Researchers of Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) are working on Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network (SMAVNET) project for developing aerial swarming robots which can be employed in catastrophic locations for creating communication pathways between rescuers and their base.
These aerial robots do not require lasers, radars, cameras or GPS. Instead every aerial robot in the group acts as a sensor and communicates in a wire-free mode. When they need to leave their base for reaching the users, every aerial robot will maintain its position in forming a node pattern whereas the remaining robots continue the task until the ultimate purpose is served and their network is absolute. These self-driven robots can be observed and controlled using a swarm-interface operated on a computer. For developing the communication network between the swarming aerial robots, the researchers utilized the same method of army ants which uses its pheromones to maintain their path.
Each aerial robot weighs 420g and is developed from Expanded Polypropylene (EPP). Its wings measure 80cm. These micro air vehicles feature two control areas that can act as elevons, representing the combined elevator and ailerons. An electric motor is included at the back of each robot. These MAVs receive power from the lithium polymer (LiPo) battery which enables them to fly for thirty minutes. Their altitude of flight, speed and orientation are controlled by an autopilot. Three sensors included in these robots are a gyroscope and two pressure sensors, providing real-time flight data. The most inexpensive flight strategy to be adopted is determined by a micro-controller which is incorporated into the autopilot.
The autopilot is compatible with Toradex Colibri PXA270 CPU board running Linux which can be linked to an off-the-shelf USB Wi-Fi dongle. The aerial robot includes a ZigBee (XBee PRO) transmitter and a u-blox LEA-5H GPS module for recording the flight path.
The research team is examining their SMAVNET system to establish its viability, thereby encouraging them to stay focused in developing a cost effective system which can be easily employed in disaster areas.