Unification of space and underwater workspaces through a multi-agent systems approach.

Project Name: DISCOWER-Distributed Control in Weightless Environments

Principal/ Co-Principal Investigators: Prof. Dimos Dimarogonas, Prof. Christer Fuglesang, Associate prof. Jana Tumova, Associate prof. Ivan Stenius

Industrial/ Public-sector Partners: Saab AB, OHB Sweden, FMV

Space and subsea environments are one of the most challenging among the emerging fields of autonomous systems.

One of the key challenges encompassing both environments is the unconventional weight conditions that need to be tackled when dealing with robot operations’ design. The lack of gravity in space and buoyancy underwater leads to significant challenges when it comes to traditional and otherwise well-studied robotics’ features, such as navigation, manipulation, control, or safe human-robot interaction.

The problematic accessibility of these environments reduces testing opportunities for autonomous systems which enforces the need for maximizing the environmental cross-compatibility of planning and control algorithms. For all these reasons, the research on multi-robot systems in space and underwater environments is largely unexplored.

This project aims at filling the gap in the state-of-the-art on trans-environmental multi-robot control and planning.

Long Term Impact

The DISCOWER project will provide Sweden with the opportunity to take on a leading role in multi-agent robotics in weightless and extremely challenging environments. Through it, WASP will be the first with developments and cutting-edge research on the intersection of space and underwater robotics, the two-emerging state-of-the-art fields in autonomous systems.

DISCOWER is a step forward towards efficient and resilient exploration missions, yielding a strong impact in the sustainable discovery of both space and underwater systems and beyond.

Various notions of safety and risk have been introduced for multi-agent systems. However, most approaches consider traditional environments, making it hard to extensively test systems before deployment into complex space and underwater environments.

The current project is expanding autonomous systems capabilities to these unconventional environments. This will lead to significant contributions in the relevant fields.

In view of the experiences within space and subsea environments, this project aims at a bi-directional technology transfer, where agents operating in both environments benefit from one another’s technological breakthroughs.

The chosen approach may lead to advancing distributed and safe control methods for multi-agent systems, tailored for safety-critical applications, and filling the research gap on control and planning for weightless environments.

This project involves Dimos Dimarogonas, who is a recipient of two EU projects and one SSF project. Jana Tumova is involved in the Vinnova industrial center TECoSA. Ivan Stenius, leads SMaRC, which is a research project funded by SSF. Christer Fuglesang has an ongoing collaboration with Saab.

The industrial partners will provide access to the Smart Mobility Lab (SML), Swedish Maritime Robotics Center (SMaRC), and the Space Technology Lab from KTH Space Center.

Scientific Presentation

Multi-agent robotic systems are the best candidates for the support of future space and underwater missions, due to their inherent resilience to individual agent failures, and application to a wider range of tasks by using heterogeneous elements.

Underwater and space environments share a common effect over the systems navigating through them: perceived weightlessness, where bodies can float and, in some conditions, drift indefinitely.

Weightless environments pose new control challenges, considering the complexity of safety during execution, as well as redundancy for an increased mission success rate. Automatic control methods designed for safety-critical multi-agent systems in weightless environments are, therefore, a necessity.

The multi-agent approach in this project is expected to promote a symbiosis between astronauts/divers and robotic assistants in operations involving formations, collaborative load transportation, as well as safe human-robot interaction. DISCOWER is a step forward towards efficient and resilient exploration missions, yielding a strong impact in the sustainable discovery of both space and underwater systems and beyond.

To develop a novel control and planning multi-agent approach that considers the shared weightless characteristics of space and underwater environments. The results are expected to pave the way for large-scale autonomous subsea factories and orbital infrastructures, operating round-the-clock and year-round in the most challenging environments.

The project aims at addressing the following research pillars:

  • Safety in Weightless Environments
    To promote provably safe operation via a combination of control and task-planning approaches and formal methods.
  • Robustness in Weightless Environments
    To increase resiliency for long-term operations through compliant control and task planning methods that can recover from unexpected failures.
  • Increased autonomy in Weightless Environments
    To increase the autonomous capabilities of each individual agent and group of agents by enduring failures of a single robot, while promoting the resilience of the overall group.

Each of the PIs provides a unique and strong insight into the four pillars of DISCOWER (control, planning, space, subsea), ensuring a coordinated and solid progression through the planned research goals.

They are currently involved in several projects on national and EU level relevant to the DISCOWER theme:

Dimarogonas coordinates two EU projects (RECONFIG, Co4Robots) on heterogeneous multi-robot planning and control, as well as one SSF project on Human Robot Interaction.

Fuglesang is involved in a recent project on large-scale spacecraft systems.

Tumova supervises a WASP Industrial Ph.D. project with Scania (SitLearn).

Stenius leads the marine robotics projects SubSea Drones in SeaWeed farms (funded by Vinnova), and FoilCart-II (funded by the Swedish Transport Administration). He is also project manager for the KTH-Värmdö marine science field station project.

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