Research starts into ‘Kitemark’ for Autonomous Vehicles

A grant of three million pounds has been awarded to a consortium led by the University of Leicester to spearhead work ensuring that autonomous systems such as driverless cars, drones and robots can be trusted.

Autonomous systems are technologies that interact within an environment to gain knowledge and build awareness, learn, adapt and make decisions, with little or no human control. They include automated decision-making software and ‘smart’ devices as well as self-driving cars, drones and healthcare and surgical robots. These systems are already used in many sectors of society. Given their increased use, it is important to ensure that they are designed, built and deployed in a way that can be fully relied upon.

Experts from the Informatics and Mathematics departments at the University of Leicester are delighted to have been chosen by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to lead on the ‘verifiability’ aspect of autonomous systems. Led by Leicester University, professors from Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and York Universities will bring together their expertise in AI, robotics, human-computer interaction, systems and software engineering, and testing in order to complete the task.

Professor Mousavi explains, “Verifiability is about testing for reliability and dependability. When it comes to autonomous systems such as a self-driving car doing the school run, or a virus tracing app alerting us to potential infections, we want to be able to have complete trust in the design, regulation and operation of these automated systems.

"Over the next three and a half years we will be working across disciplines and sectors to ensure that a framework is in place, so that autonomous systems can be unquestionably trusted by individuals and wider society.

“We are very excited to be able to lead in this extremely competitive and critical area that is ultimately for the benefit of all industry and society. The results of the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems programme may well position the UK as a world leader in this area."

The University of Leicester is already at the forefront of research in the field of autonomous systems, with the University’s DriverLeics project within the Department of Informatics researching the development of techniques for autonomous driving in some of the most challenging and complex urban scenarios.

Currently, autonomous system developers are not required to submit evidence to prove that the components of a design will result in entirely trustworthy functioning. This is less of an issue with autonomous systems in constrained conditions, for example a robot vacuum-cleaner, but when it comes autonomous systems deployed at the user's own risk, or in open and unpredictable environments, the need for trustworthiness becomes critical.

With the help of the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems programme, the availability of a type of ‘kitemark’ for verified autonomous systems and components will become the new norm. In the future, autonomous systems will be developed and maintained with rigorous and system-wide guarantees that will ensure the wider industry and society can fully, and safely, benefit from their use in years to come.

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 research communities and key stakeholders to drive forward cross-disciplinary, fundamental research, to ensure that autonomous systems are safe, reliable, resilient, ethical and trusted.