Large NWO grant for research into swarms of small drones that collect information in crisis situations

In the context of the STEADFAST project, Tilburg University is going to conduct research into swarms of small drones (between 10 and 20 cm) that can operate (semi-)autonomously under human supervision. These so-called Human-Swarm Teams are applied in military as well as civilian missions. Especially in complex crisis situations, Human-Swarm Teams offer the possibility of quickly getting an accurate picture of the situation by collecting information in a coordinated manner from various vantage points and at low altitudes. The total grant for the project amounts to € 2.7 million.

In operations in densely populated or hard to reach areas, the "situational awareness" gathered in this way can considerably improve military and civilian decision-making processes. The study is aimed at the technical aspects of swarm development, the human aspects of supervising drone swarms, as well as ethical and legal issues around drone autonomy.

Military ethics

The broad STEADFAST consortium is headed by Marie ¦afár-Postma, Professor of Computational Cognitive Science at Tilburg University. "I believe that optimal solutions are generated not by individuals but by teams. In this project, we focus on collaboration between humans and AI. In situations in which military staff and first responders have to quickly get a picture, whether it is about a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, swarms of small drones with specific characteristics can quickly and safely gather that information for them," ¦afár-Postma states. "It is important that this happens under the ethical and legal conditions that we as a society want to guarantee. That is the reason why experts in the field of (military) ethics and law have joined our consortium."  

The Steadfast project (STEADFAST stands for  "Swarm Technology Enabling Advanced Drone-Facilitated Active Support Tactics for Military and First Responder Operations ") brings together key stakeholders from knowledge and government institutions, defense, first responders, and the aerospace and automation industries.

For more information, please contact press officer Tineke Bennema, phone (+31) (0)13 466 8998 or via e-mail: See also the information on the  NWO.