Key Pillars for the Unmanned Industry to Achieve Assured Autonomy

As the AUVSI community looks forward to XPONENTIAL 2021, AUVSI hosted an XPONENTIAL Webinar Series to preview the educational programming that will take place virtually and in-person at the event later this year. The week’s programming kicked off with Dr. Cara LaPointe, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy and an expert at the intersection of technology, policy, leadership, and ethics. 

Autonomy is everywhere and has tremendous potential – much of which will be realized only through assured autonomy. 

During her remarks, Dr. LaPointe described how autonomous systems have an immense potential to transform the future of business and the global economy. However, she also cautioned that these goals require the industry to be guided by principles that support safe and seamless integration of these systems. 

The technology driving autonomous systems is rapidly evolving, but before the technology can be fully integrated into all aspects of society, the industry must do more to show that these systems are safe, secure, and trustworthy. As with any emerging technology, unmanned and autonomous systems must demonstrate that they can reliably perform the operations for which they are designed. The stakes for the unmanned industry are high: If society does not trust the technology, its immense benefits will not be realized. 

The unmanned industry must adopt a holistic approach toward assured autonomy. 

To address these challenges, Dr. LaPointe shared her vision on how the unmanned industry can adopt a holistic approach across three key areas of concern. 

First, the system must be safe, reliable, secure, and resilient. Companies must design new technologies in a way that prioritizes safety and reliability to ensure they are useful in a variety of settings in modern society. Before product launch, companies must also ensure the technology is secure and resilient against external threats that could put those using autonomous systems at risk. 

Dr. LaPointe discussed how researchers at Johns Hopkins are using regression analyses to track and improve software from one iteration to the next update. Tools developed in the academic sphere can enable commercial market developers to build better autonomous systems, which in turn can improve systems used for defense and security purposes – creating a virtuous cycle throughout the unmanned industry in pursuit of Assured Autonomy. 

Second, the unmanned ecosystem must be seamlessly integrated across networks and domains. Realizing the full potential of unmanned systems depends on their successful integration into everyday life. 

A project currently underway at Johns Hopkins is investigating how autonomous systems gain awareness of social dynamics between people to understand how they move and interact, enabling the development of autonomous systems that behave in ways that are more predictable to humans. 

Finally, public policy must support autonomous systems that are ethical and beneficial to society. Policymakers can prepare for assured autonomy by implementing guardrails against unintended consequences that could result from integration of emerging technologies. Stakeholders must be involved in an inclusive process that incorporates viewpoints across various technological and use cases expertise. 

Industry must work together to address unsolved challenges. 

Autonomous technology is progressing along a continuum in the development, acceptance, and deployment of unmanned systems. In this important moment for unmanned systems, the industry will succeed together if stakeholders address pressing technology, ecosystem, and policy issues through a collaborative process. Dr. LaPointe’s pillars for assured autonomy provide a thought framework for the industry can prepare for the unknowns of the decades ahead. 

Since its founding, AUVSI has been convening experts across markets and domains to advance unmanned systems, and XPONENTIAL is the global stage for these discussions. This year’s attendees will join a community of thought leaders like Dr. LaPointe, end users, and policymakers working together to fulfill the vision of Assured Autonomy. Register now to get an up-close look at the full spectrum of unmanned innovation, discuss real-world applications, and discover solutions that will clear the path for tomorrow’s possibilities.