Teams of robots that don’t run out of energy

Let’s imagine a large region affected by an earthquake that needs to be combed for missing persons. Because buildings remain at risk of collapsing, this is a task that is particularly well-suited to robots. Micha Sende addressed this kind of scenario in his doctoral thesis.

“What is special about this is that all the robots have the same role, in other words, no-one acts as coordinator,” Micha Sende explains. His research focuses on energy autonomy, asking questions such as: How much energy do I have left? How much energy do I still need to complete a specific task? How long can I continue to work, and when do I need to recharge? Which charging station should I head for, and which one is free at the moment?

When asked what makes this task rather complex, Micha Sende answers: “A robotic lawnmower or a robotic vacuum cleaner have a comparatively easy job. They know the territory and they usually work alone, not in a team.” Moreover, they do not have to work in an optimised way, i.e. a few extra laps around the living room are usually quite acceptable. But when it comes to searching for missing persons, it is essential that the robots work as quickly and efficiently as possible and that no breakdowns occur.

Above all, the scenario involving several robots and several charging stations had not yet been extensively researched, Micha Sende continues. At this point he also mentions electric cars: Here too, relatively little research has been undertaken to date.

Micha Sende has recently completed his doctorate. Most of the work was carried out at the computer using simulations; towards the end, the scenarios were also tested using real robots. Micha Sende is currently working as a member of the research team at the neighbouring Lakeside Labs GmbH.

Micha Sende first came to Villach as part of his industrial internship for his diploma degree and later he landed a doctoral position in Christian Bettstetter’s research group at the Institute of Networked and Embedded Systems. “Self-organising systems appeared especially captivating, which is why I focused on this area,” he tells us. He describes their advantage: “By relying on self-organisation, we can build fully functional systems that can no longer be controlled from the outside due to their complexity.”

A few words with … Micha Sende


What motivates you to work in science?
The freedom to work on topics that are not precisely defined in advance and that can yield exciting insights.

Do your parents understand what you are working on?
Yes, by and large. Of course, they don’t understand the highly technical details.

What is the first thing you do when you get to the office in the morning?
I fetch myself some fresh water and check my emails.

Do you take proper holidays? Without thinking about your work?
While I was working on my doctorate, I was never able to relax entirely, there was always something working at the back of my mind. Now that’s done, I can switch off completely. Even a weekend can sometimes feel like a full holiday.

What makes you furious?
Aggressiveness, injustice and thoughtlessness by people towards fellow human beings, animals and nature.

And what calms you down?
Taking a deep breath and thinking rationally.

Who do you regard as the greatest scientist in history and why?
I was particularly fascinated by Alan Turing during my studies. He developed the computer in theory long before it was feasible to consider its technical implementation.

What are you afraid of?
In general, I am very optimistic and don’t tend to feel afraid. Nevertheless, I make sure I follow simple safety measures to minimise risks.

What are you looking forward to?
The tranquillity and challenge that comes with alpine sports.

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