Addressing Autonomy in Conceptual Design
Aircraft design is an iterative process of creating a design concept from a set of requirements. Conceptual design is an early phase in the process, during which preliminary decisions and trade studies are made from a set of requirements related to mission objective and costs. Although much attention has been paid to applying autonomy technologies to robotic systems, including air vehicles, there has been little attention paid to incorporating autonomy as part of the conceptual design process. Consequently, designing for autonomy tends to be retrofitted to a vehicle that has already gone through a complete design process rather than as part of the initial process. This derivative approach to designing autonomous systems is suboptimal, and there is evidence that this has hindered the acceptance of autonomy technologies. This article proposes an approach to conceptual design for aircraft that incorporates autonomy into the conceptual design process. To illustrate the principles introduced, we consider the example of configuring an autonomous small unmanned aerial vehicle for searching and tracking a target of interest.