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Saturday, November 19, 2005

IT plan takes flight again

The Mercury: IT plan takes flight again [20nov05]

THE CSIRO is promising Tasmania everything from unmanned aircraft to jobs and millions of dollars in investment.

Australia's major science research organisation has bought into the embattled Intelligent Island program.

It wants to expand its existing $40 million Information Technology centre.

The CSIRO wants about $15 million of the $30 million Intelligent Island funds which remain unallocated and yet to be spent.

The Intelligent Island funds were from the first part-sale of Telstra and were earmarked for Tasmania to develop its fledgling IT industry. The Intelligent Island program fizzled after a series of bungled attempts to create a bioinformatics and health informatics centre of excellence.






CSIRO IT centre business manager Gary Doherty said his organisation would bring $15 million of its own research money to the table to create a $30 million centre in Tasmania. The investment would be over five years.

Mr Doherty also promised 40 jobs, including 10 Phd positions, and a start date in a matter of months.

"We want to bring our IP [intellectual property] and do applied research and transfer this to individual players," Mr Doherty said. "This will not be some Ivory Tower centre of excellence, this will be applied research involving the local industry."

The CSIRO has been negotiating with the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services and plans to approach the Tasmanian forest industry, Aurora and Hydro Tasmania.

Mr Doherty said the focus of the CSIRO expansion had not been decided.

"That's a matter for government and industry to decide," Mr Doherty said. "It's not that we're short of ideas, we have plenty, there are many options."

Mr Doherty said the centre would probably focus on two research areas, with resources divided 70:30.

A major possibility was a focus on IT in health care for an ageing population.

The CSIRO already has patents in the area of hi-tech personal monitoring systems.

The monitoring systems are designed to keep elderly people in their own homes and out of hospital until necessary.

"There's a real public good aspect to this and also aged care is a rapidly growing market," Mr Doherty said.

"This technology could keep people in the comfort of their own homes for longer and also keep hospitals free of people who do not need to be there."

He said the CSIRO's monitoring IP needed to be applied and developed to specific applications and taken to market. That was where Tasmania's local industry came in, he said.

The CSIRO has been in discussions with the DHHS about data-linking technology to connect cancer databases.

"Tasmania's DHHS is one of the most complicated health departments in the country with the inclusion of housing services."

The CSIRO had patented data analysis tools which would help handle the huge DHHS task.

The CSIRO also had an interest in developing IT in marine sensor networks to monitor and increase production in fishing and agriculture.

Mr Doherty said the CSIRO already had 300 staff in Hobart and invested $35 million a year in the state. Up to 250 of those researchers were in marine science.

"There are some real areas of potential in the ICT [Information and Communications Technology] cluster in marine science in Tasmania," he said.

The CSIRO was also interested in developing a unique unmanned aircraft for application in forestry and hydro power operations.

The CSIRO already has Advanced Unmanned Air Vehicles like unmanned choppers which have artificial intelligence and vision systems technology that combine visible, ultra violet and infra red imaging. The vehicles also have advanced communications and navigation capabilities.

"In Europe forest and plantation management is becoming important and more highly regulated. Unmanned air vehicles monitor, manage and improve forestry productivity."

Mr Doherty said the craft were essentially "flying robots" and had many potential applications.

"CSIRO has the resources, experience and infrastructure to be able to establish a world-class ICT research facility in Tasmania."

He said the centre could be established within months.

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