As the COVID-19 death toll mounts and the world hangs its hopes on effective vaccines, what else can we do to save lives in this pandemic?
In UniSA’s case, design world-first technology that combines engineering, drones, cameras, and artificial intelligence to monitor people’s vital health signs remotely.
In 2020 the University of South Australia joined forces with the world’s oldest commercial drone manufacturer, Draganfly Inc, to develop technology which remotely detects the key symptoms of COVID-19 – breathing and heart rates, temperature, and blood oxygen levels.
Within months, the technology had moved from drones to security cameras and kiosks, scanning vital health signs in 15 seconds and adding social distancing software to the mix.
In September 2020, Alabama State University became the first higher education institution in the world to use the technology to spot COVID-19 symptoms in its staff and students and enforce social distancing, ensuring they had one of the lowest COVID infection rates on any US campus. ASU President, Quinton T. Ross, Jr., described the software as a “godsend”.
The collaboration between UniSA and its North American drone partner is helping to address potentially the number one threat to humanity – health security – and usher in a new era of telehealth.In this short documentary, Professor Javaan Chahl and his PhD students discuss the extraordinary journey they undertook in 2020 with this world-first technology to curb COVID-19, along with commentary from Draganfly CEO Cameron Chell and Alabama State University.
Released on 25 January 2019, the 2018 Snapshot measures Australian research commercialisation and industry engagement based on surveys of universities, medical research institutes (such as QIMR Berghofer and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research) and publicly funded research agencies.
Performance data collected covers two areas: investment and commercialisation pathways. Investment can be directed into R&D, commercialisation staff and training, while Australian research commercialisation pathways are quantified in terms of metrics such as numbers of patents and licenses produced and industry-research collaborations.
The data reveals that a notable increase in average R&D expenditure across the surveyed organisations. The extra investment is seen to be paying off: there were more than 18,000 research contracts and collaborations in 2016, generating income of over $1.9 billion. Survey results from 2004 to 2016 show a positive trend in the average number of start-ups created per organisation, the number of provisional applications to apply for patents and the average number of patents granted.
Organisations are also investing in their human potential, with a 35% increase in researchers and students participating in industry training. The industry uptake of postgraduate students is also on the rise.
The top three organisations for producing consultancies, contracts and collaborations with end users were CSIRO, University of Queensland and Monash University. Meanwhile, the top three organisations in terms of Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications, which signal intents to file patents, were CSIRO, The University of Sydney and Monash University. CSIRO came out on top again in terms of Australian research commercialisation staff, ahead of the University of Queensland and the University of Melbourne.
Dr Erin Rayment, Chair of KnowledgeCommercialisation Australasia (KCA), a non-profit which leads best practice for public research organisations committed to industry engagement, says that Australia is continuing its trajectory as a world player in the research commercialisation space. “It’s great to see a continued increase in start-up growth and licensing deals, signalling an active technology transfer environment,” she said.
Innovation and Science Australia recently released itsperformance review of Australia’s innovation, science and research system, finding that while we’re above average at creating knowledge, we’re poor at applying and transferring it, so our researchers’ wonderful innovations frequently fail to (a) improve lives in the real world, and (b) earn a return on our nation’s significant investment in research.
There’s often a huge crevasse between research organisations, such as universities, and commercial companies, in any industry: a gap in understanding and a potential grave for hopes and dreams. Over a couple of decades of product research, development and commercialisation in international markets, I have crossed that crevasse many times.
For Cochlear, I led ten significant collaborative agreements and participated in five others, involving more than 25 research organisations around the world. Cochlear’s annual R&D budget was around AUS$90 million, or up to 17% of sales.
I have insights to share about building bridges across the research-industry gap for mutual advantage and to benefit society. This is the first in a series of posts about improving research-industry collaboration, in which I will share lessons both from personal experience and recent research into best practice.
Whichever side you’re starting from, below are five steps to build research-industry partnerships for successful technology transfer. In this post, I have focused on the first step. I will explore the other steps in greater detail in subsequent posts.
1. Develop a culture and practices that promote partnership
Successful research-industry collaboration can often be attributed to executive members of a research organisation who understand business, or have worked in industry. They can empathise with potential industry partners, promote research-industry collaboration by being effective champions and mentors in their own organisation, and provide the continuity in strategy and resourcing needed to maintain a partnership.
