NSW to launch research centre for defence autonomous systems

The federal government has contributed AU$50 million from its Next Generation Technologies Fund to help set up the NSW Cooperative Research Centre for Trusted Autonomous Systems.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian government has announced that it will be launching a new Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Trusted Autonomous Systems to develop defence technologies and solutions in partnership with research institutions, universities, and businesses in New South Wales.

The Australian government will be kicking in around AU$50 million over seven years from its AU$730 million Next Generation Technologies Fund to the CRC for Trusted Autonomous Systems, the NSW Department of Industry announced.

The University of Sydney (USyd), the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and the University of Technology Sydney are also contributing to the CRC's operations, with USyd robotics expert professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte having been on the expert panel to create the CRC.

Defence technology companies with expertise in trusted autonomous systems will also be involved in the centre, according to NSW Defence Advocate Air Marshal John Harvey AM.

"These include Ocius Technology, which has developed an unmanned marine vessel dubbed the 'Bluebottle' that is powered by solar, wind, and wave energy, and that can be deployed at sea over months for wide area surveillance," Air Marshal Harvey explained.

"Marrickville company Marathon Targets is also involved in the CRC. Marathon develops robotic targets for military marksmanship practice and has sold its technology to allied forces worldwide, including the United States Marine Corps."

The NSW government had additionally contributed AU$1.25 million to assist in establishing a Defence Innovation Network recently for collaboration between industry and universities, he added.

USyd and UNSW have also previously worked together on launching the NSW Smart Sensing Network (NSSN) in February alongside the state government's chief scientist and engineer professor Mary O'Kane.

The state government contributed AU$700,000 to the NSSN, while the universities invested AU$125,000 each, which will be used to develop and commercialise sensor technologies.

The Australian government in October awarded five organisations with Defence Innovation Hub grants amounting to AU$5.9 million. L3 Oceania secured AU$2.9 million to investigate an underwater acoustic sensor; and the University of Newcastle gained AU$2.2 million to look into VR-based resilience training programs for Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel.

Agent Oriented Software got AU$378,000 to explore an "autonomous teamed intelligent software agent capability resilient to cyber-attacks"; Explosive Protective Equipment got AU$242,000 to investigate integrating a Cobham Amulet Ground Penetrating Radar into an existing unmanned ground vehicle to detect improvised explosive devices; and Griffith University lastly got AU$183,000 to look into a portable device enabling real-time detection of airborne biological threats.

The federal government also awarded AU$3.26 million to QuintessenceLabs earlier this year for a solution to protect defence and critical government systems from cyber attacks.

The Next Generations Technologies Fund was launched in March, with federal Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne saying it would help develop "creative solutions" to help the ADF protect Australia.

"As our enemies devise new ways to attack, our Defence Force must have advanced ways to respond and overcome new threats," Pyne said in March.

"This is a 10-year strategic research and development program that will deliver game-changing capabilities for the ADF of the future."

At the time, Pyne said the government would use the fund to launch defence CRCs, university research networks, a research accelerator scheme, an innovation research program for small businesses, and technology investigation activities.

The research program led by Defence's Science and Technology Group was also earmarked to explore nine technology-related areas: Autonomous systems; cybersecurity; quantum technologies; integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; advanced sensors, hypersonics, and directed energy capabilities; space capabilities; enhanced human performance; medical countermeasures; and multi-disciplinary material sciences.

The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) in March also received AU$75 million critical infrastructure upgrades at two of its national security facilities in Canberra, funded under the Defence Integrated Investment Program.

This was followed by the government in June announcing the investment of AU$500 million into Defence Project 799 to improve space-based intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance capabilities, with the Australian Department of Defence signing a AU$40 million contract extension with Optus Satellite to continue using its C1 satellite for the next 10 years.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this week unveiled new tech ministers in a Cabinet reshuffle, with Michael Keenan now the minister assisting the prime minister on digital transformation, while former digital transformation head Angus Taylor has been given Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity and Dan Tehan has been shifted across to Social Services.

Michaelia Cash is now minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation, and Zed Seselja the assistant minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation. Former Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is now responsible for Home Affairs, including border security and intelligence.

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