Walking With Dinosaurs: Advanced science recreates ancient past

Dinosaur footprints in red sandstone

Mighty footprints with a view of Gantheaume Point, Broome. These replicas belong to a large carnivorous dinosaur. Image: Matthias Breiter/Minden Pictures/Corbis


On a sandy bank of north-western Australia, a flock of monstrous birds stride about in the shallow water — squishy, silty mud oozes up between their toes. Among their feathered numbers is a Woodstock of droppings, downy feathers, and clashing footprints. These birds are fearsome, toothed, tailed, and not birds at all, but their forebears: theropod dinosaurs, the group that contains the Velociraptor and T. rex.

The muddy sands that these animals walked in is now stone, and their tracks can be found up and down the 100 km stretch of the Dampier Peninsula coastline, also known as the ‘Dinosaur Coast’.

Those three toed bird-like theropod tracks are by no means the only prints around the coast. Some were also left behind by sauropods with feet that were 1.5 metres in diameter — that is 5’. At least 16 different types of dinosaurs left their impressions with thousands of tracks, even some from ghostly species for which there is no other evidence.

To garner all we can about these spectacular fossil tracks, the Walking with Dinosaurs in the Kimberley research project was born, funded through the Australian Research Council Discovery Project scheme. Headed up by Dr Steve Salisbury from The University of Queensland and Associate Professor Jorg Hacker from Airborne Research Australia at Flinders University, the project brings together an array of experienced and skilled groups including two of our researchers: Dr Robert Zlot, head of Robotic Perception, and George Poropat, Senior Principal Research Scientist in our Energy Flagship.

Together with Dr Mike Bosse from ETH, Zurich, the team is working closely with Goolarabooloo Traditional Custodians and Yawuru Native Title holders to help locate and map the tracks.

Our researchers have been helping the palaeontologists by documenting the 130 million year old tracks using sophisticated 3D imaging technology developed here in our Energy and Digital Productivity Flagships. They have also trained the Queensland team to use the equipment for independent expeditions with the resulting data being sent back to our scientists for processing.


The world to Zebedee, one of our 3D imaging technologies. Image captured by Anthony Romilio, data compiled by our researchers.

Since GPS data are imprecise, other more specialised devices and techniques are also required. The highest resolution data are gathered by a modified photomapping technology called Sirovision and extensions to some commercial packages. These data can be used to generate high-quality 3D outputs of the subject providing sub-millimetre scale models of footprints.

On a larger scale, Assoc. Prof. Hacker scans the tracks using a specially equipped low-flying aircraft, soaring just 10 m over the rock platforms. The aircraft captures mapping data (high-resolution photos, video, and lidar imagery) as it flies overhead. The data captured by this aircraft can be georeferenced with those from the Sirovision device, enabling data of different scales and resolutions to be integrated.


Dr Robert Zlot holding Zebedee. Photo: Damian Kelly

And at yet another scale, we have the amazing Zebedee.

Zebedee is a handheld lidar (portmanteau of light-radar) that maps the environment as you walk. You simply meander through a site holding Zebedee as it beams out 2D ‘sheets’ of laser up to 15 metres into the environment. As it does so, it eagerly rocks back and forth on a spring, making those 2D sheets of information overlap again and again to form a dense and accurate 3D map of the environment. Zebedee initially arose from research into 3D mapping for autonomous robots.

Zebedee has been used to map crime scenes, heritage sites, the interior of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and now the footprints of reptiles past.

As well as using our nifty Zebedee, Dr Salisbury and the team have also been using a drone to map the prints from above, a perspective on the animals’ movements impossible from human height.

The tides along the coastline are extreme, at some points drawing back 10 metres down the rock platform before creeping back again. The team must do their work in just a few hours before the tides rise up.

A GIF of the rising tides while the team works. Photos: Steve Salisbury

As well as recreating the tracks with high fidelity, Zebedee and the other tools and techniques are integral for preserving these wonders. The tracks are ephemeral and are constantly being eroded by the relentless sea. “A number of tracks that we have documented last year have disappeared as a result of sand moments during the 2014-15 storm,” said Steve.

The Walking with Dinosaurs project is science at its finest: palaeontological rigour, traditional insight, sophisticated aircraft and imaging equipment. By using these cutting-edge technologies, scientists are simultaneously preserving and recreating an ancient world that would be otherwise unimaginable.

To follow the project, Dr Salisbury (@implexidens) and Dr Romilio (@a_romilio) are on Twitter. For more information about our wonderful Zebedee, check out this page.

Out of the Dark Ages: How solar panels might make blackouts history

#SydneyStorm made it difficult for trees to upkeep their integrity. Our Newcastle solar fields. Picture: Mike Collins.

#SydneyStorm made it difficult for trees to upkeep their integrity. Our Newcastle solar fields. Picture: Mike Collins.

