MESAS '14: summary and conclusions


A few days ago, MESAS'14, the first international Workshop on Modeling & Simulation (M&S) for Autonomous Systems (AS), was held at Hotel Ergife, organized by the NATO Center of Excellence on Modeling & Simulation (NATO M&S CoE) From Rome.

For almost two days, almost internationally renowned experts from the military, industrial and academic sectors met together with 200.

At least 12 specialized industries have exhibited their products (autonomous robot systems, simulators, etc.).

The Workshop was focused on all domains of non-military operations.

As the director of the event, Lieutenant Alessandro Cignoni explains: "We are not in a context where answers are given, but in a context where two quite heterogeneous groups meet from a cultural and experience point of view: a working on robotics and a group working on Modeling & Simulation for staff training. Furthermore, there is also a heterogeneity in terms of cultures, there is the military culture, with attention to military issues, there is the industry that has instead an attention to the product, to the development of the product, and there is the university that has a strong focus on carrying out research, therefore - continues Alessandro Cignoni - the focus of this Workshop is to understand where there are problems, how M&S can be used to give answers ”.

Autonomous Systems and Modeling & Simulation

Autonomous Systems are robotic systems that perform a certain task with a certain degree of independence. This autonomy, to date, is not yet complete and requires human supervision.

Autonomous Systems are acquiring ever more autonomous capabilities and likely, in the near future, will be able to operate in complete autonomy without human intervention. Just think of the capabilities of the drones which, even in operational theaters such as Afghanistan, are remotely controlled and able to carry out even complex missions independently, such as aerial surveillance, reconnaissance, surveys.

Of course, to be able to entrust an Autonomous System with a mission completely free from human intervention, it is necessary to achieve a high degree of trust, a sort of homologation that certifies the complete reliability of the system.

The Modeling & Simulation sector deals with the virtualization of reality, transferring it to a mathematical model (modeling) using algorithms, subsequently implemented in a simulator. Such as those of flight, for example, which use the laws of aerodynamics as mathematical models allowing the operator to train without actually flying. Simulators are multimedia platforms that simulate certain real situations in a virtual environment (simulation). In the field of Defense, this methodology allows the computer simulation of even complex military operations, both land, air, sea, and joint forces, for training, experimental and development purposes.

Current technological progress is leading the industry to propose increasingly sophisticated M&S systems capable of virtually representing reality in an ever more faithful way.

In order to maintain a high degree of interoperability between the armed forces of the various countries, more and more frequent use is made of joint computer simulated and remote exercises (eg CAX Exercices in the NATO context).

Modeling & Simulation, is a methodology today able to simulate any real situation, it can be used to study the potential, applications and risks of systems that operate in full autonomy and, more importantly, that reach a high degree of reliability .

As the director of NATO M&S CoE, Colonel Stefano Nicolò explains: "Modeling & Simulation is a tool, a working methodology that allows the study and a whole spectrum of activities in support of systems, from their conceptual birth to their use in any area, even the training of people who have to work with these systems. The M&S can also support all systems development activities such as those of the Autonomous System - continues the Colonel - The M&S allows you to verify in a parallel and simultaneous way a whole series of activities in a reasonable time, which allow the completion of this development activity to have a system that is still up-to-date, something that could not happen with conventional instruments that would perhaps take years ”.

The legal aspects

The intervention of Dr. Roberta Arnold, researcher at the ETH in Zurich, aroused considerable interest, which highlighted how the final responsibility for the outcome of each action, whether positive or negative, still falls on the human operator even in the if the system is completely autonomous.

"Using new technologies, with the use of autonomous systems with limited autonomy, where there is in any case the human component that decides the level of autonomy of the vehicle, the new legal issues should not be underestimated - emphasizes Dr. Arnold - for what concerns, for example, the attribution of responsibilities, there are rules to be observed in every military use, peace enforcement or classic armed conflicts, we have the rules of the law of armed conflicts to respect, and having to do with modern means and technologies , which may present new issues with respect to conventional means, carrying out simulations makes it possible to verify whether the means to be adopted is compliant or whether it can be used compliantly. The questions arise at the targeting level, if you use a drone it is necessary to understand exactly to what extent the drone is able to distinguish between a military and non-military target, it allows to understand to what extent a drone is able to do an assessment of the collateral damage that may occur in a certain type of employment. All these aspects, thanks to the simulation, can be tested by playing at home, before operating on the field ”(Dr. Arnold's opinions are personal and do not necessarily represent those of the Defense Department).


From these two days of the MESAS'14 Workshop, dedicated to Modeling & Simulation for Autonomous Systems, "a whole series of initiatives emerge that in some way will affect what may also be the acquisition systems for the future - as we have General Francesco Langella, deputy director of ARMAEREO illustrated - a whole series of opportunities and also a series of challenges emerged. The systems that are somehow coming to fruition, offer the possibility of creating opportunities, of reducing the risks for the user personnel and also offering the possibility of reducing the need for resources. The studies that have been presented today show what is the fervor that is being placed in this period with all these systems in many environments, from universities to industrial ones, in order to achieve objectives that are strongly requested and felt not only by the forces armed forces, but also by the police and also by civil organizations that need to have systems that allow a more widespread control of the territory, an automatic control of areas that have perhaps also been subjected to natural phenomena that somehow prevent the 'access for qualified personnel who could take risks if they could not base their business on these automatic systems ”.

Monica Palermo