Tag Archives: QUT

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.

Graphene

Graphene innovation lowers cost of production

Graphene is a carbon material that is one atom thick.

Its thin composition and high conductivity means it is used in applications ranging from miniaturised electronics to biomedical devices.

These properties also enable thinner wire connections; providing extensive benefits for computers, solar panels, batteries, sensors and other devices.

Until now, the high cost of graphene production has been the major roadblock in its commercialisation.

Previously, graphene was grown in a highly-controlled environment with explosive compressed gases, requiring long hours of operation at high temperatures and extensive vacuum processing.

CSIRO scientists have developed a novel “GraphAir” technology which eliminates the need for such a highly-controlled environment.

The technology grows graphene film in ambient air with a natural precursor, making its production faster and simpler.

“This ambient-air process for graphene fabrication is fast, simple, safe, potentially scalable, and integration-friendly,” says CSIRO scientist Dr Zhao Jun Han, co-author of the paper published in Nature Communications.

“Our unique technology is expected to reduce the cost of graphene production and improve the uptake in new applications.”

GraphAir transforms soybean oil – a renewable, natural material – into graphene films in a single step.

“Our GraphAir technology results in good and transformable graphene properties, comparable to graphene made by conventional methods,” says CSIRO scientist and co-author of the study Dr Dong Han Seo.

With heat, soybean oil breaks down into a range of carbon building units that are essential for the synthesis of graphene.

The team also transformed other types of renewable and even waste oil, such as those leftover from barbecues or cooking, into graphene films.

“We can now recycle waste oils that would have otherwise been discarded and transform them into something useful,” Seo says.

The potential applications of graphene include water filtration and purification, renewable energy, sensors, personalised healthcare and medicine, to name a few.

Graphene has excellent electronic, mechanical, thermal and optical properties as well.

Its uses range from improving battery performance in energy devices, to cheaper solar panels.

CSIRO are looking to partner with industry to find new uses for graphene.

Researchers from The University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney and The Queensland University of Technology also contributed to this work.

This article was first published by CSIRO on 31 Jan 2017. Read the original article here.

Overcoming academic barriers to innovation

In the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, the messaging is as important as the content.

The agenda states that our future prosperity and well-being are intimately tied to the nation’s ability to innovate, that is, to draw on new ideas to develop new products and services.

This is of course not a new concern. For more than three decades governments have noted that Australia languishes at the low end of international measures of innovation and, in particular, lags well behind other developed nations when it comes to links between university research and the world of business.


“There is clearly a great deal more that can and must be done if we are to truly make the most of our national potential, and if we are to remain competitive in a knowledge-intensive global economy.”


Over the years many programs have been developed to remedy this state of affairs, and across the country we can see the fruits of these endeavours. Webs of connections have developed among our universities nationally, and from universities to the wider world of industry, government, professionals and the wider community.

But there is clearly a great deal more that can and must be done if we are to truly make the most of our national potential, and if we are to remain competitive in a knowledge-intensive global economy.

The fact that we remain behind the international pack in building productive links between our university researchers and those who might put research to practical use indicates that concerted efforts are needed at all levels to overcome some persistent barriers.

One of those barriers comes from what might be thought of as ‘business as usual’ within universities. One of the strengths of universities is that they provide a home for independent-minded and highly intelligent people to pursue their passions and to delve at depth into their areas of speciality.

This strength can be a weakness, however, if universities as a whole are unable to coordinate and support academic expertise in ways that make the whole more than the sum of the parts.

Even the most powerful universities, such as Harvard in the U.S., have long struggled with this issue.

At QUT we have sought to break the mould by making partnerships an integral feature of our research by, for example, establishing research institutes which are not stand-alone ‘research hotels’ but instead bring together researchers from multiple disciplines to work on carefully selected themes, alongside people who can make best use of the research findings.

This approach is most fully developed in health research, at the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI), which is complemented by a range of research partnerships. These include other universities, research institutes, hospitals and other public health and clinical players, including the recently established Translational Research Institute.

The goal is not just to translate research into better health products and practice, but also to develop new interdisciplinary models of education and training. Particular examples are the following:

Examples of interdisciplinary models

1. The Centre for Emergency and Disaster Management within IHBI has been developing its international links, hosting 14 present and future leaders from the Maldives, the Philippines and Pakistan for a five-week intensive training program in 2014 to advance disaster risk reduction and management.

