Real-world deployment of new technology and capabilities can be daunting. The recent DARPA Subterranean (SubT) Challenge, for instance, aimed at the advancement of robotic platforms and autonomy capabilities in three one-year development pushes. While multi-agent systems are traditionally deployed in controlled and structured environments that allow for controlled testing (e.g., warehouses), the SubT challenge targeted various types of unknown underground environments that imposed the risk of robot loss in the case of failure. In this work, we introduce a video game-inspired interface, an autonomous mission assistant, and test and deploy these using a heterogeneous multi-agent system in challenging environments. This work leads to improved human-supervisory control for a multi-agent system reducing overhead from application switching, task planning, execution, and verification while increasing available exploration time with this human-autonomy teaming platform.
This paper presents and discusses algorithms, hardware, and software architecture developed by the TEAM CoSTAR (Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Robots), competing in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge. Specifically, it presents the techniques utilized within the Tunnel (2019) and Urban (2020) competitions, where CoSTAR achieved 2nd and 1st place, respectively. We also discuss CoSTAR's demonstrations in Martian-analog surface and subsurface (lava tubes) exploration. The paper introduces our autonomy solution, referred to as NeBula (Networked Belief-aware Perceptual Autonomy). NeBula is an uncertainty-aware framework that aims at enabling resilient and modular autonomy solutions by performing reasoning and decision making in the belief space (space of probability distributions over the robot and world states). We discuss various components of the NeBula framework, including: (i) geometric and semantic environment mapping; (ii) a multi-modal positioning system; (iii) traversability analysis and local planning; (iv) global motion planning and exploration behavior; (i) risk-aware mission planning; (vi) networking and decentralized reasoning; and (vii) learning-enabled adaptation. We discuss the performance of NeBula on several robot types (e.g. wheeled, legged, flying), in various environments. We discuss the specific results and lessons learned from fielding this solution in the challenging courses of the DARPA Subterranean Challenge competition.
Redundancy and parallelism make decentralized multi-robot systems appealing solutions for the exploration of extreme environments. However, effective cooperation often requires team-wide connectivity and a carefully designed communication strategy. Several recently proposed decentralized connectivity maintenance approaches exploit elegant algebraic results drawn from spectral graph theory. Yet, these proposals are rarely taken beyond simulations or laboratory implementations. In this work, we present two major contributions: (i) we describe the full-stack implementation---from hardware to software---of a decentralized control law for robust connectivity maintenance; and (ii) we assess, in the field, our setup's ability to correctly exchange all the necessary information required to maintain connectivity in a team of quadcopters.
Efficient networking of many-robot systems is considered one of the grand challenges of robotics. In this article, we address the problem of achieving resilient, dynamic interconnection topologies in multi-robot systems. In scenarios in which the overall network topology is constantly changing, we aim at avoiding the onset of single points of failure, particularly situations in which the failure of a single robot causes the loss of connectivity for the overall network. We propose a method based on the combination of multiple control objectives and we introduce an online distributed optimization strategy that computes the optimal choice of control parameters for each robot. This ensures that the connectivity of the multi-robot system is not only preserved but also made more resilient to failures, as the network topology evolves. We provide simulation results, as well as experiments with real robots to validate theoretical findings and demonstrate the portability to robotic hardware.