Tag Archives: disruption

Thriving in a disruptive world

Thriving in a disruptive world

First of all, let me say that I really jumped at the chance to speak to the summit when I was offered the opportunity because I think it’s a good topic, at the right time, and it’s very important that it’s being done by the Financial Review, which over decades has built up its reputation for being an economically rational voice in the Australian policy debate – and boy, do we really need those voices going forward.

And as Minister for Industry Innovation and Science, my job is to be a voice for rationality, to be a voice for articulating where we’re going in terms of the future, but I need your help. It’s a coalition of the willing and I want to talk a bit about that today.

So for me, when I became Industry Minister at the beginning of this year I said I wanted to make collaboration a hallmark of my efforts in the portfolio, and this summit is a really valuable opportunity for government, entrepreneurs and researchers to collaborate, to listen, and to formulate ideas on how to maximise the benefits of the age of disruption.

Innovation by degrees

I labelled my talk – a footnote almost – Thriving in a Disruptive World, because that’s what Australians will do. I’m relentlessly optimistic about this. I don’t buy the line that we can’t do it. I don’t necessarily believe we can do it the American way, the Israeli way, the Chinese way, the Singaporean way; we’ve got to do it the Australian way, building on our own attributes and on the strengths we have as a country.

And, yes, it means being clear-eyed about where we have problems and difficulties and confronting them, but also being, I think, to some extent charitable to ourselves and accepting there are things we are really good at, and how do we build on those to create what I believe can be one of the most technologically advanced and prosperous countries in the world? I think that’s very important from my point of view.

When I became Minister, I became Minister for Industry, for Innovation and for Science. I’ve got a threefold responsibility, and since becoming Minister I’ve worked to complete the transformation of the Industry part of the portfolio. Industry policy is no longer about protection, it’s not about shielding people from the forces of digital transformation or the work of the future, and I will have more to say about that later. Industry policy is about economic transformation through innovation, which takes many forms.

We’ve got to remember, innovation can be very incremental, it can be very straightforward in response to changes in market conditions, all the way through to the creation of new products, processes and services that maximise the benefits of our first-class scientific and research base.

The fourth revolution

Now, we are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution. Bill Ferris today was right to talk about the fact that we’re in the middle of this revolution and we’ve got all of this competition going on, where markets and platforms are changing faster than ever before and technological transformation will change every job in every industry.

And we, as a government, are not pretending that we can put our heads in the sand and protect those jobs that are threatened by technological change. I saw a headline in the Fin Review the other day which sort of implied that. That was wrong. The Industry portfolio is moving on and the industry settings in this country are moving on.

Now, we can’t force entrepreneurs to make particular investments, just as we cannot order businesses to adopt specific technologies or command communities to embrace certain industries. We can, however, help to create the conditions for them to innovate, and this means engendering, principally, a culture of collaboration between business, academia, research bodies and government, and it means providing the platforms and the skills that enable Australians to transform their business. It means reshaping our business models to meet new competition, new markets, and new demands, and this is how we’re transforming the portfolio – industry policy in the 21st century.

Areas of innovation and change

It will be a surprise to some of you that- let me take a very prosaic example. Australia’s manufacturing industry is in many ways now becoming more of an exemplar of innovation and change. This is an industry in which big change is underway, particularly as we restructure the auto industry.

Now, that’s a big challenge, to take an industry which had been on the Government teat for 40 or 50 years and to take it through a process of transformation; to put behind car assembly and to say in the future we’re going to focus on high end design, we’re going to focus on smart manufacturing; and we’re doing this through government programs.

Where a government has provided protection over time, there is an obligation to help those industries to actually adjust and then become self-sustaining, and that’s what we’re doing.

We’re providing funds to businesses like Blown Plastics in Adelaide, which have literally transformed themselves from making car parts to supplying complex parts for medical devices. Companies like Marand Precision Engineering – a Melbourne-based company established by a former Holden worker.

Marand supplies advanced industrial precision tools to a range of industries: automotive, mining, aerospace, defence and more. So manufacturing in this country is looking different. It’s servicing global markets with complex goods and services, where the only way to compete successfully is to transform, to be ahead of global trends, and to integrate into global supply chains.

Show me the money

And, yes, we’ve had to put money into this. You have to grease the wheels of change. But that’s how industry policy and that’s how innovation actually occurs on the ground: you provide the conditions and you help companies through.

