Autonomous systems operate by changing their behavior in accordance with the outcome of previous actions as well as with external changes in their environment. They may use input from a variety of sensors in conjunction with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and computer vision to intelligently react to the world around them.
Autonomous platforms and vehicles provide a number of advantages over traditional manned systems. Their performance can often extend beyond human capabilities, performing tasks faster or more accurately and enhancing safety by undertaking missions or entering environments that are too dangerous for humans.
Autonomous solutions such as drones and self-driving cars may be classified by a scheme that assigns an autonomy level based on the level of reliance upon a pilot or operator.
Such a scheme may look like the following:
Level 0 – no autonomy, with an operator required to be in control 100% of the time
Level 1 – can account for spatial limitations and perform tasks such as hovering or returning to home, but operator is still in full control
Level 2 – vehicle can detect and warn of obstacles, but cannot automatically perform avoidance
Level 3 – operator is no longer in control of vehicle at all times but must be available to resume control as necessary
Level 4 – vehicle can use autonomous navigation and detect-and-avoid systems and explore complex spaces without operator action
Level 5 – full autonomy with no human intervention
Autonomous vehicles may operate in all domains, including land, sea and air, and undertake a variety of different applications.
Examples of these include:
Autonomous UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that perform drone delivery, surveillance and inspections
Autonomous UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles) that can deliver supplies to troops on the battlefield and undertake surveillance patrols
Autonomous USVs (uncrewed surface vessels) that patrol harbors and sea borders, or survey large areas of water
Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) that perform minehunting missions or long-term environmental monitoring