Chengzhi-YuanRobots are frequently used to perform tasks faster and more efficiently than humans or to help keep humans out of harm’s way.

What if robots could also work in teams to accomplish more complicated jobs?

Chengzhi Yuan, an assistant professor in URI’s Department of Mechanical, Industrial & Systems Engineering, wishes to develop the technology that would enable robots to collaborate on complex tasks.

“Multi-robot systems would have significant potential in a broad range of engineering scenarios, such as disaster rescue using multiple autonomous robots, forest fire detection using multiple unmanned aerial vehicles, military applications in formation control of aircrafts/satellites,” said Yuan. “Under water, multi-robot systems could be used for sea-floor mapping, pipeline inspections, undersea lost object search, bathymetry and much more.”

Since the application of such technology could be so far-reaching, Yuan is collaborating with URI Electrical Engineering Professor Haibo He and URI Ocean Engineering Assistant Professor Stephen Licht. They are conducting their research in the Intelligent Control Systems Research (ICSR) Lab.

According to Yuan, the project will have two goals.

The first goal will be to investigate mechanisms that may be impossible for a single robot to execute, but a multiple robot team with heterogeneous robot capabilities and functionality could achieve.

The second desired outcome would be to develop a laboratory-scale, multi-robot testbed that would be composed by aerial, ground and underwater robots/vehicles, in contrast to the many existing toy-robot-based testbeds.

“The testbed would allow us to benchmark various advanced multi-robot coordination algorithms and schemes, so as to facilitate their real engineering implementations,” explained Yuan.

URI’s support of robotics research was one reason why Yuen decided to join the faculty in August of 2016, after completing his doctorate in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State University.

“I was impressed by the URI College of Engineering’s ambitious plans and growing investment in robotics research,” stated Yuan.

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