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This paper addresses the problem of segregation
of groups of heterogeneous units in robot swarms. We propose
a controller that can drive robots in a way that each group
composed of robots of a similar type will form clusters while
maintaining segregation from other groups. The approach is
based on abstractions created to represent each group of
robots and an artificial potential function used to segregate the
groups. Different from previous works on swarm segregation,
we can mathematically guarantee that by using our approach
the system will always converge to a state where multiple
dissimilar groups are segregated. Moreover, in some situations,
our controller does not require all robots to have information
about all the other robots in the system. We demonstrate the
effectiveness of our controller with simulations with different
types of robots and varying number of robots and groups.

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Sept 28 - Oct 2, 2015. Hamburg, Germany

using Abstractions

Edson B. F. Filho1 and Luciano C. A. Pimenta1

Abstract— This paper addresses the problem of segregation one aerial robot work together and Pimenta [14] proposed

of groups of heterogeneous units in robot swarms. We propose the collaboration of robots with heterogeneous sensing ca-

a controller that can drive robots in a way that each group pabilities.

composed of robots of a similar type will form clusters while

maintaining segregation from other groups. The approach is In the case of heterogeneous swarms an important ability

based on abstractions created to represent each group of of the system which might be useful in several applications is

robots and an artificial potential function used to segregate the the capacity of autonomous segregation. This is the ability of

groups. Different from previous works on swarm segregation, forming groups, each one composed solely of robots of the

we can mathematically guarantee that by using our approach same kind. In order to provide this capacity to the system

the system will always converge to a state where multiple

dissimilar groups are segregated. Moreover, in some situations, one must design individual control laws that make robots

our controller does not require all robots to have information of the same group form clusters while maintaining distance

about all the other robots in the system. We demonstrate the from other groups.

effectiveness of our controller with simulations with different Few works directly tackle the segregation problem. Studies

types of robots and varying number of robots and groups. relevant in the solution of the segregation problems are [15],

[16], [17] and [18].

I. INTRODUCTION

Groß [15] developed a centralized algorithm that can

Swarms of robots are systems composed of a number of segregate robots based on the Brazilian nut effect, in which

autonomous agents that need to interact and cooperate to nuts are segregated based on its granulometry. This algorithm

achieve a common goal [1]. These systems are characterized is then implemented [17] in e-puck robots.

by decentralized control, limited communication between Kumar et al. [16] used an artificial potential function based

robots, use of local information, and emergence of global in the differential adhesion model for biological cells. They

behavior [2]. The first researcher to reproduce computa- showed a proof of asymptotic convergence to segregation and

tionally the behavior of animal swarms was Reynolds [3], stability analysis of a robotic swarm with only two groups.

the goal was the automation of those behaviors in graphics Kumar’s work [16] was then extended in [18] with a

computation. Since then, different works have addressed the similar potential function that is capable of segregating more

problem of controlling swarms of robots [4], [5], [6], [7]. than two groups. Santos’s [18] and Kumar’s [16] controllers

There are multiple advantages inherent to swarms such as are distributed, although in both cases each robot needs

fault tolerance due to the redundancy in its construction. information from every other robot in the system during all

Some recent works are now focusing on applications of the time.

swarms of robots, such as perimeter surveillance [8], spill This paper presents a controller that differs from previous

detection [9], interactions with humans [10], [11] among works [16], [18]. The controller is based on the use of

others [12], [13]. abstractions [4] to represent each group of robots and an

Swarms of heterogeneous robots are those composed of artificial potential function [19] to create the artificial force

different types of robots, either in its design or in its role that segregate the groups represented by the abstractions.

in the task to be performed. For example, one can design Our controller has two clear advantages. The first one is

a system of heterogeneous robots to be used in perimeter with respect to the convergence to segregation with multiple

surveillance where some robots have cameras and are re- groups. In [16], it is shown the convergence to segregation

sponsible ford the surveillance while some other robots are with only two groups of heterogeneous robots and in [18]

designed to warn humans if there is a breach in the perimeter. it is only shown stability but not convergence for multiple

