Colloquium: August 6, 2013

Autonomous, Adaptive, and Safe?

John McDermid

Tuesday, August 6, 2013 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium


In many domains, including automotive and aerospace, software has a growing role in providing or enabling the capability of systems. The trend is perhaps most apparent in aerospace with unmanned air systems (UAS) where computers and software are taking on (many of) the roles and functions traditionally undertaken by pilots. To do this the software has to be autonomous (operate without – perhaps even the possibility of – human intervention) and adaptive (changing behavior based on the sensed situation). Arguably, all control systems are adaptive, but here the term is used to mean that the behavior cannot be fully bounded prior to system operation. There are many issues in assuring such systems, but the most significant relate to validation that the system and software will behave in a safe way, under all (credible) operating conditions. The talk will identify some of the issues in developing and assuring autonomous and adaptive safety-critical software-intensive UAS to operate in shared airspace, and consider where there might be limits in what we can assure, and what we should be willing to deploy, in such domains.



John McDermid has been Professor of Software Engineering at the University of York since 1987. He set up the High Integrity Systems Engineering (HISE) research group in the Department of Computer Science and was Head of the Department from 2006 to 2012. HISE studies a broad range of issues in systems, software and safety engineering, and works closely with government and industry, including Airbus, BAE Systems, the Civil Aviation Authority, the MoD, QinetiQ and Rolls-Royce. He is author or editor of six books and has published over 370 papers. He has advised companies and government departments on several continents, such as advising the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on software safety. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2002, and was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2010 New Year’s Honours list.