Fly with me : algorithms and methods for influencing a flock
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As robots become more affordable, they will begin to exist in the world in greater quantities. Some of these robots will likely be designed to act as components in specific teams. These teams could work on tasks that are too large or complex for a single robot - or that are merely more efficiently accomplished by a team - such as surveillance in a large building or product delivery to packers in a warehouse. Multiagent systems research studies how these teams are formed and how they work together. Ad hoc teamwork, a newer area of multiagent systems research, studies how new robots can join these pre-existing teams and assist the team in accomplishing its goal. This dissertation extends and applies research in ad hoc teamwork towards the general area of flocking, which is an emergent swarm behavior. In particular, the work in this dissertation considers how ad hoc agents - called influencing agents in this dissertation - can join a flock, be recognized by the rest of the flock as part of the flock, influence the flock towards particular behaviors through their own behavior, and then separate from the flock. Specifically, the primary research question addressed in this dissertation is How can influencing agents be utilized in various types of flocks to influence the flock towards a particular behavior? In order to address this research question, this dissertation makes six main types of contributions. First, this dissertation formalizes the problem of using influencing agents to influence a flock. Second, this dissertation contributes and analyzes algorithms for influencing a flock to a desired orientation. Third, this dissertation presents methods for determining how to best add influencing agents to a flock. Fourth, this dissertation provides methods by which influencing agents can join and then leave a flock in motion. Fifth, this dissertation evaluates some of the influencing agent algorithms on a robot platform. Sixth, although the majority of this dissertation assumes the influencing agents will join a flock that behaves similarly to European starlings, this dissertation also provides insight into when and how its algorithms are generalizable to other types of flocks as well as to general teamwork and coordination research. All of the methods presented in this dissertation are empirically evaluated using a simulator that can support large flocks.