Tag Archives: technology

From petri dish to market place

One of the greatest strengths of Australia’s CRC Program, now in its 28th year, is how it brings together research and commerce — bridging the gap between discovery research and industry-ready innovation — in the form of an innovative product. Here are three recent CRC-driven Australian innovative product success stories.

New cancer drug

A promising new cancer drug developed by Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx) has been licensed to Merck Sharp and Dohme Australia (MSD) in one of the largest preclinical deals in Australia’s medical history.

The drug offers hope for the treatment of a wide range of cancers, including lung and breast. The licensing deal is worth up to $700 million and 70% of payments will return to CTx — which includes CSIRO, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Monash University, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Children’s Cancer Institute and Griffith University.

The drug is a PRMT5 inhibitor, with potential to treat both cancer and non-cancer blood disorders. PRMT5 (protein arginine methyltransferase 5) is an enzyme that protects against cancer-causing mutations. Abnormality in PRMT5 is linked to many cancers. MSD is not just developing and commercialising the PRMT5 inhibitors, but also funding an ongoing collaboration with CTx.

“What MSD realised was the background science here in Australia was such high quality, they continued to support it to help advance the development,” says Dr Warwick Tong, CEO of CTx.

One key to the success of the project was how CTx managed their intellectual property, says Tong. “It’s almost a cliché, but if you don’t own it you can’t sell it,” he explains.

Tong also believes it’s important to share the rewards. “We do lots of drug discovery projects and many of them will fail,” he says. “To benefit from commercial return, researchers need to have contributed to the CRC but not necessarily to the successful project.”

Australia’s first electric bus

The first Australian-designed and manufactured electric bus is now part of a Transit South Australia trial. The result of a partnership between the Automotive Australia CRC (Auto-CRC), Swinburne University of Technology and Bustec, the electric bus can travel at 80 km per hour and has batteries that can be charged to 80% in 10 minutes.

The ultra-modern interior includes electronics that report their own faults, as well as integrated electronics, making it possible to know where the bus is, how the driver is driving it and if anything is wrong during the trip.

This information can be used to improve the efficiency of the bus network and user experience, such as reporting traffic jams and advising users to take an alternative bus. The results from this trial are expected by the end of the year.

With Auto-CRC’s funding term completed, the Electric Vehicle (EV) Laboratory at Swinburne University is continuing the research, and is now developing an electric harvester in conjunction with the Malaysian Automotive Institute.

“We are also looking at linking with Indian manufacturers to use
the electric technology in India for harvesters, buses and cars,” says Professor Ajay Kapoor, Swinburne’s Pro Vice Chancellor for International Research Engagement and leader of the EV Laboratory.

Kapoor believes the whole innovative product development process should involve learning more about consumer needs.

“There is a big disconnect between what experts tell us consumers would like and what they actually would like,” he says.

Healthy teeth

One in four Australian children have tooth decay, while one in 25 Australians over 15 have no natural teeth at all. In 2012–2013, $8.7 billion was spent on dental care in Australia. Tooth decay occurs when bacteria attach to sugars from foods to make acid that softens and eats away tooth enamel. But now we can prevent it.

Your regular dentist-applied fluoride treatment is likely the result of breakthrough research by an Australian team who developed and commercialised ‘Tooth Mousse Plus’ through the Oral Health CRC (OH-CRC). This discovery helps reverse the damage decay can cause to teeth, by improving the absorption of fluoride.

The innovative product is based on a component found in dairy milk that hardens teeth — another Australian find and one that’s responsible for protecting the oral health of millions. The potential savings are estimated to be more than $12 billion in dental work to date worldwide.

Thirty years ago CEO of OH-CRC, Professor Eric Reynolds and his team at Melbourne University indentified that casein peptide complex (casein phosphopeptide amorphous calcium phosphate) found in dairy milk can strengthen and remineralise teeth.

The milk extract was developed into an innovative product called Recaldent, which is used in sugar-free gum and the Tooth Mousse product. “Recaldent took many years of research and support to develop but it is now in a range of products that benefit millions around the world,” says Reynolds.

Recaldent is patented by OH-CRC and is produced in Melbourne using Australian milk by GC Corporation, a Japanese company and OH-CRC partner. For his tireless work in inventing and commercialising Recaldent, Reynolds was awarded the 2017 Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation.

The OH-CRC has also developed a vaccine for gum disease and is now working on its commercialision.

 

-Rebecca Blackburn

GPS

Why can’t my Uber find me?

It’s dizzying to contemplate: in the past decade, everything on our maps has moved by more than 1m, as Australia’s continental tectonic plate slides inexorably north at a rate of 7 cm a year.

“Geoscience Australia defines latitude and longitude for the country through the national Geocentric Datum, and last year we adjusted that by 1.5 m based on projections to 2020,” says Dr John Dawson, a geodetics expert who is the program manager of the CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI) Positioning Program.

If you use the Uber ride-sharing app, you may have noticed its location accuracy is improving. Over the next few years, there will be a significant increase in this kind of precision.

Updating our latitude and longitude is just one stage of an overhaul of Australia’s mapping and positioning systems, which currently rely heavily on overseas-run spatial infrastructure.

“Precision in latitude and longitude is becoming very important as new positioning technologies with finer accuracy come online,” says Dawson. “For example, if I measure the location of a pipe using a device with 10 cm accuracy, then come back a year later to dig in that location, then relative to latitude and longitude, it would look like that pipe had moved.”

Currently, positioning in Australia has accuracy between 5m and 10m. Trials are now underway on satellite technology with the potential to upgrade that location accuracy to less than 10 cm.

“With applications such as self-driving cars, 5 m of accuracy can put your vehicle on the wrong side of the road,” explains Dawson.

Cross sector and cross-ditch collaboration

Satellite positioning technology has revolutionised our lives, influencing everything from air transport to agriculture, and real estate to retail.

All of these are set to change dramatically in coming years as improved precision makes so many more applications possible.

The CRCSI’s Positioning Program research stream is part of the next era in satellite positioning, trialling three new technologies that will all potentially contribute to a Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) for the Australasian region.

The trials involve cross-industry collaboration with more than 30 organisations. They are funded by a $12 million contribution from the Australian Government, plus another NZ$2 million from the New Zealand government, and aim to establish a nationwide, high-accuracy, real-time positioning infrastructure.

The CRCSI estimates that updating our national positioning infrastructure will add an estimated 1.1–2.1% to Australia’s GDP by 2030, through productivity gains in mining, construction and agriculture. Benefits will also be widespread across tourism, transport and emergency services.

“We’ve taken GPS for granted in Australia as something provided as a global public infrastructure by the US, and we’ve accrued value as positioning improves efficiency and drives new products and services,” says Dawson.

The new technologies being trialled will enable precise positioning for a fraction of the cost of currently available commercial services. Providing it as public infrastructure will also reap productivity benefits dwarfing the initial investment.

Three technologies under trial

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is the world’s best known satellite-based navigation system and comprises a ‘constellation’ of 24 communications craft orbiting Earth.

Designed in the 1970s for military applications and funded by the US government, GPS is now accessed by billions of devices worldwide.

In 2020, Europe’s Galileo system, supported by 30 satellites, will become fully operational, improving location accuracy for applications across the planet.

While most of Australia’s satellite positioning currently relies on GPS, users in the USA, Europe, China, Russia, India and Japan are already using the more precise first-generation SBAS technology on a daily basis.

Geoscience Australia has partnered with global technology companies GMV, Inmarsat and Lockheed Martin to trial satellite technologies, and CRCSI is managing a range of industry projects trialling sector-based applications.

Under trial are first-generation SBAS, switched on in June 2017; second-generation SBAS, which came online in September 2017; and Precise Point Positioning, turned on in October 2017. These technologies combine satellite signals with ground stations.

Australia was the first country to transmit second-generation SBAS signals, and the first to trial Precise Point Positioning corrections integrated into an SBAS service.

Fran Molloy

defence industry

Partnerships driving next generation defence technologies

As the Chief Defence Scientist, my job is to ensure the best science and technology is applied to deliver solutions for Australia’s defence and national security. Since the White Paper was released in 2016, Defence has embarked on a huge $195 billion technology refresh program to build game-changing capabilities based on partnerships through research and innovation, working with Australia’s best and brightest.    

Solving defence industry capability problems is a complex challenge; it requires deep and extensive collaboration across disciplines, organisations and geographic boundaries.

The 2016 Defence White Paper created a clear pathway for collaboration by establishing a new unified innovation system with an investment of $1.9 billion over 10 years.

The new system centres around a Defence Innovation Hub ($640 M), a Next Generation Technologies Fund ($730 M) and a Defence Innovation Portal as an interface into the innovation system.

