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Australian Researchers to Develop AI For Geospatial Intelligence

Image Credits: UOW, Press Release

University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers will share in $1.2 million in funding as part of a Federal Government program to strengthen Australia’s critical geospatial intelligence capabilities. Associate Professor Son Lam Phung, Senior Professor Salim Bouzerdoum, and Dr Fok Hing Chi Tivive, from UOW’s School of Electrical, Computer and Telecommunications Engineering, will lead the project – ‘What vessel is that?’ – to develop a machine learning tool that can detect and classify ocean vessels from satellite synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) imagery.

Machine learning is a part of artificial intelligence in which computers learn to perform tasks by discovering patterns and decision rules directly from data. The idea of this project is to develop a tool that can detect and quickly differentiate a fishing boat from a patrol boat, for example, or a military ship from a cargo vessel.

Professor Phung said that there has been an increasing interest in maritime surveillance to counter illegal fishing and maintain maritime rights and interests. Operating surveillance drones is not sufficient alone. By contrast, satellite SAR can acquire images at a larger scale for vessel detection. Detecting vessels in SAR images is challenging because of the complex background, high noise, varying target sizes, and high dynamic range of SAR images. For this project, recent advances in deep learning will be leveraged to process large-scale SAR images for vessel detection and classification.

The funding is through the Analytics Labs Program of the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO) in the Department of Defence and coordinated by FrontierSI, a research centre with expertise in spatial information technologies.

The $1.2 million programme is designed to improve the AGO’s understanding of the modern machine analytics capabilities developed by industry while raising industry awareness of AGO’s current and emerging challenges.

The project will also involve postdoctoral researcher Thanh Le and several PhD students (including Hieu Phan and Ly Bui). Hence, it helps train the next generation of researchers with skills in AI and machine learning to address defence and security needs.

Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price congratulated the successful applicants, saying their proposals demonstrated the immense value that could be realised when Defence and Australia’s defence industry team up to overcome key challenges.

Australia has a thriving Space economy, projected to grow from $3.9 billion in 2001 to $12 billion by 2030, thus, creating 20,000 new jobs. The country also has had a very long history in Space. The Australian Government has invested more than $700 million in the civil space programme.

The Executive Director, Engagement and Industry Growth, Australian Space Agency stated that Australia has many unique advantages, from its geographical position in the southern hemisphere to its wide-open spaces and relatively low light pollution, to its expertise in satellite data applications. International partnerships are being pursued to grow their own capability to be responsible global citizens and inspire all Australians. The Australian space sector is defined as a set of space-related activities along the space value chain and is part of the broader space economy.

All actors (private, public and academic) participating in the production, operation, supply and enablement activities that form the space value chain are part of the space sector. Space value chain segments broadly include Manufacturing and core inputs (Ground and Space segment manufacturing and services); space operations; space applications; and enablers (such as regulation and essential service delivery, infrastructure and capabilities, research, development and engineering, and specialised support services).

While the space sector captures the provision of space-related goods, services and applications to broader industries, it does not include subsequent non-space (value-adding) activities that are enabled by space activities (such as food grown using precision agriculture techniques). These flow-on activities are captured by the broader space economy.

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