Operational Research (OR) can be defined as a range of scientific methods and techniques employed to analyse decision options. Multidisciplinary in nature, it borrows techniques from disciplines such as mathematics, computer science and economics. By essence, using such an arsenal of methods is appropriated for non-trivial decision problems. That is for problems where simple "common sense" is unsufficient to find good solutions. The problems concerned with OR are characterised either by a huge number of possible solutions (combinatorial explosion), or uncertainty aspects (stochastic, robust programming), or a concurrential context (game theory) making the decisions difficult. In any case OR models are based on available data sources which give it a strong link with modern key issues such as data sciences.
The roots of OR is officially traced back to the first World War, and latter the second World War, when scientific research was used to improve military operations. The most famous two examples are O.R.'s impact on combating Germany's U-Boats (1st World War) and Hitlery's Lufwaffe (2nd World War). Indeed, to help british boat against Germany's U-Boats assaults, mathematicians exploit available data in the 1st World War to optimize boat sizes, speeds and travel timings. Similar scientific analysis performed by the OR team of the Professor P.M.S. Blackett allow to find the best radar location as an aid to air defence which becomes determinant in the Britain Battle.
This video has been produced by the first OR society (The OR Society) created in Great Britain in 1948. It shows the early days of the discipline.
Although military problems have allowed to evaluate the power of OR methodologies, some fundamental problems behing OR techniques had been investigated by researchers a long time before. Gaspard Monge, a french mathematician, has formulated in 1781 , a famous problem known as : "problème des déblais et des remblais". Monge's problem is considered nowadays as the root of a prolific scientific domain known as "optimal transport". In its discrete form, Monge's problem is known in OR literature as the "transportation problem". Before the 2nd World War, the russian mathematician Kantorovich reformulate the optimal transport problem as a linear programming problem and introduce duality theory.
Linear programming, and more generally OR techniques, plays nowadays an important role to solve (civil) OR problems that can be found in everyday human life.
This other video, produced again by The OR Society gives a short introduction of OR applications.
Additional animations available in this link give short videos on OR applications in : transport, logistics, government, sport, etc.
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