The Defence Science and Technology team manages the Next Generation Technologies Fund. It focuses on early stage, high-risk research and invites proposals to collaborate on game-changing capabilities through the Defence Innovation Portal. Promising proposals are progressed through the Defence Innovation Hub for further development.   

To focus our efforts, we picked nine ‘winner’ domains where investment in science and technology could lead to game-changing defence industry capabilities. These range from space and cyber to autonomous systems and quantum technologies.

We also settled on seven program elements, with different forms of interaction and collaboration. Defence CRCs are one part of the program that’s made considerable progress.  

The first Defence CRC, on Trusted Autonomous Systems, follows a mission-driven approach ensuring the outcome will be delivered by industry utilising academic and public-funded research agencies as research providers.

Defence is investing $50 million over seven years in the CRC to develop trusted smart machine technologies for ADF capabilities in the land, aerospace and maritime domains. The Defence CRC has been registered with initial participating members BAE Systems Australia, RMIT University, DefendTex and DST.

The first three research projects will be led by BAE Systems, Thales and Lockheed Martin. Other companies and universities will join as the CRC develops more projects. The Queensland State government is providing $50 million in cash and in-kind support.

The Next Generation Technologies Fund is continually generating new opportunities under its various programs, including the call for proposals for the Small Business Innovation Research for Defence, which is imminent.

In the defence industry we are keen to harness the collective expertise of the country’s innovation sector and there has never been a better time for research partnerships than now, to realise the future capabilities of the ADF.

cyberattack

Are you protected?

Last year, the WannaCry cyberattack showed the world the rapid and destructive power of cybercrime. Targeting vulnerabilities in older versions of Microsoft Windows operating systems (OS), the virus rapidly spread between computers and networks all over the world. As a result, hospitals, banks, businesses and various other organisations in over 150 countries were crippled by the anonymous infection, which locked hundreds of thousands of users out of their computers and demanded ransom payments of $300 in the untraceable cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

At least12 Australian businesses reported being affected in the initial cyberattack, with more suspected of suffering without informing the authorities.

Frustratingly, Microsoft had recognised the vulnerability, and issued software ‘patches’ to fix the hole. Yet many companies and individuals either didn’t install the fixes, or were using unsupported, older versions of Windows, leaving their systems exposed.

This global incident was one of several cyberattacks in 2017 costing about $2.5 billion in ransomware payments, according to antivirus software firm Bitdefender. It highlights a common problem in businesses both in Australia and abroad: a weariness or reluctance to deal with computer cybersecurity. Known as ‘security fatigue’, studies in the USA have shown many computer users feel overwhelmed and even bombarded from being on constant alert, adopting safe behaviour and trying to understand the nuances of online cybersecurity issues at work. Yet, with cyberattacks on the rise and becoming ever more sophisticated, there has never been a greater need to adopt secure practices.

“A successful cyberattack can cause major financial, reputational and legal damage to companies,” explains Sanjay Mazumdar, CEO of Data to Decisions Cooperative Research Centre (D2D CRC). “Cybersecurity is not just an IT issue — it is the board and executive’s responsibility to focus on the cyber resilience of their business.”

But what should businesses do to protect themselves? Mazumdar suggests they follow the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD)’s ‘Top 4’ and ‘Essential 8’. “These are simple strategies,” he says. “The mantra all organisations should remember is ‘Catch, Patch and Match’.”

The phrase is an easy-to-remember summary of core cybersecurity actions. If businesses ‘catch’ malicious software by only running a whitelist of approved applications, ‘patch’ their applications and OS with updates, and ‘match’ the right people with the right access, ASD estimates that at least 85% of intrusions can be prevented. As for the remaining 15%, those cyberattacks could still infiltrate security-savvy businesses because current computer systems, no matter how advanced, leave doors ajar for attackers. At the same time cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated in sniffing out these chinks in the armour and exploiting them.

Because nobody knows where the next breach could come from, it’s critical to have early warning systems so businesses can be told of imminent threats with enough time to protect themselves quickly, thus stemming the spread of cyberattacks.

Organisations such as CERT Australia, the national computer emergency response team, already help Australian businesses understand the cyberthreat landscape and better prepare for, defend against and mitigate cyberthreats and incidents.

“Big data analytics is a critical component of addressing cyberthreats,” says Mazumdar. “It can help with detecting anomalies in a network that indicate malware or Trojan Horse attacks [a computer program that misleads users of its true intent], or in staff behaviour — e.g. downloading unusual amounts of documents — which could be an indicator of an insider threat, like the  Edward Snowden leak in the USA.”

The team has a number of research streams that may ultimately culminate in revolutionary cybersecurity outcomes. For instance, the D2D CRC Integrated Law Enforcement program aims to build a technology that pools and presents data from government, police, armed forces and intelligence agencies. This has led to the spin-off NQRY™. “NQRY specialises in next-generation investigative tools and effective investigation management solutions for law enforcement and public safety organisations — essentially digitising a law enforcement agency’s lines of enquiry,” Mazumdar says.

Another D2D CRC project — Beat the News — has developed an automatic forecasting capacity for law enforcement and national security agencies. This has since been commercialised through D2D CRC’s first spin-off company Fivecast™.

A world-leading forecasting technology, Fivecast is able to automatically and accurately predict the occurrence of future population-level events such as social disruption, political crises and election outcomes. The Minority Report-like technology looks into the future to predict what might happen, when it will happen and why.

Meanwhile, D2D CRC’s Predicting Cyber Exploits project is developing a system to predict when and how a publicly disclosed vulnerability will progress. With funding from the Defence Innovation Hub, the technology resulting from the project will allow decision makers and system maintainers to proactively mitigate high-risk threats before they are actively exploited by cybercriminals, and respond quickly if and when hackers do attempt to exploit the threat.

Ultimately, this results in national security threats like cyberattacks being detected earlier, and a reduction in the probability of them occurring.

Another way to try to predict a cybercrime is for computer security experts to think like cybercriminals. By understanding the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of computer systems and how they can be exploited, they can get a step ahead of the hackers.

This is exactly what Yuval Yarom from CSIRO’s Data 61 and colleagues did to find the Meltdown and Spectre computer vulnerabilities, which were disclosed in January 2018. “By causing the processor to speculatively execute instructions that were crafted for this purpose, we could get secret information from the OS or from other programs,” says Yarom.

Stemming from a design flaw in what is called ‘branch prediction’, where a central processing unit makes an educated guess as to what it will compute or process next, Spectre and Meltdown exploit a vulnerability in devices that are simply doing what they are designed to do. This flaw allows malicious applications to bypass memory isolation in order to access the contents of memory. “Spectre and Meltdown use covert channels to get the secret information,” explains Yarom. The combination of covert channels and branch prediction is what enables the vulnerability, and worryingly this means bypassing traditional security measures, thereby exposing billions of devices.

Although cybercriminals have yet to build functional code to exploit the vulnerability, cybersecurity experts are racing to build patches to protect organisations and individuals worldwide.

Of course, cybersecurity experts would have a much easier job if the computer systems they were attempting to protect were secure by design. Yarom’s Data61 colleague Gernot Heiser has been working on secure OS for 25 years. His 7500 lines of C code that make up the seL4 microkernel — a microkernel being the bare minimum of any OS — was a major breakthrough, as it was the first to be proved  mathematically correct, thereby making it practically unhackable by today’s standards. Unfortunately, seL4 is too expensive for widespread adoption.

Heiser’s work now focuses on reducing the cost of seL4 to make it more affordable and to ensure the microkernel is secure against highly sophisticated future cyberattacks. He thinks that by observing the exact timings of actions, extremely talented hackers may be able to steal encryption keys and thereby eavesdrop on communications, or even masquerade malicious code as legitimate services. Heiser is now enhancing the microkernel against these ‘timing side channels’. “Fundamentally we’re developing OS technology for keeping systems secure,” he says.

-Ben Skuse

The autonomous future of warfare

Imagine a military robot that can formidably augment the firepower of an army patrol unit, then switch modes to carry wounded soldiers back to base. It sounds like a scene from Terminator, but such high-tech robotics remain a distant prospect. Robots are not yet capable of reliably seeing, comprehending and assessing what is unfolding around them.

However, a new Defence Cooperative Research Centre (D-CRC) for Trusted Autonomous Systems has recently been formed to help close the gap between the tools and knowledge we currently have and the future technologies we can imagine — innovations that will  dramatically extend the capabilities of our defence forces and make our personnel safer than ever before.

The new D-CRC was announced by Defence Minister Christopher Pyne in December 2017, and will start out with $50 million in funding from the Next Generation Technologies Fund.

“The D-CRC’s overarching goal is to deliver world-leading autonomous and robotic technologies to the Australian Defence Force, which will enable trusted and effective co-operation between humans and machines,” says Prof Rob Sale, interim D-CRC CEO.

