NSW Government launches $950,000 Smart Sensing Network to tackle some of society’s biggest problems

29 Sep 2016

The NSW Government will invest $700,000 in hi-tech ‘smart sensor’ technologies to help address significant challenges – from the environmental impacts of mining and gas extraction to improving quality of life for our aging population.

The NSW Smart Sensing Network will bring together experts in chemistry, physics, nanotechnology and ICT to craft cutting-edge solutions to problems in agriculture, the environment, healthcare, minerals and resources, and transport.

The network will be headed up by two of the state’s most respected researchers: The University of Sydney’s Professor Ben Eggleton and the University of New South Wales’ Professor Justin Gooding.

The two universities have contributed $125,000 each to establishing the NSSN – bringing total investment in the Network to $950,000.

Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy, Anthony Roberts, said the potential social and economic benefits for NSW are enormous.

“History demonstrates that even seemingly insurmountable problems can be solved, and one of the best ways to do it is by bringing the sharpest minds together and allowing them to collaborate – and that is exactly what this grant will do,” Minister Roberts said.

“New South Wales is home to some exceptional scientists and engineers – and Professor Ben Eggleton and Professor Justin Gooding are two of our very best. Both are Australian Research Council Laureate Fellows, international leaders in their respective fields, and have world-leading research teams and infrastructure under them.

“Led by Ben and Justin, the NSW Smart Sensing Network will come up with innovative solutions to complex challenges across a diverse range of industries – and then there is also huge potential for those state-of-the-art ‘smart sensing’ technologies to be commercialised and exported, generating economic benefits for the State,” he said.

Dr Susan Pond, company director and Adjunct Professor of the University of Sydney, will chair the Network’s Steering Committee.

“This exciting initiative will conduct its work at the cuttingedge of several fields of research and at the interfaces between them. The Steering Committee will provide guidance on the strategic direction of the Network and its projects as well as create linkages between academia, industry and government,” Dr Pond said.

The Network will initially focus its research efforts on five flagship projects, including:
* inexpensive, portable and wirelessly-connected sensors to identify gas emissions in the resources industry
* low-cost, compact optical sensor technologies that can be built into smartphones or other devices to monitor a person’s key vital signs, potentially revolutionising healthcare and aged care
* furthering breakthrough UNSW research to make ion-mobility mass spectrometers, the technology used in security screening at airports, more portable and broaden their scope of application in areas such as the environment and health
* a broad-reaching approach for turning commercially successful glucose biosensors used for diabetes management into sensors to detect proteins of biomedical interest for other diseases
* robust monitors that detect native animals, such as koalas, in their natural habitat – and use data-processing to identify and track species. Such technologies have the potential to transform conservation of native wildlife but could also be used in e-farming. This project would draw on the expertise of Professor Salah Sukkarieh in the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, using data analytics and intelligent systems to develop facial recognition monitors for Koalas for deployment in NSW.

NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, Professor Mary O’Kane, said the establishment of the Network is a good example of the State Government using universities as problem solvers.

“Researchers, when thrown complex applied problems, are good at breaking them down to identify and solve the underlying fundamental problems,” Professor O’Kane said.

“The Network will initially undertake five pilot projects in agriculture, the environment, healthcare, mining and gas extraction, and use the considerable R&D capabilities of our public universities to find innovative chemical and physical sensing solutions to a range of problems.

“By capitalising on the very strong problem-solving abilities of our universities and research organisations we will realise big improvements to our way of life – and that inevitably includes reaping economic wins,” she said.