The East Coast Low of April 2015 has been devastating. Lives were lost, countless millions of dollars’ worth of damage and destruction to property was sustained, and hundreds of thousands of homes (along with important infrastructure) lost power.

Thankfully, the water is subsiding and emergency services are turning their focus from rescue missions to the clean-up. At the time of writing, electricity companies are still scrambling to restore power to homes and dozens of traffic lights are not operating in Newcastle and the surrounding areas. We’ve heard stories of barbecue-cooked meals and games of Monopoly by candlelight.

Many CSIRO staff, working from our Energy Centre in Newcastle, have been directly impacted by the extreme weather (author included!). The site itself was at one stage closed due to a loss of power and safety concerns; it’s back operating, but in a limited capacity.

Looking out the window at our solar thermal field, and you can’t help but be struck by the realisation that even the best of us still rely heavily on the central electricity grid.

But for how much longer?

The current model

Existing Australian power grids — in particular the National Electricity Market (NEM) grid — have evolved over the last 60 years. These systems were small in number, but had large and remote generators that provided power at high voltage through a transmission system connected to customers through a lower voltage distribution grid.

This system has one-way power flow; distribution networks divide power from large generators into small quantities for customers. But in natural disasters like the one we’ve just experienced, or during times of peak demand (in the summer months, for instance) the centralised nature of the grid can lead to mass power outages.

The future?

One in seven Australian homes now have solar panels on their roofs — one of the highest rates in the world. This ‘community-based’ approach is known as distributed generation, and it’s set to rise.

Distributed generation infographic

The promises and challenges of a distributed generation (DG) network.

So, could a grid of the future make widespread power outages (like the one we’re currently experiencing) a thing of the past?

According to Dr Sam Behrens, leader of our Demand Side Energy Technologies research group in Newcastle, it’s a definite possibility.

“With the uptake of new technology, we could see more and more individual houses — or even whole new estates — becoming more self-sufficient during these types of events”

“This would undoubtedly lessen the impact of widespread power outages like the one we’re experiencing in Newcastle and surrounds currently.”

This might align with one of the scenarios from our Future Grid Forum, where around one third of consumers disconnect from the grid by 2050. While this is only one of the possibilities, the ability to store energy is the real game-changer under all scenarios for reducing the impact of blackouts.

Leaving the grid scenario

Light years ahead – predictions of energy usage in 2050.

“The technology for storing solar power already exists and although it’s a bit expensive right now, companies like Samsung and Bosch are starting to mass produce these batteries, so I think we’re going to see costs come down dramatically in the next three or four years. It could be on a similar scale to the trend with solar panels, where costs came down one hundred fold in the last 10 years,” said Sam Behrens.

“The growing number of electric vehicles on the road now will also make a contribution, as they can be plugged into the house and used to provide back-up power during outages.”

For those who are in the dark as to what our site in Newcastle looks like/does, here’s a taste tester

Hold on to the Monopoly set for now, but future mass grid defection may be closer than you think.

For more information about our work on a smart, secure energy future, head to our website.

Keeping up with the Joneses: Who has the coolest house in the neighbourhood?

Ever wondered how hot your home gets in summer or how cold it is in winter? Think solar is a good idea but not quite sure if it would work on your roof? Wondering if it’s worth investing in a rainwater tank?

Now with a new interactive tool we helped develop called My Climate, residents of Melbourne’s City of Port Phillip can do their own internet-sleuthing to answer these questions. What’s more, this could kick-start a trend that would see residents around the country taking more responsibility for these types of decisions.

My Climate uses thermal mapping taken from aerial flyovers and seven temporary weather stations to show land surface temperatures, winter heat loss, rainfall and the solar potential of all buildings in the region.

My Climate can show heat loss during Winter.

My Climate displaying heat loss from residential homes.

Working with the City of Port Phillip and Monash University, we originally developed My Climate to inform urban planning decisions. It didn’t take long to realise how useful the data would be to the whole community.

“With this data you can calculate the most appropriate solar system for your home, where it would best be located and how much it could potentially save you in electricity costs and Co2 emissions. You can also measure rainfall and calculate the cost of improving your ceiling insulation,” Port Phillip Mayor Amanda Stevens says.

“If thermal imaging shows your neighbour’s home is cooler than yours, it may mean they have better insulation, or cool air from their air-conditioner is leaking outside the home.

“This easy-to-use tool has the potential to add real value to people’s homes and on a larger scale can help tackle the impacts of climate change.”

Dr Mahesh Prakash and his group from our Digital productivity Flagship helped develop the analytics and software component of the interactive tool. He says his team is now looking to expand My Climate to include other layers of information such as natural hazard hotspots and optimum tree coverage. He would also like to see it rolled out to other Councils.

