Tag Archives: future tech

hyperloop

Hyperloop fires up Aussie students

Featured image above: rendering of the VicHyper hyperloop pod on the streets of Melbourne 

A team of Australian university students is playing a major role in revolutionising the future of transportation technologies. They are working on what futurist entrepreneur Elon Musk describes as a ‘cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table’ – the Hyperloop. 

The group, from RMIT University in Melbourne, is led by engineering graduates Matthew O’Callaghan and Zachary McClelland, and is one of 30 finalists from 1,700 entrants from around the world working on a Hyperloop pod design.

Musk, known for his roles with PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, was inspired to explore the viability of Hyperloop technologies after being frustrated by the lack of cost-effective high-speed trains in the US. 

SpaceX – Musk’s rocket and spacecraft company – subsequently sponsored a global Hyperloop competition to design a transportation pod that will travel at speeds of up to 1,200 kilometres per hour levitated on a cushion of air or magnets inside a vacuum-sealed tube. 

It is envisaged the pods will eventually carry goods and people across large distances in a short time, providing greater efficiency than cars, trains and aircraft. Imagine, advocates say, ordering a pizza from your favourite restaurant 600 kilometres away and having it delivered to your home in 30 minutes. 

“What this can provide for the world is just amazing,” says 24-year-old O’Callaghan, who was inspired to enter the competition after growing up in the regional Australian city of Mildura. 

“It could transfer goods, and connect cities, particularly in Australia where they are so far apart. All of our cities can become suburbs. You could live in Melbourne and work in Sydney and commute every day.”

Hyperloop poised to become reality

hyperloop
VicHyper Co-founders L-R Matthew O’Callaghan and Zachary McClelland

O’Callaghan’s and McClelland’s project, named VicHyper, is supported by RMIT University and several Australian corporate partners. It is focused on building a braking system for the high-speed pods – a crucial part of the vehicle’s design.

The team travelled to Texas for the first in-person judging event in January 2016 where 115 designs, narrowed down from the almost 2,000 initial entries, were in competition. VicHyper returned to Melbourne with the ‘Braking Subsystem Technical Excellence Award’ and advanced to the next round. 

In late January 2017, the VicHyper team will return to the US as the only team from the Southern Hemisphere and compete in tests at the SpaceX track facility in Los Angeles. Other teams represent universities from the US, Canada, Spain, Germany, India and Japan, as well as a non-student team formed by members of the social media platform Reddit.

The VicHyper pod resembles a futuristic bobsleigh: 3.6 metres long, 1.3 metres wide and approximately one-metre high. It will demonstrate an electromagnetic braking system and friction brakes for low speeds or emergencies. 

As O’Callaghan explains, the system is more complicated than it sounds – or appears on paper. The team has spent several sleepless nights trying to bridge the gap between theory and reality. 

 

Motivated by innovation and change for good 

O’Callaghan graduated from RMIT with an aerospace engineering degree keen to pursue a career where he could “push the boundaries of innovation.

“I wanted to put my expertise into something that could benefit the greater community,” he says. “There is all this amazing technology out there we can use in amazing ways. I really want to help make a change.”

O’Callaghan read a white paper written by Musk about Hyperloop technology and was hooked by the concept. When SpaceX announced its competition for students, O’Callaghan knew this was an opportunity he couldn’t miss. 

He coaxed friend Zachary McClelland to join the him on the project and, with backing from RMIT, their paper sketches became reality.

“RMIT has been a huge support, providing access to technical staff and facilities, financial help, workspaces, logistics and transportation,” O’Callaghan says. “Without RMIT we wouldn’t be heading to the US. 

“I think they liked that it wasn’t just two guys with an idea on a piece of paper. We knew it was important to win people over and show them we really were going to do this. It is not just a pipe dream – pardon the pun.”