2. QUT’s Medical Engineering Research Facility (MERF) at the Prince Charles Hospital Chermside provides a comprehensive suite of research and training facilities in one location. MERF allows researchers in medical and healthcare robotics to develop applications that will be able to be translated directly to human use. Fellowships have been supported by orthopaedics company Stryker to provide training and research in hip and knee replacement surgery, and Professor Ross Crawford has supervised more than 40 PhD students in orthopaedic surgery techniques, with many of these students working in robotics.

Many of these initiatives are relatively new, and sustaining them will require commitment from all partners and ongoing innovation in our own models of working. QUT is determined to see that not only these efforts flourish, but that they also provide a model for innovation and partnerships in other fields. This is evidenced through the following examples.

Providing a model for innovation and partnerships in other fields

1. QUT has put considerable investment over time not only into the institutes but also into ensuring they integrate seamlessly with the rest of the university. For example, developing models of funding and recognition of research outputs that work across institute and faculty boundaries. This enables researchers to move between their academic “home” and the research institute, in contrast to the usual stand-alone model of a research institute.

The institute model is being extended in QUT’s Institute of Future Environments (IFE) which also adopts a multidisciplinary thematic focus to research in major areas of challenge in our natural, built and virtual environments. It also incorporates a range facilities on and off campus, including the Central Analytical Research Facility (CARF), the Samford Ecological Research Facility (SERF), the Banyo Pilot Plant Precinct and the Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant.

2. Within IHBI, research is being translated into improved therapies and support services for patients. Professor David Kavanagh launched a $6.5 million e-mental health initiative in 2014 to train primary health practitioners in the use of e-mental health services. Professor Kenneth Beagley led the development of a new oral vaccine that shows promise for protection against herpes simplex virus and Dr Willa Huston has developed a new chlamydia diagnostic for infertility in women.

3. The IFE’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities researchers have had a significant breakthrough with the world’s first human trial of pro-vitamin A-enriched bananas. The genetically modified bananas have elevated levels of betacarotene to help African children avoid the potentially fatal conditions associated with vitamin A deficiency. This work has been supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Professor Peter Coaldrake AO

Vice-Chancellor of QUT

Read next: Dr Krystal Evans, CEO of the BioMelbourne Network on Gender equality and innovation.

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Australia’s biofuture

Featured image above: Associate Professor Ian O’Hara at the Mackay Biocommodities Pilot Plant. He is pictured inside the plant with the giant vats used for fermentation. Credit: QUT Marketing and Communication/Erika Fish

QUT is supporting the Queensland Government to develop a strategy, including the creation of a 10-year Biofutures Roadmap, for the establishment of an industrial biotechnology industry in Queensland.

Associate Professor Ian O’Hara, principal research scientist at QUT’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities (CTCB), says we are facing big challenges: the world needs to produce 70% more food and 50% more energy by 2050, while reducing carbon emissions.

At the same time, says O’Hara, there are opportunities to add value to existing agricultural products. “Waste products from agriculture, for example, can contribute to biofuel production.”

QUT funded a study in 2014 examining the potential value of a tropical biorefinery in Queensland. It assessed seven biorefinery opportunities across northeast Queensland, including in the sorghum-growing areas around the Darling Downs and the sugarcane-growing areas around Mackay and Cairns.

O’Hara says they mainly focused on existing agricultural areas, taking the residues from these to create new high-value products.

But he sees more opportunity as infrastructure across north Queensland continues to develop.

The study found the establishment of a biorefinery industry in Queensland would increase gross state product by $1.8 million per year and contribute up to 6500 new jobs.

“It’s an industry that contributes future jobs in regional Queensland – and by extension, opportunities for Australia,” O’Hara says.

The biorefineries can produce a range of products in addition to biofuels. These include bio-based chemicals such as ethanol, butanol and succinic acid, and bio-plastics and bio-composites – materials made from renewable components like fibreboard.

O’Hara says policy settings are required to put Queensland and Australia on the investment map as good destinations.

“We need strong collaboration between research, industry and government to ensure we’re working together to create opportunities.”

The CTCB has a number of international and Australian partners. The most recent of these is Japanese brewer Asahi Group Holdings, who CTCB are partnering with to develop a new fermentation technology that will allow greater volumes of sugar and ethanol to be produced from sugarcane.

“The biofuels industry is developing rapidly, and we need to ensure that Queensland and Australia have the opportunity to participate in this growing industry,” says O’Hara.

– Laura Boness

www.qut.edu.au

www.ctcb.qut.edu.au