New TAS project to develop an Australian Code of Practice for the Design, Construction, Survey and Operation of Autonomous and Remotely Operated Vessels in 2021

By Rachel Horne – Assurance of Autonomy Lead/Director of Autonomy Accreditation – Maritime

Autonomous systems technology offers the ability to increase safety and efficiency, while lowering economic and environmental cost. While some level of autonomy has been seen in commercial products for a number of years, for example the basic thermostat or the Roomba, in the last five years there has been a rapid acceleration in the capacity and availability of unmanned aerial vehicles known as drones, and in uncrewed surface and sub-surface vessels, also called autonomous vessels.

For this rapid acceleration to continue, and to ensure this technology can integrate into commercial and defence operations, autonomous systems need to be trusted by the government, regulators, operators, and the broader community. An integral part of gaining trust is having a clear, well-tailored regulatory framework, consistent assurance requirements and agreed assurance methodology, and support from the regulator. These same factors also facilitate innovation and promote growth in industry by providing certainty.

Coral AUV. Image by AIMS

New project: Development of an Australian Code of Practice

The NASF-P (National Accreditation Support Facility Pathfinder) team have commenced a number of new projects to address the challenges outlined above. One of these projects is aimed at addressing the lack of tailored standards for autonomous and remotely operated vessels by developing an Australian Code of Practice for the Design, Construction, Survey and Operation of Autonomous and Remotely Operated Vessels. This Code will represent best practice, and is intended to provide certainty for industry by providing a set of regulator-acknowledged standards that they can use to design, construct, survey and operate autonomous and remotely operated vessels. The Code of Practice will be voluntary, and will be updated periodically.

This project, led by Maaike Vanderkooi on behalf of TAS, will begin with a review of available Codes of Practice and Standards, for example the UK Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) UK Industry Conduct Principles and Code of Practice, and Lloyd’s Register Unmanned Marine Systems Code. The project will then develop a draft Australian Code of Practice, using input from key stakeholders, which will then be released for broader public consultation. The intent is to release a draft Code of Practice by October 2021, which will be available for use by industry and the regulator.

Maaike Vanderkooi has been chosen to lead the project as a result of her extensive experience in developing regulatory frameworks in the maritime, heavy vehicle and ports arenas, and her experience in developing, reviewing and impact assessing commercial vessel standards.

Maaike Vanderkooi

TAS will engage closely with key stakeholders, including the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), the Australian Association for Unmanned Systems (AAUS) Maritime Working Group, the Marine Surveyors Association Inc, and the Australasian Institute of Marine Surveyors, throughout this project to ensure the Code of Practice is practical and appropriate for use by Australian industry and the regulator. There will also be opportunities for input by interested parties throughout the project.

Engagement opportunities

  • We are looking for people with direct experience applying current Codes of Practice or Standards to autonomous and remotely operated vessels, to discuss their experience and provide feedback to us in May 2021;
  • We will hold a series of workshops with key stakeholders between May and August 2021; and
  • We will release the draft Code of Practice for public consultation in August 2021, and welcome all thoughts and feedback.

If you would like to contact us in relation to this project, to offer feedback, suggestions, or your assistance, please email us at

QUT WAM-V in operation at AIMS. Image by AIMS

Other NASF-P projects underway

The NASF-P team have a number of projects underway, including:

  • Preparation of a Body of Knowledge on the assurance and accreditation of autonomous systems;
  • Air domain: development of an end-to-end acceptable process for the design, build, test and evaluation of autonomous detect and avoid (DAA) systems for certain types of airspace;
  • Maritime domain: development of a repeatable, regulator-accepted methodology to demonstrate compliance with COLREGS for autonomous and remotely operated vessels; and
  • Preparation of a business case for a new, independent, National Accreditation Support Facility, based in Queensland, that will better connect operators and regulators to facilitate more efficient assurance and accreditation.

The NASF-P team recently worked with Queensland AI Hub, Australian Institute of Marine Science, and AMC Search, supported by Advance Queensland, to deliver a world-first pilot course ‘Autonomous Marine Systems Fundamentals for Marine Surveyors’. This course, which was created to address the gap in experience with autonomous marine systems amongst the accredited marine surveyor community, had nine participants from around Queensland.

Participants of the pilot course at AIMS, March 2021. Image by TAS

If you would like to find out more about our work, or provide feedback on where you see the key risks and opportunities for the autonomous systems industry in Australia, please contact us as

TAS Research Fellows (three of the four) featured in a University of Queensland Blog

Read about the work of three of the Trusted Autonomous Systems Research Fellows here.

HAPS Challenge Announced


‘The High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS) Challenge is seeking Australian Industry and research interest in developing novel ideas and solutions to a capability gap. It aims to energise Australian development of key technologies and to support development of Australian HAPS that have the station-keeping capability and endurance capacity needed for deployment over an area of operations for a period of days to weeks and beyond’.


