Mobile robots that can effectively detect chemical effluents could be useful in a variety of situations, such as disaster relief or drug sniffing. Such a robot might mimic biological systems that exhibit chemotaxis, which is movement towards or away from a chemical stimulant in the environment. Some existing robotic exploration algorithms that mimic chemotaxis suffer from the problems of getting stuck in local maxima and becoming “lost”, or unable to find the chemical if there is no initial detection. We introduce the use of the RapidCell algorithm for mobile robots exploring regions with potentially detectable chemical concentrations. The RapidCell algorithm mimics the biology behind the biased random walk of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria more closely than traditional chemotaxis algorithms by simulating the chemical signaling pathways interior to the cell. For comparison, we implemented a classical chemotaxis controller and a controller based on RapidCell, then tested them in a variety of simulated and real environments (using phototaxis as a surrogate for chemotaxis). We also added simple obstacle avoidance behavior to explore how it affects the success of the algorithms. Both simulations and experiments showed that the RapidCell controller more fully explored the entire region of detectable chemical when compared with the classical controller. If there is no detectable chemical present, the RapidCell controller performs random walk in a much wider range, hence increasing the chance of encountering the chemical. We also simulated an environment with triple effluent to show that the RapidCell controller avoided being captured by the first encountered peak, which is a common issue for the classical controller. Our study demonstrates that mimicking the adapting sensory system of E. coli chemotaxis can help mobile robots to efficiently explore the environment while retaining their sensitivity to the chemical gradient.
Nickels, K., Nguyen, H., Frasch, D., & Davison, T. (2019). Effective exploration behavior for chemical-sensing robots. Biomimetics, 4(4), 69. doi:10.3390/biomimetics4040069
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