Flocking


Self-Organization vs Choreography

It is possible to choreograph drones, either entirely preprogrammed or using standard ground station software. From a computer on the ground, you can run simultaneous pre-set scripts on a number of drones, or have them go from one position to another on cue. This has a limit – at around five robots you encounter difficulty monitoring or controlling them, and the likelihood of in-air collision increases.

Self-organization takes the ground station bottleneck and human error out of the system. Instead of each checking in with a single machine, the robots check in with each other, up to a manageable number of neighbors. Their formation is not described only in terms of fixed coordinates, but in terms of achieving a configuration relative to each other. To visualize how this works, think about a class of children holding hands. By walking backwards until all their arms are stretched out, they will form a circle. Each child is only coordinating with his or her immediate neighbors.

Information Sharing

Information within a flock is shared through a "rumor" system. When a flock is collecting data, the same Spiri neighbors that coordinate on formation also compare notes and store each other’s data. Data from each Spiri propagates quickly to all of them.

Independence from Infrastructure

A flock can operate without human pilots, ground control stations, Wi-Fi or radio contact (except among the members of the flock), and without any global navigational satellites. A flock can take advantage of this kind of infrastructure when available, but does not depend on it.

Buzz on Spiri

The software that enables flocking on Spiri is called Buzz. It connects with other Spiri systems (including the navigational system) using Robot Operating System (ROS). Our communications systems, powerful onboard computer, fully autonomous flying, and safety features all contribute to making this work on Spiri. We may refer to a flock of Spiris as a "splendor."

Applications

A flock can respond to natural disasters where communications infrastructure has been disabled. It can reestablish cellular coverage by carrying antennas into position. As each Spiri runs low on battery, it returns to the staging area, and the ensemble automatically adjusts its formation. There are similar applications in natural resource management, environmental monitoring, and city management.