Letting robots boldly go forth

TECHNOLOGY that can help robots map dangerous environments such as underground mine workings has been made available to Australian small to medium-sized enterprises.
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Emesent is using the Wildcat technology to help it map underground mines.

Known as Wildcat, the technology can help boost safety and productivity for companies in mining, agriculture and defence that rely on robots to navigate complex and unstructured environments where there are no global positioning systems or pre-existing maps.

Developed by the CSIRO's data and digital specialist Data61 Wildcat is being trialled by commercial partners including CSIRO spinoff Emesent, BIA5, Automap, Strategic Elements subsidiary Stealth Technology, and Geoslam in the UK.

It is a three-dimensional simultaneous localisation and mapping software.

The system is being used by a team of CSIRO scientists competing in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge, an international competition for autonomous systems funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The team came fourth in a field of international robotics experts in the Urban Circuit in February.

Making the technology available is part of  Data61's Early Adopter Program, which aims to make low cost, easily adoptable technologies available to SMEs in a range of sectors including mining to trial and integrate into their business.

Data61 director Dr Jon Whittle said the EAP was aimed at accelerating technology adoption in SMEs by providing technologies that were easily adoptable, translatable and reasonably priced to deliver a fast return on investment.

"Industry 4.0 automation technologies such as Wildcat will play a particularly important role in enabling the digital transformation of industries," he said.

"We're seeing our partners create new value by using Wildcat to improve their understanding of different environments from irrigation systems, to mines, to bushfire fuel loads.

"The technology can map, navigate and create digital replicas of systems and places, which helps inform planning and can lead to better ways of doing things.

"It's this kind of adoption of next generation technology that will help businesses create a competitive advantage."

Data61 Wildcat Technologies lead Fred Pauling said making Wildcat more accessible to SMEs in mining offered opportunities to improve safety and productivity.

"These industries are increasingly deploying robots to navigate complex and unstructured environments where there are no GPS systems or pre-existing maps," he said.

"Through this project we're already seeing the benefits from early adopters such as Emesent, which is using Wildcat to map mines."

Federal industry, science and technology minister Karen Andrews said the nation's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic was largely dependent on Australia's ability to develop and harness technology.

"By harnessing our world-class science and technology in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics and automation we can open up new markets and take more of our products to the world," she said.

"Wildcat is an example of the sort of technology we need to get behind."