The SMAVNET project aims at developing swarms of flying robots that can be deployed in disaster areas to rapidly create communication networks for rescuers. Flying robots are interesting for such applications because they are fast, can easily overcome difficult terrain, and benefit from line-of-sight communication.
From a software perspective, controllers allow flying robots to work together. For swarming, robots react to wireless communication with neighboring robots or rescuers (communication-based behaviors). Using communication as a sensor is interesting because most flying robots are generally equipped with off-the-shelf radio modules that are low-cost, light-weight and relatively long-range. Furthermore, this strategy alleviates the need for position which is required for all existing aerial swarm algorithms and typically requires using sensors that depend on the environment (GPS, cameras) or are expensive and heavy (lasers, radars).
Flying Robots were specifically designed for safe, inexpensive and fast prototyping of aerial swarm experiments.
They are light weight (420 g, 80 cm wingspan) and built out of Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) with an electric motor mounted at the back and two control surfaces serving as elevons (combined ailerons and elevator). The robots runs on a LiPo battery and have an autonomy of 30 min. They are equipped with an autopilot for the control of altitude, airspeed and turn rate. Embedded in the autopilot is a micro-controller that runs a minimalist control strategy based on input from only 3 sensors: one gyroscope and two pressure sensors.
Swarm controllers are implemented on a Toradex Colibri PXA270 CPU board running Linux, connected to an off-the-shelf USB WiFi dongle. The output of these controllers, namely a desired turn rate, speed or altitude, is sent as control command to the autopilot.
In order to log flight trajectories, the robot is further equipped with a u-blox LEA-5H GPS module and a ZigBee (XBee PRO) transmitter.