TAS project led by BAE Systems – Laying the groundwork for a next generation trusted autonomous capability

News on TAS project led by BAE Systems, TAGVIEW – Laying the groundwork for a next generation trusted autonomous capability.

When the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts

You may have heard the saying, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ a quote attributed to Aristotle’s Metaphysics Book VIII. Many consider this to mean that a single thing made of many separate parts can be of more value than the individual parts on their own.  However, I subscribe to the interpretation that Aristotle was referring to the mysterious properties of ‘emergence’. Emergence describes the idea that whole things can exhibit special properties which are meaningful only when attributed to the whole as they do not exist in the separated parts.  This idea can be applied to collective behaviours and systems and, at least from a system engineering point of view, can also be intangible and difficult to replicate. In this case, the whole becomes something besides the parts which is a more accurate translation of Aristotle’s words.

Over the last seven years, Australia’s first Defence Cooperative Research Centre Trusted Autonomous Systems (TAS), has provided evidence to support the validity and value of emergence.  TAS has brought together and led the ‘parts’ – industry and academia – to enable the creation and conversion of Intellectual Property (IP) to capability in Defence. In doing so, and over time, a system of common behaviour, purity of mission, and focus has also emerged which has been an important factor in the success rate of translating this innovation into Defence capability.

For example, Consunet is a world-leading provider of cyber and spectrum security systems and one of TAS’ valued partners in developing and delivering capability for Defence. In 2019, Consunet developed its Distributed aUtonomous Spectrum managemenT system, known as DUST, as part of a four-year research and development collaboration with several Australian universities and the @Defence Science and Technology Group, supported by Next Generation Technologies Fund (NGTF) investment from TAS. DUST utilises machine learning and artificial intelligence to plan and allocate radio spectrum usage to achieve optimised spectrum utilisation in congested and contested environments, and has been incorporated into the proposed Joint Air Battle Management System for AIR6500. This innovation brings a wealth of Australian-developed AI and cyber security spectrum management expertise to Defence’s Joint Air Battle Management System – AIR6500-1 program.

Another example of the value of collaboration has been TAS’ partnership with Athena AI, a Queensland-based company that evolved through the NGTF-funded Joint Autonomous UAS Effects (JAUASE) project investment. Athena AI grew from a TAS introduction and investment in Skyborne Technologies and Cyborg Dynamics Engineering along with TAS’ support of the technical, ethical and legal elements of the project. This project developed autonomous live reconnaissance effects assessment using AI and machine vision for day and night Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operations over land. Commercial sales for Athena AI continue to grow, with Athena AI recently signing a deal with three Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to supply to the US Department of Defense, signalling Athena’s growing global profile.

The outcomes of the Consunet and JAUASE projects would not have been possible without TAS’ leadership. These are but two examples of TAS’ skill in bringing together the expertise of universities and industry to deliver commercialisation of IP and grow Australia’s Defence capability. TAS has proven its ability to facilitate partnerships across industry and academia to convert innovation to capability for Defence, and in doing so, has become something more than the sum of its programs.

I believe that TAS’ can continue to play its essential role in continuing to support industry and academic collaboration and we welcome discussion of opportunities to fund further innovation in Australia’s Defence industry.

Glen Schafer, TAS CEO

TAS AI month discussion articles

During AI month 2023, TAS posted weekly discussion articles on socials, listed here as a thread. Thanks to our CTO, Dr Simon Ng for the contributions.

15 November: Hype Doom

AI month was launched this week by Minister Ed Husic MP, CSIRO and the National AI Centre, so timely for Trusted Autonomous Systems (TAS) to share some ideas.

The Gartner Hype curve is a common conceptual model for thinking about how society responds to emerging technologies, or indeed any emerging idea. Typically, it is presented as a single line (the blue line in the diagram below), tracing an initial phase of exploration that reaches a feverish peak associated with grand promises of what a technology might be able to do. Following that, the hype turns into disappointment as the promises turn out to be overblown or hard to realise. But eventually the technology is exploited, and its applications mature, producing social and commercial value.

The diagram below shows the matching Doom (the red line), a counter-balance that is an important part of the social process of understanding and exploiting new technologies. The Doom curve collects the increasing concerns of pundits — in the case of AI, job losses, misinformation and even existential risk are examples. This image is a slide originally shown at ASSC 2023.

