Tag Archives: Australian engineering

public policy

Evidence-based public policy needs engineers

Engineers need to be at the top table too, says Engineers Australia CEO Peter McIntyre.

McIntyre told create it is important that governments of all persuasions move away from populist policy based on opinion rather than fact.

“There’s a trend around the world towards popularism. I don’t think that’s a constructive way for Australia or the world to move forward when there are so many challenging issues facing us,” he said.

“That’s where scientists and engineers will play a role – in supporting governments in proper policy based upon evidence.”

And there are indications that both of the major parties are willing to listen. The Federal Government has recently announced a new National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which they say will help science and technology gain a stronger voice in the policy process.

For its part, Labor has promised to establish a Prime Minister’s Science and Innovation Council and launch a $1 million inquiry into science and research, if it wins come election time.

McIntyre supports these moves to strengthen the avenues for scientific advice, and looks forward to seeing the detail of how they will be applied. He also believes engineers need to be represented on bodies such as the NSTC to expand theory and research to deployment of practical solutions for the community.

“Where the rubber hits the road is through engineering,” he explained.

Trailing our global competitors

Another Labor election promise is to boost research funding to 3 per cent of GDP by 2030. This has been welcomed by Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson, who said Australia must keep pacewith the investments of leading world nations to remain competitive.

McIntyre agreed, pointing out that Australia’s level of research and development funding is below the OECD total of 2.3 per cent of GDP.

“We’re trailing our international competitors … As a modern community, we need to continually invest in R&D,” he said, adding that the level of funding Labor is proposing will require both public and private sector investment.

According to the latest available OECD data (from 2016), Australia’s R&D spending as a percentage of GDP has fallen below China, Slovenia and the Netherlands, although it is still slightly above the UK and Canada.

Engineering thinking is critical

McIntyre said some governments have already engaged chief scientists and engineers to help inform evidence-based policy.

The NSTC will be chaired by Commonwealth Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, who is an engineer. Finkel is a Fellow of Engineers Australia and this year’s recipient of the country’s top engineering award: the Peter Nicol Russell Career Achievement Memorial Medal.

Several state governments also have expert advisors. NSW established a combined Chief Scientist and Engineer position a decade ago. This role is currently filled by roboticist Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, who is also an Engineers Australia fellow.

Earlier this year, the Victorian Government followed suit, appointing its first Chief Engineer – Dr Collette Burke – to provide guidance on the state’s infrastructure boom. The ACT has also announced a permanent chief engineer position, with public servant George Tomlins as the interim incumbent. The permanent position is expected to be filled early next year.

McIntyre said he would like to see more state governments appoint chief engineers and scientists. He is also an advocate for having engineers at the “top table” in government advisory boards to lend analytical and critical thinking skills to policy discussions.

While he believes dedicated chief engineer roles are ideal, McIntyre supports combined scientist and engineer positions where budgetary or political concerns make this a more pragmatic approach.

“The critical thing to my mind is there is an opportunity to channel engineering thinking and the concerns of engineers through a senior person at the table in government,” McIntyre said.

This article was originally published on create as “Election time: Evidence-based policy needs engineers to be at the table”.

cubesats

Lift-off for Australian CubeSats!

Featured image above: Artist’s impression of the UNSW-EcO cubesat in space. Credit: UNSW Australia

Three Australian research satellites – the first in 15 years – blasted off on Wednesday 19th April from Cape Canaveral and arrived at the International Space Station on Saturday. They will soon be deployed in orbit to explore the little-understood region above Earth known as the thermosphere.

The trio, two of them built at UNSW Australia, are part of an international QB50 mission, a swarm of 36 small satellites – known as ‘cubesats’ and weighing about 1.3 kg each – which will carry out the most extensive measurements ever undertaken of the thermosphere, a region between 200 and 380 km above Earth.