We can’t help every company, and we’ve actually got Bill Ferris looking at the effectiveness of the assistance we already provide, because, of course, you can’t provide assistance to every company, nor should you have to. We ultimately want companies to stand on their own feet, but we need to find ways that government best assists by providing the right platforms and the right infrastructure.

Now, where is all this leading? Why are we doing all this? Why do we transform industry sectors? Why do we bother? Isn’t it easier politically to just prop a sector up? And even in sectors like steel or rail, where we’re looking at what the future holds for them, we’re saying to them: we’ll help you, we’ll assist you – whether it’s Arrium in Adelaide, whether it’s rail procurement and manufacturing in Australia – if you can become globally competitive. That is the sine qua non of this, that assistance is provided to help transform these industries and to provide the basis for globally competitive activities.

The innovation mindset

Now, what is the vision with this innovation culture that I’m talking about here? I really want it to be the analogue of the adjustment process that we’ve established over the last 20 or 30 years through decades of micro reform. See, what happened with micro reform over the last 20 or 30 years is that we created a very powerful adjustment mechanism in the economy which means that the booms and the busts of the ’80s and ’90s – Michael will remember them well; he was writing about this stuff in Canberra in the Press Gallery.

Remember, every time, inflation would go up, wages would go up, interest rates would go up, the economy would crash. That’s gone. Through the Asian Financial Crisis, through the resources boom of the last few years, look at the way we have accommodated those changes.

There is a powerful adjustment mechanism in the economy, but there’s another adjustment mechanism I want in the economy, and that is the shift to this innovation mindset with a global outlook. So that when we are looking at how we diversify our economy, we’re creating companies and enterprises and entrepreneurs and risk-takers who command a premium in the marketplace because they are producing something no one else can produce, they’re ahead of the curve – very important for us to be able to do that.

And that can help to offset some of the oscillations and the ups and downs we’ve seen of the commodity economy. We ultimately want an economy where overseas people say, this is an economy based on innovation. Yes, we’ll have our resources still, we’ll have our agriculture, we’ll have our services, but across the economy we will be known for being innovative and smart in all of those areas. That’s why I now talk about smart manufacturing; I don’t talk about manufacturing anymore, it’s smart.

Now, there’s been criticism about the Government’s rhetoric around innovation ever since the election, and this is a fair point that we took a bit of a shellacking in the election, there’s no doubt about it, about the term innovation. And people said, oh, that’s equated with people losing their jobs. People are frightened. And people were right to say that when you talk about something in the broad and there’s lots of people out there making lots of money, but making all sorts of predictions about all sorts of jobs that could be lost because of technological change and everything else that’s happening.

We’ve been hearing this for decades, for generations – I’ll come back to it – my point is this: and it’s true that the word innovation, unless you give it some specificity, can worry people because until people see that innovation is actually all the things I’ve said before- and this is how we try and explain it on the ground these days. We don’t explain it by talking about the general concept; we talk about the specifics of how innovation works to make things better for your company, for your community, for your business, your industry. And this is how we have to sell it to our fellow Australians and we have to take our fellow Australians with us.

A time for optimism

And you’ll have lots of talk from the Opposition and others in high-minded ways, talking about the work of the future and the future of work and all these big numbers. Well, I’m very optimistic. I’m a technological optimist. I’m an economic rationalist and a technological optimist, and I believe that we will benefit mightily from the changes that are coming, but we have to take people with us, no doubt about it.

All those communities that feel somehow they’re going to miss out on change, that’s part of the role of government, to make sure that people know they’ll get a fair crack of the whip. They’ll get a fair crack of the whip because we’ll make sure structural adjustment programs, we’ll make sure the education and training system, our systems of training and re-training, learning and re-learning, adapt to the new world. Is that hard work? The longer I stay in this portfolio, the more I see those issues around education and training as germane to everything else we’re trying to do. And yes, it is hard work.

We’re a federation; we don’t control all the levers. And yes, we’ve got immigration policy, the states have got vocation, education and training; we’ve got to make sure everything works in tandem. And through various COAG, industry and skills councils, my colleagues and I at the federal level are working with the states to get that greater coordination going on. But we are here to help people through the transition. So for me, I do lie awake worrying about the future of work, but only in the sense that I want to make sure every Australian is reassured we are going to take them on the journey.

