Field robotics wins Clunies Ross award

22 May 2009

Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, director of the Australian Centre for Field Robotics in the Faculty of Engineering and IT, received his award for his critical role in raising the visibility of Australian robotics in government, industry, academia and the community.

The prize is awarded to Australia's pre-eminent scientists and technologists, and recognises researchers who have bridged the gap between research and the marketplace.

Professor Durrant-Whyte is credited with helping to move robots beyond traditional uses in the defence and processing industries into civilian applications such as in agriculture and environmental management with robot helicopters and submarines.

"Australia is the ideal place to do field robotics. It's big, empty, has a small population, it relies a lot on its primary industries. If you were to pick one place in the world to do field robotics, it would be Australia," Professor Durrant-Whyte said.

"Robotics has traditionally been focused on the military or processing industries, but our Australian efforts are leveraging off that early research for environmental and agricultural applications," said Professor Durrant-Whyte, who is a leading national and international figure in the research, development and commercial exploitation of robotics systems.

Professor Durrant-Whyte pioneered the field of autonomous navigation. He was also the originator of the Simultaneous Location and Mapping (SLAM) method, which allows a robot vehicle to be 'dropped' into an unknown environment and to incrementally map the environment and use that map to navigate the environment - perhaps the single most important step in achieving robot autonomy.

"My team hasn't worked on factory robotics for 10 years but is kept very busy with a growing number of Australian and overseas partners willing to think about the exciting applications for robots in autonomous vehicle navigation, and using robots to carry out useful work after making sense of data collected in the field."

We're working on a wide range of non-traditional robotic applications such as autonomous tractors; using unmanned helicopters for the detection and spraying of aquatic weeds, tracking of locust swarms, bushfire fighting and crop health monitoring; using unmanned submarines in underwater surveying; and deploying robots in environments less than safe or healthy for humans."

Contact: Rodica-Maria Popp

Phone: 02 9351 6575

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