Some works address the use of heterogeneous robots groups. In this work we show convergence to segregation

in different contexts. For example, Dorigo [2] proposed a with multiple groups of heterogeneous robots. The second

scheme in which two different types of ground robots and advantage is that our controller might not require that each

robot receive information from all the other robots in the

*This work has been supported by the Brazilian agency CAPES. This system, during all the time. This property appears particularly

work has also been supported by the Brazilian agencies CNPq and

FAPEMIG. when there is a great number of groups in the system, in that

1 Edson Bernardes Ferreira Filho and Luciano Cunha de Araújo Pi- case, each robot will only need information from the robots

menta are with Graduate Program in Electrical Engineering - Federal of its own group and from groups called neighbors most of

University of Minas Gerais - Av. Antônio Carlos 6627, 31270-901, Belo

Horizonte, MG, Brazil. emails: edsonbffilho@ufmg.br, the time.

lucpim@cpdee.ufmg.br This paper is organized in five sections. Section II presents

the segregation problem formulation. Section III is com-

posed of four parts that leads to the proposed controller and

its convergence proof. In section IV, a simulation is shown

and the results are discussed. Section V concludes this paper

with final observations and future work perspective.

Consider N holonomic robots moving freely in a two

dimensional Euclidean space, as in the other works [18] and

[19]. The dynamics of each robot is given by the double

integrator

q˙i = vi , v˙i = ui i = 1, 2, ...N, (1) Fig. 1. N = 16 point robots unevenly distributed into M = 3 groups.

Robots of the same type have the same color and are inside the same

where the position vector of each robot is given by qi = abstraction. Asterisks represent abstractions center (µj ).

[xi , yi ]T , the velocity vector by vi = [ẋi , y˙i ]T and the control

input by ui = [uxi , uyi ]T . Each robot is assigned to a group

Nj , j ∈ M = {1, 2, ...M } and M is the number of groups. mean and covariance of the positions of all robots in a group.

Therefore, the system is composed of N robots divided into The mean of each group is given by

the groups N1 + N2 + ... + NM . Robots of the same group x n

are considered to be robots of the same type. µ 1X

µj = jy = qi , (3)

In this paper, we are interested in the segregation problem µj n i=1

[16], [18]. This is the problem of designing a control law that

drives the system to a state in which robots of the same type where n is the number of robots in the group associated with

or group form clusters separated from the robots of other the abstraction φj . In the two dimensional Euclidean space,

types. When this state is reached, the system is said to be physically, the abstraction is a circle with center given by

segregated. In this work we will assume that each group of (3) and “size” given by

robots of the same type is represented by an abstraction [4], n n

1X 1X 2

which is invariant to robots permutations and with dimension σj = ((xi − µxj )2 + (yi − µyj )2 ) = kqi − µj k .

independent of the number of robots. More specifically, each n i=1 n i=1

abstraction φj , j ∈ 1, ..., M will be defined by a circle with (4)

√

mean µj and radius Rj . Now, we can formally state our The radius of the abstraction circle is Rj = nσj . As

version of the segregation problem to be solved: shown in [20] it is easy to see that by definition, the

Problem Statement 1: Given N robots with dynamics robots associated with φj remainsPn inside the2 circle with

2

given by (1) of M types, where N ≥ M , design individual Rj . Note that kqi − µj k ≤ i=1 kqi − µj k = nσj ⇒

√

control laws ui that guarantee that each robot i remains in the kqi − µj k ≤ nσj . It is important to mention that if

interior of the abstraction φj that represents the robots of the n = 1, then the circle is degenerated to a point given by the

same type of robot i and at the same time each abstraction position vector qi . Formally, the abstraction φj is a surjective

φj converges to a state where: submersion φj = R2n → R3 mapping from the original

\ configuration space to a lower dimensional space:

φj = ∅. (2)

y T

φj (q̂j ) = µxj µj σj ,

j={1,...,M } (5)

Figure 1 shows a system segregated according to our defini-

in which q̂j is a vector composed of the position of all the

tion.

robots of a given group: q̂j = [x1 , y1 , x2 , y2 , ..., xn , yn ]T .

