Swarm algorithm development for automated warehouse solutions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Aerospace Engineering

Abstract

There has been plenty of research about swarm robotics that shows how useful swarm algorithms can solve complex problems using simple rules, decentralised control and a group of robots. However, there has been a lack of research into transitioning swarming systems out of the laboratory. Many possible real-world application areas have been suggested such as search and rescue [1], construction [2] or space exploration [3]. Closing the reality gap will require novel implementation methods including human-swarm interaction and consideration of how users think of swarms.

This project aims to remove the need for complex pre-existing infrastructure or programming in warehouses with automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). Without these expensive and complicated features, an AS/RS could be implemented in areas where it is currently unavailable such as SMEs, charitable donations storage or high street shops. These are typically limited in space and have large fluctuations in demand making the stock difficult to manipulate and organise efficiently. They also have a limited workforce available for stock sorting which means their systems can be inefficient, slow and inaccurate. Swarm robotics can: scale up and down to different spaces; adapt to changing tasks; and be robust against single agent failures. The swarm can do this without any specific pre-programming or interference from human helpers during the task. A swarm warehouse is also a potentially cheaper solution than a classic AS/RS because the individual agents are less complex in both programming and technology (as long as it is balanced with the hardware cost of having multiple robots). With these advantages, a swarm AS/RS has the potential to perform similar tasks to the ones that are currently implemented to improve efficiency in automated warehouses but need less dedicated control and infrastructure. This is expected to increase the application areas for the technology where the workforce is limited but there is a large difference in stock room types, tasks and sizes.

The work for this project will mainly be focused on developing and designing algorithms for a swarm warehouse AS/RS. This will be informed by interviews with potential users of the technology which will include an investigation into public opinion of swarms in the workplace. The final part of the project will be physical testing of the swarming algorithms, using the Toshiba swarm test-bed. A successful algorithm will do the same or better performance than a centralised system with global information at the storage and retrieval tasks described.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S513763/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2023
2108858 Studentship EP/S513763/1 10/09/2018 09/12/2022 Lucy Emma Milner