Rachel Horne, Assurance of Autonomy Activity Lead, Trusted Autonomous Systems
Trusted Autonomous Systems (TAS) ran the Autonomous Vessel Forum 2022 in Townsville, Queensland on 28-29 September 2022. Drawing on the outcomes of the inaugural AMSA-led AV Forum in 2019, our event focused on identifying:
- the status of autonomous vessel development and regulation in Australia, and
- areas of focus for improving assurance and regulatory pathways into the future.
Over two days more than 70 delegates from government, defence, industry, and academia, participated in the event. Highlights included the preceding TAS Maritime Showcase event with four live and five static vessels at ReefWorks (see AIMS Media Release), together with the many insightful presentations.
A series of ideas and themes emerged from the event, which are outlined in the Autonomous Vessel Forum 2022 Post-event communique.
Access the communique here
The event had many takeaways – I particularly noted the consensus that existing regulatory pathways are not working for industry and that we need to collaborate to identify what needs to change and how. A poll of attendees highlighted a range of key regulatory issues that need to be addressed.
AMSA presenters acknowledged the difficulties they face, and that operators face, in using available regulatory approaches for autonomous vessels, but also highlighted existing flexibility mechanisms that can enable operation, and ways to contribute to consultation processes.
Both AMSA presenters participated in a panel after their presentations where a breadth of questions were asked and candidly answered, providing a unique opportunity for participants to access expertise and test ideas. Topics covered included:
- international collaboration and cross-domain collaboration
- approaches to risk, including the connection between risk appetite and social licence to operate
- the need to upskill the workforce, including surveyors
- whether day and night operations, and surface and subsurface operations, should be certified differently
- what lights and flags are needed for autonomous vessels
- different requirements and areas of focus for regulating commercial versus university research vessels, and commercial versus defence vessels
- opportunities presented by regulatory sandboxes.
Regulatory sandboxes were mentioned multiple times throughout the Autonomous Vessel Forum 2022. General consensus suggested they are a pivotal next step in facilitating innovation in both technology and regulation. A regulatory sandbox is a bespoke regulatory approach put in place at appropriate test ranges, such as ReefWorks in Queensland or the Autonomous Maritime Systems Test & Evaluation Centre (AMS-TEC) in Tasmania, enabling operators of vessels that fit specific criteria to test and trial their vessels without requiring individual approvals from AMSA, and allowing regulatory approaches to be tested in a low risk setting and data to be gathered to inform future development.
Noting the importance of regulatory sandboxes, for their potential to ease the regulatory burden associated with test and trialling autonomous vessels, but critically their importance in supporting evidence-based regulatory development, TAS is working to see a regulatory sandbox implemented in Queensland and Tasmania.
Simulation was another topic that came up multiple times throughout the Autonomous Vessel Forum 2022. Participants in the event were introduced to simulation at the TAS Maritime Showcase where video presentations by AIMS and BMT showcased how simulation can be used in a maritime environment, including for assurance against requirements such as COLREGs (collision avoidance requirements). Presentations by Shoal also highlighted how different types of simulation can be used to assurance autonomous vessels, providing a virtual environment to refine and gather confidence in a system before taking it to live on-water testing. It was broadly agreed that simulation will be critical for assuring autonomous systems into the future. Some areas requiring further consideration include verification of data sets, diversity of test scenarios, and the need for consistent standards for assurance.
Multiple speakers and attendees highlighted the positive impact of TAS’s work to date in supporting assurance and regulatory pathways across the breadth of commercial industry, academia, and Defence. Specific initiatives highlighted included the Australian Code of Practice, COLREGs Operator Guidance Framework, and RAS-Gateway.
In my presentation on future regulatory pathways, I highlighted the need to consider how we approach regulation and outlined the concept of ‘anticipatory regulation’. This regulatory approach is characterised as inclusive and collaborative, future-facing, proactive, iterative, outcomes-based and experimental . Picking up on the need to be collaborative, I sought to understand from a broad variety of stakeholders what their regulatory priorities were and what they thought needed to be considered. During my presentation I polled attendees asking what key elements of a future regulatory experience were important for them. The result was a focus on clarity, simplicity, agility, cost, and a regulatory sandbox, also referred to as a sandpit.
The Autonomous Vessel Forum 2022 highlighted that there is strong support for, and strong need for, increased open, interdisciplinary, collaboration across the autonomous systems ecosystem. This collaboration should help people and organisations share information and experience, harness lessons learned, and drive beneficial outcomes across the breadth of the ecosystem. Exactly how this collaboration can be facilitated, and by whom, are topics we will continue to explore.
TAS would like to thank all participants in the Autonomous Vessel Forum 2022 and particularly the speakers for their insightful presentations. A full list of participating organisations is available in the Autonomous Vessel Forum 2022 Post-event communique.
The Autonomous Vessel Forum 2022 marked a positive step towards ongoing collaboration across the Australian autonomous systems ecosystem, and we look forward to future events.
- Trusted Autonomous Systems will continue to work with AMSA and other stakeholders to identify opportunities to improve assurance and regulatory pathways in Australia.
- Trusted Autonomous Systems will support the establishment of a Regulatory Sandbox.
- Feedback and ideas for future regulatory initiatives can be provided to email@example.com
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 Nesta, Anticipatory Regulation, Access link here