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The goal of the NCFRN is to build technologies and robotic systems that will allow heterogeneous teams of robots, i.e. robots that fly, roam, or swim, to work effectively together in unstructured outdoor environments. These robots need not only to cooperate and communicate efficiently with each other, but also need to send information to the humans who operate them or whom they interact with. The research program of the NCFRN addresses issues along four themes, corresponding to different application domains: (i) Land, (ii) Air, (iii) Water, and (iv) Human.

These application domains play a key role in defining the nature of the problems encountered in field robotics. They also map directly to the expertise and concerns of the NCFRN industrial partners. Thus, they are used as the primary organizing axis to define the research agenda for the network. This allows the NCFRN team to tailor application-specific solutions to the needs and problems encountered by our partners.

The Land, Air, Water and Human themes are linked to each other by crosscutting scientific and engineering challenges. These challenges motivate the NCFRN’s technical objectives, which address common problems in field robotics. Working together to address this set of challenges will allow the NCFRN team to leverage the network’s technological strengths to advance research on each of the four themes.

To further strengthen the interactions between members of the NCFRN, we will hold annual pan-network field trials to (i) evaluate and test research results, (ii) promote interactions between academic, governmental, and industrial partners, and (iii) broaden the training of highly qualified personnel. These field trials will act as a catalyst for academic-industrial knowledge transfer, academic research partnerships, and pan-institutional training of personnel.

Technical objectives

  • Objective 1: Develop robotic systems that can map natural unstructured environments, i.e. environments that lack a predictable geometry.
  • Objective 2: Develop robotic systems that can use such maps to estimate their position, even when they have no access to GPS data (e.g. underwater or in dense forests).
  • Objective 3: Develop methods to identify and observe regions and objects of interest from streams of data produced by sensors to detect specific salient events.
  • Objective 4: Develop techniques for constructive multi-robot interactions that improve overall efficiency.
  • Objective 5: Design a set of common representations of data and processes for human and robot teams, to facilitate the design of distributed systems that operate in a coherent collaborative manner.
  • Objective 6: Develop programmatic tools, protocols, and benchmarks for evaluating hybrid robotic systems across the different themes.
  • Objective 7: Develop technologies and methodologies to support long-duration autonomous operation in a manner that is robust and resilient to unexpected events, including component failure.


Theme 1: Land

Environment: Ground surfaces or underground, either on Earth or on other planets such as Mars, underground mines, contaminated environments

Subthemes and objectives

  • Subtheme 1.1: Planetary and terrestrial robotics
    • Visual navigation, autonomy, and human-robot interfaces
  • Subtheme 1.2: Robotics in terrestrial semi-structured environments
    • Human-machine interaction, Supervised SLAM and subsequent localization, and team coordination and control.


Theme 2: Air

Environment: Low-altitude flight under all weather conditions

Subtheme and objectives

  • Subtheme 2.1: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
      • Outdoor autonomy, methods for heterogeneous teams coordination, interface between humans and UAVs.


Theme 3: Water

Environment: Coastal waters (shallow water, beaches, bogs, swamps, sand, surf zone), and deep-water environment.

Subthemes and objectives

  • Subtheme 3.1: Marine robotics
    • Autonomy, sensing, mapping and control, multi-agent interaction
  • Subtheme 3.2: Amphibious or surf zone robotics
    • Localization and communication, autonomous surf entry/exit


Theme 4: Human

Environment: Human-centric and urban environments, including complex indoor and outdoor settings.

Subtheme and objectives

  • Subtheme 4.1: Assistive robotics
    • Sensor integration, pose estimation, robust navigation, task planning and execution, real-time human interaction, active visual search
Funded by NSERC