SwarmGear: Heterogeneous Swarm of Drones with Reconfigurable Leader Drone and Virtual Impedance Links for Multi-Robot Inspection

Zhanibek Darush, Mikhail Martynov,Aleksey Fedoseev, Aleksei Shcherbak,Dzmitry Tsetserukou


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The continuous monitoring by drone swarms remains a challenging problem due to the lack of power supply and the inability of drones to land on uneven surfaces. Heterogeneous swarms, including ground and aerial vehicles, can support longer inspections and carry a higher number of sensors on board. However, their capabilities are limited by the mobility of wheeled and legged robots in a cluttered environment. In this paper, we propose a novel concept for autonomous inspection that we call SwarmGear. SwarmGear utilizes a heterogeneous swarm that investigates the environment in a leader-follower formation. The leader drone is able to land on rough terrain and traverse it by four compliant robotic legs, possessing both the functionalities of an aerial and mobile robot. To preserve the formation of the swarm during its motion, virtual impedance links were developed between the leader and the follower drones. We evaluated experimentally the accuracy of the hybrid leader drone's ground locomotion. By changing the step parameters, the optimal step configuration was found. Two types of gaits were evaluated. The experiments revealed low crosstrack error (mean of 2 cm and max of 4.8 cm) and the ability of the leader drone to move with a 190 mm step length and a 3 degree standard yaw deviation. Four types of drone formations were considered. The best formation was used for experiments with SwarmGear, and it showed low overall crosstrack error for the swarm (mean 7.9 cm for the type 1 gait and 5.1 cm for the type 2 gait). The proposed system can potentially improve the performance of autonomous swarms in cluttered and unstructured environments by allowing all agents of the swarm to switch between aerial and ground formations to overcome various obstacles and perform missions over a large area.
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