The other point I would make going through is that in the period since Malcolm Turnbull launched the National Innovation and Science Agenda, we’ve actually gotten on with implementing it. Whether it’s new tax incentives for early stage investors; changing the rules surrounding venture capital limited partnerships; $200 million CSIRO Innovation Fund for new spin-off companies; half a billion dollar Biomedical Translation Fund to commercialise our great medical discoveries; the money we’re putting into science, technology, engineering and maths at the school level, STEM; the various proposals we’ve got around to support greater women’s participation in STEM as part of all of that; there’s a whole series of things that we’ve done.

We’ve largely implemented that agenda. The bits that are still outstanding – crowd-funding got done the other day finally, wasn’t that great, that was fantastic. Now, it took a bit longer than I would have hoped, but that’s the way the legislative sausage machine works in this country.

The bit that’s still outstanding from my point of view is I’d like to see more done around bankruptcy. I want to make it easier for us to structure and re-structure companies in this country because I think we do it harder than countries like the US, and that’s something we’re working on with the Attorney-General and his people. We’re already seeing results: venture capital investment has reached a record high since our reforms came into effect; investment in early stage venture capital limited partnerships has risen 80 per cent in the last year.

The vibe

There is actually a vibe out there, you can feel it among the start-ups and you can feel it when it comes to the funding. There is a vibe and this is the window of opportunity, and I take the point from those members of the audience who say when you’re on the crest of a wave this is the time to capitalise on it – and you’re right, this is the time to capitalise on it.

We’re also seeing a significant lift in collaboration between business and research communities. Now, I never tire of saying this, Bill Ferris never tires of saying this, Alan Finkel is here: we really punch above our weight when it comes to knowledge creation as a country. This is one of the great secrets of this country and one of the ways in which we will succeed the Australian way. It’s our knowledge creation and the base that provides. But it’s the collaboration, getting that collaboration done between the various sectors – to me that is the big cultural change that has to happen in this country, we are still too siloed.

We did work in NISA 1 with the universities around the incentives for them when it comes to their research grants to be more commercially oriented, more focused on translation of research. But there is a lot more to do, and as one of your speakers alluded to before, government can’t do it all. But the important thing is we look around and I see great models to build on.

I look at what Macquarie Uni have done with their business parks where they are helping to build and reinforce some of our biggest brands, like Cochlear. The University of Wollongong established an Advantage SME program specifically to develop relationships with small business – a one stop shop for SME’s looking to access research capability. I’ve established an advisory committee to look at opportunities for university and innovation precincts. If collaboration is important, apart from the organic collaboration and precincts that we’ve seen develop across this country, what policy measures do we take to really reinforce that if that is the best way, or one of the best ways to get collaboration?

Bill Ferris, I know has some other ideas. I have no doubt he will tell you about them later, but my point is I’m looking at this in a very excited way. The Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation is an exemplar; it’s leading the way with its planned innovation precinct, enabled by legislation I got through the Parliament last week that will see scientific partners, businesses and graduates crowding around Australia’s Centre of Nuclear Capability and Expertise at Lucas Heights. There’ll be a graduate institute, a technology park, and the world’s first nuclear science and technology innovation incubator. Think about that, the world’s first, and that’ll be at Lucas Heights, and they’ll look at how they roll this out across the country.

Now, there’s a lot more that has to happen. Bill Ferris, his hair has gone prematurely grey because he’s been asked to produce by later this year a plan, a strategic plan for our innovation, science and research system to 2030.

As I alluded to before, part of that plan is about how do we get the best value out of all the money we’re spending already, whether it’s the R&D tax incentive which we’ve been having a look at, whether it’s the way we spread money across industry capability, whether it’s through our entrepreneurs programs, accelerating commercialisation, the ways in which we provide money to industry for research and commercialisation. Are we doing it the best way? Is it the most effective? Are we getting the best value-add?

But Bill will also be looking at what the system looks like in 2030, and also what does that mean in terms of the resource base for the sector by 2030. We’re also looking at whether we have national missions which actually allow us to crystallise and bring together various parts of the innovation and science system to work on big themes, as a way to not only achieve big things, but also to make sure that that brings the rest of the system with it and actually encourages the sort of collaboration and change that we’re talking about.

Leading by example

Now, government has to lead by example. Government can talk about it, government can speak, government can disperse money, but a very important way that we can lead by example is actually create customers in the private sector.