To start with, projects are being proposed and led by Australian industry, but will also have input at every stage from the Department of Defence Science and Technology (DST).

Australian companies and universities are doing world-class work in many areas relevant to Trusted Autonomous Systems, but they are broadly distributed, says Sale. The D-CRC instead aims to “integrate the talent pool spread across the country and coordinate their efforts,” he adds.

Ethical and legal parameters

Alongside projects developed by teams in the maritime, land and aerospace domains, the D-CRC will run activity groups to explore and mature ethical and legal frameworks for future autonomous systems to operate.

Dr Jason Scholz, chief scientist and engineer for the D-CRC on Trusted Autonomous Systems, says that some of these activities aim to address ethical points, such as “Should we do it?” and “Why would we do it?”. Other activities will consider legal protocols for how people and machines can work together.

For example, Scholz’s team is already investigating a commander–machine legal-agreement protocol in which a human commander might define a goal and a pool of machines then identify which aspects of that goal they can achieve or contribute towards.

“The commander would in effect accept or reject each of those offers, just like we do in contract law, thereby binding the machines for a period of time to do that work,” Scholz says.

Seeing, sensing, perceiving

These are all ideas for the future. “Robots generally lack a ‘theory of mind’. They don’t realise that some objects have beliefs and desires,” says Scholz. The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is engaged in groundbreaking work to improve the ‘visual’ systems of robots, including sonar detection for underwater robots and infrared vision for robots to operate at night. Seeing is one thing. But what’s next?

“Once we have robots that can see, we want robots to comprehend on some level too,” says Scholz. “Robots that comprehend: ‘Here are objects in an environment… What does it mean?”

To this end, the visionaries at the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision may team up via the D-CRC with an Australian centre of excellence in artificial intelligence. The agility afforded by working directly with Defence on these robotics projects will enable accelerated development, says Scholz, because rudimentary prototypes can quickly get input to make them functional. “It’s the only way I know of to develop technology that’s never been built before and where we don’t know how to do it — we just have a sense that it’s the right way to go,” he says.

Redefining the equation

D-CRC projects must be ahead of the curve to give Australia’s military the edge. With a relatively small defence force, a major investment in navy vessels and aircraft, and a large country to defend, the Department of Defence recognises the potential of Trusted Autonomous Systems to extend and augment its reach. “We talk in terms of ‘force multipliers’,” says Scholz.

Taking risks on projects that don’t just push the envelope, but “blow it apart”, are part of the centre’s remit, he says. Examples that might be considered include ‘tag-teaming’: inexpensive autonomous robotics underwater systems that can swarm the ocean floor in advance of multi-million-dollar Royal Australian Navy vessels, clearing a path through minefields or scouting out the bathymetry of the seafloor.

“We want autonomous systems that will survive in a warfare environment,” he says, and he’s not just talking about physicality. New kinds of platforms such as social and self-sensing are important as well, to enable effective interaction with humans.

This first CRC for Defence will operate for seven years, with options to extend if promising robotics projects need further development. The Brisbane headquarters are expected to be established in mid 2018.

-Natalie Filatoff

Unearthing resource value

Two headline technologies for the mining sector are optimising the mining process for individual deposits and unlocking additional value for mining operations, Brendan Fitzpatrick reports.

To stay profitable and environmentally sustainable, mining faces the challenge of extracting efficiency through technological and process innovation. Grade Engineering® and the Integrated Extraction Simulator (IES) are innovations developed by the CRC for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE) to assist mines improve the recovery of valuable ore.

A range of mining companies, plus mining equipment, technology and service suppliers, and research organisations collaborated on the development of these technologies with funding from the Federal Government. It comes at a critical time for the industry, which faces increasing pressure to become more profitable and environmentally sustainable.

Conventional extraction methods are becoming harder and more expensive to implement as ore quality drops, mines get deeper and water becomes scarcer.

In an ideal scenario, miners could target the mineral they are after. However, mineral-bearing ores are heterogeneous with different levels of concentration. The challenge is to find ways to extract and process the ores and reject waste early in the extraction process.

Bringing tech to the process

Grade Engineering is an integrated approach to extracting metal more efficiently and improving the overall recovery of valuable ores from individual deposits. “It goes beyond the industry mindset that simply increasing throughout will bring more profit for a mining operation,” says Dr Ben Adair, CEO of CRC ORE. “It factors in the ore quantity and quality.”

Rejecting waste as early as possible in the mining process can significantly decrease the operating costs of a mine. Grade Engineering utilises a range of techniques and strategies that sorts and separates mined materials throughout all stages of the mining process.

Adair says the power Grade Engineering offers is a targeted assessment tailored to specific ores, which determines what lever has the potential to best maximise mine performance. Benefits include decreased costs; improved investment rate of return; reduced energy and water use with fewer emissions; delivery of higher feed grades and lower capital expenditure for start-up or expansion.

The next generation of mining simulation

CRC ORE’s Integrated Extraction Simulator provides insight into the entire process, from the mine to the mill. It combines existing industry standard simulation models with new models from diverse research and development sources. “It is the next generation of fast, reliable and accurate simulation across the value chain,” says Adair.

 

crcore.org.au

Testing Australia’s top aircraft

Research at ANSTO into innovative technologies for the repair and maintenance of military aircraft will have implications on the service life of commercial and passenger aircraft, Brendan Fitzpatrick reports.

Over 4.3 million passengers will fly this year and every day about 104,000 flights bring people and goods to their destination. The global economy relies heavily on aviation with $17.5 billion of goods travelling by air every day representing 35% of global trade by value.

Fatigue and corrosion damage to aircraft structural components are a major threat to the safety and airworthiness of civil and military aircraft, particularly those pushed past their intended service life.

Dr Anna Paradowska, Senior Research Scientist and Industrial Liaison Manager at ANSTO, worked with a team led by DST Group’s Dr Wyman Zhuang to test different technologies used to repair damaged aircraft structural components.

“Structural integrity requirements for aircraft parts are of the highest level. The repaired components need to demonstrate that the restored component shall have a structural strength condition, equivalent or better than its original configuration,” says Zhuang.

Zhuang’s team applied advanced repair techniques to aluminium alloy 7075–T651 — a lightweight, high-strength metal used in the aeronautical industry since 1943.

DST Group used laser cladding to deposit aluminium-silicon powders onto damaged surfaces of 7075 plates. They then applied post-heat treatment to reduce detrimental residual stresses, making the alloy stronger.

Following these processes, the team applied Deep Surface Rolling (DSR) — a surface enhancement technique that can introduce beneficial compressive residual stresses and enhance fatigue performance of repaired components.

After the treatment, Paradowska and the team at ANSTO used a sophisticated neutron diffraction instrument, the strain scanner KOWARI, to compare measurements of 3-D residual stresses on samples treated with different repair methods.

“We used this instrument because it can provide sub-surface information about residual stresses non-destructively with high resolution measurements. Often this information can’t be obtained by other techniques.

Neutrons can penetrate deep into materials to acquire data about localised stresses in the deformed material,” says Paradowska.

“This powerful tool gives researchers a unique capability to study the same specimens going through various stages of manufacturing process.” The neutron diffraction measurements showed that DSR caused deeper and higher magnitude compressive residual stresses at the surface and into the substrate. These stresses increased both the yield and ultimate strength of the tested plates.

Fatigue tests confirmed that DSR increased the average fatigue life by over 500% compared to plates that were only laser-clad, while the post-heat treatment increased fatigue life by 40%.

While research is currently focussed on military applications, it will have ongoing implications to aircraft service life in the broader aviation industry.

ansto.gov.au

collaboration

Collaboration at a higher scale

Collaboration is a simple idea. You can teach it to a child: ask a child to share something and soon enough they will. Although they may initially react by turning away or looking down, given enough impetus they’re soon leaping around enjoying the benefits and challenges of shared play.

Scale it up to groups, organisations, industries, and academia, and it can seem complex. Industry has a commercial imperative; traditionally researchers sought more lofty goals or truths. Both universities and industry want to protect their IP. Working out the details is a legal wrangle; ensuring a shared vision when you don’t share the same location is a constant gamble.

Successful collaborations must have some form of flexibility or adaptability, yet large organisations can be slow in moving together, and in moving forward.

Technology has shifted the pace, as well as the level of expectation in terms of team collaboration. Tech companies have collaboration in their DNA, and cloud technology and automation are driving us faster towards collaborating closely – often with people we have never physically met.

Our level of trust is changing, and is threatened by a jumpy global attitude towards people who are different from us, and the prevalence in our lives of internet connected devices. Yet as the Hon Philip Dalidakis MP points out, cybersecurity is a collaboration opportunity as much as it is a shared risk.

