A FIRE engine speeds around a bushfire. A dish antenna on its roof beams high-definition images of the blaze in real time to emergency services headquarters via a satellite 36,000km overhead. Fire strategists in the command centre send orders and detailed maps back to the crew.
This scenario could soon become reality, thanks to technology giving moving vehicles access to telecommunications via satellite at speeds comparable to fibre broadband data transmission.
The broadband communications-on-the-move satellite terminal was developed by John Logan and his team at EM Solutions, of Brisbane, initially for the Australian Defence Force.
But the system, which enables personnel to shift vast amounts of data at high speed while travelling in places lacking traditional wireless communications infrastructure, is already finding emergency services applications.
Logan and his group are finalists in the information and communications technology category of The Australian Innovation Challenge with their system. The awards, which have a total of $70,000 in prizemoney, are run by The Australian in association with Shell and with the support of federal statutory body Innovation Australia. A panel of eminent Australians is judging the awards in seven professional categories and a backyard innovation section open to the public.
Most existing satellite telecommunications systems need to be stationary to lock on to the satellite, says Logan, an engineer and the company’s program manager. But the EM Solutions terminal can talk to new-generation Ka-band geostationary satellites from moving vehicles, ships or aircraft. It has sophisticated electronics to track the satellite and steer the dish so that it always points to the satellite accurately, Logan says.
University of NSW computer scientist Paul Compton and colleagues have advanced to the finals with a method to make more adaptable expert systems – computer systems designed to mimic human experts in making higher order judgments. The Ripple-Down Rules approach is a novel way of adding rules mimicking human decision making to an expert system’s huge database of rules.
“Ripple-Down Rules enables users to very rapidly build a knowledge base, and change it and adapt it as needed,” Compton says.
Thirty per cent of Australian chemical pathology laboratories use the technology to check if a doctor has ordered the appropriate tests and to interpret results, Compton says. The technology is being commercialised by Sydney’s Pacific Knowledge Systems and is being used in pathology labs in the US, Europe and Suth Africa.
University of Sydney physicist Michael Biercuk and his team are in contention for the ICT category prize for breakthrough technology – quantum firmware – that could remove a barrier to the powerful quantum computers of the future. The work has attracted funding from the federal government, the US military and Lockheed Martin. “We’re patenting and protecting our IP with the aim of developing techniques that will underlie future quantum technologies,” Biercuk says.
CSIRO is commercialising breakthrough GPS-like wireless tracking technology that works underground and indoors. The agency has licensed WASP (Wireless Ad-hoc System for Positioning), which is in contention for the ICT category prize, to Perth-based Minetec, for use in technology to enhance safety and lift productivity in underground mines through the tracking of personnel and mobile equipment, WASP team leader Mark Hedley says.
CSIRO also has licensed WASP to Catapult Sports, which is using the system in its technology to track elite sportspeople at indoor and outside venues to enhance their performance, Hedley says.
Min Gu and Xiangping Li, of Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, have made the finals with breakthrough technology that could transform the way vast quantities of digital information are stored in big data centres.
The research could see optical storage technology used in compact discs displacing rival technology presently used in big data centres at the heart of cloud computing and social media, Gu says. Gu and Li are collaborating with manufacturer Anwell on the design of prototypes.
Winners of the challenge will be announced in Canberra on November 28.
Winners of the seven professional categories will receive $5000 and enter the final. The overall winner will receive an additional $25,000. The backyard innovation winner will receive $10,000.