So for example, for this cultural change that we’re talking about for ICT, government leading by example includes the Digital Transformation Agency under the leadership of Angus Taylor. He’s been doing good work when it comes to how the Government uses digital products and processes.

The Government is targeting an increase of 10 per cent in value of ICT contracts going to SMEs. That’ll be $650 million of extra money flowing to innovative Australian companies, because the best assistance for an SME is to get a contract.

The same is happening with what we’re doing around our defence spending – $195 billion over the next 10 years. I want to squeeze every last dollar of national benefit out of that money. We want to get world-first capability, but we also want to get world-first spin-offs for the rest of Australian industry.

Look at the way in which American defence spending, American space spending powered the American economy. This defence spending, which includes a major portion of next generation innovation programming, which includes cooperative research centres focused on defence projects and all the rest of it, which includes an innovation hub and a new industry defence capability centre, that provides us with a powerful mechanism, along with the demand that will come from the naval shipbuilding program and the other elements of capability development, for us to create the basis of really smart manufacturing.

And what we’re about is, where possible with industry policy, to actually create new industries, new opportunities. The Government will have more to say about this next week in relation to the space industry, which we see as an immense opportunity for growth. We’ve been reviewing our space industry capability; it’s underway now, and the review will provide a framework for our sector to grow. It’ll report over the next little while.

But my point is this: I look at space, I look at defence, I look at cyber-security and I see industries of the future where we can be global leaders – not in every aspect; we choose our niches.

The other thing I look at – and it comes back to my technological optimism about the Australian way – is that we actually do big science in this country really well, and as a result of the National Innovation and Science Agenda we’ve committed 2.3 billion over 10 years to critical research infrastructure, like the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne, which is part now of ANSTO, which is creating great cancer-zapping drugs, for example – I can put it no more technically than that – which is creating all sorts of nuclear science and medicine, which is world-leading.

The Square Kilometre Array, we’re putting up to $300 million towards that. Our fantastic astronomy project which will complement the work we did in the Budget, where we put over a hundred million into the European Southern Observatory for more astronomy work, which with instrumentation and the capabilities that go with that create great global opportunities for collaboration.

Because countries overseas want to cooperate with scientists and researchers who have access to globally competitive infrastructure, and that’s what we’re doing here. We’re creating globally competitive infrastructure which attracts those scientists, those researchers who want to work here. That is one of our great attributes.

I put out a national science statement in March at the Press Club. One of the points I made there was our commitment to basic science. As a country, one of our strengths is basic science, and basic science is blue sky. Even when science fails, you learn something.

The important point about basic science is you don’t know what it leads to, what opportunities it leads to. As a country, we have great attributes in basic science. So part of my job as Innovation Minister is to make sure appropriate resources go to basic science, and then we are linking it up in the way that Bill and others are talking about in terms of commercialisation and translation.

Quantum computing

I want to talk briefly about the quantum computing company, Silicon computing company that I launched the other day. I had hoped it would be a $100 million company; it’s an $83 million company at the moment. Any of you got an extra $17 million; we will gladly take it at this stage. Federal Government, state government, Telstra, CBA, University of New South Wales, a consortium of other universities, are working on quantum computing. This is a bet that Malcolm Turnbull took in the National Innovation Science Agenda.

We said we’d put money behind this, because if we can be world leaders in quantum computing, think of the opportunities that come with that. And if you link that up with what the University of Sydney are doing with their alliance with Microsoft, which is looking at creating an ecosystem around quantum computing in the Sydney Basin; that is about how you establish world-leading research and applied capability and the spin-offs that go with that.

But you’ve got to do the science; you’ve got to understand the science. You can’t be just a fast follower or a fast adopter; you’ve actually got to do the science, and if you do the science you’ll get the results. So again, this is a big bet for this country. The amounts initially sound modest, but it’s a big bet for this country.

What do I lie awake at night worrying about? Well, many things I suppose, but in this portfolio I really want to nail the digital economy. I really want to nail this because there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ve got more to do. I really want to nail Industry 4.0, the industrial internet, the internet of things, whatever you want to call it.

I’m working with my colleague Angus Taylor, who’s looking at smart cities and how they operate in the context of the internet of things. We recently signed an agreement with Germany’s Platform Industrie 4.0 which ensures Australia takes a proactive role in developing and adopting international standards.