Explore the My Climate tool on the City of Port Phillip website.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Our hearts beat for you… with about 1.6 Watts.


Solar research makes our hearts beat faster. [Image by Wendy Brian of iHeartGuts.com]

By Tania Ritchie, Valentine’s Day 2013 

Aww. It’s Valentine’s Day today in many countries around the world, meaning the annual bombardment of hearts is upon us again: sugary-sweet hearts, super-sweet hearts, super-sized hearts and even some super-strange hearts. But the iconic curvy ‘love heart’ might have originated from a simplistic drawing of the human heart, which long ago was seen as the place in the body where the soul (and, presumably, romance) lived.

Nowadays, thanks to science, we have much less poetic notions about what the heart actually does (although, to compensate, what we know now is much, much more likely to save your life). We all know, for example, that the heart is the powerhouse that keeps your blood circulating.

So, just for fun, we thought that this Valentine’s Day it’d be fun to compare the power of the human heart to the power we can get from some of the different technologies we’re working at CSIRO.

The power of the heart

We can work out the average power of the heart by multiplying the peak pressure inside the heart (120 mmHg, or 16 kPa) by the rate of blood flow (say about 6 litres per minute, or 0.0001 m3/s). This gives us the magic number we’re going to use for the heart’s power: 1.6 Watts. Over the course of a day, this adds up to an energy output of 140 kJ (or 33 Cal) each day.

So we created a thing called the Heart-o-meter. It shows the power output of some of our energy technologies from our National Energy Centre in Newcastle, in a unit we’re pretty sure we’ve just pioneered here at CSIRO – equivalent human hearts. Aww. Who said science can’t be romantic?


You can see that yesterday the photovoltaic cells in our Virtual Power Station had a power output that equalled, at one point, the total number of people’s hearts in Newcastle. That’s a lot of love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

This article was originally published in February 2013. 

5 ways high-tech light bulbs can brighten up your life

The new misfit light bulb. Source: Misfit

The new Misfit light bulb. Source: Misfit

By Simon Hunter

Last week hundreds of technology companies headed to Las Vegas for the biggest nerd-fest of the year – CES 2015 – to tout their wares and show off the latest and greatest gizmos.

From pilotless drones that follow you wherever you go to cars that you can park using a watch, the Jetsons would have felt very much at home at this year’s event.

Interestingly though, it was one of the oldest innovations that featured most prominently – the humble light bulb. In their quest to create smarter homes, companies have been finding new ways to integrate colour, connectivity and music into bulbs.

Here we take a look at five new types of lights bulbs that are bringing the sexy back into lighting:

1. Lightscapes

Misfit showed off its Bolt bulb which allows you to create different colour combinations and lightscapes around your home using an app on your phone.

2. Sound
Sony showed off a prototype of its Symphonic Light Speaker which has a built in speaker. It allows you to wirelessly control the bulb and stream music through it.

3. Security

The Sengled Snap Bulb goes one step further. They contain a speaker, microphone and a motion sensor allowing you to stream video to your phone and use the bulb as a security device.

4. Movies

Phillips showcased its Hue bulb which can integrate with movies and gaming to create different lighting around the TV screen.

5. Work, rest and play

Definity Digital has designed a range of bulbs, which they say could help you sleep better or be more alert depending on the time of day.

We’re turning on to smart light technology, too. Recently we took a look at how new materials like flexible electronics are influencing the way lights are designed:  check out the Plus Pendant, which is both smart and flexible. We’re also working on smarter ways to use energy in homes and buildings, including heating, cooling and through apps like Opticool which help to manage energy use in big buildings.

Australia should export more ideas and fewer greenhouse emissions

Our solar-concentrating heliostats can be used for several purposes, including creating high-energy ‘SolarGas’

Our solar-concentrating heliostats can be used for several purposes, including creating high-energy ‘SolarGas’.

By Alex Wonhas, Executive Director, Energy and Resources 

As climate negotiators meet at the United Nations’ Lima summit, which comes hot on the heels of the landmark US-China climate deal, there is a renewed focus on how the world can move to a lower-emissions future.

As a global energy superpower, Australia can and should play a significant role in ensuring that its exports contribute as few greenhouse emissions as possible. Exporting ideas, technologies and solutions can play an important part in achieving this outcome.

One of Australia’s great strengths is its vast natural resources. Australia is a global top-three energy exporter; by 2018, it is expected to be the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), the world’s second-largest exporter of coal, and world’s third-largest exporter of uranium.

All of these exports drive economic growth and a higher living standard, not only in Australia but also in our customer countries. According to mainstream forecasts, this growth is set to continue.

Given the impact of our exports on global emissions, there is debate over whether Australia’s responsibility ends at the harbour gate or extends well beyond.

