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Defence & Security | Technology

How to not get lost in a rabbit hole of defence innovation research

7 Aug 2023, by Amy Sarcevic

From warfare systems, to combat simulation, to threat evaluation, technologies like AI and virtual reality are promising a wealth of potential use cases in Defence. So much so, that it is easy for academics to get lost in a ‘rabbit-hole’ of defence innovation research.

But for Matt Opie, Director of Defence & Space at the University of South Australia (UniSA), prospecting studies is a straightforward task, given his close-knit ties with end-users.

He says “research for research’s sake” is something all academics in the defence realm should avoid; and that catering to genuine end-user pain-points is the answer.

“At UniSA, we like to do research that delivers a capability to defence customers. Whether it’s the Australian government, Department of Defence, or our allies, we make sure that we are servicing them properly, by delivering exactly what they need.

“To do this, it is really important to speak with end-users in person and understand what it happening on the ground. Equally, to liaise with primes and SMEs, who are known for their expertise in product development, risk and project management,” he said.

Thanks to his strong industry relationships, research at UniSA also typically meets an industry-grade technology-readiness level (TRL) of around 4-6, unlike much of the academic sector which operates at the lower end of the TRL scale.

He and his team recently worked with the likes of BAE Systems, Saab and Lockheed Martin to support a range of high TRL military solutions. These include a test and evaluation model for planning an architecture optimisation; and a tool that integrates tactical and physiological data to improve command decision making. His industry partnerships are also mutually beneficial, with the likes of Nova Systems giving specialist lectures at the university.

The consultation work is particularly useful in the realm of human centred design, Matt said.

“We have consulted with defence forces around the word, specifically navies, to better understand human machine interface and other human factors, such as fatigue. These conversations have informed our work in redesigning internal submarine spaces.”

More broadly, a collaboration with the Defence Science and Technology Group has helped Matt and colleagues define and implement an AI research strategy for defence.

The UniSA initiative engaged institutions to draw out the best AI use cases and an industry/academic advisory panel then evaluated any new direction taken with the technology.

“We don’t want researchers heading down rabbit holes that aren’t relevant to defence, so this helps them deliver good results in terms of research,” Matt said.

While the university now has a well-established partnership portfolio, Matt says there is still a need for ongoing engagement. He says this was his impetus for getting involved in the Australian Defence Magazine (ADM) event series, particularly the upcoming ADM Defence Industry Research Symposium.

“Defence innovation is an ecosystem that comprises three members. Without contribution from academia, industry and defence, the entire system struggles. It is important we don’t get complacent and continue our engagement across the ecosystem,” he said.

Matt Opie played a key role in organising the ADM Defence Industry Research Symposium, hosted by Informa Connect.

Headline speakers include Hon Susan Close MP, Deputy Premier and Minister for Defence and Space Industries, South Australia; MAJGEN Jason Walk, Commander Joint Logistics, Australian Defence Force; and COL Tim Orders, Deputy Commander 9th Brigade, Australian Army.

This year’s event will be held August 8 at the National Wine Centre of Australia, Adelaide.

Learn more and register your place here.

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