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Australia’s science agency unveils mapping tech for SMEs

The digital specialist arm of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has developed a mapping system to help robots navigate dangerous and complex terrain

Australia’s national science agency has developed a mapping technology that will help robots navigate dangerous and complex environments such as underground tunnels without the use of GPS.

Dubbed Wildcat, the simultaneous localisation and mapping (Slam) was developed by Data61, the digital specialist arm of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

It is part of a broader push by Data61 to make low-cost, easily adoptable technologies available for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in a range of sectors to trial and integrate into their business under an early adopter programme (EAP).

Wildcat is already being tested by commercial partners in Australia including Emesent, BIA5, AutoMap, Strategic Elements’ subsidiary Stealth Technologies, as well as GeoSlam in the UK.

Fred Pauling, technology lead for Wildcat at Data61, said making Wildcat more accessible to SMEs in industries like mining, construction, agriculture, and defence, will help to improve safety and productivity.

“While there are some commercially available options, none meet the needs of industry or directly support the operation of these robots,” said Pauling.

“Through this project, we are 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.”

Harnessing technology

Karen Andrews, Australia’s minister for industry, science and technology, said that the nation’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic was largely dependent on Australia’s ability to develop and harness technology.

“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,” she said.

“By harnessing our world-class science and technology in fields like artificial intelligence, 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 programme 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,” said Andrews.

Read more about AI and robotics in ANZ

CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said the pandemic presented 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,” said Marshall.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Jon Whittle, director of Data61, said industry 4.0 technologies like Wildcat will play an important role in enabling the digital transformation of industries.

“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,” he said. “It is this kind of adoption of next generation technology that will help businesses create a competitive advantage.”

A team of CSIRO scientists has used Wildcard to compete 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.

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