Natural disasters, resource management, life sciences and e-health will be keyed as high priorities for a new global research and development lab to be opened at the University of Melbourne by IBM.
The lab, which will attract $22 million in investment from the Federal Government, is expected to open in the first quarter of 2011, and will employ 150 people within five years including 38 PhD students in order to research and collaborate with existing institutions on R&D for key topics including weather modelling, traffic management and mobility analytics.
The lab will also encompass the $100 million Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative - a life sciences and biotechnology supercomputer - first launched in 2008 for addition to the research fields and collaboration.
In launching the lab, Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said key research areas would also include water management, natural disaster management and collaboration with mining and resource industries.
“Our partnership with IBM is now going to accelerate that and drive outcomes for the real world,” she said. “Its impact will be truly national.”
IBM will use the lab to promote its “smarter planet” vision, which comprises technologies such as smart grids, an area the company has made progress locally on recently in collaboration with Energy Australia for the $100 million Smart Grid, Smart City trial. However, one academic has warned that too little focus is currently being placed on the ‘grid-side’ management and technologies beyond the smart meter.
IBM’s decision to place a new global laboratory in Australia also comes as other trans-national companies search for cheaper and more efficient sources of innovation. A government proposal to replace the current R&D incentives regime with tax credits is expected to improve Australia’s attraction for international investment, but the legislation - originally slated for introduction in June - is yet to be reintroduced into Federal Parliament following the election.
The proposed legislative changes could see IBM potentially gain 40 per cent non-refundable credits for software and technologies developed for external use.
It is believed Accenture may also be looking to establish a local research and development lab in Australia in cooperation with Telstra, but is yet to release any details about the venture.
Victorian Premier, John Brumby, used the announcement to champion the state’s credentials as a major source of innovation and ICT investment. According to IBM statistics cited by Brumby, the state’s ICT sector is worth approximately $27 billion per annum and is home to a third of the national ICT workforce.
“Over the last decade, our government has invested over $4 billion in innovation and technology and I believe it’s paying off,” he said.
“If you think about it, that’s what our Victorian economy is all about - because we’ve always had to innovate, we’ve always had to find new ways of doing things and certainly over the last decade I believe that we’ve consolidated Victoria’s position as the innovation and R&D capital of Australia. If you think about the challenges of the future - a changing global economy - it is certainly our view that innovation is more important than ever before.”
Victorian ICT minister, John Lenders, launched an $110 million Victorian ICT Action Plan earlier in the week with a view to promote research, innovation, investment and propagation of broadband access to regional towns.
“[It’s] all about building local capacity and expertise, it’s about raising our profile here in Victoria as a centre for ICT in the Asia Pacific and it’s about encouraging as this project does, the high-end use of ICT for innovation and for transformational research and development and that is what this laboratory is all about,” Brumby said.