This has been a great year for the Centre. Our profile, nationally and internationally, continues to rise – driven by our scientific output, widespread engagement in various communities and significant accolades.
In September, our funding agency, the Australian Research Council (ARC), conducted a mid-term review of our Centre. We are proud of the results and feedback received, and that our funding will continue through to the end of 2020. We are also pleased to welcome a new partner to the Centre, The University of Toronto, Canada. Australia can learn a lot from the emergence of robotics in Canada. We are both large countries with small population densities and the Canadian government is strategically investing in robotics and Artificial Intelligence to good effect.
In our 2016 report, I projected 2017 as the year our research would get real traction, and thanks to the focus and commitment of our researchers, our professional staff and our partners, we have been able to deliver on these expectations.
Prior to our mid-term review, the international standing of our research was assessed by independent reviewer Professor Henrik Christensen from UC San Diego, an expert in the field of robotics and vision. He stated in his review that, “The number of publications in high impact archival journals and at the best scientific conferences is very impressive. In particular in the robotics field there is a clear recognition of the brand/ identity provided by the Centre.” Professor Christensen went on to say, “The research performed by the Centre is of a very high quality. The research is published at the best conferences (ECCV, ICCV, CVPR, ICRA, IROS and RSS) and there is a good transition to publications in archival journals. Slowly joint publications, across participating institutions, are emerging from the Centre. There is no doubt the research is disseminated very well to the broader science community.”
We have worked hard since our inception to create an environment that supports our people, and enables high-quality research and innovation. Our culture encourages collaboration and communication, exploring challenges from all sides and perspectives to find transformational solutions, and developing knowledge leaders for industry and academia.
Gender Diversity is one imbalance we are addressing in our field. We have been working to encourage more women to engage academically and professionally in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
At our annual conference we launched our Robotic Vision Gender Equity Plan (available on our website) and are fortunate to have a number of great role models in this area (see Gender Diversity p. 70).
I am keenly aware of the challenges we face in competing for talent, attracting high-calibre researchers and retaining them in our team. We know that a strong and supportive culture is an important strategy to address these challenges.
The “Integrate” component of our Centre’s strategy is about bringing the disciplines of robotics and computer vision together to create new robotic vision technologies.
An example of our Integrate approach was our win at the Amazon Robotics Challenge. We integrated several novel centre-developed technologies to the problem of robot picking. These included an innovative few-shot learning approach, a novel robot, and a very effective dual-mode grasping tool.
We integrate people and organisations as we strive to build a critical mass of robotic vision capability within the Centre. We also endeavour to create international networks and reputation by building an international research community in this new area.
We continued our industry engagement activities in 2017, through conferences, partnerships and exchange opportunities.
We worked with specialist communications consultants, STEMmatters, on a year-long media campaign. With 60 releases contributing to more than 181 media articles we promoted the Centre, our researchers and our work to a wide audience.
Dr Rodney Brooks, CTO of ReThink Robotics visited our QUT node while in Brisbane for the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. Professor Ron Arkin, from our research partner, Georgia Tech in the US, spent a sabbatical at QUT from July to September. Our ANU node hosted Professor Gregory Chirikjian from John Hopkins University and Dr Guillermo Gallego from ETH Zurich. Monash University welcomed Professor Anthony O’Neill from Newcastle University. Our University of Adelaide node hosted Professor Stefan Roth from TU Darmstadt and a visit from the Hon. Christopher Pyne MP, as the Minister for the Defence Industry.
We have hosted many high-school visits and, at QUT, we created an interactive digital game CODE-A-BOT and participated in Robotronica, a biennial robotics festival, which gives the general public the chance to learn more about robotics. 2017 also saw the launch of the Robot Academy, a platform to deliver robotics education to the world.
Public engagement is increasingly important as misinformation, uncertainty and concern about technology in general, but robotics, AI and automation in particular, continues to grow. Our strategy is to engage with everybody we can: primary school students, business owners, visiting politicians, academics and enthusiasts. We share with them our work, our vision for the future and how they can be a part of the journey to create robots that see for the benefit of all.
2017 saw the launch of our first two start-ups, Nuarda and AlphaOne.AI.
Start-ups are an important alternative means to transfer our research outcomes into the market place and create transformational change in the real world. Centre researchers are leading an international collaboration that is creating a new class of medical robotics that will make keyhole surgery safer. This new robotic imaging system makes it easier for surgeons to see inside the tiny spaces in the human body, allowing them to visualise soft tissue in real time and in 3D, and ultimately delivering better results for the patients (see p.18).
THE YEAR AHEAD
We are well-placed as the world leader in robotic vision and the coming year is about building on this foundation. Our work to the end of 2020 will be focussed on tangible applications of robotic vision.
We have incorporated feedback from our 2017 reviews into our project portfolio, changing the way we operate to achieve increased impact.
Next year we will complete, and launch, Australia’s first national roadmap for robotics and computer vision. We are also heavily involved in the organisation of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA). The conference will be held in Brisbane in May 2018 – the first time ever in the southern hemisphere – and should attract over 2,500 top international robotics researchers.
Thank you to all our colleagues – within the Centre and beyond - for your contributions to ensure the Centre achieves impact. We are scaling into an enterprise that is delivering on our mission to develop new robotic technologies that expand the capabilities of robots. We must ensure these technologies continue to positively contribute to the sustainable well-being of people and the environments we all live in.