Reducing Risk Through Automation

Author: Jake Herington

Life is full of danger. Accidents, injury and death happen everyday, and while most of the time we feel safe and in control of our lives, the worst may be only a split second decision away. Is that a reason to hide away from the world? Of course not. But we do want to know that whether it be at work, on the road, or anywhere, there are systems and precautions in place to keep us safe.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Injury, illness and death have consequences. We see this economically in cost, and emotionally in grief. If you could do anything to keep friends and family safe, you would right? Well, this is where autonomous technology can play a key role. There are many areas of everyday life where automation can reduce incidents of injury, illness and death by taking humans out of the situation where they occur, or by substantially reducing the risks involved.

Here’s a dose of reality.

That’s a lot of illness, injury and death, as well as cost, which could be prevented through the use of autonomous technology.

How can we guarantee that autonomous technology will create safer environments, and not cause them to become more dangerous than they already are? The public needs assurances that such technology will be reliable. Automation currently in use, and automation that will be in the future, has to undergo rigorous testing to comply with government legislation, as well as standards set by third party organisations such as the International Society of Automation. These requirements will no doubt change and adapt as autonomous technology becomes further integrated into society, and our understanding of its disruptive nature becomes more complete.

One of these safety measures is what’s known as a ‘safe state’. According to the International Organization for Standardization, “an operating mode of a system or an arrangement of systems can be regarded as safe when there is no unreasonable risk”. One measure used to induce a safe state in autonomous vehicles is known as ‘graceful degradation’. The term means that if an error occurs, or there is a restriction on the resources the system uses, the system will maintain only those processes vital to its operation while cutting back or terminating those that are less important. An example of this would be the speed of a vehicle being reduced if its field of vision is restricted. A system using graceful degradation will also implement self-repair and reconfiguration by monitoring for technical faults and restarting system components.

Society stands to gain an invaluable benefit in the reduction of incidence of injury, illness and death, as well as cost, with the implementation of autonomous technology. Life presents many dangers, and any chance to reduce harm and increase safety for all members of the public should be of utmost importance.

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