Analysis, modeling and control of human-machine interaction and the emergence of coordination and synchronization in human ensembles

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Engineering Mathematics


The study of the interactions among a large number of dynamical systems, represented through the formalism
of complex networks, is at the forefront of current research in Dynamical Systems and Control Theory. In
particular, much research effort is being spent in understanding how collective behavior emerge in a group of
dynamical agents interconnected over a network. Examples of real-world applications of complex network
analysis span from Life and Social Science to Physics and Engineering. The goal of this PhD project will be to
study, model and analyse the emergence of coordinated behaviour in groups of human players performing a
joint task in order to develop feedback control strategies able to drive robots or virtual players to engage with a
group of individuals and form a team.
More specifically, during my PhD I aim at going beyond the limit of dyadic interaction, extending the study of
synchronization in human ensembles from dyadic to group interaction and exploring the dynamics and the
phenomena (synchronization, leadership etc.) that emerge and characterize the complex network of interactions
between individuals. This will be done through an innovative computer-based set-up that allows studying
human coordination over different interaction patterns and introducing virtual agents in large groups;
furthermore the proposed software will allow experiments to be carried out anonymously over the Internet, so
that each participant is not aware of the others' identity. Summarizing, the aim of my project will be that of
developing a software platform to investigate the mechanisms underlying the onset of coordination in networks
of human and/or virtual players, and exploring new possible implementation for the latter in strategies for the
rehabilitation of patients affected by social disorders.
To summarize, the objectives of my PhD will be to:
- Create novel software platform to allow individuals to perform joint tasks over the internet and coordinate each other in order to monitor their behaviour and the emergence of collective phenonema
- Derive data-driven models of group synchronization; Build a novel cognitive architecture based on nonlinear control strategies for virtual agents to interact in a group;
- Validate numerically and then experimentally the effectiveness of the proposed cognitive architecture for
virtual agents
- Explore the application of the model and strategies developed during the project to telerehabilitation of
patients suffering from social disorders

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509619/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1834175 Studentship EP/N509619/1 23/01/2017 22/07/2020 Maria Lombardi
Title CHRONOS: a tool to study synchronization and coordination in human ensembles 
Description CHRONOS is a software application designed for the study of human group synchronisation. It allows one or more people to play the mirror game with one or more virtual players. The name of Chronos comes from the acronym "a tool to study synchronisation and coordination in human ensembles". CHRONOS extends the mirror game to a multiplayer scenario, allowing each participant to run the game on his/her laptop where s/he can move the position of an object visualised on computer screen and see traces of the objects moved by the others connected to their own laptops over internet. Furthermore, the software allows to implement different interaction pattern among the participants showing on each screen only the traces of a designed subset of players (human or virtual) in the group (decided a priori by an administrator). 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2017 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Our set-up can be used in a number of different fields spanning from Psychology, Movement and Social Sciences to Robotics. Indeed, thanks to our platform coordination tasks can be performed while allowing (or not) participants to share direct visual and auditory coupling, and the effects of their social interaction can therefore be investigated. Moreover, tasks can be easily performed and used as effective practice to train athletes and musicians in activities where the overall performance benefits from a high level of coordination, as in ballet, sports or music, or as a way to enhance social experience. As in our computer-based set-up some of the players can be replaced with one or more virtual agents, also researchers in Robotics can benefit for the development of artificial agents able to merge and interact within a group of humans, both for rehabilitation (as done in the European AlterEgo project) and recreational purposes.