Implementing a Cooperative Framework Among
Bio-inspired Robots Based on Phonotaxis
e Camacho
, Rosa M. de Molina
, Eugenio Mart
and Mart
ın Mellado
Instituto de Autom
atica e Inform
atica Industrial, Universidad Polit
ecnica de Valencia,
Camino de Vera, s/n. 46022 Valencia.
Dept. Biolog
ıa Animal y Ecolog
ıa, Facultad de Ciencias,
Universidad de Granada, 18071 Granada
Abstract. This paper proposes the development of a cooperative framework
among mobile robots, inspired in the phonotaxic behavior (tracking the source of
a specific sound) observed in cricket mating. By means of this behavior, in com-
bination with two other individual behaviors (for communication and obstacles
avoidance) a set of five cooperation primitives is reached. A simulation platform
has been used to test the design. Furthermore, two real robots, one acting as the
female and the other one as the male, have been developed and tested: male emits
a calling song (at a specific frequency) and female tracks or moves away from the
sound source.
1 Introduction
Cooperation allows robots to deal with large-scale problems obtaining two principal ad-
vantages over Single-Agent Systems: improved performance and fault tolerance [14].
Multi-Agent Systems are based on the thought that a group of robots, of little func-
tionality, can obtain better performance than a single highly qualified robot in complex
domains, such as planetary science tasks [6] or cleaning tasks [9]. However, coordinat-
ing that kind of systems is a complex problem.
Nowadays, Multi-Agent Systems have a good test framework called RoboCup Chal-
lenge [3] [10], the robotic soccer competition. Numerous solutions proposed there [17]
[18] use a hierarchical architecture for robots design, with a low level made up of reac-
tive behaviors and a high level or higher levels for more complex tasks.
Mataric [13] proposes the use of basis behaviors or cooperation primitives, building
blocks from which cooperative behaviors emerge. Although it is stated that the choice
of the basis behaviors depends on the domain and the goals, the next set was chosen:
Safe-Wandering, Dispersion, Aggregation, Homing and Following. Other behaviors,
such as group navigation (flocking) or searching (foraging), can be obtained by combi-
nations of the basis set. Mataric proposes two types of combinations: complementary,
for concurrent output behaviors, and contradictory, for mutually exclusive behaviors.
To develop the basis behavior set mentioned, robots have to be able to distinguish
the members of its group from the environment obstacles and to know their position.
Camacho J., M. de Molina R., Martín E. and Mellado M. (2005).
Implementing a Cooperative Framework Among Bio-inspired Robots Based on Phonotaxis.
In Proceedings of the 1st International Workshop on Multi-Agent Robotic Systems, pages 31-38
DOI: 10.5220/0001192600310038
Phonotaxis (tracking the source of a specific sound) provides robots with these capabil-
ities, as well as individuals and groups identification. At this point, the research work
carried out by Barbara Webb et al. [19] [11] [12], where cricket phonotaxis is studied
using robotics as a tool, has been the main reference of this work. Behaviors studied by
biology are an inspiration source for cooperative robotics [1][2][5].
By using phonotaxis in several ways and by combining it with other individual
behaviors (communication and navigation) it will be shown that it is possible to generate
the five cooperation primitives, obtaining an alternative to other methods, such as those
used by Mataric [13]. The aim of this paper is to prove the usefulness of phonotaxis
in the area of cooperative robotics, as a complementary mechanism to other proposals
offered in the literature.
This paper is organized as follows. Section 2 details the materials and methods used.
Section 3 introduces individual behaviors. Section 4 describes the cooperation primi-
tives implementation. Section 5 presents the experimental result from both simulation
and real testing. Section 6 gives some conclusions, remarks and future research lines.
2 Materials and Methods
The proposed cooperative framework has been tested at two levels. As a first step, the
cooperation primitives set was implemented for a homogeneous system of n (dynami-
cally set) robots in a simulation framework, Virtual Robot Simulator (VRS) [15]. Af-
terwards, a pair of real robots, one acting as the cricket female and the other one as the
male in the cooperative behaviors, were developed.
In both cases, robots show a behavior-based architecture [2] [4]. Each independent
behavior is in charge of a specific task, and gets inputs from sensors and its outputs
rule actuators. New behaviors can be added incrementally to the system with this archi-
tecture. Robots can achieve three individual behaviors: phonotaxis, navigation avoiding
obstacles and communication. The latter two have been chosen for two reasons: a) they
are important or even fundamental for autonomous operation and b) they are useful to
test phonotaxis in the cooperative robotics area. The cooperative primitives are imple-
mented at a higher level.
