What I would like to do is create small independant vehicules that interact, modelling forms of social behaviour.
I envisage a vehicule to be able to explore and 'map' its surroundings, a room primarily, together with any permanent obstacles, furniture for example.
Cool, not only have you chosen a first project that will require a lot of work, but now you've
double-downed and added another fair share to it.
In academics, people have spent their
entire careers working on one project or the other, with the help of many grad students.
As noted already, there are tons and tons of research papers on these topics. You might check
Maja Mataric's website at USC for swarm robots.
Joe Jones has a couple of good books on "Robot Programming". His 2004 book by that name makes a
big point about the unreliability of most available sensors. For my part, I've been taking more sensor
scans, and finding the sonars are extremely susceptible to ground clutter, due to their wide beams,
when used on a small robot. Finding out what works well in practical situations is a nontrivial task.