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How do real-world engineers understand hazards and develop safety requirements for autonomous systems?

Department of Computer Science

About the Project

Research areas: Autonomous and self-adaptive systems; Cyber Physical Systems; Safety analysis, system safety; Safety of autonomous and self-adaptive systems; Software testing

There is a lot of activity in developing new methods for doing hazard analysis for autonomous systems (e.g. [1,2]). All of this is, inherently, an attempt to change engineering practice — every AS developer organisation is already doing something in this space, and we are implicitly trying to change that for the better. But it’s hard to propose good changes when you don’t understand the thing you’re changing, and we don’t have much public, rigorously-collected information on how engineers are currently doing this. As pointed out by [2,3}, in such a situation we’re quite likely to make change recommendations that are at best useless and at worst destructive.

In this project you will study working safety engineers in the autonomous systems domain to uncover how they are currently (a) understanding the worlds their systems need to operate in, (b) turning that understanding into explicit lists of hazards and (consequent) requirements, and (c) reviewing those requirements for validity and completeness. You will turn this into some kind of process model [2], which can then be used by other researchers.

Competent software development skills will be needed for this project (so that you can understand what is actually happening). Social science research skills will be very valuable, too, as will real-world industrial experience (even if not in autonomous system development — what matters it that you have some prior experience through which to understand the practitioner environments you encounter).


[1] R. Alexander, H. Hawkins, and D. Rae, ‘Situation coverage - a coverage criterion for testing autonomous robots’ [], Department of Computer Science, University of York, YCS-2015-496, Feb. 2015.

[2] S. Dogramadzi, M. E. Giannaccini, C. Harper, M. Sobhani, R. Woodman, and J. Choung, ‘Environmental Hazard Analysis - a Variant of Preliminary Hazard Analysis for Autonomous Mobile Robots’ [], J Intell Robot Syst, vol. 76, no. 1, pp. 73–117, Mar. 2014.

[3] P. Ralph, ‘Toward Methodological Guidelines for Process Theories and Taxonomies in Software Engineering’[], IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, vol. 45, no. 7, pp. 712–735, Jul. 2019.

[4] J. Havinga, S. Dekker, and A. Rae, ‘Everyday work investigations for safety’ [], Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 213–228, Mar. 2018.

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