The Hyperloop concept has evolved beyond plans and may soon be reality. One company investing in Hyperloop technology has a development partnership with the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and another has announced an agreement to explore constructing a link between Bratislava in Slovakia and Prague in the Czech Republic.

Diverse team brings hyperloop best talent 

Hyperloop
RMIT University’s VicHyper team

VicHyper is now a 30-strong team boasting electrical and mechanical aerospace engineers, industrial designers, graphic and website designers, and a media and public relations team. All team members are graduates or current students at RMIT.

“We really pushed to have a good gender, racial, skill and cultural balance on the team,” O’Callaghan says. “If you have a diverse environment, everybody has something unique to bring to the table.”

It’s not yet known what will happen after the competition. According to O’Callaghan, success can be measured in many ways. Primarily, he’s satisfied that Australian ideas have been recognised in a global competition where the majority of talent is from the US and Europe. 

“We wanted to show that Australia is at the forefront of this kind of technology – and that our team is straight out of university,” O’Callaghan says. 

“Nobody really knows what happens next but I am looking forward to what the outcome is. I definitely want to continue working on this technology and bring it to fruition.”

– Matthew Hall

This article was first published by Australia Unlimited on 26 Jan 2017. Read the original article here

Fourth Industrial Revolution

Fourth industrial revolution lifts social good

Featured image above: The fourth industrial revolution will bring 75 billion connected devices to the world by 2020 Credit: World Economic Forum / Pierre Abensur

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will arguably become the most disruptive and transformative shift in history, and it’s happening at a rapid pace. Experts from all over the world are discussing how technologies such as artificial intelligence, 3D printing, robotics and biotechnology will have a transformative impact on nearly every industry – from manufacturing and retail to entertainment to healthcare.

But one of the biggest areas of transformation will happen within the social sector. Nonprofits, NGOs and education institutions have a tremendous opportunity to leverage new technologies to scale up their impact and ultimately achieve their critical missions.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution offers huge opportunities to transform social good organizations for the better. Here are five key ways nonprofits, NGOs and education institutions can benefit:

1. Connect to anyone, from anywhere, on any device

The digital era has allowed more people from more places around the globe to become connected. And for the first time, people in remote places have access to other people, resources and aid through the connected devices. There’s a huge opportunity for nonprofits and education institutions to reach more people than ever before and connect them with their cause. Today, nonprofits and education organisations can connect with their donors, volunteers, students and constituents in real-time from anywhere. At schools, for example, a student advisor can send a text message or push notification the minute they see a student falling behind. Nonprofits can instantly reach their community of donors and volunteers to help with urgent matters that may mean the difference between life and death.

2. Scale like never before

Because we’re more connected than ever before, social good organisations can also scale like never before. Historically, a lack of resources and funding have plagued the social sector, but technology can help small organisations make a big impact. Now, it doesn’t matter whether an organisation has 8 or 8,000 employees, the amount of people that can be reached is limitless. Populations that were previously unreachable can now be tapped and connected with particular causes without having to drastically increase overhead costs. Individuals with a passion who may have previously felt helpless will be able to start international movements with minimal resources.

3. Organise communities and engage more deeply

With the arrival of the fourth industrial revolution, organisations can also start to organise and understand these communities better than ever before, resulting in deeper engagement. A nonprofit, for example, can organise its community based on region, specific causes, engagement level and more, and communicate with these groups or individuals in a way that’s highly personalised. According to the recently released Connected Nonprofit Report, 65% of donors would give more money if they felt their nonprofits knew their personal preferences—and 75% of volunteers would give more time. With deeper engagement, these organisations will start to see increases in donations and volunteer time, which directly impacts their mission. For schools and education organisations, they can create a curriculum and course tools around specific learning styles and preferences in order to engage them more deeply and improve their education experience.