High altitude platforms, or pseudo-satellites (HAPS), are uncrewed vehicles that take advantage of weak stratospheric winds and solar energy to operate without interfering with current commercial aviation. This provides the endurance required to provide long-term services to terrestrial users, much as satellites do. Target applications for HAPS include communications, Earth observation, positioning-navigation and science with potential for more applications in other disciplines.

HAPS represent a unique opportunity, if appropriately deployed and controlled, to provide persistent, comparatively low-cost intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and communications services across a wide operational area for Defence and National Security. The development of a sovereign  Australian HAPS solution could provide Defence a secure capability supply chain to service tactical, operational and strategic command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C3ISR) requirements and boost Australian exports.

Several challenges must be overcome to effectively exploit high altitude pseudo satellites, the purpose of the HAPS challenge to address this technology gap by supporting development of this technology by Australian companies.  Defence (through the RAAF Plan Jericho and the Air Warfare Centre, Defence Artificial Intelligence (DAI), Trusted Autonomous Systems and RMIT (Sir Lawrence Wackett Defence and Aerospace Centre) are seeking industry and research interest from Australian companies in novel ideas and solutions.

Air Warfare Centre, Integration and Innovation Director Group Captain Tobyn Bearman said Air Force is supporting the Australian efforts to prototype capable and affordable sovereign High Altitude Pseudo Satellite technologies.

“Work in this area seeks to enhance the quality and resilience of our high altitude capabilities by identifying creative solutions to difficult problems and pushing the boundaries of engineering knowledge,” he said.

“This challenge is an exciting way to contribute to Australia’s security and defence in new ways”.

More information on how to become involved in this exciting opportunity is available at

Trusted Autonomous Systems receive funding from the Australian Government through the Next Generation Technologies Fund (NGTF) and the Queensland Government Advance Queensland Initiative.

SmartSat CRC is supported by the Australian Government CRC Program and the Department of Defence Next Generation Technologies Fund.

Contact for Enquiries:

MEDIA RELEASE: Autonomous Marine Systems Fundamentals for Marine Surveyors

World First Autonomous Systems Training for Marine Surveyors developed in partnership between Australian Maritime College Search (AMC Search), Trusted Autonomous Systems (TAS), Queensland AI Hub and Australian
Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

To view or download the media release, click here

A Method for Ethical AI in Defence

Today the Australian Department of Defence released ‘A Method for Ethical AI in Defence’ an outcome of a workshop in 2019 attended by over 100 representatives from Defence, other Australian government agencies, industry, academia, international organisations and media. The workshop was facilitated by Defence Science & Technology Group, RAAF Plan Jericho and Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence Cooperative Research Centre. Defence note that the report outlines a pragmatic ethical methodology for communication between software engineers, integrators and operators during the development and operation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) projects in Defence.

Trusted Autonomous Systems CEO Professor Jason Scholz said ”Trusted Autonomous Systems are very pleased to partner with Defence on this critical issue of ethics in AI. Ethics is a fundamental consideration across the game-changing Projects that TAS are bringing together with Defence, Industry and Research Institutions.”

AI and human machine teaming will be a key capability in the future of Australian Defence systems. Chief Defence Scientist Tanya Monro notes “…AI technologies offer many benefits such as saving lives by removing humans from high-threat environments and improving Australian advantage by providing more in-depth and faster situational awareness”.

Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, Head of Air Force Capability said “artificial intelligence and human-machine teaming will play a pivotal role for air and space power into the future… We need to ensure that ethical, moral and legal issues are resolved at the same pace as the technology is developed. This paper is useful in suggesting consideration of ethical issues that may arise to ensure responsibility for AI systems within traceable systems of control”. These comments are equally important to the other service arms.

In 2019, the Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence CRC (TASDCRC) commenced a six-year Programme on the Ethics and Law of Trusted Autonomous Systems valued at $9M. Over the past two years the activity has conducted workshops, engagements and consultation with participants and stakeholders of the Centre, contributing to ADF strategy, producing diverse publications and influencing the design of trusted autonomous systems such as the game-changing Athena AI ethical and legal decision support system.

From 2021 the Ethics Uplift Program (EUP) of the TASDCRC will offer ongoing assistance to Centre participants through consultation, advice and policy development, supported by case analysis, education and enculturation

The Trusted Autonomous Systems affiliate researchers and employees participate in a wide range of events in consideration of the ethics and law of RAS-AI such as  ICRC, UNIDIR SIPRI, and NATO.

TASDCRC is a non-government participant in the United Nations (UN) Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Systems (LAWS) to ensure the development of autonomous systems accord with ethical principles, the laws of armed conflict (LOAC) and in abidance with Article 36 weapons reviews.

The Defence Media Release reinforced that “The ethics of AI and autonomous systems is an ongoing priority and Defence is committed to developing, communicating, applying and evolving ethical AI frameworks”. Trusted Autonomous Systems are a partner to Defence on that journey. More details at

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 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.