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Australia-US university consortium to develop nature-inspired AV

Photo Credit: The University of Melbourne

AU$ 3 million funding was awarded to a consortium of universities that will develop the next-generation autonomous vehicles, which are inspired by nature.

According to a recent press release, The University of Melbourne is leading an Australian research consortium alongside US institutions namely Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop the next generation of autonomous vehicles.

Led by Chief Investigator Professor Girish Nair, the team of electrical and biomedical engineers from the University of Melbourne welcomed the AU$ 3 million funding announcement from the Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price.

The Autonomous vehicle initiative

The autonomous capabilities of these next-generation vehicles will be bio-inspired to mimic human or animal movement.

Copying the movement of humans or animals will better allow these vehicles to automatically navigate through uncertain and changing scenarios without GPS or human intervention.

As announced by the Minister recently, the funding will be delivered over three years with the aim of increasing autonomous capabilities.

This is a key priority for the Department of Defence due to the significant safety and efficiency benefits.

In addition, the funding will further the University’s collaboration with partners from Macquarie University, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) shared that their research will allow personnel to better predict the activity and patterns of autonomous vehicles as they relate to human and animal movement.

He added that adaptability is at the forefront of this design.

To help deliver this next-generation technology, the Chief Investigator explained that their team will be building on state-of-the-art techniques in automatic control, neuro-engineering, robotics and signal processing.

They are looking forward to bringing a suite of new biomedical and engineering insights into the principles of navigation, spatial awareness and perception in animals and machines.


The funding was awarded under the AUSMURI program, which a sister program to the US Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI).

The Australia-US Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative Program (AUSMURI) is a nine-year, AU$ 25 million investment program encouraging Australian universities to collaborate with universities in the United States and explore opportunities in designated topics.

It complements the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant program administered by the US Department of Defense.

AUSMURI supports Australian universities which are part of successful bids in the US MURI process.

It is under the Next Generation Technologies Fund and led by the Defence Science and Technology (DST).

The Next Generation Technologies Fund is a new government initiative introduced with the Defence Industry Policy Statement in 2016.

With an investment of AU$ 730 million over the decade to June 2026, the Next Generation Technologies Fund is a forward-looking program focusing on research and development in emerging and future technologies for the “future Defence force after next”.

It is focused on 9 priority areas as determined by the Defence White Paper 2016. These are:

  1. Integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
  2. Space capabilities
  3. Enhanced human performance
  4. Medical countermeasure products
  5. Multi-disciplinary material sciences
  6. Quantum technologies
  7. Trusted autonomous systems
  8. Cyber
  9. Advanced sensors, hypersonics and directed energy capabilities
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