On 20 April 2021, Army will launch its Quantum Technology Roadmap. The launch will occur during the Quantum Technology Challenge 2021 (QTC 2021) at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre and will include presentations from Australia’s Chief Scientist as well as the Chief Defence Scientist.
Quantum technologies have been identified as having substantial disruptive potential across defence. However, their true capabilities, limitations, countermeasures and most disruptive applications are still being discovered.
Army aims to leverage Australia’s national strength in quantum technology research to gain and retain an early quantum advantage. The Roadmap provides the framework to achieve this through partnering with broader Defence, Australia’s academia and emerging quantum industry, and aligned nations. The Roadmap adds to Army’s accelerating engagement with emerging technologies and evolution, as described in Accelerated Warfare, Army in Motion and Army Objective Force.
Whilst the launch event is restricted to defence personnel and select guests, the Roadmap and a recording of the launch will be published on the Land Power Forum after a short delay on 20 April 2021. To be alerted of the publication and to view the recording, audiences are to register via the website.
QTC 2021 is a key first step in the Roadmap and will see teams of Australia’s world-leading quantum scientists and engineers compete to show how quantum technologies can deliver Army unprecedented capabilities. Pitches from each of the remarkable teams competing in QTC 2021 will be included in the launch recording.
About QTC 2021
The first Army Quantum Technology Challenge (QTC 2021) will be held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on 20 April 2021. The Challenge will see teams of Australia’s world-leading quantum scientists and engineers compete to show how quantum technologies can conceptually deliver Army unprecedented capabilities, including:
- Making the ground transparent: imaging what is hidden subterranean
- Resupplying troops in battle quickly, safely and efficiently: optimisation of large-scale resupply by squads of autonomous uncrewed ground vehicles.
- Denying the enemy secure communications: countermeasures quantum encryption.
QTC 2021 will be the first in a regular series of challenges that will enable Army to leverage Australia’s national strategic strength in quantum technology to rapidly identify the most disruptive and advantageous applications of quantum technologies for the land domain.
Future challenges will respond to opportunities and problems identified by members of Army and the wider quantum technology community.
The challenges are a key component of Army’s Quantum Technology Roadmap, which will also be launched at QTC 2021. The Roadmap also contains plans for the development of the high-value applications and technologies identified by the challenges, focused on Army’s needs. The Roadmap, a recording of the launch and recordings of the pitches by each of the QTC 2021 teams will be published.
The need for quantum technologies
According to an earlier article by Army, quantum technologies exploit the fundamental laws of nature to reach the ultimate limits of sensing, imaging, communications and computing, and thus promise otherwise impossible capabilities.
They are no longer scientific speculation; substantial public and private investments around the world are driving these technologies out of laboratories.
This acceleration will see quantum technologies transform our lives over the next 20 years. This will be even more evident when combined with other emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, space technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. Now is the time that Defence must begin to understand, explore and exploit quantum technologies throughout its operations if it is to gain and retain a quantum advantage.
A new investment from the Government will make Australia home to the world’s largest radio telescope that will put the country at the cutting edge of science and technology research while creating hundreds of new jobs during the construction phase.
The Prime Minister stated that the Government’s $387 million investment to build the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope in Western Australia’s Murchison region would help astronomers learn more about our universe while creating more than 350 jobs during the 10-year construction phase and a further 230 ongoing positions over the 50-year life of the project.
He noted that this $387 million investment highlights that science and advanced manufacturing are at the heart of my government’s National Economic Recovery Plan from the COVID recession. The investment in the construction and operations of the SKA will build our manufacturing capacity within the highly skilled technology sector and enable major scientific breakthroughs to be made right here in Western Australia.
The SKA will help the nation’s scientists make more discoveries. Whether it’s better understanding the origin and future of our stars and galaxies to how gravity works across the universe. The SKA means more jobs for Australia and it puts us in the driver’s seat for scientific discoveries, he added.
The $387 million Budget commitment includes $64.4 million to establish a specialist super-computing centre, to be based in Perth, to process the unprecedented amounts of data that will be generated by the SKA.
