ACADEMICS AND AUTONOMY MIT Autonomous Systems Education: Training the Next Generation By Brian C. Williams
The technological world is in the early stages of a revolution in autonomous and unpiloted systems that is influencing every aspect of aerospace and beyond, including in space, in the air, on the surface, and deep within the ocean.
The Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, MIT’s Course 16, has developed a breadth of educational options for students to explore autonomy that is unique for aerospace, mechanical, and computer science departments. These offer-
ings are particularly distinct at the undergraduate level. Our curriculum enables students to explore many of the fascinating sub-areas of autonomous systems design and operation. THE NEED FOR AUTONOMOUS OPERATIONS The aerospace field is the birthplace of the autonomous system revolution, which started in space and expanded into the air. In the 1990s, research in autonomous systems was driven by the increased complexity of space missions, which quickly transitioned from flyby missions, such as Voyager, to orbiters, such as Galileo and Cassini, and on to in-situ missions, such as Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner, and the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. The increase in mission complexity led to increased mission failures, such as the loss of the flagship Mars Observer mission in the early ’90s. This was the first return to Mars after Viking, and the loss of Mars Polar Lander and Climate Orbiter at the end of that decade, which were two of the last “faster, cheaper, better” missions developed by NASA. NASA’s transition to orbiters and landers introduced the need for space systems that can repair themselves and complete
MIT AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS EDUCATION: Training the Next Generation