The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD ) Robotics Team concluded its participation in the NASA Swarmathon competition on April 20. The NASA Swarmathon is an annual robotics competition hosted by NASA and the University of New Mexico.
The Swarmathon is targeted at minority-serving institutions to develop algorithms for swarm robotics. The competition is divided into two sectors: physical and virtual. UHD had the privilege of qualifying for the virtual portion of the competition. UHD competed against 14 other universities from around the world to see who could collect the most resources in a specified area. The competition was divided into five phases. In the first and second phase, a total of 29 resources were gathered by the UHD team to advance to the quarterfinals.
During the quarterfinals , the team collected a total of 12 resources that qualified them to advance to the semi-finals. Ultimately, the UHD team finished fourth out of 15 in the competition.
Swarm robotics is a new approach to robotic missions where instead of having expensive robots, multiple simple and inexpensive robots can be used to work together to accomplish complex tasks. This new approach to robotics necessitates new techniques and algorithms that are optimized for them. These algorithms could potentially be utilized by NASA to explore the surface of planets with swarm robotics.
Throughout the Spring 2017 semester team members: Esteban Duran, Gabriel Bustamante, Tuan Le, Eddie Aguilar, and Jr. Sears led by Dr. Yuchou Chang, assistant professor of computer science and engineering technology, participated in the competition. These computer science students worked on acquiring the knowledge and implementing it to create a new type of search algorithm. According to Chang, this algorithm, dubbed Gator Foraging Algorithm (GFA), is adaptive to volatile resource distribution in unknown environments and is advantageous when exploring a mapped terrain on Mars, but the location of targets is relatively unknown to the robots.
The next step for the UHD robotics team is to participate in the 2018 NASA Swarmathon.