The Minister for Industry, Science and Technology said that processing this data onshore would secure opportunities for Australian organisations and scientists to innovate at the cutting edge of computing and modern manufacturing.
He said that modern manufacturing employs tradespeople, engineers and scientists, and is the core of an advanced economy.
“In fact, several Australian companies have already developed and manufactured components for the telescope prototypes and precursor telescopes.
“This new investment will build on our $1.5 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy and be a significant boost to the space sector, which is one of the strategy’s six priority sectors. It will strengthen our efforts to develop cutting edge industries with a global reach,” he added.
As well as creating hundreds of local jobs, the Government’s economic modelling indicates the project will attract an estimated $1.8 billion in foreign income flows into Australia as a result of the SKA’s first 30 years of operations.
“I am very pleased that the development of the SKA in my home state will also benefit local communities. Our funding includes the provision of fibre-optic connectivity to communities near the SKA, which is at CSIRO’s Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory.
“This high-speed connection will support local economic development while reducing radio interference around the telescope,” the Minister added.
The SKA is an international collaboration between 16 member countries, including Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Australia will build and host the low-frequency part of the telescope (SKA-Low), which includes up to 131,072 individual SKA antennas, shaped like Christmas trees. The mid-frequency element (SKA-Mid) will be hosted by South Africa.
Global construction activities are expected to begin in the second half of this year, with work expected to begin in WA from early next year.
An Indigenous Land Use Agreement is currently under negotiation and it will focus on, among other things, the protection of Indigenous heritage.
The Victorian government plans to invest a total of AU$30 million to upgrade and modernise the IT infrastructure of 28 of the state’s hospitals and health services in a bid to guard against further cyber-attacks.
The AU$30 million will be divided amongst hospitals across Melbourne and regional and rural health services. Melbourne hospitals will receive a majority share of nearly AU$22 million, while the remaining AU$8 million will be split between regional and rural health services.
As part of the state government’s Clinical Technology Refresh program, the funding will be used specifically to replace older servers and operating systems with new infrastructure.
The state government touted the new infrastructure will reduce IT outages, improve network speed, support the rollout of Wi-Fi at the bedside of patients, as well as enable the loading and viewing of high-resolution medical imaging, telehealth, and access to clinical support and pathology results from other hospitals.
Victoria’s Minister for Health stated, “We are helping hospitals and health services across Victoria upgrade computers and IT infrastructure to strengthen reliability and cybersecurity. This is about protecting our health services from cyber attacks.”
Last month, surgeries operated by Eastern Health in Victoria were forced to cancel some patient appointments after experiencing a “cyber incident”.
Eastern Health operates the Angliss, Box Hill, Healesville, and Maroondah hospitals, and has many more facilities under management. In a statement, Eastern Health said it took many of its systems offline in response to the incident.
The statement noted that many Eastern Health IT systems have been taken off-line as a precaution while we seek to understand and rectify the situation. It is important to note, patient safety has not been compromised, it added.
Back in 2019, a similar incident affecting Victoria’s hospitals occurred, which resulted in them disconnecting themselves from the internet in an attempt to quarantine a ransomware infection.
At the time, the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet revealed the impacted hospitals were in the Gippsland Health Alliance and the South West Alliance of Rural Health.
The incident occurred shortly after the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) labelled the state’s public health system as highly vulnerable to cyber attacks, with a report flagging that security weaknesses within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) own technology arm are increasing the likelihood of a breach in 61% of the state’s health services.
“There are key weaknesses in health services’ physical security, and in their logical security, which covers password management and other user access controls,” VAGO had written. “Staff awareness of data security is low, which increases the likelihood of success of social engineering techniques such as phishing or tailgating into corporate areas where ICT infrastructure and servers may be located.”
In its audit, VAGO probed three health providers and examined how two different areas of the DHHS – the Digital Health branch and Health Technology Solution – provide health services in the state.
In probing the health services, VAGO said it was also able to access accounts, including admin ones, using “basic hacking tools”. The accounts had weak passwords and no MFA.
The report said that all the audited health services need to do more to protect patient data. It also found that health services do not have appropriate governance and policy frameworks to support data security.
