Distributed Environmental Monitoring with Finite Element Robots

Matthew L. Elwin*, Randy A. Freeman, Kevin M. Lynch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


We introduce a distributed finite element algorithm that allows swarms of mobile robots to persistently monitor environmental quantities such as temperature or salinity. The robots deploy themselves into the environment, covering the domain and dividing it into nonoverlapping regions. Each robot estimates the environment over its own region using local measurements and communication with nearby robots. The algorithm ensures that each robot's estimate constitutes a piece of a global estimate that spans the entire domain, fuses the whole swarm's measurements, and accounts for the spatial correlation between measurement and estimation locations. By incorporating spatial correlation without requiring the transmission of measurements or measurement locations, the algorithm decouples its communication requirements from the spatial statistics of the environment and enables robots with fixed capabilities to monitor environments with different spatial correlation lengths. Analysis and simulation demonstrate that, as the number of robots increases, the memory and communication requirements of each individual robot decrease until reaching a minimum, after which the resolution of the environmental model increases. Additional robots, therefore, add computational resources to the swarm rather than introducing extra computational burdens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8850212
Pages (from-to)380-398
Number of pages19
JournalIEEE Transactions on Robotics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Distributed robot systems
  • environment monitoring and management
  • networked robots
  • sensor networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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