In simulation, each robot is modelled with a thread. Threads only communicate with
the environment (main thread of VRS) by the simulated sensors and actuators, as robots
do in the real world. For more detail, see [16].
Real robots made possible to test whether sound is a valid way of identifying and
locating mates in the real world. These robots have a small, exoskeleton type structure
mainly made of hard plastic. They use a differential drive platform with two wheels at
the back and a caster one at the front. This paper presents the results of the experiences
developed with a pair of real robots. A homogeneous group of more than two robots is
being developed and the real multi-robot framework will be studied in the future.
3 Individual Behaviors
The combination of the individual behaviors depends on the objectives. Thus, a specific
behavior management algorithm, which defines the (rigid) combination of individual
behaviors, is needed for each primitive. Although, in principle, the way of implement-
ing these individual behaviors should not affect the resultant framework, a brief com-
ment on this implementation is made below. Of course, the specific implementation is
determined by the features and capabilities of the robots used.
Phonotaxis provides robots with the capability to locate and identify individuals and
groups. Two sub-behaviors have been implemented, inspired in crickets mate.
The male behavior consists in generating the calling song, in order to attract or
repel ”conspecific” females. This song is made of: syllables, bursts of sound with a
species-specific carrier frequency; chirps, each one with a number of syllables; and
silent spaces between chirps [12]. Thus, the calling song can be parameterized by [7]:
carrier frequency, syllable rate, number of syllables per chirp, duty cycle and chirp rate.
In the cooperative framework proposed, the song of a robot codifies its identity at
syllable level. The identification of a robot contains two codes: group and individual
code. The individual code starts from 0 and grows until the number of robots of the
group. A sung syllable represents a logic 1 and a non-sung syllable is a logic 0. First
syllable in a chirp has to be sung, the rest can be used to store the identification code.
The female behavior consists in tracking (or moving away from) the male. First
of all, females need the recognition capability of their species (group) specific calling
song. Carrier frequencies different to the specifics of its group are rejected by hardware
filtering. The other song parameters can be detected by software.
An explicit communication model has been implemented. Thus, not only robots
know of mates existence, but a communication protocol is also established [5]. The
communication sensor uses infrared technology. The protocol has been implemented
over Philips RC5 code, so that a remote control can be used to send commands or
communicate with the robots.
To achieve navigation avoiding obstacles, two types of sensors have been added to
the robots: bumpers and infrared sensors. The readings of these sensors are the inputs
of a Fuzzy Rules Based Navigation System [8] with feedback variables. The feedback
variables take their value from previous decisions of the system, so that robots are able
to maintain continuous movement and avoid hesitation.
4 Cooperative Primitives
The five basis cooperative behaviors proposed by Mataric [13] have been developed to
make up the cooperative framework. Phonotaxis function has to be outlined because of
its locating and identifying capabilities. Moreover, as it will be shown later, phonotaxis
gets even more useful for primitives development because of its distance limitation,
combined with infrared communication distance limitation. The maximum distance for
sound reception has to be longer than the maximum distance for the infrared communi-
cation. Next, the basis cooperative behaviors are explained.
Safe wandering is defined as the ability of a group of agents to move about while
avoiding collisions with obstacles and each other. To achieve this task, the main chal-
lenge for a robot is avoiding moving mates. In infrared communication, the emitter has
to be oriented towards the receiver. This feature makes this type of communication very
useful for safe wandering. If a robot receives a communication, it understands that the
emitter robot is moving towards it. To avoid collision, the receiver robot emits a calling
song which codifies the emitter’s identification (sent in the communication), so that this
one knows that it has to change its movement direction. Robots should communicate
their identification in the same direction of movement of the wheels. Therefore, a pair
of communication emitters, one looking forward and one looking backward, are needed
to emit when moving forward and backward, respectively.
Dispersion is the ability of a group of agents to spread out in order to establish and
maintain some minimum inter-agent distance. This minimum distance, in our frame-
work, is the maximum distance for calling song detection. Each robot in turn sings and
listens. It sings so the rest can move away from it, and listens to move away from the
rest. Every robot adopts a movement trajectory in the opposite direction to the sound
source, made up of orientation (by using phonotaxis behavior) and translation periods
(by using navigation). The turns in orientation periods have a constant component and
a random component, so the turning angle changes. This prevents from infinite loops.