Researchers at UniSA’s Future Industries Institute have developed a promising new process that could eliminate water stress for millions of people, including those living in many of the planet’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. A team led by Associate Professor Haolan Xu has refined a technique to derive fresh water from seawater, brackish water, or contaminated water, through highly efficient solar evaporation, delivering enough daily fresh drinking water for a family of four from just one square metre of source water.
At the heart of the system is a highly efficient photothermal structure that sits on the surface of a water source and converts sunlight to heat, focusing energy precisely on the surface to rapidly evaporate the uppermost portion of the liquid. While other researchers have explored similar technology, previous efforts have been hampered by energy loss, with heat passing into the source water and dissipating into the air above.
“Previously many of the experimental photothermal evaporators were basically two dimensional; they were just a flat surface, and they could lose 10 to 20 per cent of solar energy to the bulk water and the surrounding environment,” Dr Xu says. “We have developed a technique that not only prevents any loss of solar energy but actually draws additional energy from the bulk water and surrounding environment, meaning the system operates at 100 per cent efficiency for the solar input and draws up to another 170 per cent energy from the water and environment.”
In contrast to the two-dimensional structures used by other researchers, the team developed a three-dimensional, fin-shaped, heatsink-like evaporator. Their design shifts surplus heat away from the evaporator’s top surfaces (i.e., solar evaporation surface), distributing heat to the fin surface for water evaporation, thus cooling the top evaporation surface and realising zero energy loss during solar evaporation.
This heatsink technique means all surfaces of the evaporator remain at a lower temperature than the surrounding water and air, so additional energy flows from the higher-energy external environment into the lower-energy evaporator.
The team are the first researchers in the world to extract energy from the bulk water during solar evaporation and use it for evaporation, and this has helped their process become efficient enough to deliver between 10 and 20 litres of fresh water per square metre per day.
In addition to its efficiency, the practicality of the system is enhanced by the fact it is built entirely from simple, everyday materials that are low cost, sustainable and easily obtainable.
The main aim of their research was to deliver for practical applications, so the materials we used were just sourced from the hardware store or supermarket, Assoc Prof Xu said. “The only exception is the photothermal materials, but even there we are using a very simple and cost-effective process, and the real advances we have made are with the system design and energy nexus optimisation, not the materials.”
In addition to being easy to construct and easy to deploy, the system is also very easy to maintain, as the design of the photothermal structure prevents salt and other contaminants building up on the evaporator surface. Together, the low cost and easy upkeep mean the system developed by the team could be deployed in situations where other desalination and purification systems would be financially and operationally unviable.
In remote communities with small populations, for example, the infrastructure cost of systems like reverse osmosis often too great to justify. However, the team’s technique could deliver a very low-cost alternative that would be easy to set up and essentially free to run. Moreover, as the system is simple and requires virtually no maintenance, there is no technical expertise needed to keep it running and upkeep costs are minimal.
Assoc Prof Xu stated that the technology has the potential to provide a long-term clean water solution to people and communities who can’t afford other options, and these are the places such solutions are most needed. In addition to drinking water applications, the team is currently exploring a range of other uses for the technology, including treating wastewater in industrial operations.
Federal, state and territory leaders have agreed to create an intergovernmental agreement to facilitate greater data sharing between all levels of government. The plan for the high-level agreement, which is still to be developed, was endorsed at a meeting of the national cabinet on 9 April 2021.
The Prime Minister stated that the national cabinet agreed that jurisdictions will work together to capitalise on the value of public data to achieve better outcomes for Australians. He noted that to achieve this, first ministers [and state and territory premiers] committed to developing an intergovernmental agreement which will be considered at a future national cabinet meeting.
While details are limited, the pact will likely make it easier for federal, state and territory government to share data, building on efforts with health and travel data during Covid-19.
The planned agreement would likely work alongside the Data Availability and Transparency Bill, which is currently before federal parliament. The legislation aims to streamline data sharing between governments and the private sector, overriding some 500 provisions in 175 pieces of existing legislation.
However, it faces calls for amendments from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, Australian Medical Association and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.
The Australian Financial Review is also reporting that the agreement can be expected to lay the foundations for linked-up government services around key life events or journeys.
