Our researchers are at the forefront of a new science that is finding ways in which computers can work intelligently in partnership with people. This could support the management of some of today's most challenging situations, such as the aftermath of major disasters.
"Emergency situations, such as earthquakes, floods and fires, are extremely chaotic, with new information coming in all the time and priorities constantly shifting," explains Professor Nick Jennings, who leads the University's Agents, Interactions and Complexity research group - the largest group of its kind in the world.
"Computers are much better than people at collecting and analysing large amounts of information," Nick continues. "In our previous research we have harnessed this to produce systems in which computers work together, share this information and reduce human error."
Nick is heading up the ORCHID project, which is taking the research a stage further. Putting humans back into the picture, ORCHID is looking at how people and computers can most effectively exchange information and work together.
The £10m project builds on the success of a five-year programme called ALADDIN (Autonomous Learning Agents for Decentralised Data and Information Networks), which ended in 2010. ALADDIN's researchers designed a system of multiple agents working together to give an overall picture of an emergency situation as it unfolded.
The agents, in sensors, cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles, were programmed to collect and process data about the situation. Using techniques such as game theory, the agents negotiated with each other to arrive at a coordinated plan of action - for example sending the correct number of fire engines to the location where they were most needed.
ORCHID is a collaboration between the universities of Southampton, Oxford and Nottingham and industrial partners BAE Systems, Secure Meters UK Ltd and the Australian Centre of Field Robotics. It is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Nick comments: "The breadth of our multidisciplinary approach, coupled with our focus on industrial applications, means that this research can be expected to be truly transformational."