4. Predict outcomes

Not only is everyone becoming connected, but everything is becoming connected. In fact, there are expected to be up to 75 billion connected devices in the world by 2020 that will generate trillions of interactions. Advances in artificial intelligence and deep learning are helping make sense of this massive amount of data to deliver actionable insights to businesses and organisations alike. Artificial Intelligence could perhaps be the biggest disrupter of all. For the social sector, that means services can recognise patterns within a community or particular cause and predict future outcomes. For example, education institutions can recognise patterns within a student’s journey, so teachers and advisors can proactively reach out to students who may be in danger of failing or dropping out before it happens. A nonprofit focused on the humanitarian crisis, could identify the specific location and number of refugees coming into different countries, and preemptively send the appropriate level of aid and supplies.

5. Measure impact

Today, 90% of donors think it’s important to understand how their money is impacting the organisations they support, but more than half of donors don’t know how their money is being used, according to the Connected Nonprofit Report. As we look toward the future, the measure of nonprofit success will not be the amount of dollars raised—it will be the impact made on the communities they serve. Historically, impact has not been quantifiable, but with advances in data and analytics, social good organisations can measure how they are performing. This will be crucial to maintain and attract donors and volunteers who help make these organisations possible.

Social good in the fourth industrial revolution

Technology can create, inform and drive global change. The social sector can use it to find and connect with more people who need their services, understand their communities on a deeper level, predict outcomes to make them better prepared and possibly prevent certain situations, and even measure the impact they’re making against their cause.

But it’s up to social good organisations to take advantage of these opportunities—and quickly.

– Rob Acker, CEO, Salesforce

This article on the fourth industrial revolution was first published by the World Economic Forum. Read the original article here.

autonomous vehicles

Driverless cars disrupting industries and lifestyle

On a recent visit to the USA, I came across several professors and entrepreneurs who held the view that autonomous vehicles would be “an invention with greater significance than the original invention of the automobile”.  

Seeing many of the world’s earliest automobiles in person, at the enlightening Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, I saw how their design was derived from either a bicycle dispensing with the rider, or a buggy dispensing with the horse.

Autonomous vehicles can be a lot more than just dispensing with the driver. They provide an opportunity for radical rethinking of design and usage.

Massive changes are set to occur in the automobile industry, with many people already choosing to buy rides instead of cars. The continuation of this trend will see today’s car manufacturers and dealerships, rental car companies, taxi companies, ride-sharing companies, bus companies, pickup and delivery services, intercity transportation entities and other transportation services morph into fresh entities with new business models.

Rides will be significantly cheaper than today’s taxis and Ubers, because the major cost – the driver – will be eliminated. For many, it may be financially unattractive to own a car.

Significant lifestyle changes will also be possible. Commuting will no longer be about driving, but focused instead upon working, studying, socialising, entertaining, sleeping, dining and business meetings. Perhaps some rides will be free, funded by face-to-face selling and marketing.  

Long distance commuting will have less of a lifestyle impact, but rural and regional transportation will become more integrated. Travelling between meetings will be quicker and more efficient. The elderly and disabled will be more mobile, with no fears of driving on busy roads and no parking problems.

Think about your current daily activities and how driverless cars will change them! You’ll choose what type of car you need, when you need it, and you’ll travel efficiently. New patterns of life, leisure, work and commuting will emerge. 

With major growth predicted in our cities over the next few decades, pollution-free autonomous vehicles will be a relief in terms of congestion and amenity.

What happens in our cities when all cars become driverless? Roads will carry up to 3-6 times more traffic. Tailgating may be encouraged for less drag, heightened fuel efficiency and maximum utilisation of road real estate. Speed limits will increase, as will lane channelling during peak hours. Cars will no longer need to park on streets meaning defacto clearways, 24/7.  Extra lanes could be added to freeways by making existing lanes narrower. Traffic lights may become superfluous. Cars will reroute depending upon congestion.