It means citizens could interact with government services across all tiers using one-stops shops like the federal government’s myGov or the NSW government’s MyServiceNSW.
myGov is already undergoing a major overhaul – for $35 million to date – to align services more closely with life events while offering a personalised view of interactions.
Data sharing has long been a focus of discussion for federal, state and territory digital ministers at the data and digital minister’s meeting.
At the last meeting in February, discussions centred on “how to meet the data needs of decision-makers across jurisdictions, including through better data sharing”.
The communique notes that improved data sharing can boost the economy and lead to better service design and delivery.
One dataset that is advancing the conversation is the national disability data asset, which is paving the way for a federation-wide view of the disability sector.
The asset – which digital ministers agreed to established in September 2019 – incorporates datasets from the federal, NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australian governments. Other areas front of mind for data sharing include emergency services, with the recent commitment to develop a national multi-hazards warning service for natural disasters.
Demand for smart city initiatives rising
Enhanced data sharing capabilities between various governmental levels and departments is key to creating smart cities and a smart nation overall.
An earlier article notes that despite posing significant hurdles to cities worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a wave of innovation that will continue after the crisis, according to research from a global think tank.
The ‘Smart City Solutions for a Riskier World’ study underscores the vital role that technology, data, cybersecurity and public-private partnerships play to ensure a healthy, safe and prosperous future for citizens after the pandemic.
The research, conducted in August and September 2020, included a survey of senior officials from 167 cities across 82 countries, including Asia, North and Latin America, MENA, Europe and Africa. The cities represented 526 million people or 6.8% of the world’s population; 53% of these cities are in emerging markets and 47% in developed countries.
The survey categorises cities based on progress in two categories: progress in applying smart solutions, with cities classified as either ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘leader’; and progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with cities classified as either ‘implementer’, ‘advancer’ or ‘sprinter’. Cities that excelled in both areas were considered Cities 4.0 — hyperconnected cities that are sustainable and well ahead in the use of technology, data and citizen engagement.
For 65% of city officials, the pandemic underscored the importance of smart city programs, while 43% learned the importance of operational continuity and agility. For 37% of city leaders, the pandemic also highlighted the need to invest more in upgrading core infrastructure.
For 88% of city leaders, investing in cloud platforms is urgently needed to deliver critical and non-critical citizen services. The survey also found that 66% of cities are investing heavily in AI, with 80% forecast to do so over the next three years, especially in the area of digital assistants and chatbots. Meanwhile, 30% of cities will invest in digital twins, marking a 300% increase from the 11% currently investing in this technology. Research also indicates that 100% of Cities 4.0 have already invested in cloud; based on reported ROI estimates, the average return on digital infrastructure investments made by Cities 4.0 is 5.74%.
Transport for NSW has enlisted the help of a Sydney-based quantum computing start-up to tackle transport network management and congestion problems across the state’s public transport network. The research project with the University of Sydney’s first quantum spin-off company will investigate ways the technology can be used to “create and manage a more resilient transport network”.
The region’s Transport Minister stated that the partnership was a “rare opportunity” to work with quantum experts to “tackle complex future network management and congestion problems”.
While details on the project are scarce, one of the possibilities being considered is dynamic scheduling, whereby schedules are updated in real-time based on crowding across the network. TfNSW is already using native machine learning technology in the Web Services ecosystem provided by the world’s largest e-commerce platform to predict delays across the network using weather, Opal card and special event data.
The Transport Minister stated, “Future applications… could include mapping all transport modes and crowd movements simultaneously in real-time, and automatically updating the schedule to solve disruption issues. We could see all trains, busses, ferries, trams and motorways essentially ‘talking to each other’ to find out where customers are and deploy resources where needed. It could be used for massive public events, like New Year’s Eve or Vivid Festival.”
Speaking at the launch of NSW’s future transport technology roadmap last month, the quantum tech firm’s Founder stated that the project will involve building a “world-first prototype of a product [called] Fire Opal”.
The Founder said the work would “take all of the capabilities that we have developed and validated on real world-leading quantum computers, and deploy this to give completely new tools to data scientists and analysts at TfNSW”.