We need to be ahead of the curve in adopting these standards for our businesses to have access to global value-chains and remain competitive. This is what governments do best, this sort of stuff – get in on the ground floor, help develop the standards, and those standards then govern how these technologies are used, and you’re in on the ground floor of that, you can take advantage of that.

I mentioned cyber-security earlier, which is related to this. We have both a challenge in terms of cyber resilience across the economy, and we are working on that through our cyber-security strategy we released last year. But on top of that, I want Australia – because of our capabilities – to be, if not number one, one of the top countries in the world when it comes to cyber-security. Yes, there’s Israel, there’s China, there’s Russia, there’s America. They’re all doing things, but we can do it really well.

And I go around, I see the work of the Cyber Security Growth Network under the former head of security at Atlassian, and I look at the work that they do and I know they’re on the right track. They’re focused on how do we make sure the public dollars contribute to this, that they’re not fragmented; how do we make sure we’re appropriately skilling the country and we’ve got the right sort of regulations and framework?

The digital economy

So I want to nail the digital economy, and later today, we’re releasing a paper about what are the next steps when it comes to digital economy. We want a conversation with the public about that, and where do we take it next? This is not a top-down approach. I don’t believe in people coming along, giving you a lecture about what should happen, when; I believe in the wisdom of crowds, that’s one of the reasons I’m here today. It’s very important for us to draw on your knowledge about where you think things should go.

On the future of work, my colleague Michaelia Cash and I are working within Government on a more articulated set of policies around how we address the sort of issues I mentioned earlier, and that will include more and more of our colleagues. I haven’t gone out there and spoken much about it, because frankly I think we’ve got to do the work and we’ve got to listen to people and their perspectives more. But what is important to me about this, as I said before, is we take everybody with us when it comes to the future of work.

And the other point I want to make about the future of work is I don’t want this to be a new frontier for warfare over industrial relations. I want us to work in a way which goes with the grain of market forces, which facilitates disruption, but in a way which helps to look after people. I don’t want it to be an excuse for further re-regulation of the labour market. Yes, we’ve got to look after people, but in a way which is consistent with the grain of market forces so we maximise the benefits of the change. As I said before, this portfolio’s not about protection anymore, it’s about going forward.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve probably overtaxed you. I want to conclude on this note: I was reading- no, I was watching a TED Talk, and then I said I must get the book. It was by Tom Friedman – great writer. He’s just written a book about thanks for being late, which is a bit like, you know, you should pause to reflect.

I won’t explain the title any more than that. But the point he made is, you know, we’ve got this exponential increase in our capabilities across the economy, across the society. We can all feel it. There’s a lot going on. We can feel the pace. You know, the industrial revolution, the steam revolution, you go through all the revolutions, even though they were pretty quick, they were pretty fast, this feels really fast.

He said, you know what? We also need to lift our human capabilities, and that’s a much bigger task. It’s a much bigger task. And part of the task, as I see it, in lifting our human capabilities is that we all take leadership, whether it’s government leading by example where it can, you in the business sector leading by example.

My advice to you in dealing with issues where you’re seeking to get support is look at your stakeholders; who are your stakeholders; who are your coalition of the willing and how do you work with them to get what you’re talking about?

We hear a lot of talk in Australia that we don’t have a burning platform, we’re too complacent – 26 years of growth, we’ve made it through, employment’s growing, manana, we can worry about all this tomorrow. Well, you know, Winston Churchill used to talk about the fact that an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty and a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. I’m relentlessly an optimist.

You’re here today because you are optimists and because you want us – all of us – to live up to the highest levels of the human spirit, and that spirit is one of inquiry, it’s one of hope, it’s about how we work relentlessly to improve the human condition.

So ladies and gentlemen, Government is doing what it can. It can do more. It can always do more, and you can do more, but ultimately let’s create that sense of urgency, that sense of cultural change, because without that cultural change – in an Australian way; I’m not saying we change our culture – but in an Australian way, let’s create that platform for the future and make what is the best country in the world even better.

Thank you.

Text of this speech was originally posted on the website of the Minister for Innovation, Industry and Science. 

disruptors

The Disruptors

Disruption can mean a lot of things. Dictionary definitions include “a forcible separation” or division into parts. More recently it has come to mean a radical change in industry or business. This brings to mind huge technological innovations. But what if it’s as simple as realising that a handheld device for detecting nitrogen could also be used to gauge how much feed there is in a paddock; that drones can be adapted to measure pest infestations; that communities can proactively track the movement of feral animals.

