Robots are hard at work all over Australia. They are pulling tonnes of iron ore hundreds of kilometres across the Pilbara. They are swimming around the Great Barrier Reef killing environment damaging starfish. They are surfing Australian waters collecting scientific data and replacing maintenance workers on hazardous oil rigs.
Despite its size, Australia has been a relative leader in the use of robotics and autonomous systems. It was the first country in the world to automate a port, with autonomous stevedores in action at Port Brisbane since 2007. Its mines were among the first globally to operate driverless trucks. Australia-written autopilot code keeps more than one million Unmanned Aerial Vehicles from crashing to the ground.
Meanwhile it’s robotics, computer vision and AI researchers are respected around the world, with the International Conference on Robotics and Automation held for the first time in the southern hemisphere in Brisbane earlier this year. Last year a team of 27 roboticists from Queensland University of Technology, The University of Adelaide and the Australian National University won the global Amazon Robotics Challenge.
All the above means Australia has a huge opportunity to both capture a global market for robotics and autonomous systems predicted to be worth $23 billion by 2025, as well as gain from a $2.2 trillion dividend which automation promises to deliver local industry by 2030 if it is fully embraced by enterprise.
But to get there, we need a plan. And now we have one, in the nation’s first Robotics Roadmap for Australia, which launched today in Canberra.
The roadmap has been developed by the government funded Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, based at Queensland University of Technology.
Since the end of last year the ARC Centre of Excellence has been consulting with various sectors of industry, researchers, government and the public to develop the roadmap which proposes 18 recommendations covering industry, education, government, research and development and culture.
“By describing what is possible and what is desirable, the roadmap aims to create the grounds for the necessary co-operation to allow robots to help unlock human potential, modernise the economy and build national health, well-being and sustainability,” says roadmap chair, and centre chief operating officer Dr Sue Keay.
The roadmap’s key recommendations are:
- We must develop new high-tech firms and a vibrant robotics industry in Australia if we are to maintain our standard of living
- We can prepare the next generation for the jobs of the future by providing education and upskilling opportunities to equip all Australians with Industry 4.0 relevant skills
- We have the opportunity to become a testbed for robotics technology by leading the world in ethical, legal and standards frameworks
- We can build national capability in robotics by forming research and technology clusters to develop existing talents and encourage new talent, technology and businesses
- We must develop an entrepreneurial culture to set moon shot goals and challenges and encourage VC investment in the robotics industry
“Like any roadmap, it doesn’t prescribe a destination, but it shows the starting points across industries and describes how to reach them. The impact of these technologies will depend on many factors, some of them still unknown,” said Keay.
“The intersection of all technology with artificial intelligence, machine learning and the data collected through the exponential growth of sensors will find new problems and identify new opportunities. How we respond to this, both as a nation and as a planet, will determine the outcomes. This roadmap includes detailed recommendations to inform these responses,” she added.
The roadmap is modelled on similar initiatives that have been run in the US and Europe.
The US in 2016 published its third Roadmap for US Robotics, covering the societal opportunities and challenges presented by the technology, and what needed to be done to continue innovation and adoption.
The first version was released in 2009, and resulted in a $70 million research funding boost from the Obama administration through its National Robotics Initiative.
Europe has also seen a number of roadmaps, the latest – Robotic Visions to 2020 and Beyond – is updated each year.
Australia's roadmap is already bearing fruit, with the Sixth Wave Alliance – made up of government agencies, universities and industry – forming in May as a result of the consultation process. The group hopes to “put Australia on the map as the global leader in robotics” and “create the critical mass” needed to tackle robotics and automation challenges.
“Australia’s first Robotics Roadmap is about more than just making industries more automated. The strength of our robotics technologies will drive the transformation of existing industries and create whole new industries. This has significant impact for the future of Australia’s workforce as well as ensuring we have vibrant, competitive and sustainable industry sectors,” Keay said.
“Australia currently has a real advantage in robotics at this point in time and we want to make sure Australia really benefits from these new technologies,” she added.