Aggregation is defined as the ability of a group of agents to gather in order to es-
tablish and maintain some maximum inter-agent distance. In this case, the maximum
distance is the maximum distance for communication detection. When a robot wants
the rest to approach, it starts singing. The other robots which detect the calling song try
to get to the first one adopting a movement trajectory towards the sound source, made
up of orientation (by using phonotaxis behavior) and translation periods (by using nav-
igation). Before each navigation period, robots send a ”Hello Request” command to
establish communication with the calling robot. If any of them is close enough to this
robot, it receives the communication request, stops singing and establishes communi-
cation. Once the communication protocol is finished, the calling robot will start singing
again unless all its mates have arrived.
Following is defined as the ability of an agent to move behind another retracing
its path and maintaining a line or queue. Probably, This is the most complex primitive
to perform. To establish a queue, one assumption has to be done: each robot knows
the identity of the immediate preceding and following robots or whether it is the first
or the last one in the queue. The robots form a queue according to their identification.
Thus, the previous assumption is satisfied if each robot knows its own identification and
the number of robots in the group. Again, this information is needed to codify calling
songs, so the assumption is definitely true.
Every robot, except the first one, waits until hearing its predecessor’s calling song
to start the algorithm, and it does not react to the calling song of other robots. When it
hears the proper song, it turns towards the sound source by using phonotaxis behavior.
In this only primitive, the turns are done by moving only a wheel, so that the robot grav-
ity center moves. These little translations make possible for the robot to recover the trail
when it has lost. During this process, the robot in turn rotates and sends its identifica-
tion through the communication sensor. If the predecessor receives the identification, it
understands that the next one is properly oriented. Thus, it stops singing and navigates
for a time interval. This algorithm is repeated for every pair of consecutive robots from
the front to the end of the queue. When the last but one robot stops singing, the last one
waits for a delay (time supposed for predecessor navigation) and then navigates.
Fig.1. Simulation tests: (a) Safe wandering, (b) Dispersion, (c) Aggregation, (d) Following, (e)
Finally, we can define homing as the ability to find a particular region or location.
This behavior is very similar to the aggregation. Actually, the only difference is the
calling element, a static base, which is used instead of the calling robot. The fact that
a static base is needed to locate a place can be seen as a disadvantage. If there is no
base located in the place the robots have to reach, one of the group of robots has to
perform another homing strategy, like greedy local pursuit, used in [13]. In this case,
one cooperative homing strategy can be the combination of an aggregation around that
robot and a following towards the desired location.
5 Experimental Results
5.1 VRS Simulation
In this section, the results obtained in the simulation of a group of four robots are shown.
The experiments were performed from a challenging initial formation. In the safe wan-
dering test (Figure 1(a)), the four robots were set out in a straight line, the first two
looking towards the other two and vice versa. In the dispersion test (Figure 1(b)), the
robots show an initial formation where every one is facing the same direction and they
are close to each other. In the aggregation test, the calling robot stayes at the top of the
image (Figure 1(c)) and the other robots are facing the opposite direction to the center
of the image. In the following test (Figure 1(d)) the robots initially are arranged in a
queue, in order to pass through the columns. The formation of a queue starting from an
arbitrary formation is tested in the homing test (Figure 1(e)). Homing can be seen as a
particular aggregation. Actually, it is exactly the same if we use a robot of the group to
mark the desired location. Therefore, the test performed for aggregation can be valid for
homing, too. In section 4, it was proposed an aggregation phase followed by a following
Fig.2. Real robots (a) and tests: (b) Safe wandering, (c) Dispersion, (d) Aggregation, (e) Follow-
ing, (f) Homing.
phase to achieve homing without a marking base. The automatic formation of a queue
of robots is fundamental for this definition of homing and this is why it has been tested.
The outcomes show that the framework based on a phonotaxic behavior works prop-
erly. Robots are able to avoid themselves, to join or separate and to form and maintain
a queue while avoiding obstacles.
