Autonomous systems make informed decisions for themselves in complex environments. As they become increasingly used in all aspects of our daily lives, new questions arise about the role of the public, engineers and regulators in ensuring the safe and ethical deployment of this technology. The National Engineering Policy Centre’s (NEPC) project seeks to understand the risks and benefits associated with autonomous systems across sectors and how they should be designed, developed and deployed to ensure benefits are widely distributed and no one is disadvantaged.
Through sector deep dives, e.g. transport and healthcare, the project has considered
- What is unique about how autonomous systems are developing each sector
- The specific challenges to safe an ethical deployment
- Identification of emerging good practice
- The limitations of existing regulation for autonomous systems and where a step change is requires, without limiting innovation
- Investigate where sociotechnical and regulatory challenges are common across sectors and where they are sector specific
The second in the series of sectoral deep dives which focuses on autonomous healthcare is currently in progress. If designed and deployed with safety and ethics at the core implementing autonomous systems across the healthcare sector could improve patient care, shorten hospital stays, lower costs and reduce health inequalities. A report is due to be published this year which sets out the current technological state of the are, whilst exploring some application-specific challenges and enablers.
Workshop on regulation and emerging standards
The NEPC recently held a cross-sector workshop to explore the role that emerging international standards might play in the regulation of autonomous systems. The aim was to build a community who can collaborate to overcome common challenges. The event’s discussions will help to start to co-develop an action plan, highlighting the gaps and opportunities for both the short and medium term.
The project was launched at a cross-sectoral event on 2 July 2019 with the question “What is the regulatory step change required for safe and ethical deployment of autonomous systems?”. Expertise from industry, academia, regulators and government was convened through a series of panel discussions which investigated three main areas:
- The risks and benefits of autonomous systems
- The regulatory step change required to mitigate such risks
- The range of non-regulatory mechanisms that can be used to support development of autonomous systems in the meantime
The findings from this event have been explored and tested through deep dives in specific sectors.
This paper presents the current opportunities and challenges of developing an autonomous transport system. This 'transport deep dive' looked across different transport modes including road, air, sea and rail at a multidisciplinary roundtable discussion held by the NEPC.
Depending on how they are envisioned, engineered and implemented, autonomous systems can create safer, more efficient and lower carbon transportation systems. This summary sets out the cross-cutting challenges such as safety assurance, ethical considerations and public perception, as well as highlighting the enabling factors. It identifies that complete integration across the different modes of transport system is required in order to fully realise the potential benefits. Questions still remain around these complex issues but we aim to move this debate forward by highlighting the cross-cutting challenges to open up opportunities for further cross-modal collaboration.
This is the first in a series of sectoral deep dives, through these explorations we hope to build our evidence base, and make recommendations to support the safe and ethical development and deployment of autonomous systems in the UK.
The project is led by a working group which provide engineering expertise and oversight of the project. It includes representatives from a number of partner organisations: BCS: The Chartered Institute of IT, Engineering Council, Institution of Agricultural Engineers, Institution of Engineering and Technology, Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology, Institution of Mechanical Engineering and Royal Aeronautical Society.
- Professor Muffy Calder OBE FREng FRSE FBCS
- Andrew Chadwick
- Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal FREng FIET FRAeS
- Dr Chris Elliott MBE FREng FRAeS
- Professor Michael Fisher FBCS FIET
- Dr Sylvain Jamais FIMechE
- Professor Nick Jennings CB FREng FIET FBCS (Chair)
- Professor Marina Jirotka FBCS
- Professor John McDermid FREng FBCS FIET
- Gordon Meadow FIMarEST
- Dr Robert Merrall FIAgrE