February 29, 2024

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Australia: UOW’s Drive to Secure UAV Tech

A research initiative spearheaded by the University of Wollongong (UOW) has secured a substantial grant of AU$445,000 under the Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Projects Scheme. The primary focus of this project is to enhance the security protocols for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, in the face of potential adversarial machine-learning attacks. The funding underscores the significance of safeguarding critical and emerging technologies, aligning with the strategic vision of the Australian Government.

Heading the project is Distinguished Professor Willy Susilo, an internationally recognised authority in the realms of cyber security and cryptography. Professor Susilo, expressing the overarching goal of the research, emphasised the deployment of innovative methodologies to fortify UAV systems against adversarial exploits targeting vulnerabilities within machine learning models.

Collaborating on this ambitious endeavour are distinguished researchers from the UOW Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences. The team comprises Associate Professor Jun Yan, Professor Son Lam Phung, Dr Yannan Li, Associate Professor Yang-Wai (Casey) Chow, and Professor Jun Shen. Collectively, their expertise spans various domains essential to the comprehensive understanding and mitigation of cyber threats posed to UAVs.

Highlighting the broader implications of the project, Professor Susilo underscored the pivotal role UAV-related technologies play in contributing to Australia’s economic, environmental, and societal well-being. From facilitating logistics and environmental monitoring to revolutionising smart farming and disaster management, the potential benefits are vast. However, a significant hurdle lies in the vulnerability of machine learning models embedded in UAV systems to adversarial attacks, impeding their widespread adoption across industries.

The project’s core objective revolves around developing robust defences tailored to UAV systems, effectively shielding them from adversarial machine-learning attacks. The research team aims to scrutinise various attack vectors on UAVs and subsequently devise countermeasures to neutralise these threats. By doing so, they anticipate a substantial improvement in the security posture of UAV systems, thus fostering increased reliability in their application for transport and logistics services.

Professor Susilo emphasised that the enhanced security measures resulting from this research would play a pivotal role in bolstering the widespread adoption of UAVs, particularly in supporting both urban and regional communities. This is particularly pertinent given the multifaceted advantages UAVs offer, ranging from efficiency in logistics to rapid response capabilities in disaster management scenarios.

The significance of the project extends beyond academic realms, with Deloitte Access Economics projecting profound economic and employment impacts. The Australian UAV industry is expected to generate a substantial 5,500 new jobs annually, contributing significantly to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product with an estimated increase of AU$14.5 billion by 2040. Additionally, the research outcomes are anticipated to yield cost savings of AU$9.3 billion across various sectors.

The ARC Linkage Program, which serves as the backbone for this collaborative initiative, actively promotes partnerships between higher education institutions and other entities within the research and innovation ecosystem. Noteworthy partners in this venture include Sky Shine Innovation, Hover UAV, Charles Sturt University, and the University of Southern Queensland, collectively contributing to the multidimensional expertise required for the project’s success.

The UOW-led project represents a concerted effort to fortify the foundations of UAV technology by addressing critical vulnerabilities posed by adversarial machine-learning attacks. Beyond the academic realm, the outcomes of this research hold the promise of reshaping Australia’s technological landscape, ushering in an era of increased reliability, economic growth, and job creation within the burgeoning UAV industry.


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