Book release – Lethal Autonomous Weapons: Re-Examining the Law and Ethics of Robotic Warfare

New Oxford University Press volume released: Lethal Autonomous Weapons: Re-Examining the Law and Ethics of Robotic Warfare 

The question of whether new rules or regulations are required to govern, restrict, or even prohibit the use of autonomous weapon systems has been the subject of debate for the better part of a decade. Despite the claims of advocacy groups, the way ahead remains unclear since the international community has yet to agree on a specific definition of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems and the great powers have largely refused to support an effective ban.  Lethal Autonomous Weapons focuses on exploring the moral and legal issues associated with the design, development and deployment of lethal autonomous weapons.  

The book features chapters by current and former TAS collaborators including CEO Prof. Jason Scholz, Chief Scientist Kate Devitt, Prof Rain Liivoja, Dr Tim McFarland, Dr Jai Galliott and Dr Bianca Baggiarini. 

Available hard and soft copies, more details at publisher site: 

Also available in soft copy on a number of platforms.  

CEO Jason Scholz awarded 2020 McNeil Prize

Trusted Autonomous Systems CEO, Professor Jason Scholz was awarded the 2020 McNeil Prize today by Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, AO in a virtual ceremony.

In 2016, the Australian Naval Institute (ANI) created an award to honour an individual or individuals from Australian defence industry who have made an outstanding contribution to the capabilities and sustainment of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). This award was named the McNeil Prize in honour of Rear Admiral Percival McNeil CB RAN (1883-1951).

The contributions of Prof. Scholz to RAN capability are articulated in the ANI Media Release and the ceremony underscored the importance of this field of research and contribution to future capability. Read the ANI Media Release here.

Congratulations Jason!

Introducing Mark Brady, Director of Autonomy Accreditation – Land

Society is increasingly reliant on autonomous systems and artificial intelligence (RAS-AI). Along with changes to communication, mobility, and technology, RAS-AI in the land domain will bring many changes to the physical landscape and architecture of cities. Despite the physical limitations of current transport infrastructure, carriageway width and lane marking, there will be the capacity to vastly increase vehicular throughput of many longer, narrower and faster vehicles over a given area of roadway without changing the size of the road. Vehicles may not even need windows except for viewing scenery and traffic jams may be a historical memory in the fully integrated smart cities of the future. Private ownership of vehicles themselves may eventually give way to mobility as a service with houses no longer needing space wasted on a ‘bedroom for the car’ and autonomous vehicle service fleet companies becoming the new industrial giants of the 21st Century. Trust will be a crucial factor in the development and sustainability of these systems.

With human-machine interaction there is always a point where the decision-making process of the human can be called to account for their action or inaction. This point is not always as clear-cut for RAS-AI; and the ability of society to examine a decision after the fact is particularly relevant in situations where harm has occurred. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to make life and death decisions in place of human beings. Unlike traditional robotic systems that were basically static, fixed to the ground with a given operational design domain, autonomous land vehicles may be highly mobile, heavy, and capable of inflicting harm throughout their operation or deployment. As the potential for harm rises, so does the need to assure that their operation, and failure, occur in ways that are predictable so that humans may make allowances for such behaviour during their operation.

Accordingly, the ability to accredit the operational domain or domains of autonomous land vehicles is necessary to foster and maintain trust in these systems. Establishing trust in RAS-AI requires these systems to be predictable, explainable, and ultimately, accreditable. Predictability is therefore the first step towards building trust, where an ability to understand the ultimate outcome of an open-ended RAS-AI decision-making process becomes vital. However, prediction may not always be possible, and in such cases, explainability allows society to understand why the RAS-AI followed a particular behavioural pathway. It will also be necessary to accredit the operational capabilities of RAS-AI to foster and maintain trustworthiness. RAS-AI might be accredited within a specific operational domain, as a level of safe operation, or as a combination of other factors. As the body of knowledge surrounding trust in autonomous systems is just beginning to be understood, there is now a significant need to clarify parameters of trust in RAS-AI.

It is with this in mind that the TASDCRC now introduces our third Director of Autonomous Systems Accreditation, Mark Brady. Mark is an expert in the area of regulation for autonomous land vehicles with a focus on establishing a roadmap for assurance and accreditation of autonomous land-based technology. Mark’s research into regulation for disruptive technology focused on autonomous land vehicles as a case study examining the regulatory impact these technologies have on law. Mark brings a wealth of experience as a researcher and academic at the University of Adelaide and as a solicitor working in Queensland. These skills will help Mark to foster cooperation between researchers, regulators and stakeholders to encourage confidence and investment in the development of automated land vehicle technology in Queensland and throughout Australia as it looks to become a world leader in many areas of autonomous technology.

