Robotic technology is advancing to the point where it will soon be feasible to deploy massive populations, or swarms, of low-cost autonomous robots to collectively perform tasks over large domains and time scales. Many of these tasks will require the robots to allocate themselves around the boundaries of regions or features of interest and achieve target objectives that derive from their resulting spatial configurations, such as forming a connected communication network or acquiring sensor data around the entire boundary. We refer to this spatial allocation problem as boundary coverage. Possible swarm tasks that will involve boundary coverage include cooperative load manipulation for applications in construction, manufacturing, and disaster response.
In this work, I address the challenges of controlling a swarm of resource-constrained robots to achieve boundary coverage, which I refer to as the problem of stochastic boundary coverage. I first examined an instance of this behavior in the biological phenomenon of group food retrieval by desert ants, and developed a hybrid dynamical system model of this process from experimental data. Subsequently, with the aid of collaborators, I used a continuum abstraction of swarm population dynamics, adapted from a modeling framework used in chemical kinetics, to derive stochastic robot control policies that drive a swarm to target steady-state allocations around multiple boundaries in a way that is robust to environmental variations.
Next, I determined the statistical properties of the random graph that is formed by a group of robots, each with the same capabilities, that have attached to a boundary at random locations. I also computed the probability density functions (pdfs) of the robot positions and inter-robot distances for this case.
I then extended this analysis to cases in which the robots have heterogeneous communication/sensing radii and attach to a boundary according to non-uniform, non-identical pdfs. I proved that these more general coverage strategies generate random graphs whose probability of connectivity is Sharp-P Hard to compute. Finally, I investigated possible approaches to validating our boundary coverage strategies in multi-robot simulations with realistic Wi-fi communication.