DOTS competition: Powering emergency food distribution using swarms

DOTS competition: Powering emergency food distribution using swarms

What if you could unbox a swarm of robots and immediately use them to power your organisation and transport needs. You could use them to organise the stock room of a small retail shop, or retrieve boxes in a pop-up distribution centre for school lunches. These DOTS (Distributed Organisation and Transport Systems) don’t rely on maps or any complex infrastructure, making them versatile and adaptable.

Goal
Increases in the number of emergency food parcels distributed by food banks have accelerated over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in those going to children. Robot swarms could help streamline the distribution of these emergency food parcels, while freeing up time for volunteers and workers to interface with the users and provide human contact.

In the DOTS competition, your goal will be to retrieve food parcels in a pop-up warehouse as fast as possible using a swarm of DOTS.

Prize
First prize 500 GBP.
Second prize 200 GBP.
Third prize 100 GBP.

Important dates
15 May 2021: Registration deadline (register here)
19 May 2021: Introductions
7-11 June 2021: Support and trial week
14-18 June 2021: Competition

Robots
DOTS are custom-built 25cm robots, that move fast, have long battery life (8 hours), can communicate through 5G, WiFI, and bluetooth, house a GPU, can sense the environment locally, as well as lift and transport payloads (2kg per robot). They are housed in the new Industrial Swarm Arena at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, which is accessible remotely and 5G enabled.

Resources
You will be given a realistic simulator built in Gazebo to develop and trial your robot controllers, as well as a minimal code-base that allows the robots to move around the storage room, pick up, and deposit boxes. Finalists will be able to test their code on the real robots remotely. You are free to use any sensor or computation already on board the robot. External computation or information (e.g. maps) are not allowed.

Scenario
In each scenario, you will be asked to retrieve 20 boxes (each box can be transported by 1 robot), using 10 robots, in 20 minutes.
The storage room is 5m x 5m x 5m. The deposit area will be delimited by wireless beacons that signal the robot is in a deposit area. Boxes can be initialised at any location.

Noise is introduced in the environment, either by removing robots, moving obstacles, or dimming the lights. Users request boxes in a specific order depending on the needs of the person using the food bank at the time.

Scores
For each 20min trial, your team will be scored on the number of boxes retrieved over time (the aim is to collect boxes as quick as possible). Boxes retrieved out of sequence are given half a point.

Rounds
A simulation round, from 14 June to 16 June, will see team controllers tested on a battery of scenarios. Their sum of scores determines their overall ranking.
The top 5 controllers will then be tested in reality from 16 June to 18 June, with teams visualising the performance through an online stream.

Supporters
The competition is run as a collaboration between the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, Toshiba Bristol Research and Innovation Laboratory and the South Gloucestershire Council’s UMBRELLA project.