Conroy spruiks Govt commitment to ICT innovation

NICTA research excites minister.

Senator Stephen Conroy has spruiked the Rudd Government's commitment to funding ICT innovation during TechFest, an event showcasing Australian ICT research projects.

Speaking at TechFest in Canberra last week, Senator Conroy - the minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy - said unlike its predecessors, the Rudd Government believed that merely becoming efficient early adopters of technology wasn't enough.

"It's not overstating the case at all to say that fundamental advances in ICT lead to much greater advances in all sectors of the Australian economy," he said.

"In the ICT Context, success can be hard to measure -- these are often enabling systems, and do not always show up in economic reports. But we see the benefits of ICT all around us in our increasingly digital world. [ICT research] is going to guarantee Australia's economic wealth and security in the future."

Around a dozen research projects from National ICT Australia [NICTA] were displayed at this year's Techfest, which was the fourth such event NICTA has hosted.

One such innovation presented was the Body Area Networks for Embedded Systems for Humans [BANESH] project, which offers major potential for revolutionising health systems.

The BANESH project consists of a series of 5mm square chips which can be embedded into the patients' skin. The chips monitor local information such as temperature and pulse rate and communicate with each other wirelessly.

Eventually these chips, which are to be the size of an M&M chocolate, could be used to provide detailed and up-to-date medical information to a doctor at the push of a button.

The challenge to the NICTA researchers involved is allowing the chips to communicate through what they call a "body-area network".

"The human body is a difficult transmission medium," says project researcher David Smith.

The difficulty is developing a network which is powerful enough to transmit through the body, but runs at very low power, ensuring it exudes far less radiation than Bluetooth or WiFi.

One project of particular relevance to Australia was a closed-loop irrigation system which uses censors at surface level or buried up to 80cm underground to detect soil water levels.

The system will use the collated data to turn on irrigation systems only when necessary, and irrigate the soil to optimal levels.

Four such systems are being piloted in dairy farms, a brewery and an orchard spread across Australia. The systems are run remotely across Telstra's NextG mobile network.

The project is in its third year of development. Researcher Anthony Overmars says this year the project is starting to see very impressive results.

While the researchers don't yet have any figures on the potential water savings, farms using the automated system ran just 17 irrigation events in the same period as a control group of farms that ran 20. This could translate to significant water savings countrywide.

Conroy said he was very pleased with the innovations on display at TechFest this year, stating that it showed that the government's $385 million investment in NICTA over 10 years was "clearly paying off... and certainly money well spent".

"TechFest gives us a glimpse into the future, but importantly it's not a far, distant future," he said.

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Dylan Bushell-Embling

Computerworld
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