Defence taps unis for UAV project

James Riley
Editorial Director

The Defence Science and Technology unit will fund a consortium of four local universities to work with counterparts in the US on developing a next-generation of autonomous vehicles for military purposes.

Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price said the University of Melbourne, Macquarie Uni, UNSW and the Queensland University of Technology would join forces with Boston Uni and MIT to develop a truly autonomous vehicle capable of learning and adapting to unexpected situations.

The four Australian universities would share in $3 million to better understand whether the way in which living creatures “receive, process and react” to environmental and contextual information can then be applied to robots “to improve their perception, navigation and spatial awareness.”

The funding comes via the Defence department’s AusMURI program, a sister program to the US-government’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI).

AusMURI, which is funded up to $25 million through the $730 million Next Generation Technologies Fund, was set up to encourage collaboration between Australian and US universities on undertaking research projects on areas of high priority for building future Defence capability.

In addition to strengthening Australian science and technology capability, AusMURI also aims to build communities of practice at the frontier of defence science. A side benefit would ultimately be in early access to supply chains in emerging areas of technology – and to get top-tier Australian talent into defence sector employment after graduation.

The AusMURI program supports Australian universities that are a part of successful bids through the MURI process in the US.

“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,” Minister Price said.

“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,” she said.

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

Meanwhile, Ms Price has also announced funding for eight local universities to conduct additional research into human performance aimed at “enhancing war-fighter capability”.

The new studies would be carried out through the Human Performance Research network (HPRnet), which is managed by DST, also under the Next Generation Technologies Fund.

Defence received 116 university research proposals to its open call in March this year. Nine studies were selected, ranging from cognitive augmentation, nutrition and gut health to the use of augmented reality, team training and resilience.

The successful universities are Flinders University, La Trobe, Macquarie, UNSW, the University of Queensland, Swinburne, Victoria University and Western Sydney University.

A tenth study by Victoria University and University of Melbourne on Assistive Technologies, to be funded by Diggerworks, was selected from fifteen applications, following a separate HPRnet open call. This brings the total number of Australian Universities engaged in the HPRnet projects to fourteen.

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