In recent years there has been great interest in robot software control architectures. However, although many interesting solutions have been presented, most of the research problems tackled related to a single robot perception, navigation and action in everyday environments. Instead, most of the practical applications of mobile robotics for service tasks in civilian environments consist of systems composed of multiple robots communicating with each other, with external sensing and actuating devices, and with external supervising workstations. RoboCup offers a great opportunity to deal with this problem. In fact the software architecture of a robot soccer player must allow successful intra-robot integration of the different activities (visual perception, path planning, strategy planning, motion control, etc.) spanning many different types of representation (raw sensor data, images, symbolic plans, etc.) and it must also guarantee successful inter-robot integration by supporting communication and cooperation. This paper focuses on this problem, presenting ETHNOS-IV - a programming environment for the design of a real-time control system composed of different robots, devices and external supervising or control stations - which has been successfully used within the Italian ART robot team in the RoboCup-99 competition. ETHNOS provides support from three main point of views which will be addressed in detail: inter-robot and intra-robot communication, real-time task scheduling, and software engineering and code reuse. Experimental results illustrating the advantages of this approach will also be presented.
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