Students give Roombas reason to roam

Posted by
On December 19, 2007

Graduate students in the Real-Time Power and Intelligent Systems (RTPIS)
Laboratory at the University of Missouri-Rolla are using an ordinary household
appliance to develop and test a technology that could do extraordinary

Under the direction of Dr. Ganesh K. Venayagamoorthy, associate professor of
electrical and computer engineering and director of the RTPIS Lab at UMR, a
group of Ph.D. students have programmed small, robotic vacuum cleaners called
Roombas to communicate with one another and coordinate their actions.

Ph.D. students Lisa Grant, of Gardener, Kan., and electrical engineering
major, Parvis Palangpour, of Columbia, Mo., a computer engineering major, and
Curtis Parrott, of Springfield, Mo., an electrical engineering major, started
working with the Roombas as part of their senior design project at UMR last
fall. As graduate students, working with the Roombas has become a hobby to
which they devote their spare time.

The technology developed by Grant, Gardener, Palangpour and Venayagamoorthy
allows the robots to use sensors to search independently for a pre-programmed
target. The robot closest to the target becomes the "leader" and can
communicate its location to the other units. The leader position is rotated
during the search.

"This could be used in any operation where something needs to be
searched out, and human involvement could be dangerous," Parrott says.

For example, the technology could be implemented in robots designed for bomb
and landmine removal. The robots would be able to search an area for explosives
and once discovered, converge to remove the target.

So far, the team has been able to prove the technology works using the
Roombas in a laboratory setting. The team hopes to gain funding to continue the
research. The team also would like to increase the robots’ communication
capabilities by allowing them to transmit signals over a wider range.

In the fall, Grant, Palangpour, Parrott and Venayagamoorthy plan to lead a
senior design team of undergraduates who will continue to develop the
technology. Interested students can contact Venayagamoorthy at

The students’ design already has won them acclaim. They took first place at
the Institute of Electrical and Electronics (IEEE) Industry Application Society
(IAS) Myron Zucker student design contest last fall, which earned them the
opportunity to present their idea at IEEE IAS’s annual conference in New
Orleans in September, 2007. Their research also will be published in IEEE’s
Industry Applications Society Magazine.

As part of their graduate studies, Grant and Parrott traveled to Melbourne,
Australia in December to present their project at an international conference,
as well.

On Jan. 1, 2008, UMR will become Missouri University of Science and

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On December 19, 2007. Posted in Research