Infoscience

Conference paper

Communication in a Swarm of Miniature Robots: The e-Puck as an Educational Tool for Swarm Robotics

Swarm intelligence, and swarm robotics in particular, are reaching a point where leveraging the potential of communication within an artificial systempromises to uncover newand varied directions for interesting research without compromising the key properties of swarmintelligent systems such as self-organization, scalability, and robustness. However, the physical constraints of using radios in a robotic swarm are hardly obvious, and the intuitive models often used for describing such systems do not always capture them with adequate accuracy. In order to demonstrate this effectively in the classroom, certain tools can be used, including simulation and real robots. Most instructors currently focus on simulation, as it requires significantly less investment of time, money, and maintenance—but to really understand the differences between simulation and reality, it is also necessary to work with the real platforms from time to time. To our knowledge, our coursemay be the only one in the world where individual students are consistently afforded the opportunity to work with a networked multi-robot system on a tabletop. The e-Puck,1 a low-cost small-scale mobile robotic platform designed for educational use, allows us bringing real robotic hardware into the classroom in numbers sufficient to demonstrate and teach swarm-robotic concepts.We present here a custom module for local radio communication as a stackable extension board for the e-Puck, enabling information exchange between robots and also with any other IEEE 802.15.4-compatible devices. Transmission power can be modified in software to yield effective communication ranges as small as fifteen centimeters. This intentionally small range allows us to demonstrate interesting collective behavior based on local information and control in a limited amount of physical space, where ordinary radios would typically result in a completely connected network. Here we show the use of this module facilitating a collective decision among a group of 10 robots.

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