An Alternative Approach for Assessing and Implementing Autonomous Ground Robotic Systems

Date of Award


Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering and Public Policy


M. Granger Morgan

Second Advisor

Scott Matthews


This research considers a different way to assess autonomous ground robotic systems for implementation into society. For the past two decades, autonomous mobile ground robotic systems have existed in the science and technology domain, but so far, have had only limited applications in the field. An ongoing assumption is that robotic systems must be capable of fitting into an existing infrastructure and way of doing things—one defined for human operators. However, this assumption and the approach designed around it are not well-suited for the advancement of autonomous robotics, especially when complex operations are concerned. This can be attributed, in part, to the challenges in the object recognition and reasoning research areas. While recent strides have been made, the larger context of developing object recognition and reasoning technology to achieve a performance criteria developed for human operation will result in a less optimum path than if a new approach and subsequent integration path were taken.

While clearly there are political and cultural constraints that limit the degree to which a new approach can be adopted, this work looks beyond these barriers, specifically considering autonomous robotics in military convoy and commercial snow clearing operations. This research uses a two-tiered approach that separately addresses critical utility-based decision criteria, focusing on technological viability and risk first and then cost and economic viability second. This approach, unlike a single-step net assessment, may be more reflective of the actual decision path. Additionally, by structuring the problem in this way, current risk abatement methods can be made more effective and new ones can be emplaced. Further, assumptions that are either inadvertently designed-in or that unfairly discount benefits and externalities associated with autonomous robotics can be re-visited. Thus, by adopting a new approach that fundamentally changes the underlying concept of operation, implementation of autonomous robotics into complex operations may be achieved much sooner or at substantially lower cost than if the current approach were maintained.


For more information on this dissertation or to request a copy, please contact John Matsumura at jmatsumu@andrew.cmu.edu

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