Mark joins Rachel Horne (Maritime), and Tom Putland (Air) to develop a national body of knowledge including methods, policies, and practices to support accreditation. Directors address issues experienced by regulators, insurers, and autonomous technology developers by producing consistent (yet flexible) parameters for safe and trusted operations and improved agility to meet fast-changing technical and social licence needs. Autonomy Accreditation forms a significant part of the Centre’s Assurance of Autonomy Activity that aims to create a trusted environment for test, risk analysis and regulatory certification support of autonomous systems and establish an independent world-class assurance service to global industry based in Queensland.

L-R, Mark, Rachel & Tom

Introducing Tom Putland, Director of Autonomy Accreditation – Air

With the surging use of highly automated remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) and the prospect of ubiquitous drone-based delivery from the likes of Wing, Matternet, Flirtey and others, the question of how to perform air traffic management for drones, to prevent both unmanned-on-unmanned and unmanned-on-manned conflicts is a complicated one.

It’s clear that there are different societal expectations for the safety of two large wide body aircraft with hundreds of fare-paying passengers onboard colliding with one another compared to two small unmanned aircraft colliding with one another. Society may be willing to invest significant cost to ensure two commercial public transport aircraft do not collide, however society would not be willing to expend the same resources to prevent two drones from colliding.

To complicate this further, there are likely to be orders of magnitude more drones than manned aircraft, operating in close proximity, undertaking a range of different operations that may require approval at a moment’s notice. Without the ability to rely upon the human eye onboard to undertake see and avoid functions, this problem lends itself towards an autonomous, system of systems solution.

As the demand for such an Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) system increases, the highly intertwined technical, legal and societal issues associated with a UTM need to be solved. The regulation and governance related to design, manufacture, certification and the continued operational safety of these autonomous systems requires a collaborative approach from society, regulators, academia and the aviation industry to ensure that trusted, safe, equitable and efficient UTM systems are developed for all parties.

It is with great pleasure that the Centre can announce the appointment of Tom Putland as Director of Autonomy Accreditation – Air, effective Monday 2 November.

Tom has worked at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for the past seven years, five of which were spent in the realm of RPAS focusing on RPAS airworthiness and overarching safety and risk management policy for CASA. Tom has also played a crucial role in the assessment and approval of complex RPAS operations.

Tom has been an Australian representative at the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems (JARUS) for the last three years and has actively contributed to the development of the JARUS Specific Operations Risk Assessment(SORA), a globally recognised risk assessment tool for RPAS operations.

In these times of rapid technology development with respect to RPAS, UTM and automation, Tom is ideally placed to bridge the gap between regulators, the industry, society and academia to create a harmonised body of knowledge to facilitate faster, more efficient and safer certification of autonomous aircraft in Australia and around the world.

Tom becomes our second Director of Autonomy Accreditation, joining  Rachel Horne (Maritime), to develop a national body of knowledge including methods, policies, and practices to support accreditation. Directors address issues experienced by regulators, insurers, and autonomous technology developers by producing consistent (yet flexible) parameters for safe and trusted operations and improved agility to meet fast-changing technical and social licence needs.

Autonomy Accreditation forms a significant part of the Centre’s Assurance of Autonomy Activity that aims to create a trusted environment for test, risk analysis and regulatory certification support of autonomous systems and establish an independent world- class assurance service to global industry based in Queensland.

Assuring Automation Smarter

In identifying the key disruptive technologies of the future, drones appear on most major industry assessments as a top disrupter. Around the world, countries are scrambling to lead these developments with Queensland and Australia leading innovators and investors in drones, robotics and autonomous systems. Applications for drones exist in industries such as offshore energy, defence and science for “dull, dirty, dangerous and distant” operations. Independent industry research estimates the global drone market is expected to grow to $100 billion by the end of 2020.

But there is a problem.

The problem is that current assurance and certification processes are not well suited to unmanned systems and can take many months or even years. Coupled with low sales volumes, uncertainty and delays can significantly stifle growth and adoption. The accreditation of robotics and autonomous systems is done on a case by case basis and often by exception rather than streamlined.