III. METHODOLOGY In order to design our individual controllers it is important

to relate the motion of the abstraction with the motion of the

We propose a strategy to guarantee the segregative behav- robots. Thus, differentiating (5)

ior of the system. This strategy consists mainly in coupling

two ideas: the use of abstractions to represent each group φ˙j = dφj q̂˙j . (6)

and an artificial potential function to segregate those groups.

Then we encapsulate both ideas into a control law which is By using (3), (4) and (5) we can obtain dφj :

used by each robot. T

1 0 2(x1 − µxj )

y

0 1 2(y1 − µj )

A. Abstractions

1

dφj = ... ... ..

. (7)

The abstraction considered in this work is the same one n .

x

1 0 2(xn − µj )

defined in [4], in the context of motion planning for large

multi-robot systems. Each abstraction is defined using the 0 1 2(yn − µyj )

402

(a) (b)

1000 0.015 where is a parameter larger than zero to guarantee that

0.01 kzkσ is differentiable everywhere. For the sake of simplicity,

800

0.005

in this work we use = 1.

600 Now, considering the means of the abstractions as the high

ψα

γα

0

400

level agents to be guided, the collective potential function

−0.005

defined in [19] is given by:

200

−0.01

1 XX

0 −0.015

V (µ) = ψα (kµj − µi kσ ), (14)

0 5 10 15 0 5 10 15 2 i

||µ − µ ||

j i σ

||µ − µ ||

j i σ j6=i

(a) Example of artificial potential function interaction between two agents ψα (z) = γα (s)ds, (15)

versus the distance between them. (b) Gradient based force between two dα

agents versus the distance between them.

c(z − dα )

γα = ρh (z/rα ) p , (16)

1 + (z − dα )2

Since we have agents with double integrator dynamics, we

need a relation between the abstraction motion and the robots and function ρh (z) is a bump function, that smoothly varies

acceleration. By differentiating (4) twice we have from 1 to 0:

T

x1 − µxj

h 1, i z ∈ [0, h)

y1 − µyj 1

ρh (z) = 2 1 + cos(π( z−h1−h )) z ∈ [h, 1] (17)

x2 − µxj

0, otherwise.

2 y

σ̈j = y2 − µj q̂¨j + 2σj0 , (8)

n . Figures 2(a) and 2(b) show examples of functions ψα and

..

γα respectively. Parameter c is a gain of the function, and

xn − µx parameter h acts in the smoothness of the corresponding

j

yn − µyj gradient. The parameters rα and dα are the finite cut-off

where, rα = krkσ and the global minimum of ψα , dα = kdkσ ,

n respectively (see Figure 2).

1X

σj0 = (ẋi − µ̇xj )2 + (y˙i − µ̇yj )2 . (9) By using the artificial potential function previously shown,

n i=1

we can define artificial forces composed of two terms:

Now, we can write: X X

Fi = γα (kµij kσ )nij + ρh (kµij kσ /rα )(µ̇j − µ̇i ),

0 j∈Bi j∈Bi

φ̈j = dφj q̂¨j + 0 . (10) (18)

2σj0 where nij is a vector pointing in the direction µj − µi :

In section III-C we are going to propose a control law for (µj − µi )

each robot of the group so that the corresponding abstraction nij = q , (19)

2

dynamics in (10) can be simplified to: (1 + kµij k )

i.e. these are the other groups so that the distance kµi − µj k

where wj is a virtual input for the abstraction which will be

is less than r, which is the parameter that defines the finite

given by:

µ T cut-off of the potential function.

wj = kµ Uj Ujσ ,

(12) First term of (18) is a gradient term based on (14), and the

where Ujµ is an artificial force that guides the motion of the second term acts as a velocity damping, where µ̇i and µ̇j are

group mean, Ujσ determines the evolution of the abstraction velocities of the centers of abstractions i and j, respectively.

size and kµ is a positive gain. Our choice of Ujµ and Ujσ In the case where the parameters r and d are such that

will determine the success of our strategy. d < r < 2d, the important Lemma, which is proved in [19],

holds:

