Infoscience

Thesis

Bio-inspired and probabilistic algorithms for distributed odor source localization using mobile robots

We compare six different algorithms for localizing odor sources with mobile robots. Three algorithms are bio-inspired and mimic the behavior of insects when exposed to airborne pheromones. Two algorithms are based on probability and information theory, and infer the source location by probabilistically merging concentration measurements at different positions in the environment. The last algorithm is a multi-robot algorithm based on a crosswind line formation. The algorithms are mainly compared with respect to their distance overhead – a metric directly related to the speed of an algorithm – and their success rate. The thesis also reports on the influence of various environmental and algorithmic parameters, and compares the algorithms' requirements regarding sensors, self-localization, maps, and other information. Systematic experiments under laminar flow conditions were carried out with real robots in an 18m long wind tunnel. The robots were thereby equipped with an ethanol sensor and a wind direction sensor, and could – if the algorithm required it – access their current position. Overall, more than 500 experimental runs with teams of up to 5 robots were carried out in this wind tunnel. Similar experiments were also carried out in simulation. Over 5000 runs were carried out in a realistically calibrated multi-robot simulator. Odor was thereby simulated as set of filaments that are transported by advection, an approach that generates the intermittence and stochasticity of real plumes. Additional, more than 10000 runs were carried out using body-less simulators under various plume models. Simulation runs were mostly used to quantify the influence of various parameters on the performance of the algorithms. Finally, the thesis also provides theoretical insights into the bio-inspired algorithms, and a general theoretical model for probabilistic odor source localization. For the latter, a number of potential real-world scenarios are discussed on the example of a simplified train station environment. None of the algorithms is strictly superior to all other algorithms. While the probabilistic algorithms offer more flexibility and a slightly better performance, the bio-inspired algorithms are much less CPU and memory intensive, and could therefore be deployed on extremely small and limited robotic platforms. Using multiple robots (with or without collaboration) for odor source localization was found to improve the performance under certain conditions only. The crosswind formation algorithm with 3 robots yielded excellent results, but the multi-robot experiments with the bio-inspired algorithms were hardly better than their single-robot counterparts. The thesis provides reasons for this, and discusses alternatives.

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