Innovation Network Opportunities

Innovation networks support new and existing networks to better connect all innovators, assist in developing capabilities and to resolve defence and security challenges.

Autonomous Systems for Defence and Security: Trust and Barriers to Adoption

Second Call for Proposals for Micro-nets (CFPMN 2)
Topic area: Autonomous Systems
Publication date: July 16, 2018
Application deadline for Letter of Intent: 12:00 PM (Noon) EDT, August 31, 2018
Application deadline for Full Proposal: 12:00 PM (Noon) EST, November 30, 2018

An Information Session on the 2nd Call for Proposals for Innovation Networks was held by Web conference on July 31, 2018.

A recording of the Webex session and the presentation are now available for viewing.

The Challenge

In response to the recognized need to increase Canadian knowledge capacity, the Department of National Defence is seeking to promote revolutionary advances in our understanding of autonomous systems for defence and security applications, with a focus on trust and barriers to adoption. As a first step to creating a national Innovation Network, we are calling on the innovation community to form multidisciplinary teams, or Micro-nets, of five or more investigators from at least three distinct organizations. Each Micro-net will propose a research project which addresses one or several aspects related to trust and barriers to adoption of autonomous systems. The subject area has deliberately been left broad to encourage a wide range of proposals covering as many aspects of the domain as possible. Full details of the application and evaluation process can be consulted in the Application Guide.


For the purposes of this call for proposals, autonomous systems are defined as: “systems with the capability to independently compose and select among various courses of action to accomplish goals based on its [information] and understanding of the world, itself, and the situation1.”

Background and Context

The fields of autonomy, artificial intelligence and machine learning are advancing rapidly. Already, autonomous systems are being integrated into the private sector, with the advent of systems such as self-driving cars, delivery drones and medical advisory systems.

Defence and security applications of autonomous systems share much with applications in the private sector, including navigation and route planning, decision support, surveillance and reconnaissance, and search and recovery. In this context, several trends are converging to make the increased use of autonomous systems an attractive option for future capabilities. These include increased public reluctance to accept casualties during operations, a need to decrease the reaction time for complex or time-sensitive tasks, the requirement to work in physical environments where humans cannot go, the need to reduce the physical and cognitive burden on soldiers/first responders, and potentially the need to compensate for reduced numbers of soldiers/first responders due to changing demographics.

To fully benefit from the recent advances in the field of autonomous systems, an understanding of the issues involving trust and other barriers to adoption is essential. Accordingly, research proposals on these two aspects as they relate to autonomous systems are being sought.

Trust in Autonomous Systems

The problem of trust in autonomous systems is complex and multidimensional. It is largely dependent on both effective human-machine interaction and robust and reliable autonomy. Gaining trust in autonomous systems is problematic and requires solutions to encourage acceptance by the general public and defence and security sectors alike. Finding ways to maintain that trust is equally important.

Barriers to Adoption

In addition to issues surrounding trust, other barriers to the adoption of autonomous systems in the defence and security context warrant investigation. These include challenges in the definition of appropriate roles for autonomous systems, reluctance to invest in systems given the current rapid and unpredictable pace of development, and difficulties with the integration of autonomous systems into existing structures and processes.

Formation of Innovation Networks

IDEaS seeks to foster the development of Canada’s innovation talent and capacity by creating and sustaining national Innovation Networks. As a first step, we are calling for the creation of Micro-nets to address challenges related to the use of autonomous systems, in particular issues of trust and barriers to adoption in the defence and security context.

We are seeking proposals from Micro-nets aimed at developing and fostering trust in autonomous systems, and at understanding how to increase the uptake and integration of autonomous systems, especially in a context which may have rapidly changing environments, needs, and requirements.

Example areas of research may include, but are not limited to:

  • Trust and confidence in autonomous systems
  • Understanding joint cognitive systems and human-machine teaming;
  • Robustness and reliability of autonomous systems in degraded environments
  • Adoption strategies of autonomous systems, including integration within larger systems
  • Proposals of defence and security-related tasks and concepts that could benefit from autonomous systems

Proposed research is expected to be focused at solution readiness levels (SRLs) typically ranging from 1 (Identification – observation of basic principles and/or properties) to 6 (Simulated Demonstration – demonstration and testing of near-end state solutions in a simulated environment). Definitions of the full SRL scale can be found in the Application Guide.

Expected Outputs

The research activities of the Micro-nets are expected to demonstrate an interdisciplinary advantage with the following outputs:

  • Advancement of knowledge within the field of autonomous systems, specifically as related to trust and barriers to adoption;
  • Development and training of highly qualified personnel in this field;
  • Publication of peer-reviewed literature; and
  • Participation in relevant scientific conferences, including an annual workshop to be organized by the IDEaS Program Office.

1 R. A. David, P. Nielsen, “Defense Science Board Summer Study on Autonomy,” June 2016. (accessed 16 January, 2017)

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