Senior businesspeople with a research background can similarly build bridges from the industry side. For example, in my experience, it was much easier to establish research-industry collaboration when surgeons with whom Cochlear had a commercial relationship also had an academic role at a university.
If you’re not at the top of your organisation, and can’t find a senior bridge-builder to mentor you and champion your cause, there’s still much you can do to establish productive research-industry collaboration, even from a cold start.
If you’re a researcher, you can find potential industry partners in the sector/s relevant to your research, and start to understand the problems they need to solve, via: industry conferences; company websites and annual reports; LinkedIn profiles and posts; and other business media, including blogs, etc. If you’re from industry, use similar channels devoted to academic and research organisation communications to seek out the leading experts in relevant areas.
The collaborations I developed for Cochlear had varied origins, e.g: a conversation at a conference; a university actively seeking collaborators to achieve its vision of being at the bleeding-edge of technology; an existing collaborator recommending another researcher who had the expertise we needed; mutual friends introducing me to a researcher because they knew about our shared interests; a local sales team developing a relationship with a university on which I built.
However you find them, when you meet a potential partner, ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. How does the company serve its customers and what stands in the way of improving the customer experience? How might the researcher shine a light on, or solve the company’s problems, or even open new markets for the company?
Be prepared to invest significant face-to-face time getting to know each other on a human level and building trust and understanding. Research-industry collaboration is usually seeded by mutual connections and personal contact, and it only ever grows with shared interests and values.
2. Build a strong foundation for your partnership
Once the willingness to work together has been established, a deeper conversation is required to define the problem/s you are best positioned to solve together, the nature of the relationship, and the benefits each party could expect from it.
3. Manage the risk of your research-industry collaboration
A company considers spending on research an investment in product or service development, but research can be speculative and may not result in the outcome desired by the industry partner, so risk-mitigation strategies are essential.
4. Use your teams to best effect
By encouraging broad participation within both organisations, across a range of disciplines, and including customers or end-users, you can ensure that the project is solving real and important problems, the solution/s will be adopted, and the mutual benefits of the partnership fully realised.
5. Measure your impact
So that the value of the collaboration to each partner can be appreciated, it’s important to measure its impact on the customer experience as well as each party’s bottom lines.
To learn more about Steps 2–5 of research-industry, please watch this space for subsequent posts.
Click here for information about gemaker’s industy engagement training program for researchers.
With an engineering background, James combines strategic marketing mastery and product development expertise, derived from decades of experience with leading global companies, especially Cochlear. In 2010, he won the Engineers Australia Design Excellence Award and the Red Dot Award for Product Design. He is named as the inventor on six patents. His current role as Commercialisation Manager with gemaker is to support diverse clients – researchers, inventors, startups and expanding businesses – through the many stages of commercialisation, including idea validation and protection, industry engagement, funding acquisition, product development, and marketing.
The Australian National University and the University of Western Australia have become the first research institutions in Australasia to join IN-PART, a global university-industry collaboration platform.
Researchers at these universities will have access to a growing community of 2000+ R&D professionals from over 600 businesses in Europe, Oceania, the UK, and the USA, who use IN-PART to collaborate with universities in the commercialisation of academic research.
“The potential of the output from world leading research at Australian institutions is huge, but the limited industrial base means that it is essential we partner with corporate world leaders to realise that potential”, said Professor Michael Cardew-Hall, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Innovation at The Australian National University.
“The ANU has strong links with many partner research institutions worldwide and strategic partnerships with major corporations. However, developing new partnerships that are mutually beneficial is a key strategy for the University”.
The Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Western Australia (UWA) will join 70 universities from the UK, USA, Japan, and Europe — including Cambridge, Cornell, and King’s College London — who currently use IN-PART to publish innovation and expertise from academics who are actively looking to interact with industry.
“We’re very excited about being able to profile our projects to targeted people in relevant industries, and to show people that UWA and Australia are the home of some amazing innovations. Just as our researchers rely on collaborating locally and internationally, tech transfer offices need to look further afield for development partners with particular expertise and routes to market”, said Simon Handford, Associate Director of Innovation at the University of Western Australia.
“Hopefully, IN-PART can help us meet future R&D partners and give more projects the chance of being translated into something that can be put to use”.
Launched in January 2014, IN-PART has facilitated the first point of contact for a range of university-industry collaborations that include licensing deals, co-development projects with joint funding, academic secondments, and long-term research partnerships.
This information was first shared by IN-PART on 11 August 2016.