Developing autonomous systems is one of the most complex engineering problems the US has faced since the Apollo missions. From Sense and Avoid, to real-time feedback and machine learning, UAS autonomy is comprised of a myriad of challenges that have to be overcome in order to launch the next generation of UAS technology. Curiously, one of the problems that has emerged is that autonomous systems require increasing amounts manpower to operate on the system. The Armed Forces Journal explains this paradox:
Yet the military’s growing body of experience shows that autonomous systems don’t actually solve any given problem, but merely change its nature. It’s called the autonomy paradox: The very systems designed to reduce the need for human operators require more manpower to support them.
Consider unmanned aircraft — which carry cameras aloft without a crew, yet require multiple shifts of operators, maintainers and intelligence analysts on the ground to extract useful data — and it becomes clear that many researchers and policymakers have been asking the wrong question. It is not “what can robots do without us?” but “what can robots do with us?”
Answering that question — and embracing a new era where “joint warfare” means human-robot teams — requires a better understanding of autonomy and a better effort to design for human-machine interdependence.