To react, or not to react: That is the question networked autonomous systems ask

Ricardo San Felice and student fly a drone
Ricardo San Felice and student fly a drone
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Karyn Skemp

Computer Engineering Professor Ricardo Sanfelice was awarded a three-year grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) to study robust and high-performance autonomy in complex networks.

The focus of the research will be on developing methods for the design of robust algorithms allowing multiple agents to communicate and coordinate with one another—even in the presence of incomplete information and compromised communication links—in adversarial or otherwise partially known environments.

“Dynamic, unexpected changes in the environment and networks are key factors that challenge the operation of autonomous systems,” says Sanfelice, “mainly because most algorithms have a very difficult time making the right decisions when unexpected changes occur, such as the sudden appearance of obstacles, the lost of network connectivity, and the lack of sensory information.”

Sanfelice’s solution involves developing self-reconfigurable algorithms that can properly respond to rapid changes in the environment, the communication infrastructure, and the sometimes random behavior of other agents in the vicinity. These algorithms will help agents communicate and cooperate on common tasks, even when communication links are compromised or temporarily unavailable.

The approach employs hybrid dynamical systems theory to capture, through mathematical models, the natural dynamics of the agents, their parameters, and the network. Hybrid dynamical systems methods allow researchers to study and design systems that experience continuous and impulsive dynamics, such as changing variables and parameters of the agents and networks, and the intermittent nature of the communication.

Additional information about Ricardo Sanfelice and his research is available online at