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Computerised agents to cope with disasters

Published: 31 October 2008

A system which will use networks of computerised agents to cope with disaster scenarios such as outbreaks of fires, will be outlined by a University of Southampton researcher on Guy Fawkes night (Wednesday 5 November).

Professor Nick Jennings from the University's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) has picked that evening to tell an audience comprised of businesses and academia at Park Centre, Farnborough, about ALADDIN, an ambitious £5.5 million five-year research programme aimed at developing computerised agents for use in disaster recovery or terrorist attacks, which has just reached its half-way point.

ALADDIN stands for Autonomous Learning Agents in Decentralized Data and Information Networks. Professor Jennings believes that the UK Fire and Rescue Service is a likely potential client for some of the applications already developed by ALADDIN.

“We are developing decentralised information systems that can continue to operate effectively when there is a fire or in other extremely difficult circumstances,” said Professor Jennings.

“We use computerised agents which can sense, act and interact in order to achieve individual and collective aims. Central to this endeavour is the effective coordination of the different actors and, to this end, we’ve developed a rich series of algorithms for inter-agent co-operation and negotiation.”

ALADDIN is one of a number of programmes that bring leading academic groups to key industrial challenges through the BAE Systems/EPSRC Strategic Partnership, with the objective of delivering high-quality research and enhancing industrial capabilities.
The ALADDIN team comprises internationally-leading researchers in complex adaptive systems from the Universities of Southampton, Bristol and Imperial College; in fusion, inference and learning from the University of Oxford and Imperial; and in decentralised architectures from BAE Systems.

One of the challenges facing the researchers is to bring together work from a number of hitherto distinct fields, such as information fusion, inference, decision-making, and machine-learning. This work then needs to be combined with work from multi-agent systems, game theory, mechanism design and mathematical modelling of collective behaviour in order to give a collective view on behaviour.
“As ever more information sources become available – through environmental sensors, intranets, and so on – the problem of obtaining and fusing the right information when making decisions and taking actions is becoming increasingly pressing,” said Professor Jennings.

Notes for editors

1. For further information about ALADDIN, visit: www.aladdinproject.org/ and for further information about ARGUS II, visit: www.argusiiproject.org/

2. For further information about Professor Nick Jennings and his work, visit: www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/people/nrj

3. With around 500 researchers, and 900 undergraduate students, the School of Electronics and Computer Science at Southampton is one of the world's largest and most successful integrated research groupings, covering Computer Science, Software Engineering, Electronics, and Electrical Engineering. ECS has unrivalled depth and breadth of expertise in world-leading research, new developments and their applications.

4. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship across a wide range of subjects in engineering, science, social sciences, health and humanities.
With over 22,000 students, around 5000 staff, and an annual turnover of over £350 million, the University of Southampton is acknowledged as one of the country's top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine. We combine academic excellence with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to research, supporting a culture that engages and challenges students and staff in their pursuit of learning.
The University is also home to a number of world-leading research centres, including the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, the Optoelectronics Research Centre, the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, and the Mountbatten Centre for International Studies.

For further information contact:

Professor Nick Jennings, School of Electronics and Computer Science,
Tel: 023 8059 7681, Email: nrj@ecs.soton.ac.uk

Joyce Lewis, Communications Manager, School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton Tel. 023 8059 5453; email jkl2@ecs.soton.ac.uk)

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