The Sixth Wave Alliance to form a National Robotics Network
Following the initial setup of the Sixth Wave Alliance (SWA) in early 2018, its founding members have been interacting, initiating partnerships and enquiring on the best direction of the alliance as it has become clear that despite the robotics industry in Australia being world-class in some areas, it is highly fragmented and requires a more focussed, collaborative approach to gain visibility and traction within critical Australian industry supply chains.
As interest from other parties grew since the SWA inception, a new meeting was proposed to gather all those interested to discuss SWA’s future direction with a view of it serving as a National Robotics Network.
As a result, over 60 people met face-to-face at CSIRO’s Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies (QCAT) on 27 November 2019 – joined by more than 30 others via web conference – to learn and discuss the creation of an independent National Robotics Network to potentially replace the Sixth Wave Alliance.
Australia-wide and international attendees representing educational & research institutions, government bodies, plus several SMEs and large companies working across research, prototyping, product development, deployment, as well as end-users of robotics and automation technologies participated in the meeting.
According to Dr Sue Keay, Research Director at CSIRO’s Data61, the purpose of the National Robotics Network will be to drive uptake of robotics technology and accelerate the growth of our domestic robotics industry – an advanced manufacturing and technology industry that will design, build, deploy and service advanced robotic systems for domestic and international consumption.
“We see this as an opportunity to provide Australia with new employment opportunities, high-value global skills and capabilities, and technological sovereignty”.
“Our aspiration is to see an Australian robotics industry that will support the strength and competitiveness of our domestic industries; including mining, energy, agriculture, manufacturing, construction, avionics, defence, and many more”, says Dr Keay.
The consensus that Australia has strong robotics and automation capabilities was accompanied by a reflection on the crucial aspects that need to be addressed so that a more rapid adoption of robotics and automation in Australia can take place, namely education, workforce upskilling and job changes, positive narrative around robotics, culture and mindset, skill shortage, remoteness challenges, risk, safety and efficiency gains.
In accounting for these aspects, it is believed that stronger collaboration has the potential to raise Australia’s domestic and international profile in robotics and autonomous systems given its existing capabilities, unique economic and geographic features (resources industry, low population density, remoteness, extreme environments), and a strong demand already in place for these technologies.
With the right mix of stakeholders contributing to a National Robotics Network, Dr Keay says that it is expected that this collective will form a community of people from across Australia who support the development and growth of the Australian robotics ecosystem.
The network will include representatives from industry, research, government, start-ups, investment, education, policy, law, and ethics who are passionate about building a robust and world-class ecosystem for robotics for the greater benefit of Australia.
The network will have four main objectives:
- Promote and facilitate the creation of a robotics manufacturing and technology industry in Australia;
- Support existing Australian robotics and automation companies and encourage collaboration;
- Increase the adoption of robotics technology across Australia, including in SME supply chains;
- Develop and foster a positive social narrative in Australia around robotics.
Whilst the network will have a national focus, it will collaborate with or create state-based representatives who will seed the development of technology clusters and research hubs, in both metropolitan and regional areas. This will support local input into the robotics supply chain.
“A measure of the Network’s success will be the diversity and strength of the Australian Robotics ecosystem and uptake of robotic technology by industry”.
In terms of funding, Dr Keay says that “at this stage, there is no intention for the network to fund research or own intellectual property. There are many other agencies and organisations that do this”.
“The purpose of the network is to grow the industry, create connections and coordinate activities across Australia – connecting industry associations, growth centres and innovation precincts with research associations, transformation hubs, and cooperative research centres”.
The next steps following the meeting are to decide on the structure and governance arrangements required to form the National Robotics Network at a workshop to be held in early February. A full meeting of the network will then be convened later in 2020, as well as workshops across the country, to initiate the second edition of the Robotics Roadmap for Australia.