To remain relevant, to keep pace in this shifting landscape – to compete in a global marketplace and as part of the world’s fast-moving network of research that forms the global brains trust – that will not happen unless we dramatically shift our perspective.

Technology has tethered us to the world and taken away the scourge of distance. Suddenly we’re accessible as a country in a way we have never been before.

Collaboration opens up opportunities as well as presenting challenges. It has long been happening at the level of individuals, as people from industry, research, community and government form alliances of interests. Our challenge is now to upscale. And it’s a tough one.

We may not have the same processes and infrastructure as other countries in developing the impetus to push our burden of change, Sisyphus-style, up this mountain.  But as these thought leaders demonstrate, we are taking some great strides – and are at least like the reluctant child, now looking up towards the benefits of collaboration. 

collaboration

Heather Catchpole

Head of Content, Refraction Media

Read next: Jan Janssen, Senior Vice President of Design & Development at Cochlear, takes a look at multidisciplinary collaboration that underpins the world’s most sophisticated solutions.

Spread the word: Help Australia become a collaborative nation! Share this piece on collaboration using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Digital Disruption Thought Leadership Series here.

science and technology

Speak up for STEM and give facts a chance

As science and technology researchers, practitioners and enthusiasts, we feel very strongly that our community should think analytically and use scientific information to inform their decisions, as individuals and as a nation.

We hope our leaders in politics, business and in the media incorporate the lessons and findings of science and technology into their decision-making about health, energy, transport, land and marine use – and recognise the benefits of investing in great scientific breakthroughs and technological inventions.

But how do we ensure critical thinking is applied in decision-making? How do we incorporate and apply scientific findings and analysis in the formulation of policy, and encourage strong, strategic investment in research?

The only way is to become vocal and proactive advocates for STEM.

Scientists and technologists must see ourselves as not only experts in our field, but also as educators and ambassadors for our sector. Scientists are explicitly taught that our profession is based on logic; that it’s our job to present evidence and leave somebody else to apply it.

For people who’ve made a career of objectivity, stepping out of that mindset and into the murky world of politics and policy can be a challenge, but it’s a necessary one.

The planet is heading towards crises that can be solved by science – food and water security, climate change, health challenges, extreme weather events. It’s arguably never been more important for scientists and technologists to step outside our comfort zone and build relationships with the media, investors, and political leaders. We need to tell the stories of science and technology to solve the species-shaking challenges of our time.

A plethora of opportunities exist for STEM researchers and practitioners to improve and use their skills in communication, influence, marketing, business, and advocacy. As the peak body representing scientists and technologists, Science & Technology Australia hosts a variety of events to equip STEM professionals with the skills they need, while connecting them with the movers and shakers in those worlds.

Science meets Parliament is one of these valuable opportunities, and has been bringing people of STEM together with federal parliamentarians for 18 years. Others include Science meets Business and Science meets Policymakers.

We can provide the forum, but it’s up to STEM professionals to seize the opportunity by forging relationships with our nation’s leaders in politics, business and the media. We must ensure the voice of science is heard and heeded – not just on the day of an event, but every day.

Currently STEM enjoys rare bilateral political support; a National Innovation and Science Agenda; and a new Industry, Innovation and Science Minister, Senator Arthur Sinodinos, who has indicated his intention to continue to roll it out.

As we encounter our fourth science minister in three years, however, we cannot rest on our laurels and allow science and technology to slide down the list of priorities. Bigger challenges are also mounting, with the profession of science correspondent virtually dead in Australia and the international political culture favouring opinion and rhetoric over established fact and credibility.

Scientists and technologists must resist their natural tendency to humility, and proactively sort the nuggets of truth from the pan of silty half-truth. We must actively work to influence public debate by pushing evidence-based arguments into the media, and into the political discourse.

When our society starts assuming that we should make substantial and long-term investment in research; when the methods and findings of science and technology are routinely incorporated into shaping policy and making important decisions for the nation – we’ll consider our job to be well done.

Kylie Walker

CEO, Science & Technology Australia

Read next: Dr Maggie Evans-Galea, Executive Director of ATSE’s Industry Mentoring Network in STEM, paints a picture of Australia’s science and innovation future – one that requires a major cultural shift.

Spread the word: Help Australia become a collaborative nation! Share this piece on science and technology using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Digital Disruption Thought Leadership Series here.

breast cancer

Breast cancer probe detects deadly cells

Featured image above: Dr Erik Shartner with the prototype optical fibre sensor, which can detect breast cancer during surgery. Credit: University of Adelaide

An optical fibre probe has been developed to detect breast cancer tissue during surgery.

Working with excised breast cancer tissue, researchers from the University of Adelaide developed the device to differentiate cancerous cells from healthy ones.

Project leader at the Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) Dr Erik Schartner said the probe could reduce the need for follow-up surgery, which is currently required in up to 20 per cent of breast cancer cases.

“At the moment most of the soft tissue cancers use a similar method during surgery to identify whether they’ve gotten all the cancer out, and that method is very crude,” he says.

“They’ll get some radiology beforehand which tells them where the cancer should be, and the surgeon then will remove it to the best of their ability.

“But the conclusive measurements are done with pathology a couple of days or a couple of weeks after the surgery, so the patient is sown back up, thinks the cancer is removed and then they discover two weeks later with a call from the surgeon that they need to go through this whole traumatic process again.”

The probe allows more accurate measurements be taken during surgery, with the surgeon provided with information via an LED light.

Using a pH probe tip, a prototype sensor was able to distinguish cancerous and healthy cells with 90 per cent accuracy.

The research behind the probe, published today in Cancer Research, found pH was a useful tool to distinguish the two types of tissue because cancerous cells naturally produce more acid during growth.

Currently the probe is aimed for use solely for treating breast cancer, but there is some possibility for it to be used as both a diagnostic tool and during other removal surgeries.

“The method we’re using, which is basically measuring the pH of the tissue, actually looks to be common across virtually all cancer types,” Schartner says.

“We can actually see there’s some scope there for diagnostic application for things like thyroid cancer, or even melanoma, which is something we’re following up.

“The question is more about the application as to how useful it is during surgery, to be able to get this identification, and in some of the other soft tissue cancers it would be useful as well.”

Earlier this year, researchers from CNBP also developed a fibre optic probe,  which could be used to examine the effects of drug use on the brain.

Schartner said both probes were noteworthy because they were far thinner than previously developed models at only a few microns across.

“The neat thing we see about this one is that it’s a lot quicker than some of the other commercial offerings and also the actual sample size you can measure is much smaller, so you get better resolution,” he says.

Researchers on the probe hope to progress to clinical trials in the near future, with a tentative product launch date in the next three years.

Also in Adelaide, researchers at the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute are developing tiny sensors that can detect the spread of cancer through the lymphatic system while a patient is having surgery to remove primary tumours, which could also dramatically reduce the need for follow up operations.

– Thomas Luke 

This article was first published by The Lead South Australia on 29 November 2016. Read the original article here.

Uber

Uber-type services growing in popularity

Despite strong opposition from traditional taxi operators and some governments, Uber and Uber-type ride sharing services, have proven very popular amongst travellers, according to a University of Sydney Business School survey.   

The Transport Opinion Survey (TOPS), conducted by the Business School’s internationally respected, Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS), found that nearly a quarter of all Australians have used a ride sharing service while more than 40 per cent would if one was available locally.

“What we are seeing with Uber-styled services is the growing appeal of high quality mobility services that in due course might be a substitute for the taxi and indeed one’s own car,” said the Director of the School’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, Professor David Hensher.

The latest Transport Opinion Survey also found that 7% of those who used an Uber or Uber-type services did so as a substitute for some travel in their own car and 4% substituted all of their own car travel. 10% used a ride-sharing services but did not want to lose the option of their own private car.

TOPS also asked Australians if they would be willing to make their car available to other people for a fee. About 20% said they would share their car with other people either by driving for Uber or similar companies (10%), peer-to-peer car sharing, through organisations such as Car Next Door (4%), or by both (5%). More than half (56%) said that would not be prepared to share their car with anyone outside their immediate friends and family.

“These percentage are relatively low at present but suggest a growing interest in mobility as a service in contrast to having to own a car in order to use a car,” says Hensher. “This will open up in the future with the aid of digital apps and new ways of serving the transport market that are not dependent on ownership.”

The latest TOPS survey also reveals that Australians are regaining confidence in their local transport services. The TOPS Confidence index rose from 44 to 62 over the past year but remains well below the base line of 100 set in September 2010.

As for the future, more people now look to the next 12 months with confidence than did in 2015 (46 to 65) and to the next five years (62 to 78).

