Dr Zena Assaad

Zena’s TAS project will explore the safety implications of human-machine teaming (HUM-T) operations for Australian Defence. HUM-T needs to be safe, to be trusted in deployment, and to enable flexible operations without undue operational restrictions. This project will explore the development of appropriate safety requirements and frameworks, including appropriate methods to manage and communicate these, for HUM-T operations.

Qualifications & Experience

Zena completed a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering before pursuing a PhD that explored decision making under uncertainty in support of strategic air traffic flow management. Prior to working in academia, Zena worked as a liaison officer, bridging the communication between civil and military airspace. She worked on Australia’s first satellite-based augmentation systems project, looking at certification of the positioning technology. She also worked as a research specialist with Australia’s civil aviation regulatory body.

Zena joined the Australian National University in 2020 as a research fellow within the College of Engineering and Computer Science. She is currently a senior research fellow with the School of Engineering, working within the Aerospace cluster. Zena enjoys developing innovative and creative educational content that explores different approaches to education.

Background

Zena has a background in aviation and aerospace engineering. She is interested in research that explores the intersection between humans and technology. Her research areas of interest include autonomy and autonomous technology, human factors in aviation and meaningful human control. Zena is interested in research that looks at the safety implications associated with the implementation of emerging technology capabilities.

TAS Research

Human-Machine Team (HUM-T) Safety Framework for cross-domain networked autonomous systems

Human-machine teaming (HUM-T) with robotics, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence (RAS-AI) is a complex problem that encompasses a range of factors and considerations. From a military context, considerations around safety and ethical ramifications are positioned at the forefront of discussions around the implications of HUM-T operations. Pursuing HUM-T operations with RAS-AI will require the development and implementation of safety mechanisms that mitigate the risks associated with machine operation in proximity to humans and encourage confidence in decision making within these environments.

Safety of RAS-AI in relation to human involvement or participation has predominantly been focussed on physical safety. Work health and safety regulation, standards, and code of practices currently guide the safe operation of robots. Within these standards, humans have been physically separated from automated and autonomous robots to ensure safety. This approach to safety assurance is feasible for industrial robots that perform deterministic and repetitive tasks. However, in a teaming environment in which tasks will likely require more complex cognition, segregating robots will pose a significant challenge.

The future operating environment, where humans and robotics work in close proximity and collaboratively in open world contexts under risk, changes the safety landscape. For example, autonomous robots must be reliable and predictable as well as having and accessing appropriate communication infrastructure. Future robots must behave using risk-based models in uncertain, open-world environments proximate to humans.

For HUM-T, the relationship between human and machine will be complex and involved. The concept of teaming facilitates a more nuanced connection that exposes a human to safety considerations that extend beyond physical safety. As humans are likely to form bonds with entities they interact with, particularly in a teaming environment in which there is shared intent and shared pursuit of a common goal, harms such as dependency and trust, will need to be considered and captured.

Safety will need to be considered through a wider lens in order to adequately capture the various interpretations of safety that come with increased interconnectivity between human and machine. This research will explore a broader approach to safety assurance that captures physical risks and psychological risks of RAS-AI in a military teaming environment.

HUM-T needs to be safe, to be trusted in deployment, and to enable flexible operations without undue operational restrictions. This project will explore the development of appropriate safety requirements and frameworks, including appropriate methods to manage and communicate these, for HUM-T operations. The outcome will be frameworks and resources to guide the design and operation of RAS-AI to enable safe and effective operation of HUM-T for Australian Defence.

Contact Information

zena.assaad@anu.edu.au

www.zenaassaad.com