Andrew Lucas, AOS’s Managing Director, and Andy Lyons of Aero Synergy Limited, Dorset, UK, delivered a paper on autonomous decision-making systems at this year’s IET International System Safety Conference in Manchester, UK. Held in the pleasant surroundings of the Hallmark Hotel near Manchester Airport, this annual conference attracts system safety experts from around the world with international speakers this year from the USA, Italy, India and the Defence Materiel Organisation of Australia.
The joint AOS-Aero Synergy paper, “Incremental Safety Assurance Of An Autonomous Decision-Making System For UAS”, presents a novel approach to maintaining the safety assurance of the decision-making software underlying autonomous capability.
An autonomous system is driven by a goal or success for the mission that it is trying to perform. The system perceives its environment and determines if it can achieve its goal. Should this be the case (e.g. UAV sensors detect an approaching storm front), the system takes action to ensure, as far as practicable and safe, that its goals will be achieved in spite of this unplanned event disturbing the mission. Moreover, since it’s an autonomous system, it reasons about its course of action employing a number of alternatives to achieve its goal(s) without recourse to human oversight and/or control.
Autonomous systems are not, however, beyond the control of humans. Instead, the human delegates a degree of authority to the system and it works within these bounds so, ultimately, the system is always subservient to the human.
The problem addressed by the paper was how to upgrade, expand or change the autonomous behaviours of such a system so that it can be reassigned, without great delay or cost, to different missions and roles. Such systems gain their versatility and adaptability from the provision of new software that describes the behaviours needed to complete the chosen range of missions.
As these systems are potentially safety or mission-critical, it is vital that techniques are developed to ensure this critical margin is undisturbed as system configurations are changed to fit new roles.
The new ideas and approaches presented in the paper were well received and are to be be practically tested in the Ministry of Defence/Industry’s prototype Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, Taranis.