Penn Engineering Receives $7.5 Million to Develop Cooperation Principles for Robot Teams

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Media Contact:Jordan Reese | | 215-573-6604March 24, 2008

PHILADELPHIA –- The University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science has received a five-year, $7.5 million grant to draw inspiration from biological organisms, including humans, in order to create principles of cooperation to control teams of next-generation, unmanned, robotic vehicles.

The Penn-led study, consisting of eight universities, will focus on the development of biologically inspired cooperative strategies for large teams of unmanned robots, including aerial and ground robots. Researchers will look to nature and the principles behind ant colonies, cooperative fishing by dolphins and even man’s formation of political coalitions to provide the cooperative principles for robots to work with each other. The study will result in state-of-the-art algorithms for complex, time-critical mission planning and execution for large numbers of heterogeneous robotic vehicles capable of collaborating with humans.

“Our objective is to bring together experts in different disciplines who normally do not interact,” said George Pappas, professor of electrical and systems engineering and deputy dean of the engineering school at Penn. “The unique challenge of this program is finding cooperation principles for heterogeneous robots, where different robots may have uniquely different capabilities. How can aerial and ground robots work together? How can teams of robots work with teams of humans? How do we assign individual tasks to such teams while taking advantage of the unique capabilities of each robot? These are some of the challenging questions we hope to address in this project.”

The research team is an assembly of interdisciplinary researchers from robotics, control systems, artificial intelligence, biology and political economics. The team will look at models of sophisticated cooperation among a variety of biological organisms — including humans — and extract critical insight and solution templates for similarly challenging problems in robotics. As the interaction between biologists and roboticists increases during the course of the project, ideas will ultimately flow in both directions and will impact thinking in both communities.

The grant, awarded by the Office of Naval Research, is a five-year grant under the Defense Department's Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative program. Penn’s research team, led by Pappas, includes Vijay Kumar, Ali Jadbabaie and Dan Koditschek of Penn Engineering's General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Laboratory, or GRASP Laboratory. Cooperating universities include the Georgia Institute of Technology; the University of California, Berkeley; Arizona State University; the University of Washington; Michigan Technological University; Yale University;. and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.