​Defence gets AU$50m to develop autonomous systems

The Australian government launched the first of its Cooperative Research Centres which will be focused on the development of trusted autonomous systems.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) will be working towards the delivery of unmanned platforms for military operations, with a AU$50 million injection from the federal government.

The funding, delivered over seven years, will be given to the Trusted Autonomous Systems Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) to ensure "reliable and effective cooperation between people and machines during dynamic military operations".

While existing autonomous and robotic systems that operate in the manufacturing and mining sector are effective in controlled environments, the federal government said they are not suitable for the "uncertain" situations Defence finds itself in, with the ADF instead requiring highly trusted, robust, and resilient autonomous systems to be effective in the field.

The autonomous systems will be developed in partnership with academia, publicly funded research agencies, and industry -- particularly small-to-medium enterprises -- in a bid to create an "interlocking research and innovation capability that is focused on driving a Defence outcome".

The Trusted Autonomous Systems CRC will be chaired by University of South Australia Chancellor Jim McDowell, who will be responsible for leading the development of the research program and business plan, and will also work with industry on delivering outcomes, the government said.

McDowell brought BAE Systems to Australia while he was the security giant's regional managing director, following his time as CEO for BAE Systems Saudi Arabia.

He also spent time on the boards of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Air Warfare Destroyer Principals Council, Total Construction, and the Australian Defence Accelerator.

The CRC chair also acts in a number of advisory roles to the Department of Defence as a member of the First Principles Review of the Department and the Expert Advisory Panel for the Future Submarine Project.

The CRC funding is made available under the government's 10-year AU$730 million "Next Generation" Technologies Fund launched in March in an effort to thwart emerging attack methods via "creative solutions" devised by industry and academia.

Further CRCs focused on projects aligned with the priorities in the Next Generation Technologies Fund are expected to soon follow, the government said on Thursday.

Defence will be a member of each CRC along with universities, research agencies, and industry, with participating members to be selected on the basis of their research capabilities and technology expertise.

The federal government also handed over AU$5.7 million to universities in Australia in May, to develop technologies to be used by the ADF.

Also funded under the AU$730 million technologies fund, the investment will be spread across nine "transformational" technology areas, highlighted in the 2016 Defence White Paper, including AU$2 million for the development of autonomous systems; AU$960,000 towards multidisciplinary material sciences; AU$780,000 for the advancement of sensors and directed energy capabilities; AU$710,000 to enhance cybersecurity defence; and AU$490,000 for the development of quantum technologies.

The ADF also received AU$101 million last month to acquire small unmanned aerial systems under tranche one of a two-tranche program aimed at equipping Defence with Wasp AE drones for field use.

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