Summary: Unmanned System Autonomy, Situation Awareness, and System Safety
Dr. Julie A. Adams and Sanford T. Freedman
Vanderbilt University; Nashville, TN
Keywords: Unmanned systems, situation awareness, autonomy, system safety
The future will provide an increasing number of autonomous unmanned systems; e.g. weapons and vehicles, to be
deployed by the nation's military. There are a large number of safety issues that such systems will pose, one such
safety concern is the ability of the autonomous unmanned system to accurately identify environmental elements and
make the appropriate decisions based upon the situation. Human's have an innate ability to interpret the
environment and determine the appropriate action to take in order to ensure mission success while minimizing the
danger to friendly forces and innocent bystanders. Current autonomous systems do not have capabilities at the same
level as their human counter-parts, thus raising concern regarding their ability to ensure safety and still be effective.
This paper discusses how current autonomy is insufficient to guarantee system safety and how incorporating the
concept of situation awareness into the unmanned system can improve safety.
Humans are capable of understanding highly dynamic and complex environments and situations. Humans'
cognitive capabilities permit this understanding and the ability to successfully complete missions in such
environments. Future fully autonomous unmanned systems e.g. weapons and unmanned vehicles are planned to
execute similar tasks in identical domains. However, current unmanned system (UMS) technology either depends
heavily on a human operator's cognitive capabilities for task completion or relies on very fragile autonomous