To address this challenge, Biarri, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence Cooperative Research Centre (TASDCRC), with financial support from Advance Queensland (the TASDCRC and this project receives funding support from the Queensland Government) and domain input from QinetiQ and Australian regulatory authorities, are designing software tools to accelerate and simplify the assurance and certification process for AI enabled and unmanned systems. These types of software tools have recently revolutionised many other industries and so the timing is right to accelerate innovation in the regulation industry via digital transformation.

By enabling faster and more efficient assurance and accreditation processes, our platform will facilitate innovation in a way which will catalyse the next wave of autonomous systems to solve large scale global challenges.

Why Now?

AI and autonomy are introducing new challenges for regulators, insurers, technology developers and system operators – with current methods, policies and practices lagging behind technical advances. Regulatory frameworks in Australia for domains like air and sea represent a mostly static, top-down regulatory compliance model of a public authority regulating under a legislative scheme.

As companies try to certify their new unmanned autonomous systems, facing uncertainty and lengthy delay, it is clear that we require new approaches to assuring land, maritime and air based pilotless vehicles, vessels and aircraft that are sustainable and effective. Owners and operators need to be able to update software and hardware to meet changing operational and regulatory requirements on the fly and not have to resubmit their systems for regulatory reapproval when they do.

The tools that will address this are part of the #RegTech digital transformation, which is based on changing the regulation processes via third generation computational regulatory regimes using digital technologies within digital environments. Such systems already exist in the finance industry, e.g. regulatory sandboxes established for fintech innovators (Allen, 2019; Piri, 2019).

A similar, flexible regulatory environment to what has been done in fintech and the supporting tools will enable the faster assurance and certification of aircrafts, vessels and vehicles driving greater innovation without compromising safety. Although potentially game-changing, building digital and physical sandboxes to work within traditional state-centred regulation is difficult and so it requires the specialised skills – skills which Biarri and QUT, in combination with its project partners, will bring to this endeavour.

What is the goal?

This project is seeking to answer the above challenges by bringing together world leading expertise from a number of partners such as Biarri and QUT’s Faculty of Law as well as experts in the appropriate regulatory environments via the TASDCRC. The goal is to create an integrated system of agile regulatory methods and AI audit tools, in order to simplify and streamline the interaction between the regulator and the regulated. These tools will dramatically shorten the current time it takes to assure and accredit unmanned systems, without compromising trust or safety, therefore providing a high level of value for businesses who need to quickly prototype unmanned systems that incorporate AI core capability.

This two-sided digital platform will also enable the operational parameters and software of unmanned autonomous systems to be rapidly adapted in response to changes in regulatory, legal, ethical and societal needs. The developed software will accelerate innovation and positive commercial outcomes by lowering the barrier to deployment for companies developing unmanned autonomous systems – without compromising trust and safety.


Anticipated Outcomes and Benefits

We expect there to be a number of benefits from the new digital platform. They include:
● World leading capability to deliver faster product development lifecycles for companies to safely test AI enabled unmanned autonomous systems.
● A world-first two-sided digital tool that integrates regulators with the regulated to increase the speed for organisations to reach a safe and trusted deployable state.
● A digital toolkit to allow the auditing and tracking of autonomous and AI based developments and simplification of reporting requirements for companies.

With these benefits Australia has the potential to lead the way in defining and benefitting from the billions of dollars of investments and commercial activities around autonomous systems.

MCM in a Day – Ministerial Release – Revolutionising future mine countermeasure technology

Joint media release, Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC & Minister for Defence Industry, Senator the Hon Melissa Price

New autonomous technologies will revolutionise mine clearance capability in operations close to shore through a new five-year, $15 million research and development project.  The project is part of a new partnership between Defence, Australia’s Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence Cooperative Research Centre (TAS DCRC) and Thales Australia.

Introducing Rachel Horne, Director of Autonomy Accreditation – Maritime

As investment in AI robotics and autonomous systems ramps up, it is vital that these systems can be tested and assured to meet society’s expectations for their safety, trust and reliability.

However, there are no established standards systems or formal comprehensive codes of practice to accredit unpiloted, unmanned autonomous systems. Operations are generally permissible only under highly conservative constraints, authorised as an exception waiver by CASA, AMSA, DASA etc.

The lack of accreditation standards or codes of practice represents lost opportunity for innovators, for example, according to a US report (Jenkins & Vasigh, 2016) ‘every year that integration [of drones] is delayed, the United States loses more than $10 billion in potential economic impact. This translates to loss of $27.6 million per day that UAS are not integrated into the NAS [national air space]’.

