Rewriting the Rules of the Road Brings International Recognition

March 2018
Topics: Management (General), Systems Engineering, Transportation
As electric cars grow commonplace and autonomous vehicles become reality, long-established norms and technologies must change. MITRE systems engineering pioneer Judith Dahmann works with others to help make those changes happen safely and efficiently.
Electric car charging

What will happen when electric cars begin to flood the market? Will the charging stations work for all makes and models, as gas stations do now? Will self-driving vehicles follow the same protocols and operate using the same standards, or will there be chaos on the roads?

Whatever happens, MITRE's Judith Dahmann and her System of Systems (SoS) Working Group at INCOSE are likely to have a lot to say about it. They're currently addressing the system-of-systems challenges of ensuring automobiles of the future interact and operate safely. Whether they're considering electric cars operated by humans or self-driving vehicles, they know a host of technologies and standard procedures need rethinking.

INCOSE—the International Council on Systems Engineering—recently awarded its 2017 Award for Collaboration to Dahmann and BAE System's Alan Harding, who serve as the groups co-chairs. The award highlights the working group's achievements on two levels: (1) for developing and disseminating effective system-of-systems approaches across different applications; (2) for collaborating with other organizations, including related INCOSE working groups, such as Automotive and Critical Infrastructure. For a challenge of this enormity, the working groups also partner with external organizations, including the National Defense Industrial Association (for defense applications) and the International Standards Organization (ISO).

Among their activities, Dahmann and the group meet and hold workshops with the Automotive Working Group, which includes representatives from major automakers, such as Volvo and Ford, to advise them on possible approaches to the issues.

In announcing the honor, INCOSE stated in part, “This award is intended to recognize the System of Systems Working Group for their collaboration with other INCOSE Working Groups, their engagement with other organizations, and their efforts in defining ISO standards for System of Systems Engineering (SoSE).”

Taking Charge of Charging Issues

“With electric vehicles, some of the system-of-systems questions are ‘What kind of electrical equipment do you put on them? Where are the charging stations going to be?’” Dahmann says. “It’s not just the vehicle manufacturers who need to be involved, but the electric grid companies as well.”

“Similarly, with the autonomous vehicles, some of the issues involve crash protection, but it’s more that each company can’t make decisions in a vacuum,” she says. “Am I going to steer my autonomous vehicle based on the white lines on the side of the road? Or am I counting on particular instrumentation? These vehicles won’t become commonplace until there’s some agreement, but there’s really no one in charge right now.”

SoSE is a relatively new focus area of systems engineering. As Dahmann describes it, “System of systems engineering involves bringing multiple independent systems together. Each system maintains managerial and operational independence, but these systems must work together in some way to achieve a broader capability.”

Thinking of the Larger Context

The System of Systems INCOSE Working Group was formed in 2012, under the leadership of Dahmann and others who believed that system of systems engineering deserved a “seat at the INCOSE table.”

This isn’t the first time Dahmann and her System of Systems Working Group have been honored. Some of the first projects Dahmann’s group tackled involved the defense industry and the European Union. For that work, Dahmann and her group won INCOSE’s 2013 Award for Collaboration.

Dahmann is also an INCOSE Fellow, one of just 79 in the world who holds the distinction. One of the originators of the concept of SoSE, she co-authored "The SoS Implementers' View (Wave Model)," an agile, evolutionary life cycle approach to SoSE. The article, which received a best paper award at the 2011 IEEE International Systems Conference, has been adopted as guidance to SoSE implementation by the Department of Defense.

For Dahmann, it was natural to move from applying her knowledge of large defense systems to the challenges of new, high-tech modes of transportation. “When you’re developing systems, you need to think about the larger context in which it’s going to operate,” she says. “What other things is this system going to need to work with? What is it going to depend upon?”

Answering those questions for ground transportation will require the kind of collaborative thinking that prompted INCOSE to honor Dahmann and her fellow working group members. And one day, when you're topping off the battery of your electric vehicle at a highway charging station or catching a ride in a self-driving taxi, you'll be glad they went looking for the answers.

—by Tom Nutile

Explore more at MITRE Focal Point: Transportation.

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