When we think about autonomy at TAS, we listen to both sides of the discussion, because the Hype and Doom curves are complementary and interactive, leading to not only technology exploitation but also a consideration of social acceptance and licence, safety, regulation and policy in development. Our projects are all examined through this duality, emphasising the importance not only of technical innovation, but also regulatory and social investment.

Of course no such “curve” exists, but it is a useful framing when it comes to demonstrating how an innovation organisation needs to think.

 

22 November: The TAS Ecosystem

Our second post on AI month, Trusted Autonomous Systems, a Defence Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) has built a dynamic innovation ecosystem to support Defence capability objectives by focussing on the key qualities needed of any disruptive innovation accelerator. The scale of our ecosystem is showcased in the attached graphic.

Firstly, TAS takes guidance from key stakeholders, but allows ideas and concepts to emerge from anywhere within the ecosystem. Not every need anticipates the future we actually confront, and to expect one source of truth to prevail is to deny the reality that we are as often surprised by the future as much as we are expecting it.

Secondly, operating outside Defence and government in accordance with its charter, TAS is agile and dynamic, with rapid and flexible contracting, and a fail-fast model that has been exercised on a regular basis. The separation from government means TAS can rapidly respond to the consequences of contract termination or additional objectives that may emerge as technologies mature.

Thirdly, TAS works in consortia, not in pairwise relationships, and links research through to organisations that can scale a prototype technology, bringing the best of small and large players together. IP is courted up front, making commercialisation simpler and faster.

Finally, TAS takes a hands-on approach, picking winners and working closely with them to develop concepts, execute projects and work towards transition into the capability and commercial space. All this, without any commercial interest and with both eyes firmly on creating a robust ecosystem that can support Defence in the future.

29 November: Future Gazing

Our third contribution during AI month and some observations on ‘Future Gazing’

Defence and Defence adjacent entities spend considerable effort trying to anticipate the future of conflict and warfare. It is a sizeable industry that drives everything from development of concepts to development of technologies. When we imagine the future, we relate it to the present, often assuming that of all possible futures, the ones we might imagine (I) also include more of the same (P).

But as amply demonstrated in the Ukraine conflict, we don’t always guess correctly. Indeed, the truth is that we are likely more often wrong than not. The actual future (A) can sit partly outside both P and I, leaving us with some capability of relevance, some hedged capability, but with a need to adapt and to do so fast.

The innovation ecosystem, arguably, is not there to develop capabilities that will meet our anticipated needs, although that is of value, but to allow us to respond to a future no-one expected. In other words, we don’t innovate to produce minimal viable capabilities; we innovate to produce healthy innovation systems that can be there when we need them.

This means we need to stop thinking about Minimal Viable Products and capability ready prototypes as innovations. True innovation is the existence of a healthy innovation system. And its health can’t be measured in terms of commercial viability (no-one in the Ukraine is asking for commercially viable innovation), but in terms of its ability to produce capabilities we never knew we needed quickly and efficiently. This requires a fundamentally different approach to investment that isn’t rooted in peace-time thinking. More on that when we discuss the role of fitness landscapes in innovation and the thinking required if we want to make the innovation system fit for conflict rather than peace.

8 December: The Golden Thread

In our fourth AI month post we explore our Trusted Autonomous Systems ‘Golden Thread’.

Professor Tanya Monro, Chief Defence Scientist, suggested “a ‘fail fast’ approach to innovation can and should co-exist with the enduring need to maintain the highest standards for in-service equipment…”

This approach reflects a willingness to invest boldly, to make decisions on continuation quickly and to drive with a clear vision towards a clear outcome.

At TAS, we take this ambition seriously. We actively participate in and shape every stage of a project, from initial concept through the final transition to commercialisation and capability. We are committed partners.

Our Golden Thread diagram provides insight into the stages of our project execution process. These numbers are old now, but serve to illustrate our focus at each step. No arms-length requests for RFIs or unhelpful feedback. Even when a project doesn’t get past a decision gate, we still work with our partners to find alternative avenues for it to continue.

