Aaron P. Wagner

Director, USD

Dr. Wagner joined Metron’s Unmanned Systems Division in 2014, where he has since served as the PI for multiple R&D efforts, with a particular focus on learning and adaptive systems. Dr. Wagner has extensive experience in unmanned vehicle systems and operations, particularly in working on the ONR Large Diameter Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (LDUUV) Innovative Naval Prototype (INP) program. In support of LDUUV, Dr. Wagner led various efforts for designing, developing, testing, and analyzing LDUUV autonomy algorithms and software. Dr. Wagner’s work also includes a PMS406 effort developing vehicle health monitoring software applicable to the fleet of PMS406 unmanned systems. This work includes development of machine learning and autonomy response systems for vehicle state monitoring and state prediction. Dr. Wagner also led multiple successful DARPA STO autonomy and communications development seedling projects that served as precursors to the DARPA CDMaST program. Dr. Wagner also leads efforts at Metron to integrate bio-inspired innovations into autonomous systems programs, including the development and application of evolutionary computation approaches in the DARPA FUN Design program.

Dr. Wagner is a veteran of the National Science Foundation’s BEACON Science and Technology Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, where he led a number of projects using knowledge of biological systems to create effective and innovative solutions for autonomous systems. Dr. Wagner’s work in this area includes projects creating algorithms for intelligent control of, and cooperation among, autonomous agents, implemented and tested in robots. Dr. Wagner also spearheaded and managed computational research into the emergence of memory, inter-group cooperation, and adaptively responsive and intelligent behaviors in autonomous agents. Dr. Wagner also conceived, designed, implemented, and integrated complex virtual worlds with dynamic topologies, evolving ecological networks, cross-agent interaction mechanisms, and unique bio-inspired virtual-organism hardware architectures and control-flow mechanisms. Subjects of Dr. Wagner’s research include arms race interactions, the evolution of behavioral complexity and intelligence, the origins of communication, adaptive use and control of complex vision sensory systems, and inter- and intra-group communication in competitive and cooperative systems. Dr. Wagner has carried this expertise over into his work at Metron, including his adaptation of digital evolution tools to create algorithms for autonomous vehicle behaviors.

Earlier in his carrier, Dr. Wagner designed, developed, and led teams in investigating ecological network dynamics and both cooperative and competitive social network dynamics in carnivores. Dr. Wagner also developed the theory and algorithms underlying a unique likelihood-based method for determining relatedness patterns from ‘noisy’ genetic data (implemented in the widely-used software ML-Relate), a highly successful approach now used in over 400 scientific studies.

Dr. Wagner is the author or co-author of 19 peer reviewed scientific articles in computer science, biology, and robotics.


  • Doctor of Philosophy, Biology, Montana State University, 2006
  • Bachelor of Science, Environmental Science, University of Delaware, 1996