TOPS is the only national survey to measure public opinion on transport related issues. The first 2016 report is at: http://sydney.edu.au/business/itls/tops

This article first appeared as a media release from the University of Sydney on 4 October 2016.

technology transfer

Empowering knowledge transfer

To date TTPs have lacked clear and identifiable career paths.  While commercialising publicly funded research is relatively new, the drive from external stakeholders such as Government and business to “do better” has escalated the need to better define the practice, and outline what is required to effectively put research to use in both an ethical and competent manner.

Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) commissioned the development of a world-first career Capability Framework that defines the skills, knowledge, behaviours and values required by a team taking research to market, and outline career paths for those working in the role at different levels. 

Entitled Knowledge Transfer in Australia: Is there a route to professionalism?,  the new Framework is the result of intensive research where 103 TTPs, 31 stakeholders and 64 Australasian organisations were interviewed and surveyed. It describes up to 200 desired capabilities for TTPs, divided into seven clusters and sixteen sub-clusters, and classified by development stages: early-career, mid-career and senior level. 

Infographic

technology transfer professionals
Click the image above to open KCA’s Technology Transfer Professionals infographic.

Results

Study participants perceived the skills of Australasian TTPs to be strong in the area of intellectual property advice and knowledge transfer, plus the qualifications and experience of those in the industry is well respected. The skills requiring the most development are in the areas of business acumen, communications and influence, legal compliance and advice, marketing and relationships, social media, and strategy and results.

KCA Chair and Director of Monash Innovation at Monash University, Dr Alastair Hick says that with increased demand and interest in improving the transfer of research to market, the KCA Framework comes at the right time. 

“To date there has been a lot of discussion about Australia’s record of translating research success into commercial uptake and jobs creation, with much of it focussing on the researcher,” says Hick.  

“However, technology transfer professionals play a vital role in commercialising research out of research organisations so ensuring they have the right skills and development are crucial to this commercial success. The framework is helping us to benchmark our performance and skills and see where KCA can provide additional training opportunities for our members.”

Applications

In March 2015, the Professional Standards Council awarded a $98,000 grant to KCA to develop the framework for the professional competency standards of the technology transfer sector.

“The Capability Framework we have developed provides benchmarks for technology transfer professionals (TTPs), against which the performance of individuals and teams can be measured,” says Hick.

“A digest of the Framework will be provided to KCA Members as a toolkit to improve recruitment practices, select targeted professional development, communicate their capabilities to stakeholders, and enable informed self-assessment and career planning.

“Researchers and industry stakeholders can also use the Framework to improve their understanding of the role of TTPs, thereby promoting more transparent, accountable and productive partnerships.”

Next steps for Technology Transfer Professionals

Recommendations for KCA and similar organisations include the development of a Code of Ethics for the TTP sector; focused education programs to address the identified skills gaps; secondment and mentoring programs involving Technology Transfer Offices and industry stakeholders and a formal processes for stakeholder feedback on the performance of TTPs.

“We are delighted to see this report, as it tackles the issue of advancing knowledge exchange and commercialisation by providing insights to build Australian industry,” says Dr Deen Sanders, Chief Executive Officer of the Professional Standards Council.

“It also shows that this sector is taking a serious and strategic approach to raising standards and becoming a profession,” says Sanders. 

Read the full report here.

This information was first shared by Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia and gemaker on 9 September 2016. Read the original article here.

portrait

Degas masterpiece uncovered

Featured image above: (left) False colour reconstruction of Degas’ hidden portrait, created from the X-ray fluorescence microscopy elemental maps produced at the Australian Synchrotron (right) Portrait of a Woman by Edgar Degas (c). 1876–80 . Credit: Australian Synchrotron/National Gallery of Victoria.

An alliance of Australian scientists and conservators have made a quantum leap forward in the analysis of priceless artworks, revealing an earlier painting of a different woman beneath a French Impressionist masterpiece in unprecedented detail, using a technology combination unavailable anywhere else in the world.

Shedding light on a decades-old riddle through a unique technology pipeline, researchers from Australian SynchrotronNational Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and CSIRO published stunning images of what lies beneath Edgar Degas’ Portrait of a Woman (c. 1876-1880) in the journal Scientific Reports overnight, midway through the artwork’s display at NGV International as part of Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition, Degas: A new vision.

Dr Daryl Howard, scientist on the X-ray Fluorescence Microscopy (XFM) beamline at the Australian Synchrotron – the newest addition to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)’s world-class line-up of landmark research infrastructure – says the re-creation of the underpainting was achieved by first producing complex metal maps to highlight minerals in the many paint types.

“‘Paint from Degas’ period was primarily composed of ground-up rocks and early synthetic pigments  – with copper creating green and mercury creating red, for example – and he swirled and mixed different paints from different tubes on his palette at different times, as did the restorers who touched up this painting into the early twentieth century.

“Placing the artwork in the path of the Australian Synchrotron beam, which is a million times brighter than the sun, we measured the exact location of different pigment mixtures in every one millimetre square pixel, and fed the vast volumes of data into a computer to reconstruct both the surface and underlying layers.”

Howard says the technique is an ‘order of magnitude’ improvement for non-intrusive art analysis, crucial when handling priceless artworks.

“Eight years ago, a low resolution three-element image, which revealed a face beneath Vincent Van Gogh’s Patch of Grass 1887, inspired us to refine and advance non-destructive imaging using some of the world’s most advanced scientific technology.

“This analysis takes this “hands-off” approach to the next level, producing enormous 31.6 megapixel images – beyond the resolution of most of today’s best digital cameras – while subjecting each part of the artwork to radiation for only a fraction of a second to ensure it is not damaged.”

CSIRO engineer Robin Kirkham says the powerful light of the Australian Synchrotron combined with a highly sensitive detector devised at CSIRO are behind the revolutionary new technique.

“Developed by CSIRO with US project partner Brookhaven National Laboratory over the past few years, the Maia detector can complete complex elemental imaging a hundred times faster than conventional systems.”

“Coupled with the brilliant synchrotron beam, in 33 hours the detector produced images with around 250 times more pixel definition than the far smaller 2008 Van Gogh images that took about two days to produce.”

It’s not the first time the NGV, Australian Synchrotron and CSIRO have joined forces to solve an art mystery. In 2010 similar techniques were used to find a hidden Arthur Streeton self-portrait buried under layers of lead paint and, in 2015, a major project helped uncover hidden secrets in Frederick McCubbin’s The North wind.

Degas: a new vision is exhibiting at NGV until Sunday 18 September.

This article was first published by Australian Synchrotron on 4 August 2016. Read the original article here.

staying connected

Manifesting conscious connection

For many of us staying connected is almost as important as breathing. Using a smartphone or tablet to check in with the office or family and friends is a given in our increasingly fast-paced technological society.

Having the right tools do this provides comfort and keeps our networks strong.

For women tackling satisfying but competitive STEM careers, staying connected when taking a career break is a key concern.

I was visiting a regional AECOM office recently, and I was chatting with a female staff member who had come into the office while on maternity leave to watch my presentation.

Our conversation covered a lot of ground, but it was her relief at being provided with a laptop while on leave that struck me. She wanted to stay connected and looped in with work while looking after her growing family.

Providing tools like a laptop or a work mobile is a very simple way of making sure that women remain plugged into the workplace when they aren’t physically there. While they may not want to connect every day, it does mean that they can continue a conversation around how their career will evolve when they come back into the workforce.

Not only this, it also allows women to be involved with what’s going on in the office, maintain control over their career planning, including performance and salary discussions.

We do need to get better at supporting women as life transitions take them on different pathways, and such initiatives have important implications for retaining women as they move through their STEM career.

While some women have communicated to me that they want to progress in terms of their own merit (and I am very confident that we do that), we also need to consciously intervene with strategies and solutions.  After all, it is still not a level playing field – the numbers tell us that.

Recently a lot of the conversation has centred around ways of attracting more women into the STEM sector (and AECOM is committed to this, recently achieving a 50/50 gender intake in our graduate program), retaining them is also a key focus of our efforts.

All too often we see women drop out of the workforce because the framework isn’t there to support them, this is where mentoring comes in.

When women are at that critical juncture where it may seem too difficult to continue, connecting with other women who have had similar experiences and with whom they can share their concerns and benefit from their perspective is extremely important.

Personally, mentoring has shown me that many of the concerns of women undertaking STEM careers revolve around practical things like how to ask for a promotion or a salary increase, or how they can work more flexibly.

For me this is an important connection to have, as it gives me a perspective on how women are feeling, and I can bring that to the table at wider industry discussions, as a board member at Infrastructure Partnerships Australia or as a champion of change with Consult Australia.

On a more practical level, at AECOM we are equipping our managers with the skills to have conversations about career and flexible work – we are being very conscious in terms of planning for the future compositions of our teams.

By doing this we are increasing our connectivity, and supplementing it with technology and open conversations to help both our female and male staff as they move through different life stages. For women working in STEM, my advice is to take charge of your own career. You’ve got to treat it like a project, communicate your needs and back yourself.

