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Distributed robotics simulator - R&D

Client: Bristol Robotics Laboratory, United Kingdom
Date:September 2017 - January 2018
Website: https://nuclearrobots.org
Our roles: Technical research and development

Robotics for Nuclear environments is a research project between the University of Manchester, University of the West of England and the University of Birmingham that studies how multi-robot systems can be used for safe decommissioning of nuclear plants. One of the challenges that the project faced at its beginning was how to facilitate software development collaboration between the partner institutions, allowing each team to work independently but also share solutions.

Research

V-REP, Gazebo, ARGoS simulators

Lenka's first role in the project was to gather requirements from all the team members and recommend a simulation environment that was extendable, relatively feature-rich and computationally efficient. To do this, she implemented multi-robot simulations in V-REP, Gazebo and ARGoS and performed a number of benchmark tests involving different robot team and virtual world sizes, as well as different computer setups. The research was published in Pitonakova, L. et al (2018) Proceedings of the 19th Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems Conference.

Development

Nuclear reactor in V-REP Based on Lenka's recommendation, the team decided to use the V-REP simulator, mostly because of its extendability and the ease of importing 3D models of various robotic platforms. Lenka created a simulation environment in V-REP featuring a nuclear reactor model and a system of C++ plugins for V-REP that enabled multiple simulated and real robots, developed independently by the partner institutions, to operate in a common virtual environment held in a "master" computer. This was achieved by using custom communication protocols that worked over the internet (all robots were wi-fi-enabled).

Another useful feature of this system of components was the possibility to stream the state of the entire simulated world, including that of real robots, into a high-end rendering application that could, for instance, provide a virtual reality visualization of the robot mission. Lenka demonstrated this capability by developing a 3D visualization application that could run on a different computer than the "master" simulation and display what the robots were doing.