This poorly-studied and usually inaccessible zone of the atmosphere helps shield Earth from cosmic rays and solar radiation, and is vital for communications and weather formation.

cubesats
Three Australian research satellites blast off from Cape Canaveral. Credit: UNSW

Twenty-eight of the QB50 satellites, including the three Australian cubesats, were aboard the Atlas 5 rocket when it launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The three Australian satellites are UNSW-EC0, built by UNSW’s Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) which will study the atomic composition of the thermosphere along with new robust computer chips and GPS; INSPIRE-2, a project led by the University of Sydney and involving UNSW and the Australian National University which was also partly built at ACSER; and SuSAT, a joint project between by the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia.

cubesats
The INSPIRE-2 cubesat

“These are the first Australian satellites to go into space in 15 years,” says Andrew Dempster, director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) at UNSW, and a member of the advisory council of the Space Industry Association of Australia.

“There have only been two before: Fedsat in 2002 and WRESAT in 1967. So we’ve got more hardware in space today than Australia’s had in its history.”

Sometime in May, the first 20 cubesats – including INSPIRE-2 and SUSat – will be deployed from the International Space Station, or ISS, via a Nanoracks launcher, a ‘cannon’ that will eject them at a height of 380 km (the same as the ISS), and they will drift down to a lower orbit where they can begin their measurements. UNSW-EC0 will be deployed with the remaining seven other cubesats around June 17.

cubesats
The Japanese robotic arm of the ISS hosts the Nanoracks CubeSat launcher. Credit: UNSW

Also aboard the Atlas 5 rocket is Biarri Point, a cubesat for defence applications testing carrying new GPS technology developed by UNSW’s ACSER and Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group. It is part of a four-nation defence project between Australia, the US, the UK and Canada that will see the launch of another two cubesats over the next year. The remaining eight QB50 cubesat will be launched separately into orbit by an Indian rocket later in May.

“This zone of the atmosphere is poorly understood and really hard to measure,” says Elias Aboutanios, project leader of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat and deputy director of ACSER.

“It’s where much of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from the Sun collides with Earth, influencing our weather, generating auroras and creating hazards that can affect power grids and communications.

“So it’s really important we learn a lot more about it. The QB50 cubesats will probably tell us more than we’ve ever known about the thermosphere,” he says.

cubesats
Project leader of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat and deputy director of ACSER, Elias Aboutanios. Credit: UNSW

QB50 is a collaboration of more than 50 universities and research institutes in 23 countries, headed by the von Karman Institute (VKI) in Belgium. “This is the very first international real-time coordinated study of the thermosphere phenomena,” says VKI’s Davide Masutti.

“The data generated by the constellation will be unique in many ways and they will be used for many years by scientists around the world.”

Both the QB50 and Biarri projects show what Australia can do in the new age of cubesats, dubbed ‘Space 2.0’, that allows companies and researchers to develop new space applications and devices and launch them at much lower cost.

“It proves that, even with modest resources, Australians can be players in space industry and research,” says Joon Wayn Cheong, a research associate at UNSW’s School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications and technical lead of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat.

“UNSW-EC0 and INSPIRE-2 prove we can devise and build space-ready hardware which can tolerate the punishing strain of blast-off and the harsh conditions of space.”

cubesats
The team that built the UNSW-Ec0 and INSPIRE-2 satellites. Credit: Herzliya Science Centre

Mark Hoffman, UNSW’s Dean of Engineering, agrees. “We used to think of space as a place only big-budget space agencies could play in. The advent of cheap and powerful cubesats has made space accessible as never before, and that’s going to be great for industry and research applications. I’m delighted to see UNSW playing a leading role in this emerging sector in Australia. “

Each QB50 cubesat carries instruments with its own engineering and scientific goals. UNSW-EC0, for example, has three other experiments: a robust computer chip designed to avoid crashing in the harsh radiation of space, as some satellites and space probes are forced to do when hit by cosmic rays; a space-borne GPS to enable satellites to cluster together in swarms; and test a super-reliable computer microkernel in the harsh radiation of space.

In addition, UNSW-EC0’s chassis is made entirely from 3D-printed thermoplastic, itself an experiment to test the reliability of using  3D-printing to manufacture satellites, making them cheaper and much more customisable.

This information was first shared by UNSW Australia on 19 April 2017. Read the original article here, or watch the video below.

Research industry collaboration

Research-industry collaboration guide part 1

Innovation and Science Australia recently released its performance review of Australia’s innovation, science and research system, finding that while we’re above average at creating knowledge, we’re poor at applying and transferring it, so our researchers’ wonderful innovations frequently fail to (a) improve lives in the real world, and (b) earn a return on our nation’s significant investment in research.