Most importantly, roads will be safer, helping to eliminate most of the 34,000 accidents in Australia today at an annual health cost of $16 billion. There will be no guardrails needed if autonomous vehicles are accident free. No acoustic barriers required if all cars are electric. No more driving offences, meaning no fines, no points, fewer police. Drink and drug driving will be eliminated, as will driver distraction from mobile phones. If autonomous cars can see and sense better than humans, and drive without distraction, then pedestrians may be safer as well.

If every car is driverless, we can totally rethink our infrastructure. But the transition won’t come without challenges. How will older cars, driver assisted and driverless cars all coexist in the short to medium term? Will older cars have their own lanes, roads, circuit tracks or specific hours of use? Will they be tolled more to discourage people from driving cars?

For the evolution to autonomous vehicles, digital technology and disruption processes have been converging, resulting in precision GPS, 3D mapping, odometry, deep learning, computer vision, ultrasonic sensors, LiDAR, radar, driver assist options, smartphones, ride sharing and much more new tech. 

The driverless car transition will take several decades with a step-by-step approach. Australia has the opportunity to become a global leader in several fields including design, technology, infrastructure, specialist systems and fitout. There are vast opportunities for innovation and technology for associated spin-off and support industries.

Hollywood’s driverless cars such Herbie (‘The Love Bug’ in 1969) and K.I.T.T. (David Hasselhoff’s ‘Knight Rider’ in 1980) no longer seem like far-fetched dreams. Soon we can turn these dreams into reality for new lifestyles, improved amenity and new industries for Australia.

Simon Maxwell

Managing Director, Information Gateways

Read next: Heather Catchpole, Managing Director of Refraction Media, explains why digital disruption will create your next career.

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More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Women in STEM Thought Leadership Series here.

the cloud

The cloud: understanding opportunities

This is an edited transcript of a speech titled, ‘The cloud: understanding opportunities and challenges’, which was delivered by Dr Balan-Vnuk to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) in May 2016.

The conversation I’d like to have with you is around, “What is the cloud?” – but more importantly, “What is the potential of the cloud to power your business, and what innovation is available to you?”

I’d like to take you back about 150 years, to the invention of the steam locomotive. You can imagine that back in the 1860s people were used to horse drawn carriages – it was nice and quiet, and things moved at a certain pace. And then all of a sudden you had these upstarts with brand new technology that was quite frankly loud, scary and sometimes exploded.

People didn’t understand this new technology – they didn’t understand how steam worked – and so they were incredibly scared and incredibly nervous.

I’m not sure how many of you are aware of the Red Flag Act that was passed in 1865. The most intriguing aspect of that Act was the fact that someone had to walk 60 yards in front of a locomotive with a red flag to warn everyone that it was coming.

I think sometimes we might be a little bit like those folks who saw the first steam locomotive when we come across the cloud. What is it? We don’t understand it. Is it scary? How will it help me?

Embracing a safer future

If we fast forward about 150 years, we see these beautiful new driverless cars that, quite frankly, we would like to drive in. And the reason I think driverless cars are so incredibly important is because the car will be able to brake and react faster than any one of us in the room can.

How does that work? Through hundreds of sensors placed on the car – the tyres, the body of it – testing what surface that car is driving on? Is it bitumen, gravel, or sand? Is it wet, dry, or is there an oil slick? What objects are around that car? Are they stationary, are they moving? Are they moving towards the vehicle? It will react as it needs to in order to keep us safe.

But not only that. This data is also being sent up to the cloud. It’s being aggregated, analysed, dissected and the learnings are being sent back to every single other driverless car so that everyone can benefit from the same learnings to be safe.

My two girls are eight and six, and I’m pretty sure they’ll still get their driver’s licence. Not long after that we’ll probably be driving for fun, taking the car out for a spin, because these cars will actually keep us safer and get us places we need to go in a much more effective manner.

But not everyone has the luxury of having a Tesla, or a beautiful driverless car, for that matter.

