Multi-robot formation control and object transport in dynamic environments via constrained optimization

Javier Alonso-Mora, Stuart Baker, Daniela Rus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)
73 Downloads (Pure)


We present a constrained optimization method for multi-robot formation control in dynamic environments, where the robots adjust the parameters of the formation, such as size and three-dimensional orientation, to avoid collisions with static and moving obstacles, and to make progress towards their goal. We describe two variants of the algorithm, one for local motion planning and one for global path planning. The local planner first computes a large obstacle-free convex region in a neighborhood of the robots, embedded in position-time space. Then, the parameters of the formation are optimized therein by solving a constrained optimization, via sequential convex programming. The robots navigate towards the optimized formation with individual controllers that account for their dynamics. The idea is extended to global path planning by sampling convex regions in free position space and connecting them if a transition in formation is possible - computed via the constrained optimization. The path of lowest cost to the goal is then found via graph search. The method applies to ground and aerial vehicles navigating in two- and three-dimensional environments among static and dynamic obstacles, allows for reconfiguration, and is efficient and scalable with the number of robots. In particular, we consider two applications, a team of aerial vehicles navigating in formation, and a small team of mobile manipulators that collaboratively carry an object. The approach is verified in experiments with a team of three mobile manipulators and in simulations with a team of up to sixteen Micro Air Vehicles (quadrotors).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1000-1021
JournalThe International Journal of Robotics Research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • collaborative mobile manipulators
  • collaborative object transport
  • constrained optimization
  • formation control
  • micro air vehicles
  • motion planning
  • Multi-robot systems
  • sequential convex programming
  • team of aerial vehicles

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