CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, will share its latest underground robotics and automation technology with SMEs in key industry sectors as part of a new program launched this week.
Known as Wildcat, the technology can help boost safety and productivity for companies in mining, agriculture and defence that rely on robots to navigate complex and unstructured environments where there are no GPS systems or pre-existing maps.
The technology has been developed as part of the CSIRO’s research that is helping robots map dangerous environments, such as underground mining tunnels without the use of GPS.
Developed by Data61, CSIRO’s data and digital specialist arm, Wildcat is being trialled by commercial partners in Australia. They include CSIRO spin-out Emesent, BIA5, AutoMap, Strategic Elements Ltd (ASX:SOR) subsidiary Stealth Technologies, as well as GeoSLAM in the UK.
It’s part of a broader push by CSIRO’s Data61 to make low-cost, easily adoptable technologies available for SMEs in a range of sectors, including manufacturing, supply chain, mining, energy and construction, to trial and integrate into their business, as part of its Early Adopter Program (EAP).
Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews says the nation’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is largely dependent on Australia’s ability to develop and harness technology.
Unlocking industry potential
“There is no business as usual in the post-COVID-19 economy. Our success as a nation relies on our ability to unlock the potential of industry to create high-paid, lasting jobs,” Minister Andrews said.
“By harnessing our world-class science and technology in fields like AI, robotics and automation, we can open up new markets and take more of our products to the world. Wildcat is an example of the sort of technology we need to get behind.
“Initiatives like CSIRO’s Early Adopter Program have the potential to help small and medium-sized businesses to create new value, enhance productivity and grow more high-paid jobs to boost recovery.”
CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall says the COVID-19 pandemic presents a “moment in time” for small businesses to ride the digital transformation momentum.
"At this pivotal time in our history, the inclination is to batten down the hatches and postpone investments, when actually small business who double down on innovation can be part of driving our recovery from this pandemic-led recession and land us back in a much stronger position," Dr Marshall said.
"COVID-19 has disrupted every element of our lives, and while the devastating loss of life can’t be understated, we have an opportunity to determine the new kind of Australian economy we want to emerge from this crisis – one driven by innovation.
"Just as science and technology have been guiding our health and emergency response, so too will they drive our economic response and recovery from this pandemic."
Dr Jon Whittle, Director of CSIRO’s Data61, says the new EAP program was aimed at accelerating technology adoption in SMEs by providing new technologies that are easily adoptable, translatable and reasonably priced to deliver fast return on investment.
“The Early Adopter Program is about getting new technology into the hands of industry as early as possible so they can trial, tweak, and ultimately create new value for their business,” Dr Whittle says.
“Industry 4.0 automation technologies like Wildcat will play a particularly important role in enabling the digital transformation of industries. We’re seeing our partners create new value by using Wildcat to improve their understanding of different environments from irrigation systems, to mines, to bushfire fuel loads.
“The technology can map, navigate and create digital replicas of systems and places, which helps to inform planning and can lead to better ways of doing things. It’s this kind of adoption of next generation technology that will help businesses create a competitive advantage.”
Wildcat is a next-generation 3D SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) software system. The system is being used by a team of CSIRO scientists competing in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge, an international competition for autonomous systems, funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The team came out in fourth place against a field of international robotics experts in the Urban Circuit in February 2020 and is the only Australian entity participating in the challenge.
Fred Pauling, Wildcat Technologies Lead at CSIRO’s Data61, says making Wildcat more accessible to small and medium businesses in industries like mining, construction, agriculture, and defence, offers immense opportunities to improve safety and productivity.
“These industries are increasingly deploying robots to navigate complex and unstructured environments where there are no GPS systems or pre-existing maps,” says Mr Pauling.
“While there are some commercially available options, none meet the needs of industry or directly support the operation of these robots.
“Through this project, we’re already seeing the benefits from early adopters like Emesent, which is using Wildcat to map mines. We’re looking forward to seeing how other companies involved in the program will adapt the technology to enhance the way they work.”
Developed by former researchers from CSIRO’s Data61, Emesent’s world-leading Hovermap technology automates the collection of valuable data in underground areas too dangerous or difficult for people to survey or navigate, such as stopes or ore passes in mines.
The Early Adopter Program builds on CSIRO’s mission-driven focus to power small and medium-size enterprise growth in Australia by improving access to research and development (R&D).
Small and medium enterprises interested in learning more about EAP, or the range of SME services offered by CSIRO, should contact EnquiriesTeam@csiro.au