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Spatially enabling Australia with CRCSI

Dr Peter Woodgate
Dr Peter Woodgate
CEO, Cooperative Research Centre Spatial Information (CRCSI)

CRCSI brings together universities, government organisations and private industry to conduct user-driven research in emerging areas of spatial information. Dr Peter Woodgate tells us about the current projects, educational initiatives and challenges of CRCSI

What are the objectives of Cooperative Research Centre Spatial Information?
The Cooperative Research Centre Spatial Information (CRCSI) is an initiative of the federal government of Australia and it is part of the Cooperative Research Centres programme. Its overall objective is to tackle the challenges of science for the benefit of the nation. It aims to do so by establishing collaboration between the universities, the government and the private sector to do things that these sectors cannot do on an individual basis.

How does this initiative works?
It works in the form of a joint venture. We bring together all the parties, our business venture, an independent board, a commitment of eight and a half years of dedicated funding from the Australian federal government, plus 70 cash partners who sign up for eight and a half years and another 30 partners who are prepared to put in kind. We then form a collaborative research centre which sets out a long term strategic research plan, involving a significant number of PhDs, about 50.

As a collaborative research centre, does it have an affiliation with a certain university?
Before we start a particular project, we usually spend a year or two working closely with our potential partners to identify their needs. We then form a joint venture document which lists down a common set of requirements. This facilitates the partners to work together in a more collaborative way and achieve a better outcome. We have to work closely for a long time with our potential partners before we can secure funding and commitment from the Australian federal government. Once we achieve this, we need to establish certain agreements which then set forth our work during the funding period, which is eight and a half years in our case.

Collaboration is an ideal way of taking the benefit of this technology to the community; however many individual partners like to work in silos, as they have their own legacy issues. How does CRCSI deal with this issue?
There are a lot of legacy issues with the partners but then, this makes the challenge exciting. I’ll illustrate this with one of our key research programmes. Australia wishes to move to a point where it can get a positioning accuracy of 2 centimetres using the existing GNSS technology and the new and emerging systems being developed by other nations. Geographically we are very well placed. With our science we can undertake research which will enable us to take the signals from all these satellites to develop a single processing system which will analyse those signals in real time. It will then offer signal solutions via continuously operating reference stations (CORS) to any individual who wants them. According to our study, there are a large number of end-users for these solutions in the market. In fact, one of our studies has identified that Australia can add AUD 32 billion to its economy over a period of 20 years by providing such services.

What are your current initiatives in terms of major projects? Which specific verticals are you looking at?
I just described one of them, where we were able to develop a new suite of processing algorithms which ingested the complex signals from different satellite systems and analysed them as one. We need new algorithms to do that, we require new interjet inference theory and new means of delivering the outcomes to the end users. For example, there are around 3000-4000 independently operating CORS or base stations across Australia. Most of them are not connected and require a farmer or a land manager to operate them. None of them are experts in positioning technologies which can cost around 10,000-20,000 dollars. Therefore, I suggest that with a combined investment we can put together a single network in Australia, with the ownership resting in either a government model or a public-private partnership model. In this way, there will be no duplication or overlap in our solutions.

Is CRC SI reaching out to nurture young talent? If yes, then how?
We have an objective to bring 50 PhD students through eight research programmes. As we deal with significant technological challenges and create new technical capacity for Australia, we also require new skilled capacity, which will optimise the benefits of these new technologies. This hints at our investment in the PhD students. We will also send these students to CRCSI partners or those who are beneficiaries of the work done by CRCSI.

Is CRCSI looking to provide consultancy services to other countries?
Yes, we are. We have partners in India, China, North America and Europe, who are participating in our research. We have also formed Global Spatial Network, which is an organisation functioning in countries like Canada, China and others. The network will be able to share knowledge more effectively. In this way we are reaching out to the rest of the world.

Does it facilitate only knowledge exchange or does CRCSI provide any kind of consultancy to clients / government departments?
At this stage it is mostly knowledge exchange but we are working through our Global Spatial Network on a few collaborative international projects – we have a project in health, in transport and one in emergency services. With a focus on public welfare, we look forward to receiving international grants to carry out these projects. The combined expertise of all of our organisations offers unique value propositions which are beneficial to the world.