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Urban Air Mobility Glossary

Our UAM Glossary is a collaborative effort from many industry experts.

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(Technological) Autonomy

(Technological) Autonomy is the ability to make decisions or perform actions that are not influenced by external factors. Autonomous systems can therefore operate independently of the human operator and be self-governing.  


Link between automation and autonomy

In aerospace and the world of mobility, many systems are able to perform with minimal to zero human interaction. Autonomy provides vehicles and systems with the ability to operate without the need for human involvement.


An example of this would be the EHang 216 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV) which was designed and developed for use in Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), including Urban Air Mobility (UAM).


Often there is a misconception that automation is the equivalent of autonomy. An autonomous system is assisted by artificial intelligence (AI) to conduct its operations.


With AI, an automated system now has the ability to sense and detect changes within its surroundings and environment, adapting its actions. This is because the fundamentals of AI encompasses techniques that allow any computer systems to mimic the logics of human intelligence within the very specific confines of what it is designed for.


This would be just as how an autonomous vehicle like Tesla [currently, level of autonomy 2] would operate. Its inbuilt programme will allow the car to drive safely making decisions based on logic systems and algorithms similar to a human driver. 


Autonomy via AI is achieved widely through Machine Learning. This is where the employed AI system will be trained against a data set of scenarios and concepts that it is expected to encounter with many outputs. The AI will possess the ability to decide for itself which is the best cause of action to take, just as a Tesla on self-drive will function.  


Such autonomous vehicles are said to perform well only when they encounter anticipated situations and existing data sets. As there is no human intervention, it is up to the system itself to come to a solution. 


Autonomy is being largely tested and implemented within automotive and aviation industries with the latter often focusing on military purposes, where decisions can be made by artificial intelligence. 


Although we have come a long way in autonomous activity, there is yet a lot of research and continuous development taking place to ensure the safety and security of users and those in the vicinity of an autonomous object.


Autonomy in the future will most definitely aid the human workload for greater efficiency. With time, we will see its mass scale implementations to ease human efforts. 

Sources and suggested reading 


  1. Moving from automation to autonomy in aviation -

  2. Ethical Autonomy and Engineering in a Cross-Cultural Context - Philosophy Document Center 

  3. Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policymakers - Rand

  4. Autonomy | Definition of Autonomy by Merriam-Webster - Merriam Webster

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