Research Project

Organizing Teamwork: Understanding Operator and Multiple-Robot Team Performance

Motivation/Research Problem

Current space exploration and subterranean missions rely upon autonomous / semi-autonomous mission types wherein humans and machines work together towards a common goal. The multiple-robot teams used in urban search and rescue missions are an example of these mission types. The use of this technology allows for human operators to supervise multiple robots in a hazardous environment, at the same time. A human-to-robot ratio of two to three operators per robot has been shown to be a reliable baseline for human-robot teamwork (Fincannon et. al., 2013). In 2019, Hong and colleagues found that operators can effectively maneuver up to eight robots before experiencing decreases in performance. Manipulating variables such as robot reliability and autonomy have been shown to influence the efficiency of a human-robot team and alter the human-to-robot ratio (Hong et. al., 2019). In order to organize these teams and increase performance, architectures such as shared pooled or sectored teams have been tested as methods for distributing workload amongst operators (Lewis et. al., 2006). A pooled architecture wherein teammates communicate with each other and supervise multiple robot teams collaboratively was found to be more efficient than a sectored architecture wherein humans supervise multiple robot teams separately. In human-human teaming literature and organizational behavior management literature, researchers have examined team lead directiveness as a variable to increase human-human team efficiency (Somech, 2006).  Their findings indicated that teams led by highly directive leads were generally more productive than teams with leads who exercised low directiveness. Currently what is lacking in the literature is a human-robot team architecture that focuses on minimizing  workload and increasing team efficiency.

Research Team


  • Amir Rahmani: primary JPL contact, directly involved in the development of work
  • Suzanne Sheld: ARCS Co-PI, collaborator
  • Kevin Zemlicka: ARCS Co-PI, collaborator
  • Gina Masequesmay: ARCS Co-PI, collaborator


  • Nhut Ho: ARCS Director, CSUN Professor, advise team
  • Li Liu: ARCS Associate Director, CSUN Assistant Professor, advise team
  • Ellie Kazemi: ARCS Co-PI, CSUN professor, directly supervise ARCS FellowsAmiel Harman: ARCS/CSUN faculty

Student Team: 

  • Adisa Ptah
  • Eric McCoy
  • Helina Mekonnen

Alignment, Engagement and Contributions to the priorities of NASA’s Mission Directorates

Having a human-robot teaming architecture that focuses on team lead directiveness would minimize workload and increase team efficiency. Additionally, designing a chain of command for multiple-robot teams to communicate error or overload to the operator may support mission coordination (Fincannon et. al., 2013). This architecture would allow organizations, such as NASA, to effectively organize human-multiple-robot teams, increase productive communication amongst operators and agents, and may help complete missions more efficiently. By reviewing the best practices in human operation of multi-agent systems, robot-robot teaming, this research will propose an architecture for minimizing Workload in human operators and increase efficiency.