One person can manage over 100 unmanned autonomous vehicles, shows study

Credit: Oregon State University.

In an incredible leap forward for technology and efficiency, research from Oregon State University has revealed that a single person can manage a “swarm” of over 100 autonomous robots without feeling overwhelmed.

This discovery opens up new possibilities for using robot swarms in various important tasks, such as fighting forest fires, delivering packages, and responding to disasters in cities.

Though we haven’t seen many delivery drones buzzing around in the U.S., they’re becoming more common in other countries.

Julie A. Adams from OSU’s College of Engineering points out that for businesses looking to use delivery drones on a large scale, it’s crucial that one person can handle lots of these drones safely and effectively.

This study is a promising start, showing that managing a vast number of drones might not be as daunting as it sounds.

Over a four-year project supported by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s OFFSET program, which stands for Offensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics, the team worked with up to 250 autonomous vehicles.

These included both flying drones and ground rovers, designed to collect information in city-like settings where tall buildings can block signals from satellites. The goal was to make environments safer for both soldiers and civilians by providing valuable reconnaissance data.

Julie A. Adams co-led one of the teams that built the technology and systems allowing these robot swarms to be controlled by a single person, dubbed the “swarm commander.”

This role isn’t about controlling each robot individually—that would be impossible. Instead, the swarm commander gives high-level commands, much like a quarterback calling plays in a football game.

To make this possible, collaborators developed a virtual reality interface known as I3, enabling the commander to issue broad directives to the swarm.

This approach means the commander can adjust the robots’ actions in real-time without having to micromanage every move, proving that one person can effectively deploy numerous robots in complex urban environments.

This breakthrough isn’t just about showing off fancy technology; it has real-world implications that could change how we approach many critical tasks.

By making it possible for one person to manage a large group of robots, we’re stepping into a future where robots could play a major part in making dangerous or labor-intensive jobs much safer and more efficient.

From delivering your next package to keeping firefighters safe from harm, the potential applications for this technology are as vast as they are exciting.