Hovercraft Testbed for Decentralized Control (HOTDEC), University of Illinois
Hovercraft Testbed for Decentralized Control (HoTDeC) is a testbed facility developed by researchers at the University of Illinois. It is made up of several autonomous hovercraft vehicles which can be operated through the Internet or wirelessly networked. This testbed is under the GED-Lab, named after Professor Geir E. Dullerud of the university’s Mechanical Science and Engineering Department.
The HoTDeC facility provides a flexible and advanced testbed for experimentation with inter-networked vehicles, and sensors for decentralized and cooperative manipulation in a key location.
The facility consists of numerous floating autonomous hovercrafts, which receive visual feedback from a system of networked cameras. The wireless network configuration makes it possible for the vehicles to communicate with other hovercrafts and with a computer which is attached to an overhead camera system.
The facility utilizes a six camera distributed vision system to give location feedback to five encoded top hovercraft vehicles. Then an onboard computer processes the visual information, and with the onboard acceleration and gyro sensors, it actually guides the vehicle by actuating four thrust fans and one lift fan. Most of the materials used on the hovercraft were designed at the lab.
Back in 2001, the HoTDeC became the first ever testbed that was able to feature agents that are fully autonomous, inter-networked, stable and have peer-affecting dynamics, and can be manipulated utilizing wireless feedback. Three years later, the group showed the autonomous vehicles being operated while they were connected to the lab through the net in real-time.
Currently, the HoTDeC is testing controllers for hovercraft formation flying. They are also streamlining their software stack on board the vehicle, developing an onboard vision system, and getting a truck up that utilizes its onboard computers.
Among the various projects that they have undertaken is their APPeers or the Autonomous Peer-to-Peer Robotic Vehicles project, which seems to open up possibilities for deploying large cooperative networks of smart vehicles to do difficult and complex missions.