These are just some of the projects that Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) are working on that have the capacity to change crop and livestock outcomes in Australia, improve our environment and advance our financial systems.

Data and environment

Mapping pest threats

Invasive animals have long been an issue in Australia. But a program developed by the Invasive Animals CRC called FeralScan is taking advantage of the widespread use of smartphones to combat this problem.

The program involves an app that enables landholders to share information about pest animals and the impacts they cause to improve local management programs.

Peter West, FeralScan project coordinator at the NSW Department of Primary Industries, says the team wouldn’t have thought of a photo-sharing app without genuine community consultation.

The project has been running for six years and can record sightings, impacts and control activities for a wide range of pest species in Australia, including rabbits, foxes, feral cats, cane toads and myna birds. West says that it now has 70,000 records and photographs, and more than 14,000 registered users across the country.

Disruptors

“For regional management of high-impacting pest species, such as wild dogs, what we’re providing is a tool that can help farmers and biosecurity stakeholders detect and respond quickly to pest animal threats,” says West.

“It enables them to either reprioritise where they are going to do control work or to sit down and work with other regional partners: catchment groups, local biosecurity authorities and the broader community.”

The app won the Environment and Energy Minister’s award for a Cleaner Environment in the field of Research and Science excellence at the Banksia Foundation 2016 Awards in December. Recent improvements to the app include the ability to monitor rabbit bio-control agents.Plans for the future include upgrading the technology to alert farmers to nearby pest threats, says West.

Find out more at feralscan.org.au

Revising disaster warnings

Also in the information space, the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC (BNHCRC) is investigating reasons we don’t pay attention to or ignore messages that notify us of an impending fire or floods. Researchers are using theories of marketing, crisis communications and advertising to create messaging most likely to assist people to get out of harm’s way.

“The way we personally assess risk has a big impact on how we interpret messages. If I have a higher risk tolerance I will probably underestimate risk,” says Vivienne Tippett, BNHCRC project lead researcher and professor at Queensland University of Technology. “We’ve worked with many emergency services agencies to assist them to reconstruct their messages.”

Instead of an emergency message with a brief heading, followed by the agency name and then a quite technical paragraph about weather conditions and geography, Tippett’s team has worked on moving the key message up to the top and translating it into layperson terms. For example, a message might now say something like: “This is a fast-moving, unpredictable fire in the face of strong winds.”

Tippett’s team is constantly working with emergency services to make sure their findings are made use of as quickly as possible. “The feedback from the community is that yes, they understand it better and they would be more likely to comply” she says.

Find out more at bnhcrc.com.au

AgTech

Measuring plant mass and pests in crops

The Plant Biosecurity CRC is using unmanned aerial systems (UAS or drones) to improve ways to detect pest infestations in vast crops. Project leader Brian McCornack is based at the Kansas State University in the US.

“The driver for using unmanned aerial systems has been in response to a need to improve efficiency [reduce costs and increase time] for surveillance activities over large areas, given limited resources,” says McCornack. “The major game-changer is the affordability of existing UAS technology and sophisticated sensors.”

Disruptors
Unmanned aerial vehicle Credit: Kansas State University

The project is now in its third year and adds an extra layer of data to the current, more traditional system, which relies on a crop consultant making a visual assessment based on a small sample area of land, often from a reduced vantage point.

The international collaboration between the US and the Australian partners at QUT, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the NSW Department of Primary Industries means the project has access to a wide range of data on species of biosecurity importance.

disruptors
Unmanned aerial system (drone) pilots, Trevor Witt (left) and Dr Jon Kok (right) from the Plant Biosecurity CRC project, discuss data collected from a hyperspectral camera. Credit: Brian McCornack, Kansas State University

The CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI) has also been working on repurposing an existing gadget, in this case to improve the accuracy of estimating pasture biomass. Currently, graziers use techniques such as taking height measurements or eyeballing to determine how much feed is available to livestock in a paddock. However, such techniques can result in huge variability in estimates of pasture biomass, and often underestimate the feed-on-offer.

Professor David Lamb, leader of the Biomass Business project, says graziers underestimate green pasture biomass by around 50%. There could be a huge potential to improve farm productivity by getting these measures right.

Through case studies conducted on commercial farms in Victoria, Meat and Livestock Australia found that improving feed allocation could increase productivity by 11.1%, or up to $96 per hectare on average, for sheep enterprises, and 9.6% ($52 per hectare) for cattle enterprises.

