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Proper traffic control is critical in highway work zone safety. Traffic control devices such as signs, barricades, cones, and safety barrels are used. Accidents can occur because of improper work zone design, improper work zone housekeeping, and driver negligence. Automated safety devices could improve work zone design and housekeeping and therefore increase safety. This paper presents a mobile safety barrel robot. The robotic safety barrels can self-deploy and self-retrieve-removing workers from this dangerous task. The robots move independently so they can be deployed in parallel and can quickly reconfigure as the work zone changes. The system must be reliable and have a low per-robot cost. A robot that malfunctions could create a significant hazard. Also, multiple barrels are used and they are often struck by vehicles, therefore a high replacement cost is not practical. A six-robot system, which consists of a lead robot and five low-cost barrel robots, is described. A distributed planning and control approach is presented that reduces the per-robot cost by centralizing the intelligence and sensing while keeping communication bandwidth low by distributing local control. Test results are presented including a statistical analysis of the performance of the local robot controllers and field tests of the full system.
Date of Publication: Oct. 2005