The challenges of controlling the robot behavior in performing certain task can best be understood if seen from the robot perspective. The complexity does not necessarily come from the task itself, but rather from the interaction that goes on between the robot sensory system, environment and robot performance. The ASCENS project provides technology for autonomous behavior that can nicely be illustrated by a multi-robot control system. To show some of the project results we set a scenario where a human competes with an autonomous robot controlled by ASCENS software. The task is to find “building blocks” in a closed area and to construct a wall at a designated place. Of course a sensory system of the robots is less sophisticated than ours, thus we reduced the vision (perception) of the human competitor to the sensory system of the robot, giving the competitors equal chances. Both competitors have exactly the same information about environment. Who would perform better?
ASCENS philosophy: simplifying complexity
ASCENS explores perception, adaptation and self-organization offering high-level methods and practical tools for developing intelligent service-component ensembles that organize themselves and act autonomously. Under the motto simplifying complexity, the technological challenge is in controlling the dynamics of the emergent environments. Often we deal with massively parallel systems where harmonizing the communication and optimizing individual and collective goals is a major challenge. For example, how to build a powerful cloud platform that turns a huge number of simple devices into a super computer, or how to optimally organize mobility with electric vehicles taking into account battery restrictions, multiple itineraries and traffic conditions, or how to organize a rescue operation with self-aware and self-healing robot swarms.
The ASCENS approach to such complexity is to deal with issues at a local level, solving problems at a smaller scale and then harmonizing these solutions with more global ones. More concretely, a communication is organized in an implicit manner, who talks to whom is decided in run-time, depending on the current needs and situation. Thus, ASCENS approach decomposes complex systems into small service components (with clearly defined local goals) and then construct larger groups, called ensembles that fulfill collective goals. A criteria to construct an ensemble is a condition i.e. some “more global circumstance”, e.g. “ connect all robots that can carry 4kg and are in the radius of 100m – the goal is to jointly transport 15kg heavy object”. Having the knowledge as a major criterion for communication leads to self-awareness (where awareness can be defined as the knowledge of own functional and operational requirements and states). Making ASCENS components and ensembles aware of their own capabilities and goals ensures adaptive and autonomous behavior at runtime.
ASCENS approach: both pragmatic and formal
Pragmatic orientation means building autonomous systems that do practical things, like autonomous robot swarms performing rescue operation, autonomous cloud computing platforms transforming numerous small computers into a super computing environment or autonomous e-mobility support that ensures energy-aware transportation services. In reality, autonomous behavior means functioning without human intervention, seamlessly using own rules and criteria. At runtime, the more autonomy the system exhibits the less obvious it appears to outside observers. Thus to be sure about correct functioning of such systems it is necessary to develop formal methods and tools that can ensure not only that an autonomous system really does what it is supposed to do, but also that important conditions of the whole controlled environment are never violated. ASCENS offers a range of formal means that ensure modeling, formal reasoning, validation and verification of complex controlled systems, both in its design and at runtime.
ASCENS at ICT 2013 – science and joy
The picture below shows our stand at ICT 2013. Our team put enormous effort to make the robot versus human competition system, fine-tuned just for ICT 2013 purposes. Not only that both robots - ASCENS and human controlled - worked perfectly, the response of the audience has been rewarding. We are having many visitors, hundreds of questions and a lot of fun!