Robotic Autonomous System

Autonomy, in the context of a system (robotic, spacecraft, or aircraft), is the capability for the system to operate independently from external control. For NASA missions there is a spectrum of Autonomy in a system from basic automation (mechanistic execution of action or response to stimuli) through to fully autonomous systems able to act independently in dynamic and uncertain
environments. Two application areas of autonomy are:
(i) increased use of autonomy to enable an independent acting system, and
(ii) automation as an augmentation of human operation. Autonomy’s fundamental benefits are;
increasing a system operations capability, cost savings via increased human labor efficiencies and reduced needs, and increased mission assurance or robustness to uncertain environments.

An “autonomous system” is as a system that resolves choices on its own. The goals the system is trying to accomplish are provided by another entity; thus, the system is autonomous from the entity on whose behalf the goals are being achieved. The decision-making processes may in fact be simple, but the choices are made locally. The selections have been made already, and encoded in some way, or will be made externally to the system Key attributes of such autonomy for a robotic system include the ability for complex decision making, including autonomous mission execution and planning, the ability to self-adapt as the environment in which the system is operating changes, and the ability to understand system state and react accordingly.

Variable (or mixed initiative) autonomy refers to systems in which a user can specify the degree of autonomous control that the system is allowed to take on, and in which this degree of autonomy can be varied from essentially none to near or complete autonomy. For example, in a human-robot system with mixed initiative, the operator may switch levels of autonomy onboard the robot. Controlling levels of autonomy is tantamount to controlling bounds on the robot's authority, response, and operational capabilities.

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