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Distributed Autonomy and Formation Control of a Drifting Swarm of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles

Nicholas Rypkema, S.M., 2015
Henrik Schmidt, Advisor

Recent advances in AUV technology have led to their adoption for use in scientific, commercial, and defence applications. At the same time, progress in swarm robotics has seen swarm intelligence algorithms in use on robots in the field. AUVs utilizing swarm intelligence concepts have the potential to address issues more effectively than a single AUV. Examples include the monitoring of dynamic oceanographic phenomena and the use of an AUV swarm as a virtual acoustic receiver for seismic surveying. However, the limitations of the undersea environment places unique constraints on the use of existing swarm robotics approaches with AUVs.

This work investigates one particular swarm strategy for a group of AUVs, termed formation control, with consideration to the constraints of the underwater domain. Four formation control algorithms, each developed and tested within the MOOS-IvP framework, are presented. In addition, a 'formation quality' metric is introduced. This metric is used in conjunction with a measure of formation energy expenditure to compare the efficacy of each behaviour during construction of a desired formation, and formation maintenance while it drifts in ocean currents. This metric is also used to compare robustness of each algorithm in the presence of vehicle failure and changing communication rate.