5.2 Real Environment
The ideal system consists of a group of n robots which dynamically adopt the male or
female role, depending on the cooperative behavior they are performing, their role in
that behavior and/or the part of the management algorithm they are executing. The ideal
system performance has been tested in the simulation, but no noise was implemented.
Now, sound as a feasible communication medium in real environments has to be proved.
Two robots have been developed (Figure 2(a)), one with the male capabilities and one
with the female capabilities. The experiences in the real world were performed in a big
(10 meters x 4 meters), closed room, with white furniture. The presence of furniture is
important to evaluate the effect of the bounces of the sound. The environment of the test
is not specially noisy, as those of some applications for industrial automation. Dealing
with noisy environments is part of the future work to be done. All the experiences shown
were filmed and then represented as drawing pictures to illustrate motions
In the tests done, only the female robot navigates because it is the only robot able
to react to sound. The safe wandering tests (Figure 2(b)) show how the female reacts to
sound (light triangles) and then navigates avoiding objects. In the first experience, the
female robot even has to turn all the way round. Dispersion, aggregation and homing
tests are very similar. The female robot moves away from (Figure 2(c)) or towards to
(Figures 2(d) y 2(f)) the male adopting the typical zig-zag movement of the crickets [7].
Figure 2(d) show the two phases of the aggregation: first the female gets closer to the
male and then, once it is close enough, the communication protocol is established. Note
that homing is very similar to the aggregation but with no second phase. For the other
definition of homing (aggregation + following), the queue formation of the two robots
Real videos can be downloaded from: jcamacho/crickets/videos.
(not shown) is achieved just by steering the male robot after the aggregation. Finally, in
Figure 2(e), the female and male position and orientation for every time interval during
the following test are shown. Odd intervals are drawn in dark color while even intervals
are shown in light color.
As it can be seen, the primitives are performed correctly by the female robot, but
there are some erratic decisions in the phonotaxis. Several consecutive errors in the
phonotaxis sensor can cause non expected behaviors, as the turn towards the top in
Figure 2(c). The error percentage has been empirically calculated as 13.2% (without
echo), a high error value. This is, nonetheless, a good result which suggests that the
framework would get even better performance with a more detailed design of the sensor.
6 Conclusion
This paper is another contribution to demonstrate that bio-inspired behaviors are an
alternative methodology. There is a current of opinion which claims that complex plan-
ning methods can be replaced by biologically observed behaviors, which emerge from
the combination of simple behaviors. Probably, the best way to obtain intelligence is by
imitating it. Based on the results obtained, it can be concluded that:
1. Phonotaxis is a useful behavior for mobile robotics in environments where sound
is a feasible communication medium.
2. A cooperative framework, made of phonotaxis and other individual behaviors, has
been developed and tested in simulation and real world, in this latter case with two
robots. This framework is mainly based on the combination of two communication
methods: one directional (infrared) and one omnidirectional (sound).
From the second conclusion, it can be stated that the system keeps functional what-
ever two communication methods are used, as long as one is directional and the other
one is omnidirectional and the distance limitation of these methods is proper. The meth-
ods choice will depend on the environment characteristics. In this paper, sound was
chosen as the omnidirectional communication method. Sound can be an alternative to
visual techniques when the number of obstacles reduces the performance. Future work
is mainly aimed at:
a) A real, homogeneous, n robots system development.
b) Improving the sound sensor and testing the framework in noisy environments.
c) Comparing this framework with visual cooperative systems in environments with
many and/or big obstacles.
d) More complex cooperative tasks development using cooperative primitives.
Generalization of the real framework for n robot seems to be a very challenging
task. Two main problems have to be addressed: codification of the identification in the
sound (at syllable level) and interferences among songs. In simulation, the coopera-
tive system lose efficiency as more robots are included in the same environment. To
avoid interferences, a Frequency Division Multiplexing (FDM) is proposed. Moreover,
as these ”cricket” robots, by definition, only react to calling songs with specific para-
meters, different groups of robots can act over the same environment by using different
parameters songs.
This work has been partially funded by FEDER-CICYT project with reference DPI2002-
04434-C04-04 and by the FPU grants program, Secretar
ıa de Estado de Educaci
on y
Universidades (Ministry of Education and Science, Spain). Authors wish to thank An-
tonio Gonz
alez Mu
noz, Luis Javier Herrera Maldonado and Pedro Latorre Carmona.
Special thanks to Fernando Camacho P
aez, El Golico.
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