I could make a local system or a global system or I can have a system where the team self-organizes. All of these methods are different in real life and when you want to write programs.”

One method of addressing this, Gini said, is with the use of an auction system, wherein robots “bid” on tasks (based on how quickly they can accomplish it, for example) and the machine that is best able to accomplish it is assigned the task. “Once I know what all the tasks are I can assign them a value and say something like, 'This task is going to cost me five or 15 or whatever.' When you give a task a one number like this the communication is very light.”

Once all of the robots have submitted bids the system acts as an auctioneer and picks the best robot for the task and assigns it. “So there's a bit of centralization, but it's not one entity that makes all the decisions,” Gini said. “Right now, the robots run a program that says to compute your cost you figure out where you are, how far you have to go, how much battery power you need, and that's how you submit the bid. In the long term we want the robots to learn how to do those things. But this is much farther away.” One of Gini's most recent studies looks at this challenge directly by examining methods of allocating tasks to robots in conditions where time and space are limited.

There is however debate as to whether distributed robotics is the best solution going forward for all applications. The International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems is currently working on a special issue on " Distributed Robotic Systems and Society ” that aims to examine all sides of the issue. According the the journal, many of the characteristics that make distributed robotic systems ideal for certain emerging applications are also holding it back from being more widely adopted. “For instance, controlling the motion and behavior of large teams of robots still presents unique challenges for human operators, who cannot yet effectively convey their high-level intentions in application.” the journal said.

“Not everyone likes this idea [of distrubted robotics], there's debate in the scientific community, because you do lose something,” Gini said. “In a sense it's the same with humans if you have a team of people and you have a commander who is fully aware of the system and can decide what to do. Humans have failed at some

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