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August 30, 2016

Study Recommends DoD Speed Up Adoption of Autonomous Systems

The Department of Defense should speed up its adoption of autonomous systems to maintain an advantage in this rapidly advancing area, according to a study by the Defense Science Board released this month.

That recommendation was among several contained in the DSB Summer Study on Autonomy, which looked at three broad areas: strategies to increase adoption of autonomous (or largely self-operating) systems, ways to increase their use among operational forces, and approaches to accelerating technological advances in these systems.

The report suggested a series of experiments and prototypes to demonstrate clear value across a range of operations. The report also noted that potential adversaries will be employing autonomy as commercial technologies become more widely available.

“The explosion of commercial applications of intelligent systems has been exciting to watch, yet has focused mainly on automating predictable tasks,” said Ashley Llorens, chief of APL’s Intelligent Systems Center and DSB summer study participant. Llorens explained that to fully realize the potential for DoD, we need to become comfortable granting these systems, as part of human–machine teams, greater autonomy to complete high-stakes tasks amid the inherent uncertainty in many defense applications.

Specific to the Navy, the report recommends adding greater autonomy to unmanned underwater mine-sweeping systems as a way to save time and keep personnel even farther from potential dangers. For the Marine Corps, the study authors point toward development of unmanned aerial support teams that would operate swarms (10 or more) of unmanned vehicles in support of tactical units. These vehicles would perform a variety of tasks, from electronic warfare to reconnaissance and strike.

Among the concerns noted in the report is the trust required of autonomous systems, given their lethality and potential decision-making speed. The report highlighted measures DoD has put in place to guard against unintended loss of control, capture, or compromise by adversaries, as well as to ensure autonomous systems comply with all applicable laws—especially those governing combat.

In addition to Llorens, APL experts contributing to the report included APL Director Ralph Semmel, Senior Fellows Jim Gosler and Jim Miller, and senior research scientists David Scheidt and Mark Chevillet. Semmel, Gosler, and Miller are members of the Defense Science Board.

APL established an Intelligent Systems Center of Excellence in April to serve as a focal point for its work to further developments in intelligent and autonomous systems. The center is home to a multidisciplinary team of researchers and engineers focused on developing the next generation of intelligent systems to help address the nation’s critical challenges. The current emphasis of the ISC is on machine learning, robotics, autonomous systems, and applied neuroscience.

Click here to view a video regarding APL’s Intelligent Systems Center.

Media contact: Geoff Brown, 240-228-5618, geoffrey.brown@jhuapl.edu