B. Potential function Lemma 1: (Lemma 3 in [19]) Every local minima of V (µ)

This section describes an artificial potential function with is an α−lattice and vice-versa.

a finite cutoff inspired by the one first presented in [19] with An α−lattice is a formation such that the following set of

the aim of generating a proper artificial force Ujµ . algebraic constraints hold:

Before showing the potential function we need to define

the σ-norm of a vector. This is a map Rm → R≥0 given by kµj − µi k = d, ∀j ∈ Bi . (20)

[19]:

1

q

2

This Lemma will be useful in the proof of convergence of

kzkσ = [ 1 + kzk − 1], (13) the proposed controller in the next section.

403

C. Control law in which δ is a positive small value to guarantee (25).

We can now show the individual control laws: Each abstraction can have a different number of robots

n. Parameters kµ , k1 , k2 and δ are fixed and equal to all

0

abstractions.

ui = dφTj (dφj dφTj )−1 − 0 + wj , (21)

2σj0

Individual control law (28) is dependent on the number of

robots in the abstraction, the state of the robot itself (qj , q˙j ),

where φj is the abstraction of robot i and wj has to the state of the abstraction φj and the state of the neighbor

be designed to control the state of the abstraction. Note abstractions.

(2σ )

that det(dφj dφTj ) = n3j , then as long as σj 6= 0, the

determinant is different from zero which means that the

inverse always exist. From (10) by applying this control law D. Controller analysis

in every robot, each abstraction will move according to wj , In this section we formally analyze the proposed controller

as follows: to demonstrate its effectiveness to solve the problem of

kµ Ujµ

φ̈j = wj = . (22) segregation.

Ujσ

Theorem 1: Applying individual control law (28) in the

We design wj by using two components, Ujµ and Ujσ . system with M groups and N robots with dynamics given

Component Ujµ guides the motion of the mean of abstraction by (1), and assuming we do not have a situation where all

j and it is defined by the artificial forces in (18): robots of the same group are placed at the same position

at the same time and the system does not start at a local

Ujµ = Fj . (23)

maximum or saddle point of function V (µ) in (14), the

This choice of artificial force will guide the system to form system will converge to segregation i.e, the problem defined

an α−lattice with parameter d. in the Problem Statement 1 will be solved.

We design component Ujσ in order to reach the desired size Proof: Our method was constructed to guarantee the

for each abstraction. To guarantee that the segregation will be solution of the problem, which means that our proof is

obtained according to our definition in (2), we have to specify straight forward. The analysis is conducted in two parts.

the proper desired size of each abstraction. This desired size First, we have to prove that all robots in an abstraction will

has to be specified so that the distance between the means of stay inside it and the abstraction state will converge to the

two abstractions will be greater than the sum of the radius desired size. The second part is to show that the abstractions

of both abstractions when the system reaches convergence, a will end separated apart without intersections.

suficient condition is that, the radius Rj of each abstraction Given the assumption that the robots are not at the same

is less than half the distance d in the α−lattice. We know position at the same time, the determinant of dφj dφTj is

√

that the radius of each abstraction is Rj = nσj [20], and different from zero and the inverse in (21) always exist, then

we now impose that Rj < (d/2), to guarantee segregation the motion of the abstraction will be given by (22). From

as t → ∞. Thus, we define the parameters so that: (26) it should be clear that if k1 , k2 are properly designed the

q d dynamics given by σ¨j = Ujσ will be such that σj converges to

nσjdes < , (24) σjdes exponentially [21]. Since the radius is defined according

2 √

or to Rj = nσj , we know from section III-A that the robots

(d2 ) of φj will remain inside the abstraction during all the time.