There are widely diverging responses to this question, ranging from proactive support of exports in the name of economic growth, to calls for an end to fossil fuel exports. Whatever your own position, there is one thing that everyone should be able to agree on: the need to accelerate the development and global deployment of cost-competitive, lower-emission energy technologies.

Developing cost-competitive clean energy technologies is no pipe dream. Australia can be proud of its impressive track record in this field. Take, for instance, solar photovoltaic technologies that have been developed at the University of New South Wales and successfully commercialised in China – an Australian invention now underpinning a significant share of the rapidly growing global solar industry.

Australian ingenuity is a great strength of our nation. Yet when it comes to innovations in the energy sector, we can be bolder. We should stop thinking of ourselves as only a minor contributor to a global effort. We should instead play a role that is commensurate with our status as one of the world’s leading exporters of energy.

A prosperous and sustainable future

Based on our own work at CSIRO, I can see no shortage of potential new ideas that could deliver a prosperous and sustainable energy future. Let me give you three examples.

The high levels of air pollution in China, combined with a rising demand for carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery, present a significant opportunity to work with China to develop the next generation of cheaper carbon-capture technologies. Australia has been collaborating with China in this area since 2008, working on the establishment of China’s first post-combustion carbon-capture pilot project. In 2012, Australia helped to launch a second pilot plant that is currently operating in Jilin province, with the capacity to capture 600 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

India is not just focused on buying Australia’s coal – it is also interested in Australian technologies such as “SolarGas”, which uses hi-tech “mirrors” to turn solar heat, water and natural gas into a high-value feedstock for the chemical industry. After the successful trial of a 250 kilowatt system in Australia, CSIRO is now discussing plans to build a pilot-scale SolarGas plant in India, where there is a large chemical industry and plenty of sunshine.

Finally, a technology called DICE — which stands for Direct Injection Carbon Engine — has the potential to significantly reduce emissions from coal-fired power stations. DICE is a high-efficiency diesel engine powered by a coal slurry – a mixture of finely ground coal with water. It has the potential to cut carbon emissions by 20-35% from black coal and by 35-50% from brown coal, compared with technologies currently used in Australia.

Much greater emissions reductions are possible if biomass is used as a feedstock instead of coal. DICE should also be able to respond quickly to fluctuating power demand, making it well suited to supporting the integration of renewable generators into our electricity grids.

Following successful tests in Australia over the past few years, CSIRO has now partnered with the global diesel engine manufacturer MAN Diesel & Turbo to develop the technology on a commercial scale. The next step will be a commercial-scale demonstration in Japan, supported by Australian coal industry. If everything goes to plan, the technology could be commercially available by the end end of this decade.

Unique challenges

These are just three examples of many. Each technology faces its own unique technical and commercial challenges. Not everything will work, but neither will all of these attempts fail. By focusing on a mix of different technologies and approaches, I have no doubt that we will see several new technologies emerge that will help us not only to meet the growing energy needs of humankind, but also mitigate its negative environmental impacts.

New cost-competitive, low-emission technologies will be vital if Australia wants to continue to export fossil fuels. It is therefore in our interest to continue to collaborate with the world so that we can responsibly use these resources.

Frankly, our responsibility does not stop at the harbour gate.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Energy in a flash – what can we do with lightning?

Lightning is one of the scariest forms of energy in nature. What Halloween movie isn’t complete without a sudden thunderous bolt from the heavens right when the bad guy emerges from the shadows?

But lightning isn’t all just theatrics. It also contains a lot of power which, if it could be harnessed, could be of great use. This week’s dramatic electrical storms in Melbourne and Adelaide (storm photo gallery, ABC News) got us thinking… if we could capture lightning, what would we do with it?

*cue maniacal laugh*

In the 1931 film Frankenstein, the eponymous scientist used lightning-like bolts of electricity to create a monster.  In the 1990’s film Back to the Future, Doc used lightning to power his DeLorean to travel in time.

While it is fair to say we’re not quite ready to raise the dead or travel in time, using lightning to power our homes – or even a simple appliance like a toaster – could one day be a possibility.

Tall buildings like The Sydney Tower are regularly hit by lightning. According to recent reports, a million volts can charge through the Sydney Tower’s metal frame countless times per storm. Depending on which reports you read, there are about 500 megajoules in the average bolt.  This could easily power a 1000 watt two-slice toaster for over a year.


Capturing the energy in a lightning bolt has been tried but with limited success. Other ideas have included conducting electricity using rods, or using the energy to heat water which could then be used to generate electricity. This is similar to solar thermal technologies which use the sun to heat water and then generate electricity.

For now, we’d say you’d be mad to try and power your toaster with lightning (unless you like it really burnt); but if we can find an efficient way to capture, store and distribute this energy, then one day it may form a small part of our energy mix.

Learn more about how we’re already harnessing nature’s power to produce energy with supercritical steam.


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