Building solutions for those who can’t

I’d like to take you to somewhere very different, to a woman in a Sudanese refugee camp carrying a very heavy load of sticks, who is quite obviously pregnant. Unfortunately this is a scene we’d see in many parts around the world, including Australia. People who have no access to education, to healthcare, to sanitised water; they are at a real disadvantage, and their lives could be at risk.

Two medical students came across some really important information. Maternal anaemia accounts for 20% of maternal deaths globally. And that, in stark figures, is around 115,000 women every year dying from what is actually a preventable disease or condition.

These two students didn’t stop there. Of course the most reliable way to test, “Have I got anaemia?” is through a blood test. But if you can’t do that, the colour of the inside of your eyelid will apparently give a pretty good indication as to whether or not you might be anaemic.

And so these two students – not fazed by the question of, “How do I access technology?” – built a solution on the cloud. In fact, they built a selfie app.

They built an app where you hold on to your eyelid and, with the right lighting conditions, you take a photo of the inside of your eyelid. It gets sent up to the cloud, analysed, aggregated, and then the results come back to you and tell you the probability of you being anaemic.

Now, imagine you’re up in the Coober Pedy, APY lands, you’re pregnant, your nearest doctor is a few hundred kilometres away. You’d want to be able to tell pretty quickly if you’re anaemic and you need some medical assistance.

So these two students from Melbourne won Microsoft’s global Imagine Cup Competition, which is about young people solving solutions of the world using technology. They spent time with Bill Gates and Satya Nadella and they’re well on their way to commercialising that application.

This is the true power of the cloud. It’s the democratisation of technology.

You don’t have to be a BHP employee or an FBI agent or a NASA whiz to access really complex sophisticated technology. You can now access the bits you need to solve the problems that you’re interested in solving.

Blurring the lines between the digital and the physical realms

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is incredibly topical. I would direct you to read an article by Klaus Schwab, who’s one of the co-founders of the World Economic Forum. Schwab really defines the fourth industrial revolution as this blurring between the digital and the physical spheres.

I’m not wearing one, but has someone got a Fitbit on? Or Garmin, a Health Band? We’re using these devices now; it’s testing our heart rate, whether we slept well, whether we’re getting enough exercise. If it’s not already connected to health insurance providers, it’s in progress. Maybe they’ll give me a rebate because I exercise every day.

All of this information about our physical condition is now being sent up to the cloud so we can learn from it. But there are some other really fundamental changes that are happening in this period.

Reaching a market value of $1 billion

It used to take a company around 20 years to reach $1 billion in market valuation. Think about Snapchat and Airbnb; it took them two to three years respectively to reach $1 billion dollars’ worth of valuation.

I can promise you they didn’t do it by signing up and by building on-premises infrastructure. They leveraged the power of the cloud to build a truly global innovative solution that solves major challenges.

Let’s refer to a pyramid, a model you’re all familiar with: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s from humanistic psychology and really saying, look, for us to evolve as people, as humans, we need to get the basics right. The basics are food and shelter. Then once I’ve got that I feel secure, I’ve got a safe place to be. Then I have friends, family, I have intimacy in my life. At that point I’m confident, I’ve got self-esteem, people respect me. And at that point I can really realise my own full potential.

So I’d like to make a comparison to that model, as a framework for thinking about what the cloud can deliver for you and your organisation.

Recognising what the cloud can deliver for your organisation

The very first layer (and this is not discounting the fact that many organisations have on-premises infrastructure, and it’s likely that’s going to have to stay. You’ve got mainframes, there is old legacy technology that needs to stay where it is, and that’s fine. But there are certainly new ways to take advantage of what the cloud is doing.)

The first layer, which is Infrastructure as a Service, we kind of like to call the plumbing. That’s the servers, it’s making sure you’ve got geo-redundancy, you’ve got the patching in place; that the system and the environment itself is healthy and operating successfully.

For many people this is the first step; they’re taking the infrastructure they’ve got on-premises or with a hosting provider and they’re moving it to a cloud that’s global and scalable. But it doesn’t stop there.

