Researchers at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) in Russia have recently introduced a new strategy to enhance interactions between humans and robotic swarms, called SwarmTouch. This strategy, presented in a paper pre-published on arXiv, allows a human operator to communicate with a swarm of nano-quadrotor drones and guide their formation, while receiving tactile feedback in the form of vibrations.
“We are working in the field of swarm of drones and my previous research in the field of haptics was very helpful in introducing a new frontier of tactile human-swarm interactions,” Dzmitry Tsetserukou, Professor at Skoltech and head of Intelligent Space Robotics laboratory, told TechXplore. “During our experiments with the swarm, however, we understood that current interfaces are too unfriendly and difficult to operate.”
While conducting research investigating strategies for human-swarm interaction, Tsetserukou and his colleagues realised that there are currently no available interfaces that allow human operators to easily deploy a swarm of robots and control its movements in real time. At the moment, most swarms simply follow predefined trajectories, which have been set out by researchers before the robots start operating.
The human-swarm interaction strategy proposed by the researchers, on the other hand, allows a human user to guide the movements of a swarm of nano-quadrotor robots directly. It does this by considering the velocity of the user’s hand and changing the swarm’s formation shape or dynamics accordingly, using simulated impedance interlinks between the robots to produce behaviors that resemble those of swarms occurring in nature.
The system devised by the researchers includes a wearable tactile display that delivers patterns of vibration onto a user’s fingers in order to inform him/her of current swarm dynamics (i.e., if the swarm is expanding or shrinking). These vibration patterns allow human users to change the swarm dynamics so that the swarm can avoid obstacles simply by moving their hands at different speeds or in different directions.
The system detects the position of the user’s hand using a highly precise motion capturing system called Vicon Vantage V5. In addition, the human operator and individual robots in the swarm are connected through impedance interlinks.
“These links behave like springs-dampers,” Tsetserukou explained. “They prevent drones from flying close to the operator and to each other and from starting or stopping abruptly. Our strategy considerably improves the safety of human-swarm interactions and makes the behaviors of the swarm similar to those of real biological systems (e.g. bee swarms).”