Cooperative navigation in robotic swarms


We study cooperative navigation for robotic swarms in the context of a general event-servicing scenario. In the scenario, one or more events need to be serviced at specific locations by robots with the required skills. We focus on the question of how the swarm can inform its members about events, and guide robots to event locations. We propose a solution based on delay-tolerant wireless communications: by forwarding navigation information between them, robots cooperatively guide each other towards event locations. Such a collaborative approach leverages on the swarm’s intrinsic redundancy, distribution, and mobility. At the same time, the forwarding of navigation messages is the only form of cooperation that is required. This means that the robots are free in terms of their movement and location, and they can be involved in other tasks, unrelated to the navigation of the searching robot. This gives the system a high level of flexibility in terms of application scenarios, and a high degree of robustness with respect to robot failures or unexpected events. We study the algorithm in two different scenarios, both in simulation and on real robots. In the first scenario, a single searching robot needs to find a single target, while all other robots are involved in tasks of their own. In the second scenario, we study collective navigation: all robots of the swarm navigate back and forth between two targets, which is a typical scenario in swarm robotics. We show that in this case, the proposed algorithm gives rise to synergies in robot navigation, and it lets the swarm self-organize into a robust dynamic structure. The emergence of this structure improves navigation efficiency and lets the swarm find shortest paths.

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  1. 1.

    Another reference could be the performance of a randomly moving robot. In many of the experiments this is also shown, since this corresponds to the case where the servicing robot S is the only robot in the swarm.

  2. 2.

    Given the random locations of searcher and target robots in the experiments, we show the delay to navigate the expected length of the shortest path.


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The research presented in this paper was partially supported by the European Commission via the Future and Emerging Technologies projects SWARMANOID (grant IST-022888), and ASCENS (grant IST-257414), and by the European Research Council via the ERC Advance Grant “E-SWARM: Engineering Swarm Intelligence Systems” (grant 246939).

The work was also supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation through the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Robotics.

Marco Dorigo and Rehan O’Grady acknowledge support from the Belgian F.R.S.-FNRS, of which they are a research director and a postdoctoral researcher, respectively.

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Correspondence to Gianni A. Di Caro.

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Guest editor: Roderich Groß.

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Ducatelle, F., Di Caro, G.A., Förster, A. et al. Cooperative navigation in robotic swarms. Swarm Intell 8, 1–33 (2014).

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  • Swarm robotics
  • Cooperative navigation
  • Self-organization