The next one is Platform as a Service. One of the Chief Information Officers I work with in the South Australian government said to me, “Look, I’ve got a great information technology (IT) team – fabulous. But they’re busy running IT. I want them to deliver business value. I don’t want them patching servers. I want them working on the business applications that deliver value to our internal stakeholders and to our citizens and our customers”.

So Platform as a Service is really saying, “Someone else takes care of all of the plumbing. I just need it to work, and I build my intellectual property (IP) and my value on top of that”.

Now, getting to Software as a Service, who’s using Twitter, LinkedIn, Hotmail, Gmail? Everyone. That software is a service. It’s there. You sign in, you log in, you use it for what you need to and then you sign out again.

And now this is a really interesting point. If you think about the two medical students, their product is called Eyenaemia. That is Software as a Service. They can make that globally available to anyone and they can earn some money from it.

Equally established businesses now would consume Software as a Service for a customer relationship management solution, or for a productivity and collaboration platform. But equally you can develop services that you can sell and thus create a new business model for your organisation.

Building value from a template

Now, where I think it gets really exciting, is when we start talking about things like machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). What’s really important about all these things? This is about the commoditisation of data science.

This doesn’t mean we don’t need data scientists. We desperately need more data scientists. But what we then need these people to do is to build value on top of a template.

Why start from scratch if you need to build a fraud detection system? Take a template that exists and customise it with your domain knowledge and expertise, and tailor that for your internal organisation.

Your time to value is incredibly fast, because you’re not starting from scratch. All of the grunt work has been done. You tailor and customise.

There’s an amazing amount of data we’re getting; data could be seen as the new oil in terms of an unlimited resource. It’s how we harness it, and how we use it to glean insights that we’d otherwise have no idea even exist.

Hailing the democratisation of technology

And the part I guess I get most excited about is artificial intelligence. This is where you start to see really interesting things such as conversation as a platform. What does that mean?

Say I’ve got a claim; I don’t want to get on the phone to talk through it because I know I’m going to be on hold for about an hour or two or three. Instead I go to the company’s website. There’s a little bot there that says “chat”. I start to have a conversation.

That’s not a person sitting there. That’s artificial intelligence learning what the intent is behind the questions that people are posing, and responding and trying to probe to give me the information that I need in response. We’re going to see more and more of this, and there are some amazing new APIs and ways of testing and experimenting.

This is true democratisation of technology. You don’t need to be a big player to access this technology and build the billion-dollar data centres. Anyone, students, start-ups, existing businesses, everyone can test this and try it out and see how it works.

So hopefully that gives you a framework of how we see the evolution and the growth of the cloud, and I’m sure there will be more layers above that, which we haven’t even invented yet.

Experimenting within your organisation

If we boil it down to real essentials, the business leader is there to grow profit for the organisation, to retain and grow shareholder value. If you’re a government agency, it’s about delivering effective and efficient customer and citizen services.

How do you do that? With the speed of change that we’re in at the moment, you need to really be very proactive and agile in grasping the opportunities the cloud presents to you.

I’d like to share an example of how some organisations are creating that petri dish of experimentation within their organisation.

I think many of you would know Zara, the fashion house. Their manufacturing line runs at 75% capacity. And you might say, “Well, that’s corporate suicide. Why only run at 75%?”

There’s method behind their madness. When I go into their store, there are video cameras tracking what I’m doing. They’re watching what I look at. They’re watching what clothes I take off the hanger and what clothes I put back. When I walk into the change rooms, what clothes do I choose not to buy?

And you know what? The staff are trained to ask me, and I say, “Well, I didn’t like the jacket, the way the lapel sat, the colour wasn’t quite right”. And they will go back and actually redevelop and redesign their clothes on a four weekly cycle so that they’re much more closely attuned to what their customers want.

In this way, 75% capacity is perfect, because it gives them room and flexibility to be agile and to meet the needs of the customers that they want.

