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Improving the trustworthiness of autonomous systems

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Research which will improve the ability of autonomous systems to make decisions has received new funding.

The OU is a project team member for the £3 million Trustworthy Autonomous Systems (TAS) programme, which has just received funding from the UKRI TAS programme.

The TAS Node in Resilience project brings together the disciplines of computer science, engineering, law, mathematics, philosophy and psychology from five UK universities, and a host of industrial partners, to develop a comprehensive toolbox of principles, methods, and systematic approaches for the engineering of resilient autonomous systems so that they can make decisions that are more aligned with technical and social requirements.

An autonomous system is software-driven that can perform complex tasks in the real world without a human directing them.

Developing ‘truly resilient autonomous systems’

According to Dr Radu Calinescu, Reader in the Department of Computer Science at the University of York, and Principal Investigator for the project, despite technological advances which have made autonomous systems possible, there are several limitations that prevent them from being introduced safely as they cannot yet adapt to unexpected situations.

Bashar Nuseibeh, Professor of Computing at the OU said: “To be truly resilient, autonomous systems must be able to adapt and evolve as faults, failures and uncertainties become apparent. Our experience in adaptive systems and requirements engineering will enable us to develop systems that can handle unexpected disruptions.”

Emergency response applications

The project, which started on 1 November 2020 and will run to 30 April 2024, will fund a team of 13 investigators and seven post-doctoral researchers across the five universities. Testbeds at each university will validate the foundational research in domains including health and social care, emergency response, and multimodal transportation.

Dr Amel Bennaceur, OU Senior Lecturer in Computing and Communications added: "Emergencies disrupt usual operations, and how systems respond to emergencies is key for resilience. For that reason, emergency response scenarios present a key challenge for the study of resilience in trustworthy autonomous systems. Our experience at the OU in collaborative adaptation and security as well as community resilience in healthcare help us to realise this aim."

The project has two stages; first looking at how autonomous systems can be developed to be more resilient individually, and secondly looking at the socio-technical resilience of autonomous systems of systems. For example, an autonomous system of systems may support the end-to-end patient journey for a person requiring emergency assistance from a first responder, followed by admittance, care and discharge from hospital, and long-term care at home.

This project is part of the UKRI Trustworthy Autonomous Systems (TAS) programme, funded through the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund and delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The TAS programme brings together the research communities and key stakeholders to drive forward cross-disciplinary fundamental research to ensure that autonomous systems are safe, reliable, resilient, ethical and trusted.

The five university partners are: The Open University, University of York, University of Sheffield, Lancaster University and University of Southampton. For more information contact Bashar Nuseibeh or Amel Bennaceur.

Read more about OU research in Computing and Communications

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