The reason why there are so few standards, best practices or test and evaluation protocols for autonomous systems is a chicken-and-egg problem. The impetus to establish and maintain technical and social licence for autonomous systems is driven by end user demand. But end user demand is dependent on trusting technical standards and social licence to operate. Breaking out of this chicken-and-egg problem to advance the autonomous systems pipeline requires collaborative investment—beyond the reach of individual autonomous systems developers and business users.

The development of best practice policy, appropriate standards, and a strong accreditation culture has the potential to enhance innovation and market growth for drones with autonomous abilities.

Queensland is leading the way by investing in Australia’s capacity for translating autonomous systems innovation into deployments through the Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence CRC. To this end Directors of Autonomy Accreditation in Air, Land and Maritime domains will develop a national body of knowledge including methods, policies, and practices to support accreditation. Directors will address issues experienced by regulators, insurers, and technology developers by producing consistent (yet flexible) parameters for safe and trusted operations and improved agility to meet fast-changing technical and social licence needs.

It is with great pleasure that the Centre can announce the appointment of Rachel Horne as Director of Autonomy Accreditation – Maritime, effective Monday 17 August.

Rachel brings a wealth of experience and expertise in Australia’s maritime regulatory framework. She joins us from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, where she has spent the last eight years in legal, regulatory and policy teams providing advice and managing projects aimed at improving the domestic regulatory framework.

Rachel is a subject matter expert on the domestic regulation of remotely operated and autonomous vessels and is invested in working to mature the assurance and accreditation frameworks available to better facilitate the safe and efficient update of autonomous technologies. The benefits this technology will bring from a safety, environmental, and efficiency perspective make this an important and timely undertaking.  More on Rachel on LinkedIn

The Centre is currently advertising for Directors in Air and Land domains, more information here.


Darryl Jenkins & Bijan Vasigh, Commercial Drone Use Will Benefit the US Economy, from Drones Ed by Tamara Thompson, Page 150. Jan 2016. Greenhaven Press.

QinetiQ Australia to design and construct the Queensland Unmanned Aerial Systems Flight Test Range

QinetiQ Australia has been awarded a contract to design and construct an unmanned aerial systems (UAS) flight test range (FTR) on behalf of the Queensland Government.

The FTR will be located at Cloncurry Aerodrome in North West Queensland and will consist of access to a commercial quality runway, dedicated hangar and workshop, range control centre, range control system including a primary surveillance radar and other surveillance and tracking equipment, dedicated airspace and regulatory approvals for UAS FTR operations.

QinetiQ Australia Managing Director Greg Barsby said, “The Queensland Government has a vision to be a world leader in UAS technologies and QinetiQ is proud to support this through the creation of the flight test range facility at Cloncurry.”

“Together with our partners, QinetiQ manages some of the world’s most advanced range facilities across the land, maritime and aerospace domains. By drawing on our global experience, QinetiQ and our partners will deliver this facility, the largest of its kind in the region.

“The QinetiQ team is looking forward to working with the Queensland Government, Cloncurry Shire Council and regional SMEs to develop this facility. It will be a critical component in the overall drone ecosystem, as an enabler and connector of high-technology UAS programs and initiatives.”

The initial capability offered by the facility will support all weight classes of UAS for routine flying operations, demonstration activities and test and evaluation trials of moderate complexity. Future phases of development will support the full range of ground and flight test activity, providing an Australian home for the conduct of highly complex developmental test programs.

Queensland Minister for State Development, Tourism and Innovation Kate Jones said the project will provide a key missing element for UAS research and development. “The Queensland Government was the first in Australia to launch a drone strategy, and now we’re well on the way to becoming the nation’s drone technology capital.”

Ms Jones said QinetiQ, a leading science, engineering and defence technology company has been appointed to manage the construction of the facility which is expected to be finished later this year.

This contract award reinforces QinetiQ’s position as the leading expert and partner for the development and management of mission critical test and evaluation ranges.



Notes for Editors:

About QinetiQ

QinetiQ (QQ.L) is a leading science and engineering company operating primarily in the defence, security and critical infrastructure markets. We work in partnership with our customers to solve real world problems through innovative solutions delivering operational and competitive advantage.

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TASDCRC and AMSA cooperation MOU on building trust and assurance in maritime automation