Lara Poloni 

Chief Executive Officer, AECOM, Australia and New Zealand 

Read next: Innovating Australia – Australia’s top thinkers describe their vision for the future of innovation.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on corporate culture using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.

STEM talent

What can STEM learn from sport?

Australia is a passionate nation.

The recent Olympics triggered my thinking on how passionate we are about winning. I remember a time when Australia was unable to compete against the world class American, Russian and German teams.  Our nation reacted by establishing the government funded Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra (AIS). The AIS acknowledges they are responsible and accountable for Australia’s international sporting success. Australia’s top sporting talent is selected, nurtured, and trained for the purpose of competing against the world’s best. Their success is celebrated, and the cycle continues.

Growing the number of STEM experts in our workforce is no different. If Australia wants to be recognised as a world-class STEM nation, commitment to developing our talent through established strategic programs funded by sustainable investment is essential.

When measuring STEM talent, our focus is on numbers that come out of university. However, consider our athletes for a moment. They have already been training for the better part of a decade.  They don’t arrive at the institute ready to be trained. Junior athletics, swimming squads and after-school sport training are part of most schools and parents’ agenda to develop their children’s skills from a very young age.  If the success of sport is to be replicated for STEM disciplines, then school years should not be overlooked.

Creating a foundation for young women

Traditional education should always be respected and never replaced, however there is always room for flexibility and balance. My own career in IT was shaped by the foundations provided to me by my high school environment. The all-girls school I attended offered Computing Studies as a subject for the Higher School Certificate.  It was only the second year it was offered and approximately 20 students signed up.  It was here, along with my home environment of a tech-savvy family, where I developed foundations in IT.

I pursued a tertiary education in commerce as I initially had no interest in computer science. Nevertheless, my first significant role was working as a computer engineer in IT – a job I landed based on the foundational skills I had acquired through my high school studies. I had found a position where I was able to solve problems while continuing to learn and gain additional certifications. I was the only female in a team of 12, but I didn’t focus on the gender inequality at the time.

Developing Australia’s STEM talent

Innovation requires novel thinking and raising Australia’s STEM IQ to world-class requires a considered and committed long term strategy, including initiatives for supporting women in STEM.

I work for Deloitte in the technology industry alongside women who have studied econometrics, law, accounting, engineering and arts. Deloitte recognises the importance of driving Australia’s STEM agenda and (amongst other initiatives) have selected two female directors from cybersecurity and technology consulting to share their expertise and experiences with young Australian women through an online mentoring platform, Day of STEM.

Our aim is to inspire Australia’s future STEM generation and highlight the real-life opportunities available in professional services firms like Deloitte.

Elissa Hilliard

Partner, Risk Advisory, Deloitte Australia

Read next: Chair of ATSE’s Gender Equity Working Group, Dr Mark Toner, compares the national need for women in STEM with the barriers faced by women on a personal level.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on STEM talent using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.

renewable energy

Renewable energy is getting cheaper

The stars are aligning for Australia to transition to 100% renewable energy. Our fossil fuel infrastructure is ageing, which means we will soon need to invest in new power generators. New technologies such as battery storage could revolutionise long-standing business models. With care, the transitions away from fossil fuels could offer greater job opportunities.

Our latest research, which corroborates previous work, shows the technology already exists to solve many of the remaining questions around technological capability. For instance, the fact that wind and solar don’t generate electricity when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining can be dealt with by installing a network of diverse generators across a wide area, or by increasing our use of energy storage.

One of the biggest remaining barriers to transition is cost. But this is also rapidly changing. Much work is going into reducing the cost of renewable energy, including the latest funding announcement from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) of A$92 million for 12 solar projects.

The cost of building renewable energy

The cost of renewable energy is highly variable across the world and even within Australia. The picture is not simple, but it does help to start by looking at the big picture.

Average capital costs of constructing new wind, solar PV and ocean/tidal generators are already lower than equivalent coal generation infrastructure.

Research suggests that, overall, the cost of moving to 100% renewable energy is not significantly higher than the cost of hitting a lower target.

The capital cost of investment in renewable energy generation technologies is also falling rapidly. In its 2014 report on global renewable power generation costs, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) showed that the total cost of installation and operation over a lifetime of small-scale residential PV systems in Australia has fallen from US$0.35 to US$0.17 per kilowatt-hour between 2010 and 2014.

In part this has been because of reduced installation costs, together with our exceptional abundance of sunshine.

As a result, Australian new residential solar installation has soared to the fifth highest in the world. Installed capacity accounts for 9% of national electricity generation capacity and 2.8% of electrical energy generation.

The historical reductions in installation costs for wind energy are similar globally and in Australia. Recent 2016 reverse auctions in the Australian Capital Territory have received Australia’s lowest known contract price for renewables with bids at A$77 per megawatt-hour.

Beyond building

But the capital cost of building generation infrastructure is not the whole story. Once the generator is built, operations and maintenance costs also become important. For most renewables (biomass excluded) the fuel costs are zero because nature itself provides the fuel for free.

Other costs that we must consider are variable and fixed costs. Fixed costs, such as annual preventative maintenance or insurance, don’t change with the amount of electricity produced. Variable costs, such as casual labour or generator repairs, may increase when more electricity is produced.

The variable costs for some renewables (biomass, hydropower and large-scale solar PV) are lower than coal. For other renewable technologies they are only slightly higher. Fixed costs for almost all renewable technologies are lower than for coal.

We also need to think about costs beyond individual generators. The vastness of our Australian continent is a bonus and a challenge for building 100% renewable energy.

It can be used strategically to give a 100% renewables supply reliability by using an interconnected network of generators. For instance, it may be very sunny or windy in one region. Excess electricity produced in this region can fill a gap in electricity demand in less sunny or windy places elsewhere.

But this also poses challenges. To take advantage of the reliability that a highly distributed renewable electricity system can provide, we must also consider the costs associated with expanding the transmission network.

For example, in our research we investigated one possible 100% renewables electricity scenario. This was conservatively based on current technology and demand (conservative because technology is likely to change, and electricity demand has been unexpectedly falling). The scenario required a transmission grid two-and-a-half times larger than our current grid, including new cross-continental linkages between Western Australia and the Northern Territory, which currently stand alone from the well-integrated eastern Australian networks.

The challenges of transitioning to a renewable electricity sector are no doubt great, but our ageing generator infrastructure means that an overhaul will soon be due. Even though the price of electricity from old coal power plants is currently cheaper than that from many new renewable plants (because the former are already paid off), cost reductions mean a strong business case now exists for renewable technologies investment.

In a recent article on The Conversation, John Hewson wrote that “renewable energy is one of our most ‘shovel ready’ business opportunities”.

Now is the time to pre-empt the looming deadline for infrastructure overhaul to ensure future economic resilience for Australia.

– Bonnie McBain

This article was first published by The Conversation on September 8 2016. Read the original article here.

e-textile

E-textile helps soldiers plug in

Featured image above: BAE Systems new e-textile could benefit a wide variety of professions, including the military. Credit: BAE Systems

A wireless conductive fabric that allows soldiers to plug electronic devices directly into armour is making a commercial push into Southeast Asia.

BAE Systems has developed the Broadsword Spine garment, which is being distributed throughout the Asia Pacific region by its Australian arm, based in Adelaide.

It was designed using a unique e-textile created by Intelligent Textiles Limited in the United Kingdom and can be inserted inside vests, jackets or belts.

BAE Systems’ wireless connector promises a range of benefits for multiple professions including the emergency services.

Broadsword Spine is on display this week at the Land Forces 2016 event in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia.

Program manager David Wilson said the technology was extremely lightweight and was able to pass power from any source, which made it adaptable to an assortment of devices.

“It’s revolutionary in terms of how it can pass power and data through USB 2.0,” he says.

“It reduces the weight and cognitive burden of the soldier because it is doing a lot of power and data management automatically.

“It also has no cables, which means you’ve got no snag hazard and no issue in terms of the breaking of cables and having to replace them.”

Broadsword Spine has been designed to replace contemporary heavy portable data and power supplies used by the military as well as firefighters, paramedics and rescue personnel.

The lack of cables and additional batteries make the new material 40 per cent lighter than other systems.

The e-textile was also developed to withstand harsh environments and is water, humidity, fire and shock resistant.

The material uses highly developed yarns that act as the electricity and data conductor.

It is able to connect to a central power source to support all electronic devices and is easily recharged in the field using simple batteries or in-vehicle charging points.

There are eight protected data or power ports that are capable of supplying 5A and operate at USB 2.0 speeds.

The management of power and data is automated and is performed by a computer that is embedded into the e-textile loom.