The CRCSI and Meat and Livestock Australia looked at a number of devices that measure NDVI (the normalised difference vegetation index), like the Trimble Green Seeker® and the Holland Crop Circle®. The data collected by these devices can then be entered into the CRCSI app to provide calibrated estimates of green pasture biomass.

Graziers can also create their own calibrations as they come to understand how accurate, or inaccurate, their own estimates have been. These crowd-sourced calibrations can be shared with other graziers to increase the regional coverage of calibrations for a range of pasture types throughout the year.

Find out more at pbcrc.com.au and crcsi.com.au

Using big data on the farm

In July 2016, the federal government announced funding for a partner project “Accelerating precision agriculture to decision agriculture”. The Data to Decisions Cooperative Research Centre (D2D CRC) has partnered with all 15 rural research and development corporations (RDCs) on the project. 

“The goal of the project is to help producers use big data to make informed on-farm decisions to drive profitability,” says D2D CRC lead Andrew Skinner.

He says that while the project may not provide concrete answers to specific data-related questions, it will provide discussion projects for many issues and concerns that cross different rural industries, such as yield optimisation and input efficiencies. 

Collaboration between the 15 RDCs is a first in Australia and has the potential to reveal information that could shape a gamut of agricultural industries. “Having all the RDCs come together in this way is unique,” says Skinner. 

Global markets

The Capital Markets CRC, in conjunction with industry, has developed a system that allows it to issue and circulate many digital currencies, securely and with very fast processing times – and because it is a first mover in this space, has the potential to be a global disruptor.

Digi.cash is a spinoff of the Capital Markets CRC and is specifically designed for centrally issued money, like national currencies. 

“Essentially we have built the printing press for electronic coins and banknotes, directly suited to issuing national currencies in digital form, as individual electronic coins and banknotes that can be held and passed on to others,” says digi.cash founder Andreas Furche.

A currency in digi.cash’s system is more than a balance entry in an accounts database, it is an actual encrypted note or coin. The act of transfer of an electronic note itself becomes the settlement. This is in contrast to legacy systems, where transaction ledgers are created that require settlement in accounts. So there is no settlement or clearing period.

“We have a advantage globally because we were on the topic relatively early and we have a group of people who have built a lot of banking and stock exchange technologies in the past, so we were able to develop a product which held up to the IT securities standards used in banking right away,” says Furche.

Digi.cash is currently operating with a limit of total funds on issue of $10 million. It is looking to partner with industry players and be in a leading position in the development of the next generation financial system, which CMCRC says will be based on digitised assets.

Find out more at digi.cash

Defence

Passive radar, as developed by the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST), has been around for some time, but is being refined and re-engineered in an environment where radiofrequency energy is much more common.  

As recognition of the disruptive capabilities of this technology, the Passive Radar team at DST was recently accepted into the CSIRO’s innovation accelerator program, ON Accelerate.

Active radar works by sending out a very large blast of energy and listening for reflections of that energy, but at the same time it quickly notifies anyone nearby of the transmitter’s whereabouts.

“Passive radar is the same thing, but we don’t transmit any energy – we take advantage of the energy that is already there,” explains passive radar team member James Palmer.

The technology is being positioned as a complement for active radar. It can be used where there are more stringent regulations around radar spectrum – such as the centre of a city as opposed to an isolated rural area. Radio spectrum is also a finite resource and there is now so much commercial demand that the allocation for Defence is diminishing.

Although the idea of passive radar is not a new one – one of the first radar presentations in the 1930s was a passive radar demonstration – the increase in radiofrequency energy from a variety of sources these days means it is more efficient. For example, signals from digital TV are much more suited to passive radar than analogue TV.

“We are at the point where we are seeing some really positive results and we’ve been developing commercial potential for this technology,” Palmer says. “For a potentially risky job like a radar operator the ability to see what’s around you [without revealing your position], that’s very game changing.”

There is also no need to apply for an expensive spectrum licence. The Australian team is also the first in the world to demonstrate that it can use Pay TV satellites as a viable form of background radiofrequency energy. The company name Silentium Defence Pty Ltd has been registered for the commercial use of the technology.

Find out more at silentiumdefence.com.au

– Penny Pryor

For more CRC discovery, read KnowHow 2017.

You might also enjoy Beat the News with digital footprints.

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