A virtual force interaction scheme for multi-robot environment monitoring
The autonomous multi-robot system is an emerging technology that has a wide range of potential applications, such as environmental monitoring, exploration of unknown area, battlefield surveillance, and search and rescue. One major challenge in such applications is how to deploy each robotic agent autonomously in a distributed manner. In this paper, we proposed a distributed coverage control strategy named multi-stage virtual force interaction scheme (VFIS), where the agents’ deployment process is split into stages and each agent iteratively seeks its next position according to the interaction among agents and the interaction between agents and the perceived environment. The interactions are realized via virtual repulsive forces and virtual vortex forces, where the latter are newly proposed to enhance the exploration capability of agents. We also designed a group of benchmark testing problems for the mission of monitoring coverage of complex environments with unknown obstacles. Extensive simulation experiments were conducted based on the defined benchmark configurations and the results showed a favourable performance of the invented strategy. In addition, practical experiments were carried out using a group of mobile robots, which validated the effectiveness of the proposed method.