σjdes < , (25)

4n For the second part of the proof, we consider the proof

where σjdes is the desired value for σj . of Theorem 1 in [19]. In this theorem, LaSalle’s invariance

Now, we propose the following dynamics for Ujσ : principle is used to show that a set of agents with double

integrator dynamics subject to the artificial potential force in

Ujσ = σ̈jdes + k1 (σ̇jdes − σ˙j ) + k2 (σjdes − σj ), (26) (18) (see Algorithm 1 in [19]) asymptotically converges to a

where k1 and k2 are properly designed positive gains, and configuration which is an equilibrium of function V . Since

we assume that the system does not start at a local maximum

n

2X i or at a saddle point of V and these are unstable equilibria

σ̇j = (x − µxj )ẋij + (yji − µyj )ẏji . (27)

n i=1 j we can guarantee that the system asymptotically converges

to a local minimum of V . By using Lemma 1 (see III-B) we

We can set σjdes as a constant, σ̈jdes and σ̇jdes to zero, so can conclude that the system asymptotically converges to an

that the abstraction size will have zero velocity and zero α−lattice formation.

acceleration when t → ∞. Thus, each individual robot will As the abstractions reach the desired size, with all the

be guided by the control law composed of (21), (23), (25) robots of the abstraction inside, together with the fact that

and (26), as follows: the other parameters (see (25)) were specified to guarantee

(qi − µj ) d2 absence of intersections among abstractions when forming

ui = kµ Ujµ + [2σj0 − k1 σ˙j + k2 ( − δ − σj )], the α−lattice, then the problem of segregation as defined in

σj 4n

(28) the Problem Statement 1 will be solved as t → ∞.

404

Fig. 3. Simulations in MATLAB, each group has n = 10 robots. From top to bottom: (a) M = 5 groups. (b) M = 10 groups. (c) M = 20 groups.

From left to right, 4 snapshots of initial to final iterations. Last snapshot of each simulation also highlight the abstraction size and the formation of the

α−lattices.

Fig. 4. Snapshots of simulation in ROS/Stage with 20 robots distributed unevenly in 4 groups. Each group is represented by a different color. From left

to right we have the initial simulation step, a intermediary step and the final step.

IV. NUMERICAL EXPERIMENTS parameters, such as the desired distance between groups and

We tested the proposed controller in two different plat- the normal distribution of robots were set in a way that we

forms ROS/Stage and MATLAB. In ROS/Stage we used can better visually evaluate our approach and are dependent

differential drive robots and in MATLAB we used a model of on the number of groups and robots. The simulations were

holonomic robots. In this section we present one simulation stopped as soon as segregation was reached according to our

run in ROS/Stage and three runs in MATLAB. In addition, definition in (2). Simulations with 5, 10 and 20 groups of

we discuss the results and the advantages and limitations of robots are shown in Figure 3.

the method. A video of all four simulations is found on the In order to better depict the “local” property of our

web: http://youtu.be/mFxI3YQrhSk. controller in comparison to the works in [16] and [18], Figure

5 shows the average number of groups in neighborhood

A. Simulations Bi versus the iterations, that is, the average amount of

In all simulations we assume that all robots start with information needed for robots from initial time to the time

zero velocity and the robots were positioned according to a segregation was reached.

normal distribution. The simulations were performed in two In ROS/Stage we performed simulations with a different

environments. In MATLAB, we performed simulations to purpose. Figure 4 shows an example of this simulations.

test the feasibility of our approach with a varying number of We aim to show the applicability of our controller with

robots and groups. In ROS/Stage we are interested in analyze differential drive robots in unbalanced groups. Groups are

our controller in a more realistic simulation environment. composed of 20 robots divided in 9, 5, 3 and 3 robots

We performed extensive simulation in MATLAB, using a per group. We made use of the feedback linearization [6]

holonomic robot model. Potential function parameters were approach in order to use the designed controller with the

assumed: r = 1.5d, h = 0.1, c = 50, δ = 0.01. Gains differential drive robot. The simulation was stopped when,

kµ , k1 and k2 were set to 10, 5, 50 respectively. Other visually, the robots were segregated.

405

16

5 groups

10 groups

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integrated with our controller. Also, we will focus on strate- Berlin Heidelberg, 2003, pp. 169-182.

gies to segregate robots using only local information in any [21] J. Slotine and W. Li, Applied nonlinear control. Vol. 60. NJ: Prentice-

situation. Hall, 1991.

406

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