US Marines to experiment with Athena AI, an outcome from TAS NGTF and Queensland Government co-funded research.
News on TAS project led by BAE Systems, TAGVIEW – Laying the groundwork for a next generation trusted autonomous capability.
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
Athena AI, commenced through a TAS NGTF project, announce the signing of three pivotal purchase orders with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) supplying to U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). This move highlights Athena AI’s commitment to excellence in three distinct sectors: Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV), and Battlefield Management. Read more: https://athenadefence.ai/news-1/athena-ai-seals-triple-deal-with-oems-supplying-to-the-us-dod-accelerating-global-expansion
Thales Australia and Revolution Aerospace, a Brisbane based SME, are developing a Unified Traffic Management solution as part of Round 1 of the Emerging Aviation Technologies Partnership (EATP) Program grant. The grant was awarded to Revolution Aerospace, along with consortium partners Thales Australia and Trusted Autonomous Systems (TAS), to develop key drone technologies to address access constraints to products and services, particularly in remote and regional Australia. Read more
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 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.
By Rachel Horne, Trusted Autonomous Systems and Rob Dickie, Frazer-Nash Consultancy (a KBR company)
Trusted Autonomous Systems, funded by the Queensland State Government, has been at the forefront of developing tools and resources to support the autonomous systems ecosystem in navigating regulatory pathways.
Autonomous and remotely operated vessels face unique challenges when it comes to complying with maritime regulations. For instance, they must comply with COLREGs, the “rules of the road” for preventing collisions at sea. However, these rules were introduced in 1972, with the assumption that vessels would have humans on board, keeping a lookout and making decisions.
To address this challenge, TAS and Frazer-Nash Consultancy collaborated to create the COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework. This game-changer framework provides clarity and guidance on understanding how COLREGs applies to autonomous and remotely operated vessels. It clearly describes the capabilities necessary to comply with each rule, ensuring consistency and repeatability in decision-making.
You can access the COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework via RASGateway.com.au
What does the framework do?
The COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework translates the human-centric terminology used in COLREGs into a language that makes sense for autonomous and remotely operated vessels. The framework:
- Helps vessel designers understand the capabilities that COLREGs require vessels to have.
- Assists operators in comprehending COLREGs requirements and explains how mission planning can mitigate or eliminate complex rules; and
- Enables a regulator to apply a consistent methodology when assessing a vessel’s ability to comply with COLREGs.
The COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework can be used to best effect when there is a specific vessel and mission in mind.
How does the framework work in practice?
Let’s take an example:
COLREGs Rule 5 states, “Vessels shall always maintain a look-out by sight, hearing, and all available and effective means for the circumstances.” Sight and hearing are human-centric senses, and the interpretation of “all available and effective means” is quite subjective.
Here’s where the COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework comes into play. It translates this rule into a list of tangible capabilities, such as:
- Detecting the presence of and categorising other vessels using video cameras.
- Detecting light signals and sound signals produced by other vessels, and
- Detecting the presence of other vessels using radar or the global Automatic Identification System.
Identifying these capabilities, which can be present on or offboard the vessel, makes COLREGs relatable to autonomous and remotely operated vessels, providing a practical roadmap to compliance.
How will the framework support the autonomous systems ecosystem?
We know some of the previous capabilities are easier said than done. The framework recognises this by supporting adaptable solutions to compliance, for example by allowing users to:
- Successfully identify the capabilities required by each rule, so that they can check whether a specific autonomous vessel can feasibly demonstrate these during a specific mission, or
- Instead implement mitigation strategies such as remote operator supervision or route alterations to avoid a risk of non-compliance.
The COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework is not a set of mandatory requirements. Instead, it’s a pragmatic toolkit, making COLREGs requirements relatable to autonomous and remotely operated vessels, enabling vessel designers, operators, and regulators to demonstrate and assess compliance, and more broadly navigate the challenges and opportunities of the maritime autonomous system ecosystem.
For more information on the COLREGs, and to access the COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework and supplementary digital tools, visit now rasgateway.com/colregs.
An earlier TAS News Post, published in August 2021 provides additional background and contextual information on the project. This is available here – Enabling COLREGs Compliance for Autonomous & Remotely Operated Vessels – Trusted Autonomous Systems (tasdcrc.com.au).
Request for feedback
Trusted Autonomous Systems welcomes feedback on the COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework via our email email@example.com. In particular, if you have used the framework, please get in touch, and let us know how it went, what worked and what didn’t, and what recommendations you may have for improvement.
TAS would like to thank all parties who contributed to the development of the COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework. This includes in particular Rob Dickie of Frazer Nash Consultancy who led the COLREGs project on TAS’s behalf, together with his team Marceline Overduin and Andrejs Jaudzems. TAS would also like to thank the team at Aginic who created the COLREGs Operator Guidance Tool and COLREGs Explorer Tool published on RASGateway.com.au, including particularly Pietair Keurulainen, Emma Freya, Jasmine Gardner, Dong Zhou, Sommer Deo, Alex Vaskevich, and Vinnie Crema. TAS would also like to thank former and current TAS staff who contributed to the project, including Rachel Horne, Dr Kate Devitt, Dr Tara Roberson, Tom Putland, and Mark Guthrie.
This project 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.
Trusted Autonomous Systems (TAS) General Manager – Law, Regulation and Assurance and QUT PhD candidate Rachel Horne was last night honoured to be recognised as a finalist in the Research and Development category at the Australian Defence Magazine Women in Defence Awards 2023.
Rachel said she was delighted to be nominated for her work developing regulatory initiatives to support more efficient regulatory pathways for autonomous systems used by Defence and the commercial sector.
“I am passionate about promoting a better understanding of the regulatory framework that supports defence and industry to design, manufacture and operate maritime autonomous systems,” said Rachel.
“If we can implement an adaptive regulatory framework that enables, rather than restricts, then we can better support Australia in delivering innovation and world-leading defence capability.”
As part of her academic research, Rachel identified a lack of technical standards underpinning the regulation of autonomous technology.
“To address this major gap in the technical standards, I led a TAS-funded project to produce the first Australian-centric technical standard for autonomous and remotely operated vessels”.
“I also identified a need for more coordination across the diverse autonomous systems ecosystem, so I organised a national conference in 2022 on the use and regulation of emerging maritime technology”.
“The conference brought together government, defence, industry and academic stakeholders to discuss the issues we face and design solutions to address these challenges”.
“Last year, I also staged the largest commercial demonstration of emerging maritime technology in Australia, held in Townsville, to promote a better understanding of autonomous technology and raise awareness of best practice regulation.”
Rachel believes that one of the benefits of her role at TAS has been the opportunity to work on projects that are led by industry and supported by academic partners.
“This collaborative approach means our projects have a greater chance of converting innovation to capability so we can deliver better solutions faster and build sovereign industry and research capability for Defence”.
“In the future, I would like to continue my work developing regulatory initiatives that support autonomous systems innovation and wider regulatory reform.”
Rachel will present on her work at IndoPacific 2023, including as a panel member at the IndoPacific Sea Power Conference 2023, AAUS Autonomy in the Maritime Domain Conference, and International Maritime Conference.