As of late last year, TAS has transitioned two of its 23 projects to capability, and four into further commercial innovation activities (NB – numbers & categories in the far right of diagram are not mutually exclusive). This is around 11% of an originally 53 project proposals received since TAS inception. The figure along the bottom of the diagram represents the percentage of proposals at each stage that have reached a ‘success’ phase. TAS has rejected and or terminated numerous projects that started in development, some early in the development phase and some later. This ability to fail fast and fail early comes with a strategy of being intimately involved in developing a project concept and testing it through repeated engagement with Defence, the Board and within TAS itself.

With proposals requiring only a few pages to pass into execution, the overall load on our partners is as light as can be, another hallmark of a true innovation accelerator. And all this with eight staff.

Austal welcome Greenroom Robotics to the TAS-WIN Patrol Boat Autonomy Trial

Austal Australia  announce  Greenroom Robotics has joined the Patrol Boat Autonomy Trial, underway for Trusted Autonomous Systems and the Royal Australian Navy.  Greenroom Robotics will integrate their Uncrewed Surface Vessel (USV) control software into Sentinel (a decommissioned Armidale-class Patrol Boat) that will allow autonomous navigation, remote pilotage and control, mission planning and operations. Read more at Austal news & media.

Release of Australian Code of Practice Edition 2

Call for abstracts/date claimer – TAS 2024 Symposium

Following the success of previous TAS Symposiums we are pleased to announce Wednesday 27 March for the TAS 2024 Symposium in Brisbane (mark the date in your calendars). Final arrangements are underway with the venue and registrations are anticipated to be launched in late-January.

In anticipation of announcing the speaker line-up with launch of registrations, TAS are calling on short abstracts with the general interim theme of ‘disruptive and transformative innovation’. While TAS are Defence focussed, we are interested in more general, translatable innovation success stories.

We are keen to hear about:

  • the nature of your innovation, including why it is or could be transformational or disruptive,
  • factors critical to its realisation,
  • challenges you had to overcome along the way, and
  • your ideas for how to foster an environment that can aid in and sustain disruptive innovation in the future.

Please include in response:

  • name and brief qualifications of presenter
  • presentation title
  • abstract of no more than three paragraphs
  • desired/forecast duration of presentation, and
  • telephone and email contact details.

Please direct abstracts to info@tasdcrc.com.au no later than Friday 1 December 2023. TAS will assess the responses and provide advice early in 2024.

HAPS Challenge Phase 3 and Conclusion

TAS participant Cellula Robotics Ltd to continue UUV development with BAE Systems UK

BAE Systems and Cellula Robotic Ltd announce development of the Herne XLUUV, furthering technologies developed in TAS-Cellula SeaWolf program.

An Australian Maritime Regulatory Sandbox

Rachel Horne, General Manager – Law, Regulation and Assurance, Trusted Autonomous Systems

 

Testing autonomous and remotely operated vessels can be challenging, particularly when it comes to identifying and navigating regulatory pathways. For designers and manufacturers who are not maritime-natives, or are working with iteratively designed vessels or groups of vessels, the process can be particularly confusing and lengthy.

To facilitate more efficient test and evaluation, and to support the gathering of data to support future regulatory development, Trusted Autonomous Systems worked with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and AMC Search to advocate for the establishment of an Australian Maritime Regulatory Sandbox.

This week AIMS announced their success in obtaining an approval enabling permit-free testing and evaluation of vessels up to 12m in length, travelling up to 20 knots within the test range.

 

ReefWorks Project Director Melanie Olsen said the status removed a time- consuming hurdle and uncertainty for developers and helped clear the path to development for Australia’s fledgling autonomous marine technology sector. 

“For the first time in Australia there is a place where individual developers can go without having to first secure a permit,” she said. 

“It eliminates a significant amount of red tape as well as the expensive possibility of not securing a permit in time for a planned trial. 

“It will also allow ReefWorks to share the lessons we learn with regulators to help reduce risk and drive legislative changes.”[i]

 

 

(C) AIMS Jo Hurford

 

While the Australian Maritime Safety Authority now has established processes in place for autonomous and remotely operated vessels, with many success stories in terms of quick turnarounds on applications, initiatives like the Australian Maritime Regulatory Sandbox remain critical to facilitate innovation in Australian industry. Increasing the efficiency of regulatory pathways by removing hurdles, in a way that does not jeopardise safe operations, benefits all stakeholders involved. This includes designers and manufacturers seeking to conduct rapid and iterative trials on one hand, and AMSA staff who must assess all unique applications on the other hand.