“As the industry evolves, and as we cross the threshold of quantum advantage, we find ourselves in a position where TfNSW is in an enviable position of being quantum ready,” he said.
“So right now we’re moving forward with this relationship. We’re very excited to see the way that the government has embraced the role of an enabler of advanced technology.
It was noted that quantum could solve problems that are “endemic” to transport such as when “you get off one mode of transport… [and] you end up waiting for 15 minutes for the next bus because you just missed the bus that was scheduled before.”
Technology’s use to create safer roads is something that the Australian government is looking into. According to another article, Professor Michael Milford, a robotics expert and Acting Director of the QUT Centre for Robotics, believes that high-definition (HD) map creation could be Australia’s chance to lead a core aspect of the autonomous vehicle technology space, supported by government-industry collaboration.
Professor Milford has conducted research projects into mapping for autonomous cars and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to see how autonomous cars could handle Australian roads.
“Map updating is a major challenge to autonomous vehicle adoption everywhere, including Australia, but it’s not yet a mature field globally so there’s [an] opportunity for us to catch up quickly,” he said.
Professor Milford noted that current European mapping solutions don’t recognise unique Australian signs or infrastructure and require customisation. He noted that although widespread autonomous vehicle use is some time away, the primary aim now is to ensure that the digital, physical and regulatory infrastructure is ready to go.
“We need to plan and design technology that is fit for purpose from the very beginning, not shoehorn it in at the very end when we realise the tech doesn’t do what it’s meant to do,” he said.
Collaboration between map creators, localisation services and governments for infrastructure updates and privacy regulation would be the ideal solution. Current maps do not have all the information necessary to be full HD maps or links to information about infrastructure changes. Unless a car knows explicitly about environmental changes like road works, for example, positioning systems will find it hard to work well, he said.
Government notifications around these events could be very important, with Professor Milford adding that meaningful government involvement or oversight is vital due to the significant data and privacy implications of these maps.
While positioning is a core part of the technology offering from autonomous vehicle companies, it may also need improving to provide accurate services in Australia. Professor Milford notes that while current positioning systems work well most of the time, there are failure points, like heavy rain and tunnels, where the technology is not reliable enough.
QUT, which specialises in robotic and autonomous vehicle positioning research, is working with the government and industry on the future of HD maps and investigating the ideal models for government-industry collaboration.
“If we started a staged approach toward this collaborative model now, within two years we would have a working prototype for how information from private map providers, the government, and possibly from vehicles on the road could be shared between all of those key stakeholders to ensure maps are as accurate and up to date as possible,” Professor Milford said.
Immersive virtual reality (VR) technology could help speech pathologists treat communication disorders, according to University of Queensland research.
Dr Atiyeh Vaezipour, from the RECOVER Injury Research Centre, said the results provided a foundation to inform the design, development and implementation of a VR system to be used in the rehabilitation of people with acquired communication disorders.
“Communication disorders can result in significant barriers to everyday life activities, and commonly require long-term rehabilitation,” Dr Vaezipour said. “Traditionally, speech pathologists deliver therapy in places such as hospitals and health centres, where there are limited opportunities for real-life interaction.”
It was noted that VR applications could simulate social communication situations that are difficult to create within the clinic in realistic, personally relevant and safe environments. VR could be used as a rehabilitation tool in communication environments that mimic the richness, complexity and dynamics of everyday situations.
Dr Vaezipour interviewed and surveyed speech pathologists following their use of an immersive VR kitchen environment. Participants in this study were positive about the usefulness of VR and its potential applications to the management of communication disorders within speech-language pathology, she said.
She also noted that speech pathologists considered VR to be a viable option for observation of communication performance in more life-like environments, bridging the gap between communication in the clinic and communication in external environments where distractions are present, such as background noise or visual complexity.
VR could provide valid contexts for people to practise their communication skills, build confidence interacting with others and generalise their communication skills to various environments. Dr Vaezipour said a human-centred design process was critical in developing VR tools for use in clinical practice. “Immersive VR applications will require customisation and adaptation capabilities that enable tailoring to the specific target goals, and physical, cognitive, and communication needs of the client,” she said.