Remembering the value of people

What about our people? It’s challenging in a very, very fast moving time. Our lives, personal and professional, are blurring incredibly. I don’t know how many of you check your phone in the morning for email, check it late at night for email, and maybe in the day you’re doing something personal. Our lives are really blending together.

And so how do we help our people make sure that they don’t get lost in this cacophony? Some of our colleagues out there in the IT space are quite nervous because in reality this means a ton of change for the way that they operate and the way they deliver services and value back to the business.

So I would like to do a very shameless plug for one of our start-ups in Adelaide called Teamgage. They work with us through the Microsoft Innovation Centre.

The team was founded by some people who worked in some incredibly toxic teams. And it was a miserable work environment. And we all know the story: people join companies and they leave managers.

Their premise was, “Well, hang on. Surely if the manager knew or the team leader knew how toxic the environment was, they could have done something about it”.

So they’ve created this amazing 20 second survey. And it truly only takes 20 seconds – we’re piloting it in the Adelaide office, for the team to give feedback.

A dashboard gives me colour charts to see “How is my team feeling?” We take this to our branch meetings and we discuss as a team what the challenges are. What do we need to change? What do we need to address and do differently?

This is an amazing organisation, Teamgage, building an incredible solution, Software as a Service, on a platform where they don’t care what the infrastructure is. They only care about being able to develop their application to serve customers around the world, not just in Adelaide.

Taking advantage of cloud opportunities

We are riding this incredible wave of opportunity. There’s a ton of change. Some organisations are going to coast along the crest of that wave to amazing success. And some others are not going to make it.

We all know the Kodak example. They didn’t make it because they didn’t innovate, they didn’t challenge themselves, they didn’t disrupt themselves and say, “Someone else is going to cannibalise my business, well, I’d better do it first, otherwise I’m totally out of business”.

So as business leaders, as new business leaders and students, really the onus is actually on you to experiment and to try to see how can you take advantage of these technologies for your own business benefit – by delivering profit, shareholder value, and great citizen services that we all expect from our government.

Dr Eva Balan-Vnuk

State Director for South Australia, Microsoft

This speech was first published by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA). Read the original text and more of CEDA’s top 10 speeches on disruption and innovation here

Read next: CEO and Managing Director of Blackmores, Christine Holgate, looks at innovation that goes beyond the digital realm.

Spread the word: Help Australia become digital savvy nation! Share this piece on digital disruptors using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Women in STEM Thought Leadership Series here.

blockchain technology

Blockchain tech shaping spatial information

Blockchain technology is the innovation behind Bitcoin. It has the potential to disrupt many industries by making processes more democratic, secure, transparent and efficient, and is currently approaching the peak of its hype cycle.

In late October, the CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI) hosted a Student Day Solvathon, which focused on blockchains in spatial technology. Paul X. McCarthy from Online Gravity and Mark Staples from Data61 facilitated discussion and inspired 20 PhD students to think creatively about how blockchain technology could be applied.

The students divided into four teams with each team given the challenge to design an innovative use of blockchain tech in an application area relevant to current CRCSI research programs and initiatives. They created four initiatives:

Blockchain Technology in the Red Meat Supply Chain

This idea taps into the $15.8 billion red meat industry in Australia. With only 35% of cattle currently meeting the Meat Standard Australia (MSA) standard, the traceable open ledger capabilities of a block chain implementation could provide consumers, farmers and suppliers with greater confidence on the certification process. Increased uptake on MSA certification positively impacts the Australian economy as every 1% increase of certified meat equates to $40 million of additional returns.

Differing from traditional centralised database systems, the open ledger system requires the complete life history of a piece of meat to be well documented and made available across all players in the supply chain. Automated transaction verification techniques using location and timestamp from GNSS, RFID or DNA barcode information is added to the blockchain database when the cattle or meat is transported from one location to another. This not only optimises the supply chain, but also adds value to the quality of meat sold to the consumer. All this information will be able to be accessed from a smartphone, where a series of displays showing quality metrics of great interest to the consumer: an environmental score; a wellness score; a taste score; and other extra data that supports the purchase such as recommended or optimised recipe selections for that particular cut. 

