COLLABORATION

Australia strengthens defence force with collaborative research

SOURCE: AFP Photo/Candido Alves
File photo of Australian soldiers patrolling a street in Dili, East Timor, in 2006.

Australia is funding multiple university-led research projects on autonomous vehicles and human performance in an effort to enhance the capabilities of the national defence force.

The projects will be collaborative and multidisciplinary, with the top universities in Australia working together with their US counterparts on high-priority defence areas.

Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price in an announcement Wednesday said a consortium of four Australian universities will receive AU$3 million to work with their American peers on developing the next-generation of autonomous vehicles.

“Autonomous vehicles help keep troops a safe distance from harm and present solutions to a range of problems faced by our military personnel in the field,” she said in a report by the Australian Defence Magazine

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The consortium comprising Australia’s University of Melbourne, Macquarie University, UNSW and Queensland University of Technology will partner with Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the research.

The institutions will study the possibility of improving robot perception, navigation and spatial awareness by applying the ways in which living creatures receive, process and react to environmental and contextual information to the machines.

“This project is aimed at developing a truly autonomous vehicle capable of learning, adapting to unexpected situations and pursuing complex goals in dynamic and challenging environments,” Price said.

“It is a tremendous opportunity for our scientists to collaborate with their counterparts in the US on research that is vital for the future defence and security of Australia.”

Funding for the project comes from the Australia-US Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (AUSMURI), a sister programme to the US multidisciplinary university research initiative (MURI). AUSMURI provides funding support to Australian universities involved in approved submissions under MURI.

Funding from AUSMURI comes in tranches of AU$1 million per year for three years, and is intended to strengthen Australian university research capacity, skills and global networks in research topics of priority to defence future capabilities.

“In addition to providing critical Defence capability, the AUSMURI program will help to grow local skills and expertise in key areas,” Price said.

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According to the Australian Defence Magazine, some AU$25 million from the AU$730 million Next Generation Technologies Fund will be invested in AUSMURI over the next nine years.

Separately, Australian universities will also be studying human performance to enhance the country’s warfighter capability. The studies, to be conducted by eight institutions, will be carried out through the Human Performance Research network (HPRnet) under the Next Generation Technologies Fund.

Commenting, Price said the physical and cognitive abilities of the warfighter are central to the overall strength of the defence force in Australia. A collaborative approach to research and partnerships focussed on enhancing their capabilities and achieve high-performance levels is critical to this.

“These new four-year studies will enable HPRnet to benefit warfighters in all three services.”

During an open call this March, defence received 116 university research proposals, of which nine were selected on a variety of topics such as cognitive augmentation, nutrition and gut health, augmented reality, team training and resilience. 

The universities involved include Flinders University, La Trobe University, Macquarie University, UNSW, University of Queensland, Swinburne University of Technology, Victoria University and Western Sydney University.

A separate HPRnet open call meanwhile saw 15 applications, with one study on assistive technologies by the Victoria University and The University of Melbourne selected. The study will be funded by Diggerworks.

In total, 14 Australian universities will be participating in the HPRnet projects.