Incorporating human factors from the early stages of design and development could enable the successful adoption of novel technologies in rehabilitation. More evidence-based research to support the use of immersive VR in the management of adult neurogenic communication disorders is critical to enhancing uptake and sustained use by speech pathologists.
The study is published in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation.
The potential of VR in the medical profession
According to another article, virtual reality technology is used in many areas of healthcare, in a variety of applications. These include medical training, for both doctors in training and students, patient treatment, medical marketing, and educating people about a disease or medical condition or process.
Current medical training has shifted from the rote memorisation of facts to imparting skills to use facts to arrive at a proper management strategy when faced with a given patient. This training includes problem-oriented learning, communication skills, and VR-based learning.
Any kind of medical situation can be simulated using VR, to allow the students to deal with it as in real life. This is followed by feedback and debriefing, to allow them to learn from their mistakes, if any. The cheapness of VR systems and the fact that faculty are not required to be present makes access more flexible and broad-based.
VR can be used to help medical professionals visualize the interior of the human body, thus unveiling otherwise inaccessible areas. For one, the dissection of cadavers, which was a norm for every new medical student, has given way to the study of human anatomy via VR.
Computer graphics have made it possible to recreate any part of the body in great detail, with extreme faithfulness to reality. Moreover, training can be offered using scenarios that closely mimic common surgical situations.
The high cost of such VR environments, including the cost of monitors, programming, and the other tools required for such training, may perhaps be offset by including a greater number of students in each program. However, the results are superior, with more accurate knowledge resulting from the use of VR.
The government is helping small to medium-size businesses implement digital solutions that improve productivity, drive growth and create jobs through a new funding program. The Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy launched the $5 million Technology Adoption and Innovation Program, which allows businesses to apply for grants of up to $50,000 for innovative tech projects on 6 April 2021.
The grants fall under one of two funding streams. The first allows small to medium-sized enterprises to partner with a specialised technology provider to improve their productivity and competitiveness. The partnerships may include implementing new e-commerce systems, artificial intelligence or machine learning processes, data analytics, robotics or cybersecurity technology.
The second funding avenue is for companies involved in technology development to create new products and services. Product development could be across areas including micro or nanotechnology, software for business-to-business messaging, fintech applications, healthcare equipment and retail technology.
The government will match contributions from applicants as part of the program, with those applying required to contribute a minimum of $20,000 towards the total cost of projects. The boost is part of the Government’s game-changing investment in boosting the state’s digital infrastructure, capability and skills, thanks to $121 million allocated for innovation initiatives in the Victorian Budget 2020/21.
Applications for the Technology Adoption and Innovation Program are now open and close on Monday, 19 April. For more information and to apply for support through the program interested parties can visit the website.
The Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy stated, “This program will be a catalyst for more Victorian businesses to embark on their own innovative projects, whether they’re implementing technology or developing a new commercial product.”
The government is enabling businesses to capitalise on technology to boost productivity, create new business opportunities and drive economic growth. Initiatives developed with support from this program will really cement Victoria’s position as a leading tech hub in the Asia Pacific, the Minister said.
Victoria’s ICT industry is substantial, generating AU$34 billion in revenue annually and directly employing around 91,300 people. It is internationally competitive, generating exports of around AU$2.5 billion annually.
Melbourne is Australia’s technology hub with more than half of Australia’s top 20 technology companies. Victoria’s ICT industry has over 8,000 companies, including many international firms.
The ICT industry workforce underpins innovation and competitiveness across Victoria’s economy and accounts for approximately 31 per cent of Australia’s ICT workforce. Some of Victoria’s key ICT strengths are in:
• Software development
• Cloud technology
• Digital games
• Mobility technology
• Social networks
• Data analytics
Technology skills and capabilities are foundational to Victoria’s economic growth. In this unique and transformative sector, a continued focus on ICT skills and its ICT workforce is needed to meet current, future and new demand.
In Australia, 93% of businesses have internet access, and 99.6 per cent of these use broadband as their main type of internet connection. 83% of households have access to the internet and of these 93% use broadband. Telecommunication infrastructure was deregulated in Australia in 1992, and the industry is left to market forces.