Australia’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global is funding research by the University of New South Wales in Sydney to determine future intent prediction, which the ONR calls crucial in real‐life scenarios, where anticipatory response is required such as active sensing and autonomous navigation to make responses actively. “The ability of human beings to accurately recognise others’ intents is a significant mental activity that involves reasoning about objectives, such as what other people are doing, why they are doing it and what they will do next. Therefore, the quality of interpersonal and human‐machine communications can be enhanced through employing predictive intent analysis to identify other human beings as peers, competitors or bystanders, and to forecast their future activities,” the ONR said.

ONR Global Melbourne Office Science Director Dr Yoko Furukawa believes that “collaborating with machines will become an essential part of how humans live, work, learn and play in the near future, as intelligent machines have the potential to seamlessly augment and boost humans’ physical and cognitive capabilities. For machines to become our collaborators rather than mere tools in a wide range of settings, however, many science and technology breakthroughs still need to occur. ONR Global believes that many of these future breakthroughs will come from the international research communities, and also recognizes that Australian research communities are particularly advanced in the field of human‐machine interaction science”.

Vice Admiral Paul Maddison RCN (Ret’d), director of the UNSW Defence Research Institute.

Paul Maddison, director of UNSW Defence Research, said added “there is perhaps nothing more important today in defence research than human-machine interaction. Capabilities that were until recently confined to the pages of science fiction have leapt from laboratories and into the field. Soldiers, sailors and air personnel are humans enabled and limited by their physical and cognitive capabilities. Machines and AI algorithms can bring speed and clarity to the decision-making process across the entire chain of command, from the infantry soldier to the task force commander.”

With theoretical foundations and a data‐efficient intent prediction paradigm, this ONR project aims to boost the capability of human‐machine interactions, which serve as the core of interactive intelligent systems like  robot, logistics units or other sophisticated military systems. Such systems aim to meet the increasingly complicated defence demands — namely, improve operators’ performance and training techniques, autonomous weapons, reduced casualty, post‐casualty recovery and mental health management.

ONR Global Melbourne Office Science Director Dr Yoko Furukawa.

For instance, future intent prediction could help autonomous vehicles to decide how to manoeuvre depending on the next predicted intent, or assist robots to make future decisions. In these scenarios, existing systems can only detect the intent when it has already occurred or partially occurred, which may not give operators sufficient time to respond. “This research will be a critical piece in a wide range of human‐machine collaboration applications in the near future not only in both defence but in civilian applications as well,” says Furukawa. “For example, intent prediction will help build a safer and more flexible manufacturing environment where rigid mass‐manufacturing assembly lines will be replaced by a team of humans and smart machines that can flexibly adapt to customers’ rapidly evolving needs.”

ONR Global searches the world for leading partners that support naval and revolutionary multidisciplinary research through active worldwide cooperation, to solve present and future US Navy and Marine Corps needs. “The UNSW partnership with ONR Global is extremely important, as it brings together the joint research priorities of the United States Navy and the Royal Australian Navy,” says Maddison. “Australia is a maritime nation, and many of the geostrategic regional drivers revolve around controlling or defending core interests at sea. That means that leading-edge, undersea-sensing technologies will be required in our ships, submarines and aircraft. UNSW remains ready to build on our relationship with ONR Global to accelerate the development of these disruptive battle ready technologies.”

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