Users also have the option of monitoring and controlling the technology manually using a smartphone app.

Wilson said contemporary models were often heavy could be highly complicated products that required special maintenance.

“It’s unique in that regard in that we don’t sell the whole system, we sell the middle architecture and allow the customer to decide what they want and how to integrate that system,” he says.

“We’ve published the pin-outs and connections so they can create their own integration cables. They don’t have to keep coming back to us and that way they can support it themselves.”

Low rate production of the  Broadsword Spine has begun in the United Kingdom.

Wilson said when production increased, the company would work to distribute the product to the Asia-Pacific region from its Adelaide base next year.

Land Forces is the Southern Hemisphere’s premier defence industry exhibition and has more than 400 participating exhibition companies from about 20 countries as well as about 11,000 trade visitors.

South Australian exhibitors at the event include University of South Australia, which has developed  camouflage cells for tanks, and Supashock, which has unveiled damping technology taken from race cars for use in army trucks.

– Caleb Radford 

This article was first published by The Lead South Australia on 8 September 2016. Read the original article here

radio telescope

Introducing the world’s largest radio telescope

Featured image: A computer generated image of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope dish antennas in South Africa. Credit: SKA Project Office.

What is dark matter? What did the universe look like when the first galaxies formed? Is there other life out there? These are just some of the mysteries that the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will aim to solve.

Covering an area equivalent to around one million square metres, or one square kilometre, SKA will comprise of hundreds of thousands of radio antennas in the Karoo desert, South Africa and the Murchison region, Western Australia.

The multi-billion dollar array will be 10 times more sensitive and significantly faster at surveying galaxies than any current radio telescope.

The massive flow of data from the telescope will be processed by supercomputing facilities that have one trillion times the computing power of those that landed men on the Moon.

Phase 1 of SKA’s construction will commence in 2018. The construction will be a collaboration of 500 engineers from 20 different countries around the world.

– Gemma Conroy

commercialisation

Commercialisation boost for businesses

The Turnbull Government has announced that twenty businesses across Australia will be offered $11.3 million in Entrepreneurs’ Programme grants to help boost commercialisation and break into new international markets.

A 3-D printed jaw joint replacement, termite-proof building materials and a safer way to store grain outdoors are amongst the diverse products and services that will be fast-tracked.

The grants range from $213,000 to $1 million and are matched dollar-for-dollar by recipients.

So far, the Government has invested $78.1 million since commencement of this initiative – helping 146 Australian businesses to get their products off the ground.

The grants help businesses to undertake development and commercialisation activities like product trials, licensing, and manufacturing scale-up—essential and often challenging steps in taking new products to market.

Projects supported by today’s grant offers will address problems and meet needs in key industries including food and agribusiness, mining, advanced manufacturing and medical technologies.

The 20 projects to receive commercialisation support include:

  • a safer, cheaper and more efficient outdoor grain storage solution for the agricultural industry
  • recycling technology for fats, oils and greases from restaurants that will save money and reduce pollution
  • a lighter, stronger and more flexible concrete product
  • an anti-theft automated security system for the retail fuel industry
  • a cheaper, faster and safer decontamination process for mine drainage
  • smaller, cheaper and more patient-friendly MRI technology used for medical diagnostics
  • a 3-D printed medical device for jaw joint replacements that reduces surgery risk and improves patient quality-of-life
  • insect and termite-proof expansion joint foam for the building industry, combining a two-step process into a single product.

The Entrepreneurs’ Programme commercialisation grants help Australian entrepreneurs, researchers and small and medium businesses find commercialisation solutions.

It aims to:

• accelerate the commercialisation of novel intellectual property in the form of new products, processes and services;
• support new businesses based on novel intellectual property with high growth potential; and
• generate greater commercial and economic returns from both public and private sector research and facilitate investment to drive business growth and competitiveness.

This information was first shared by the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science on 17 August 2016.

job growth

What are the big three drivers to job growth?

Increased collaboration, stability of policy and acceleration of commercialisation are three main drivers of innovation and job growth that must be addressed to accelerate Australia’s economy in the next 15 years.

The top three drivers were identified at the AFR National Innovation Summit today by Chairs of the boards of Telstra, BHP Billiton and Innovation and Science Australia.

The panel warned that fears around the effects of disruption on jobs must be part of the conversation, and that the effects of digital disruption through automation, and artificial intelligence were inevitable.

This disruption will affect people and jobs whether they are “in Woomera or Sydney”, says Bill Ferris, Chair of the board of Innovation and Science Australia.

“In five years we’ve seen the rise of Uber and Instagram, and the collapse of the mining boom. What is coming towards us will dwarf the change of pace [in disruption] to date,” says Dr Nora Scheinkestel, Chairman of Macquarie Atlas Roads and Director of Telstra Corporation and Stocklands Group.

Policy and R&D tax incentives

Crucial to Australia’s ability to innovate is the stability of policy such as the R&D tax incentive, which aims to encourage private investment in Australian R&D.

Along with Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, Bill Ferris was part of a team that reviewed the incentive for government to evaluate how much investment the incentive has created and the scheme’s effectiveness.

“I agree it is valuable and should be continued,” says Ferris. “Can it be improved? I think so. It’s been a $3 million cheque and the largest there has been. But there is nothing in the scheme that requires collaboration, whether CSIRO or academia.”

Incentivising collaboration is a no-brainer next step, says Ferris.

“I don’t think business is trying as hard as academia. Universities are getting on with business, creating spin-offs like QUT’s Spinifex, and Ian Fraser’s cancer vaccine. It’s very impressive.”

Stability of the R&D investment scheme is key to its success, says Carolyn Hewson AO, Director, BHP Billiton, Stockland Group and Federal Growth Centres Advisory Committee.

Hewsen says BHP Billiton was ‘deeply’ affected as a company by the collapse of the mining boom this year. “Every company is under pressure to innovate.” (See “How big companies can innovate)

“There is a role for government to address the KPIs they set around research funding.

KPIs need to move to speed of commercialisation rather than publication in tier 1 journals.”

“My concern is it is very easy for government with 3-year time horizon to make decisions on funding over a long term investment. Research projects extend out many years. To be subject to be changing regulation of government regulated by short-term political cycle is very worrying.”


How big companies can innovate

– Carolyn Hewson AO, Director of BHP Billiton, Stockland Group and Federal Growth Centres Advisory Committee

  • Hastening production
  • Accelerating technology competencies
  • Innovation hubs working to address innovative solution to specific challenges, eg. automation of trucks and drills
  • Step-up programs to build from the inside of the company
  • Partnerships with universities and CSIRO, CRCs on engineering and remote operations

Collaborate and commercialise for job growth

Ferris is optimistic about Australia’s ability to respond to the challenge to grow jobs by 2030. Agribusiness, aquaculture, cybersecurity, environmental services, renewables, and new materials were all strong potential job growth areas, he says.

“A lot more work needs to be done by business on reaching in. If we can’t commercialise around our inventiveness we won’t create the jobs that we could and that we deserve.”

Scheinkestel says the ecosystem is essential to drive innovation and job growth.

“The big message from Israel is the ecosystem created between business and academia, and in their case the military, where young people are taught strong leadership skills. They commercialise or adapt tech they have been looking at, get the backing of VC, which are supported by consistent policies from government around tax regimes.

“Again in Silicon Valley, you are talking about an ecosystem, a constellation of start-ups with shared resources and again consistency in policies and tax incentives.”

Hewson agrees that work skills are essential to our future and that there is concern about workforce skills in Australia across a number of advanced manufacturing, mining and medical sectors.

“We want to enhance global competitiveness and build on strategic collaboration within these sectors,” she says.

“It’s not just about growth, it’s about survival,” adds Scheinkestel.

Heather Catchpole

David Attenborough

Virtual diving with David Attenborough

Award-winning naturalist David Attenborough has brought some of the world’s most remote environments into our living rooms with documentaries like Planet Earth and Life.

But now you can be side-by-side with Attenborough as you are immersed in a prehistoric ocean and the Great Barrier Reef in two virtual reality films screening at the Australian Museum.

The virtual reality experiences were created by innovative UK-based studio Alchemy VR and are presented at the museum in partnership with Samsung.

In First Life, viewers travel back 540 million years and come face-to-face with ancient sea creatures such as giant shrimp-like predator Anomalocaris and the spine-covered Hallucigenia. While Attenborough guides you through the seamlessly animated ocean, you can explore all 360 degrees of the visuals.

But in Great Barrier Reef Dive things get even more real. Filmed at the museum’s own Lizard Island Research Station as part of David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef  TV series, viewers explore the world’s largest reef system in a bubble-like submarine. Turn to your right, and David is seated next to you gazing at the multitudes of fish, sharks and coral surrounding the submarine. The real-world footage also gives viewers a glimpse at the devastating effects of coral bleaching.