Blockchain Technology in Health

Attacks on hospitals and civilian targets are clear violations of international law and an urgent problem in war zones that can be addressed by a new arrangement of existing technologies and organisations. A systematic solution to this could be one which provides transparent, decentralised, immutable, publicly available records of humanitarian activity used to visualise the location of verified humanitarian facilities.

The decentralised nature of a blockchain could allow untrusting involved parties to agree or trust the validity of information. Records can be immutable and transparent, so there would be traceability and increased accountability. If this platform was augmented with crowdsourced data, there could be continuous verification from multiple sources agreeing or converging on the location of a hospital. In essence, this would be decentralising and democratising humanitarian map data in conflict zones to support policy makers, governments, negotiators, experts in international relations and law (UN, WHO) and humanitarian organisations (MSF, Red Cross/Red Crescent).

Blockchain Technology in Land Administration and Cadastre

A new distributed database maintaining transactions is disruptive to many industries. It is producing a time stamped auditing information record. Land administration title offices maintain registries, ownerships, boundaries of private and public properties and keep records of changes to the properties as they happen.

These changes affect mortgages, restrictions, leases and right of ways. Blockchain technology has a huge potential in land administration contexts as governments privatise land registries, or want to publish trusted copy for all stakeholders without delays. Blockchain protocols in land administration offer complete historical transaction of all land title transactions, reducing dependency on central cadastral databases and can minimise the risk of fraud in data manipulation by a single user. In many parts of the world traditional registry and cadastral systems have not been sustainable in this advanced technological world. Urbanisation is at peak and land parcels are increasing day by day and discrepancies still exist whether it is in the developed or developing world.

Blockchain protocol in land registries could have many benefits like cost reduction, smart contracts, efficiency, transparency and long term investment. 

Blockchain Technology for Road Tolling

Alternate fuel sources will require changes in how road user charges are calculated and collected. Deriving charges that are consistent across carbon based fuels, electric vehicles, and other alternatives (such as hydrogen fuel cells) may prove difficult.

Alongside the issue of equitable pricing is the well-known problem that continued increases in the number of road users will lead to increased traffic congestion. However, the emergence of driverless vehicles presents a possible solution to both these problems that can be implemented using the executable contracts that blockchains offer.

Currencies based on blockchain technology allow value to be held in escrow until certain conditions are met. Once these requirements are satisfied the value is distributed to the opposing party (or parties). This occurs based on how the contract is programmed into the blockchain and as such there is no need for a “middleman” (like a bank) or the fee they charge for providing this service.

Our solution is a market based system where travel on a particular road at a particular time is booked in advance (based on the origin and destination of the user). Before departing on the journey the user has certainty as to how much the journey will cost as well as its duration (they will not be inconvenienced by excessive traffic congestion).

This means all space on the road, tracked through time, is allocated. A non-urgent journey may take a less direct route in order to avoid popular roads and reduce the amount paid in road user charges. Alternatively, an urgent journey can be made via the most direct route at a higher price. Because journeys may utilise roads owned by various parties, the planning system will program the appropriate distribution of value into the executable contract. When the conditions are met (i.e. the journey is completed) the contract is executed within the blockchain and the transfer of value from the user to the road owners represents an alternative to traditional road user charges.

Next Steps

The CRCSI is now developing a one to two-year strategy for blockchain research in spatial technology. Seizing the early initiative with blockchain technology will be important for the spatial sector to lead activities in this rapidly growing research and development area.

To find out more, visit the CRCSI website or contact Nathan Quadros at nquadros@crcsi.com.au

– Dr Nathan Quadros, CRCSI Education Manager

This article was first published by the CRCSI on 18 November 2016. Read the original article here.