Assured Autonomy Workshop Series

Autonomy is becoming mainstream. The anticipation is that cyber-physical-human systems and services enabled by autonomy will improve the future work conditions and the quality of life for humans and create new business models. To name a few examples, autonomous cars are test-driven on public streets by numerous companies, teams of robots that share the workspace with humans are showcased at airports and hospitals, new civilian and defense applications for drones surface by the day, and more and more human responsibilities in critical applications, including but not limited to infrastructure networks and medical diagnostics and hospital management, are shared with autonomous decision-makers.

On the other hand, a number of looming challenges—whether autonomous systems are safe and secure, whether we can assure their safety and security, whether humans will ever trust and work with them, whether we can integrate them at scale and whether we can do all these economically—overshadow the popular belief that a revolution driven by autonomy is imminent. Report after report warns of the technological and societal consequences if these challenges are not addressed.

Why does a revolution seem still so far despite the fact that the number of examples of autonomous systems is booming? We believe that the answer is not only in our lack of a scientific foundation, tools and engineering principles for sustainable development and deployment of autonomous systems with appropriate assurance on safety and security but also in the lack of awareness of the commonalities, misunderstandings and gaps in understanding across disciplines, sectors and communities. Furthermore, the barriers for the integration of autonomous systems at scale and with significant societal impact do not only stem from technical factors but also factors related to regulation, policy making, education, workforce development, capacity building and distribution of wealth.

The challenge of establishing assurance in autonomy is attracting rapidly increasing interest of the industry, government and academia. A vast range of industrial sectors including defense, mobility, health care, manufacturing and civilian infrastructure are embracing the opportunities in autonomy yet face the barriers toward establishing the necessary level of assurance. Numerous government agencies are poised to tackle the challenges in assured autonomy. Controls, computer science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, human factors, communication, perceptual and cognitive sciences, business, law, ethics and public policy are only a few among the disciplines that address the underlying scientific problems in assured autonomy. Given the already immense interest and investment in autonomy, we argue that it is exactly the right time to organize an international workshop to facilitate a dialogue and increase awareness among the stakeholders in the industry, government and academia.

This series of three workshops aimed to help create a unified understanding of the goals for assured autonomy and the research trends as well as near-term, mid-term and long-term research needs to support these goals.

  • Workshop 1 (October 16-17, 2019 in Arlington, VA) — Identified current and anticipated challenges and problems in assuring autonomous systems within and across applications and sectors.
  • Workshop 2 (February 20-21, 2020, Phoenix, AZ) — Identified existing capabilities, current research, and research trends that could address the challenges and problems identified in workshop 1.
  • Workshop 3 (July 29th, 2020, Virtual) — Created a roadmap for assured autonomy that will be used for building and refining research and development programs.