Australia hasn’t exactly been charging ahead when it comes to commercial AI, robotics and automation. In fact, Australian business are lagging behind other developed countries, according to economist and director of AlphaBeta, Andrew Charlton. “One in 10 Australian companies are embracing automation, and this is roughly half the rate of some of our global peers,” Charlton recently told the ABC.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There is one area in which Australia sets a brisk pace: innovation. Artificial intelligence and robotics research, as well as some enterprising start-ups, are pushing the boundaries of machine learning and neural networks, not just on a local scale, but for the entire world. And the government is getting behind the shift, committing $25 million toward upcoming AI projects.
Here are five Australian innovations in robotics and AI.
Robots with legs
The global robotics industry is expected to tip $23 billion by 2025, and Australia’s local industry already generates $12 billion in annual revenue, employing about 50,000 people. CSIRO are a big part of that industry. They’ve set up the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group, which has already made 20 world-first discoveries in the field of robotics. Along with drones that can fly 600m underground, CSIRO has been a pioneer in the field of legged robots. The biggest one is MaX, which stands 2.25 metres tall and whose spider-like movements are slightly disturbing.
Machine learning for crops
Agriculture technology (or ‘Agtech’) is a global industry worth around US$189 billion. Tech-driven innovations in agriculture can have far-reaching consequences for nearly everyone on the planet: helping farmers grow more efficient crops, increasing yields, and fighting disease or climate change. Australia’s most innovative contribution to the Agtech field is Flurosat. It’s a NSW company that uses satellite imagery, farming records and machine learning to help farmers make better decisions. Flurosat just bagged $4.6m from investors (including Microsoft) to take their platform global.
Detecting cancer with AI
One thing artificial intelligence excels at (provided it’s fed with robust, clean data), is pattern recognition. Crunching huge numbers in real time and using ‘intuition’ to inform better decision making. For some industries, this is life-changing technology – literally. Take Maxwell Plus, a Brisbane-based medical technology company. They’re using machine learning and medical imaging to improve detection rates for certain diseases and cancers (particularly prostate cancer). Maxwell Plus have already partnered up with the CSIRO and health providers like GE and St Vincent’s Hospital.
Intelligent bushfire evacuation
Whenever you hear someone bemoaning AI and machine learning as the end of civilisation, remind them of Data61, the CSIRO’s robotics and AI division. Data61 is home to the Evacuation Modelling Team, who use algorithms and neural networks to improve bushfire planning and emergency response. The technology is pretty interesting. The AI-driven Decision Support System can analyse the predicted impact of a bushfire on road networks, run evacuation simulations, and even feed emergency services accurate data about the likelihood of bushfire hotspots. “[Our team] showed the computer a scenario based on Australia’s climate between 2001 and 2010,” the CSIRO says. “The AI was able to replicate the real world occurrence of fire hotspots with 90 per cent accuracy at the 5 x 5 kilometre scale.”
Robotic IVF on the Great Barrier Reef
The tech is still in its early stages, but undersea ‘robot crop dusters’ have already been put to work on the Great Barrier Reef, dispersing thousands of tiny baby corals in an effort to repopulate areas scorched by coral bleaching. ‘LarvalBot’ was engineered at Queensland University of Technology. It’s related to the robots who already roam the Great Barrier Reef, hunting for crown of thorns starfish. “With further research and refinement, this technique has enormous potential to operate across large areas of reef and multiple sites in a way that hasn’t previously been possible,” said the larval restoration project lead, Southern Cross University’s Professor Peter Harrison.