Researchers say the biobots can be deployed in collapsed buildings or other dangerous and hard to reach places, where they can give rescuers or other workers an advance map of the space.
“We focused on how to map areas where you have little or no precise information on where each biobot is, such as a collapsed building where you can’t use GPS technology,” says senior author Dr. Edgar Lobaton, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State.
Each biobot moves randomly through a space until they find a wall or unbroken surface, at which point they are commanded to move along the wall, a process dubbed "wall following." When they come near another biobot or the end of their wall, they begin the process again.
“One characteristic of biobots is that their movement can be somewhat random,” Lobaton says. “We’re exploiting that random movement to work in our favor.”
The software then takes the bots' sensor data and translates it into a rough map of the environment.
“This would give first responders a good idea of the layout in a previously unmapped area,” Lobaton says.
The biobots can also be used to determine the location of radioactive or chemical threats as long as they're equipped with the relevant sensors.
So far the software has been tested using computer simulations and is currently being tested with robots. Researchers plan to work with NC State researcher Dr. Alper Bozkurt to test the program with biobots.
The paper "Topological Mapping of Unknown Environments using an Unlocalized Robotic Swarm" will be presented at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems being held Nov. 3-8 in Tokyo, Japan.