To learn more about Regulatory Sandboxes, and how they are used in other industries, please read the ‘Report Excerpt: Regulatory Sandboxes’ available below.

Report Excerpt: Regulatory Sandboxes

 

To find out more about the AIMS ReefWorks facility and see some autonomous and remotely operated vessels in action, take a look at this video from the Trusted Autonomous Systems Maritime Showcase 2022.

Trusted Autonomous Systems will continue to work to support this initiative and to bring other initiatives forward to support the Australian autonomous systems ecosystem.

References:

If you would like to contact us to offer feedback or suggestions, or request more information on our projects, please email us at info@tasdcrc.com.au.

 

Detect and Avoid flight trials at the Queensland Flight Test Range

By Tara Roberson, Trust Activities Coordinator

 

Trusted Autonomous Systems, Revolution Aerospace, and QinetiQ conducted a series of live flight trials at the Queensland Flight Test Range in Cloncurry during December 2022.

The flight trials showcased a Detect and Avoid (DAA) system developed by Queensland SME Revolution Aerospace and demonstrated how crewed aircraft can be detected by a DAA system – allowing remotely piloted aircraft to manoeuvre to a safe position.

The trials were developed as part of a Trusted Autonomous Systems initiative which will produce a DAA guideline – a suite of documents that will provide a critical stepping stone to enable Remotely Piloted Autonomous Systems (RPAS) developers to design and build DAA systems with a regulatory-aligned safety assurance process.

The collaboration aims to support acceleration of Beyond Visual Line of Sight flight for RPAS in Australia.

Aerial photo of the Queensland Flight Test Range, taken by Cloncurry Mustering Company.

 

Why was this important?

Australia was the first country in the world to regulate drones and remains on the forefront of the future of drone regulation.

With applications for RPAS continuing to emerge, our airspace will become busier. Detect and Avoid systems will be a vital part of how we maintain and enhance safety for everyone involved.

The December trial aimed to test a Detect and Avoid system – which provides an equivalent capability for RPAS – developed by Revolution Aerospace as part of the TAS Detect and Avoid guideline project.

Illustration of a drone detecting a crewed plane through a Detect and Avoid system. Visual created for TAS Ethics of RAS-AI video series

 

What happened at the flight trials?

At the Queensland Flight Test Range, Revolution Aerospace and QinetiQ worked with local aviation companies Cloncurry Mustering Company (CMC) and Savannah Aviation to conduct real-time activities.

They conducted manoeuvres with RPAS and crewed aircraft – including head-to-head (crewed aircraft approaching the system from the front) and side-on (crewed aircraft approaching the system from the side) – to test Revolution Aerospace’s Detect and Avoid system. The Queensland Flight Test Range provided the test and evaluation space for the trials to be conducted in a safe and controlled manner.

Encounters were largely successful in demonstrating the capability of the system and procedures. A demonstration day at the conclusion of the trials showed the capabilities of the system to delegates from the Queensland Government, Defence Aviation Safety Authority (DASA), and Cloncurry Shire Council.

 

Assurance of Autonomy Activity

This work forms part of Trusted Autonomous Systems’ Assurance of Autonomy Activity. Trusted Autonomous Systems (TAS) is working to support the growing Australian autonomous systems ecosystem by identifying and addressing key hurdles in the assurance and accreditation frameworks for autonomous systems and connecting stakeholders to broaden understanding of issues and effect meaningful change.

The TAS Assurance Activity provides expertise to regulators, government, and Defence and builds bespoke assurance and accreditation approaches for the Australian operational context to enable the integration of autonomous systems. These bespoke approaches aim to help industry access higher risk operational areas and achieve increase operational flexibility while maintaining safe performance and meeting regulatory requirements.

This work received funding support from the Queensland Government through Trusted Autonomous Systems (TAS), a Defence Cooperative Research Centre funded through the Commonwealth Next Generation Technologies Fund and the Queensland Government.