While virtual reality is still seen as a novelty by many, Kim McKay, CEO of the Australian Museum, says the technology is a game-changer for engaging the public in museum experiences.

“Virtual reality is a powerful new way of transporting us to the most extraordinary places on our planet, and David Attenborough is the perfect guide,” says Kim McKay, CEO of the Australian Museum. “It revolutionises the way people experience museums.”

The virtual reality films are also setting a new benchmark for educating viewers about the natural world in a compelling way.

“VR is opening up new frontiers for how Australians create, consume and interact with content,” says Phillip Newton, Corporate Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Samsung Electronics. “What better way to be fully immersed in our innovative technology than through these experiences?”

The two films are showing at the Australian Museum until 9th October 2016.

– Gemma Conroy

Featured image credit: Alchemy

combat simulation

Combat simulation accelerates

Researchers from the University of South Australia have developed combat simulation software so lean that it is the fastest in the world at modifying existing combat strategies to improve established doctrine.

Software developer Matt Selway says his programming could reduce the time it takes to run large-scale military simulations from a month to a week.

He says the increased speed comes from the software’s automated analysis of text documents.

“Having it (the simulation) run faster allows them to run the event multiple times and figure out what the best option is for various aspects of their operations,” he says.

“They could start off with documentation that describes the simulation that they want to run and the behaviour of the different entities that they want to have execute throughout the simulation.

“You can put in information about different types of equipment, if they are comparing some of them or deciding on which to purchase. It could help them with weapons, vehicles, and communications equipment.”

The combat simulation software registers what’s known as text understanding methods. This allows the system to quickly interpret written descriptions of different real-world scenarios and develop improved procedures.

It is able to analyse the behaviours of individual units, squads and brigades at the same time and performs the actions of the different entities inside the simulation.

The simulation also aims to analyse and evolve contemporary military doctrine to produce optimal results.

“The basic doctrine for example could be a response to when you come under fire,” Selway says.

“Normally you take cover and return fire, but the documentation covers broad aspects of operations and depending on the situation could help improve the doctrine further.

“It’s more of a preparation tool but one of the things about being able to improve the amount of time to set up the simulation is that eventually they will be able to use it in an unfolding scenario.”

Users are able to continue running through simulations and calculate the averages of different outcomes. They are then able to figure out what strategies or equipment produce better results in different situations.

After the text documents are inserted into the simulator they are run on a flat platform screen, which creates a visual representation of each scenario.

John Stewart, the CEO of industry group Simulation Australasia, said the ability to rapidly adapt to the changing battle dynamic was crucial for the modern war fighter.

“Defence and military forces worldwide are going to rely so heavily on the new technologies,” he says.

“The military have been the leaders in (simulation) this for years. For something like the software to come out of South Australia and to be at the forefront, around the world, is very exciting.”

The combat simulation project was led by the University of South Australia’s Advanced Computing Research Centre, one half of the Australian government’s Defence Science and Technology Group.

The Defence Science and Technology Group is the Australian government’s lead agency responsible for applying science and technology to safeguard Australia and its national interests.

– Caleb Radford

This article was first published by The Lead on 25 July 2016. Read the original article here.

Australian research funding

Australian research funding infographic

Featured image above: CSIRO has received significant budget cuts in recent years. Credit: David McClenaghan

The election is rapidly approaching, and all major parties – Liberal, Labor and Greens – have now made announcements about their policies to support science and research.

But how are we doing so far? Here we look at the state of science and research funding in Australia so you can better appreciate the policies each party has announced.

The latest OECD figures show that Australia does not fare well compared with other OECD countries on federal government funding research and development.

As a percentage of GDP, the government only spends 0.4% on research and development. This is less than comparable nations.

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But looking at total country spending on research and development, including funding by state governments and the private sector, the picture is not so bleak: here Australia sits in the middle among OECD countries.

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Over the years, there have been hundreds of announcements and new initiatives but this graph indicates that, in general, it has been a matter of rearranging the deck chairs rather than committing to strategic investments in research.

The Paul Keating Labor government made some investments. During the John Howard Liberal government’s years, there were ups and downs. The Kevin Rudd/Julia Gillard Labor governments were mostly up. And in Tony Abbott’s Liberal government, the graph suggests that it was mostly down with science.

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Over the past decade, there have been some minor changes in funding to various areas, although energy has received the greatest proportional increase.

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This pie chart reminds us that the higher education sector is a major provider of research and is highly dependent on government funding. It also tells us that business also conducts a great deal of research.

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The timeline below shows that the government does listen and respond when issues arise. It has recognised the importance of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS), the Australian Synchrotron and sustainable medical research funding by different initiatives.

But, sadly, one must remember that funding is effectively being shifted from one domain to another, and it has seldom been the case that significantly new commitments are made. The balance of red and blue shows how one hand gives while the other takes funding away.

CC BY-SA

This useful graph highlights the fact that Australian Research Council (ARC) funding now amounts to little more than the National Health and Medical Research Council’s funding.

This is remarkable, given that the ARC funds all disciplines, including sciences, humanities and social sciences, while the NHMRC essentially focuses on human biology and health.

CC BY-SA

This graphic also highlights the lack of any sustained funding strategy. The only clear trend is that the investment in the ARC has gradually declined and the NHMRC has grown.

This, in part, reflects the undeniable importance of health research. But it is also indicative of effective and coherent organisation and communication by health researchers. This has been more difficult to achieve in the ARC space with researchers coming from a vast array of disciplines.

– Merlin Crossley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education and Professor of Molecular Biology, UNSW Australia
– Les Field, Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science, and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, UNSW Australia
This article was first published by The Conversation on June 22 2016. Read the original article here.
big data

Big data, big business

Featured image above: Plume Labs use pigeons to monitor air quality in London. Credit: Plume Labs

Optimising highway networks, mapping crime hotspots and producing virtual reality sporting experiences based on real-life games: these are just a few of the exciting outcomes that new businesses are now achieving with complex data analysis. More and more startups are using readily available data to create products and services that are game changers for their industries.

Big data, for example, is what lies behind Uber’s huge success as a taxi alternative; the company optimises processes by using data analysis to predict peak times, journey time and likely destinations of passengers. Many other companies are now using data to produce technology-based solutions for a range of issues and even designing new ways to collect data.

A weather station and umbrella all in one

Wezzoo, a Paris-based start-up company, has designed a smart umbrella that tells users when it’s going to rain. The ‘oombrella’, as it’s been dubbed, is strikingly iridescent, sturdy in design, and presents a data-based solution to staying dry. It will send a notification to a smart phone 15 minutes before predicted rain and also send a reminder when it’s been left behind on a rainy day.

The oombrella itself is also a mobile weather station, able to detect temperature, atmospheric pressure, light and humidity. “Each oombrella will collect data and share it with the community to make hyperlocal weather data more accurate,” says the company.

Real-time meteorological information from each oombrella is uploaded to Wezzoo’s existing social weather service app. More than 200,000 people already use the app and upload their own weather reports from all over the world, creating a more interactive and collaborative approach to weather observation. This data, as well as information from weather stations is used to create personalised predictions for oombrella users.

‘Pigeon Air Patrol’ monitors pollution

Plume Labs, in collaboration with DigitasLBi and Twitter UK, have literally taken to the skies with their latest air pollution monitoring project, Pigeon Air Patrol. They recently strapped lightweight air-quality sensors to the backs of 10 London-based pigeons to gather data on pollution in the city’s skies. For the duration of the project, the public could tweet their location to @PigeonAir and receive a live update on levels of nitrogen dioxide and ozone, the main harmful gases in urban areas. Not only did this innovative project help collect data in new ways, it raised awareness of air pollution in large cities.

“Air pollution is a massive environmental health issue, killing nearly 10,000 people every year in London alone,” says Romain Lacombe, Plume Labs’ CEO.

“Air pollution is an invisible enemy, but we can fight back: actionable information helps limit our exposure, improve our health and well-being, and make our cities breathable.”

Plume’s core focus is tracking and forecasting ambient pollution levels to allow city dwellers to minimise harmful exposure to polluted air. Their free phone app – the Plume Air Report – uses data from environmental monitoring agencies and public authorities to provide individuals with real-time information on air pollution safety levels at their locations. With the use of environmental Artificial Intelligence, the app predicts air pollutant levels for 300 cities and 40 countries with double the accuracy of traditional forecasting methods. “Predictive technologies will help us take back control of our environment,” Lacombe says.

The company, whilst still small, has managed to raise seed funding from French banks. It plans to build a business based on aggregating data, though is also open to developing hardware.

Innovative data collection methods are not only good for science, it seems; they can also be a strong foundation for business.

This article was first published by the Australian National Data Service on 24 May 2016. Read the original article here.