EU project subCULTron

The complex habitats of the Venice Lagoon
(Image: ©2021 Google Maps)

Several swarm members of the subCULTron robot swarm are prepared for their workshop missions in the Arsenale quarter in the Venice lagoon where most of the projects robots are tested and benchmarked.

A Large Robot Swarm Leaves the Lab and Goes to ... Venice

In the EU-FET project subCULTron we aim for a novel way of long-term and large-scale environmental monitoring of endangered ecosystems and habitats. We chose the lagoon of Venice as a benchmark site of significant impact. The goal was not only to let some robots run for a very long time in out-of-the lab conditions, what would already be a challenge in itself. Going significantly beyond this challenge, we let them act like one big unit - as a collective. This collective, you might also call it "a swarm", should operate significantly longer than the period of time that an individual life cycle (the period between one charging of a robot to its next necessary recharging) of a single robot lasts. Thus, the swarm needs to have the ability of autonomous (re-)charging and energy transfer from one unit to the other. To allow an efficient and effective operation, we created three different robot types, each one designed for pursuing specific objectives under specific constraints, thus these robot "species" are very different when compared to each other: These difference are in size, in power, in agility and in energy cycle durations. Such a high degree of specialization leads to a very heterogeneous robot swarm, what poses another set of challenges. The specialization of subCULTron's robotic "species" was achieved by looking for analog functionalities achieved by living organisms in nature and by drawing bio-inspiration from these sources of inspiration. This led to design of three unique bio-inspired and biomimetic robot "species", as they are shown and briefly described below. The interoperability of these 125 autonomous robots allows not only to monitor the environment over long periods of time and on large areal scales but also to spread and process these datasets collectively across the swarm system. Based on this shared and distributed information processing the subCULTron robot swarm can adapt its mode of operation, thus it learns during its runtime. This learning extends beyond the individual life cycle (energy cycle) of each single swarm member, thus we call it to be a form of "cultural learning" in a swarm robotic context, an aspect that defines the "CULT" in the name of the subCULTron project.

My research in the EU-FET project subCULTron is in cooperation with the following international and interdisciplinary partners: Prof. Jean-Louis Deneubourg (Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium), Prof. Cesare Stefanini (Scuola Superiore Di Studi Universitari E Di Perfezionamento Santa Anna, Pontedera, Italy), Prof. Nikola Miskovic and Prof. Stjepan Bogdan (LARICS, Univ. Zagreb, Croatia), Prof. Frederic Boyer (ARMINES, Nantes, France), Dr. Serge Kernbach (Cybertronica Research, Stuttgart, D) and Dr. Pierpaolo Campostrini (CORILA, Venice, Italy). In my lab, Dr. Ronald Thenius, Dr. Joshua Varughese, Mag. Hannes Hornischer and Daniel Moser conduct significant work in this project.

Coordinated Data Collection on the Bottom of the Waterbody

The aMussel robots are the key agents for our environmental monitoring activities. They need to coordinate their activities, e.g. where to stay and where to reposition via drifting or via an active aPad transport. Here we see a group of 3 aMussels that are deployed one after the other, establish contact via blinking signals with each other and, after some time of staying at the bottom of the water body, decide when to go back to the surface in order to be moved to another location by an aPad.

An aPad robot gets prepared for its mission

A group of aMussel robots get prepared for their missions

aPad robot in the waters of Venice

Two aMussel robots test their blue-light communication on land before being deployed into the water

An aFish robot gets tested while a group of aMussel robots are getting prepared in the background

An aFish robot tests its green communication LEDs

An aMussel robot has successfully docked to an aPad robot in the water for relocation and/or recharging

One aPad robot further out in the Arsenale basin in Venice lagoon

How Does it Look Down There in the Channels of Venice Lagoon?

In the EU project subCULTron we develop a swarm of 125 robots of three types. The majority of these robots are "aMussel" robots, which mimic in their shapes and behaviors natural mussels that sit for long periods of time on the ground and collect nutrients. Our aMussel robots also sit on the ocean ground for long times with minimum actuation, in order collect information (data) about the environment over very long times and passing along this information within the group that pass by. These could be, for example, be an aFish robot (see above). In the image sequence shown here we see a collection of pictures that were made made by an aMussel robot taking a deep dive in a Venetian channel, in case you always wanted to see how it looks down there.

Next time, when you walk in Venice, you will know that it is not just murky water and mud down there in those beautiful channels and below these lovely bridges. There is a lot of life down there in these waters, even just one footstep away from your favorite wandering tour across the city.