There’s often a huge crevasse between research organisations, such as universities, and commercial companies, in any industry: a gap in understanding and a potential grave for hopes and dreams. Over a couple of decades of product research, development and commercialisation in international markets, I have crossed that crevasse many times.

For Cochlear, I led ten significant collaborative agreements and participated in five others, involving more than 25 research organisations around the world. Cochlear’s annual R&D budget was around AUS$90 million, or up to 17% of sales.

I have insights to share about building bridges across the research-industry gap for mutual advantage and to benefit society. This is the first in a series of posts about improving research-industry collaboration, in which I will share lessons both from personal experience and recent research into best practice.

Whichever side you’re starting from, below are five steps to build research-industry partnerships for successful technology transfer. In this post, I have focused on the first step. I will explore the other steps in greater detail in subsequent posts.  

1. Develop a culture and practices that promote partnership

Successful research-industry collaboration can often be attributed to executive members of a research organisation who understand business, or have worked in industry. They can empathise with potential industry partners, promote research-industry collaboration by being effective champions and mentors in their own organisation, and provide the continuity in strategy and resourcing needed to maintain a partnership.

Senior businesspeople with a research background can similarly build bridges from the industry side. For example, in my experience, it was much easier to establish research-industry collaboration when surgeons with whom Cochlear had a commercial relationship also had an academic role at a university.

If you’re not at the top of your organisation, and can’t find a senior bridge-builder to mentor you and champion your cause, there’s still much you can do to establish productive research-industry collaboration, even from a cold start.

If you’re a researcher, you can find potential industry partners in the sector/s relevant to your research, and start to understand the problems they need to solve, via: industry conferences; company websites and annual reports; LinkedIn profiles and posts; and other business media, including blogs, etc. If you’re from industry, use similar channels devoted to academic and research organisation communications to seek out the leading experts in relevant areas.

The collaborations I developed for Cochlear had varied origins, e.g: a conversation at a conference; a university actively seeking collaborators to achieve its vision of being at the bleeding-edge of technology; an existing collaborator recommending another researcher who had the expertise we needed; mutual friends introducing me to a researcher because they knew about our shared interests; a local sales team developing a relationship with a university on which I built.

However you find them, when you meet a potential partner, ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. How does the company serve its customers and what stands in the way of improving the customer experience? How might the researcher shine a light on, or solve the company’s problems, or even open new markets for the company?  

Be prepared to invest significant face-to-face time getting to know each other on a human level and building trust and understanding. Research-industry collaboration is usually seeded by mutual connections and personal contact, and it only ever grows with shared interests and values.

2. Build a strong foundation for your partnership

Once the willingness to work together has been established, a deeper conversation is required to define the problem/s you are best positioned to solve together, the nature of the relationship, and the benefits each party could expect from it.

3. Manage the risk of your research-industry collaboration

A company considers spending on research an investment in product or service development, but research can be speculative and may not result in the outcome desired by the industry partner, so risk-mitigation strategies are essential.

4. Use your teams to best effect

By encouraging broad participation within both organisations, across a range of disciplines, and including customers or end-users, you can ensure that the project is solving real and important problems, the solution/s will be adopted, and the mutual benefits of the partnership fully realised.

5. Measure your impact

So that the value of the collaboration to each partner can be appreciated, it’s important to measure its impact on the customer experience as well as each party’s bottom lines.

To learn more about Steps 2–5 of research-industry, please watch this space for subsequent posts.

– James Dalton, gemaker

Click here for information about gemaker’s industy engagement training program for researchers.

research-industry collaboration

With an engineering background, James combines strategic marketing mastery and product development expertise, derived from decades of experience with leading global companies, especially Cochlear. In 2010, he won the Engineers Australia Design Excellence Award and the Red Dot Award for Product Design. He is named as the inventor on six patents. His current role as Commercialisation Manager with gemaker is to support diverse clients – researchers, inventors, startups and expanding businesses – through the many stages of commercialisation, including idea validation and protection, industry engagement, funding acquisition, product development, and marketing.