MIT autonomous robot boats gain the ability to change shape

Back in June, we talked about some new autonomous robot boats that had been invented by MIT. These boats were designed to find and attach to each other while floating in the canals of Amsterdam to pick up trash. MIT has announced an improvement to its robotic boats that could make them more efficient at picking up garbage.

Each of the autonomous boats has a rectangular hull and are equipped with sensors, thrusters, microcontrollers, GPS modules, cameras, and other hardware. Other than picking up trash, the so-called Roboats are also expected to be able to transport goods and people and self-assemble into pop-up platforms for concerts and such.

A new algorithm has been added to the Roboats that will enable them to reshape themselves as efficiently as possible. The algorithm handles all the planning and tracking that allows a group of Roboat units to change shapes as efficiently as possible.

The algorithm allows the robotic boats to plan and track other units and to unlatch from each other in one configuration, travel a collision-free path, and reattach to their appropriate spot in the new configuration. Demonstrations have shown that groups of linked Roboats can change from straight lines or squares into other configurations including rectangles and "L" shapes.

The number of shapes that the Roboats can make would vary with the number of units. The Roboats could use dozens of devices in their shape patterns. A group of Robots in a shape is known as a connected-vessel platform or CVP. Each CVP uses the algorithm to look at the differences between its current shape and the new shape. It then determines if it stays in the same spot for the change or if it moves. Each CVP is then assigned a time to disassemble and a new position in the new shape.