If you’re reading this it is probably because you worked out at some point that without a glass of water every now and again you would simply cease to be. The importance of water to life on Earth can’t really be overstated—it’s essential.
Today, 22 May, is the International Day for Biological Diversity and this year the theme is ‘Water and Biodiversity’. So, I thought I’d share some interesting information about Australia’s freshwater ecosystems.
Australia is a dry continent and so that has repercussions for our biodiversity. For example, there are only about 300 species of freshwater fish on the Australian continent, which is the lowest of any continent of a similar size—the US has about 1000 species. But we have a wealth of aquatic ecosystems in this country that support more than just fish and a large number of species that are found nowhere else.
There are over 900 wetlands in Australia listed as being of national importance and 64 of those are also listed as being of international significance. As recently as the 1980s, our wetlands supported over one million waterbirds. Unfortunately with a decline in the state of our wetlands—about half of Australia’s wetlands have been lost to other uses—the average annual waterbird numbers had dropped to about 200 000 in 2004.
Across the 40% of Australia that is most intensively used, over 85% of the rivers have been degraded by human activity to some extent. In the Murray-Darling Basin, the most heavily affected area, 20 of its 23 rivers were rated in 2008 to be in poor or very poor ecological condition and more than half of its native fish considered threatened or rare.
So what does CSIRO know anyway? We’re doing a bit of work in the water space; check out our Water Book and a couple of our projects below:
Murray-Darling Basin Multiple Benefits Project
CSIRO was commissioned by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) in 2011 to lead a study of the environmental benefits to Australia that may arise from implementing MDBA’s Proposed Basin Plan and, where possible, to place a monetary value on these benefits.
The research showed implementation of the plan could bring significant benefits for the basin’s biodiversity. The increased water likely to be delivered under the proposed plan could benefit red gum forests and other vegetation communities on the lower floodplains, and fish such as Macquarie perch, golden perch and silver perch, and could also provide more minor breeding events for water birds, which should help sustain populations.
Healthier river environments would also benefit people living in the basin, through the social values they provide and their spiritual significance to Indigenous communities, and could deliver economic benefits, such as reduced water-treatment costs.
Drawing upon Indigenous water knowledge
In the first study of its kind in Australia, CSIRO, as part of the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge program, worked closely with Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory and Western Australia to understand their values and record their knowledge of freshwater ecosystems. Indigenous knowledge can tell us much about the ecology of Australia and yet historically this is an area that has been poorly documented.
To address this issue and capture important knowledge, the project drew on the knowledge of six language groups over four years to develop a series of calendars representing Aboriginal seasonal knowledge. The language groups are: the Gooniyandi and Walmajarri from the Fitzroy River area in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, the Ngan’gi, MalakMalak and Wagiman from the Daly River region in the Northern Territory, and the Gulumoerrgin/Larrakia from the Darwin region.
We’re big on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a nutritionally balanced diet. The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet lets you do this with a little pizzazz. It’s nutritious, delicious, high in protein and facilitates sustainable weight loss. Our latest book, Recipes on a Budget, shows how you can eat well without breaking the bank or compromising on quality or nutrition. It’s packed with more than 135 new recipes that use inexpensive cuts of meats, use leftovers in clever ways and show how to make your own dips, spice mixes and dressings.
Here’s a sneak peek that’s perfect for winter.
Actually, we did but it was all in the name of safety.
Our fire testing lab got a hot and very smoky workout last week when the NSW Fire & Rescue teams came to visit.
We played host to the crew who were launching their winter fire safety campaign and warning Aussies not to leave fire safety to Chance.
Chance, of course, was the inhabitant of a man made lounge room at our North Ryde fire testing facility.
Going about his business, Chance was hanging the washing on the clothes horse next to a heater. He then left the room, and the heater, unattended.
The lounge room was engulfed in flames within only a few minutes and after four minutes the firies stepped in to hose it down.
See how it all went down, or up rather, in flames..
Note: Some readers may find this footage confronting.
For many of us, a ‘good hack’ might seem like a foreign and almost illegal concept. Some may even find the subject a little bit dirty.
We are tackling this misconception head-on through our new Apps4Broadband competition, aimed at helping Australians better understand what is possible through the smart use of broadband. It also hopes to help accelerate the ability of Australian developers to realise these new business opportunities and connect with service providers, technology partners and end users to build game-changing apps.
As part of the competition we are running two ‘Hack Days’. These are a fun and practical way for developers and other people interested in participating in the competition to come along, work on their projects, find other potential collaborators, meet with industry experts and advisers, and present their ideas and prototypes at the end of the day over drinks.
We recently spoke with the host of our Hack Days, John Allsopp (the organiser of the influential web directions and Code conferences), to try and de-code what this hacking business is all about and find out if it really is dirty business.
What is a hack day and how do you run them?
Hack days are about bringing together people to hack on things. Whether they’re designers, developers, domain experts, whatever their expertise. The idea is to get people to explore problems, and possible solutions. For example, GovHack focusses on working with government data, or providing services and applications that help citizens better interact with governments. Random Hacks of Kindness brings together people to work on solving problems to make the world a better place. Many hack events, including these, are about getting a working prototype or demo of a solution up and running in a few hours. The Apps4Broadband event is more open ended as it looks to help people explore ideas and opportunities they may then further develop over time.
Is hacking really a dirty word?
The popular understanding of hacking certainly is more negative than positive. It is often something associated with illegal or anti-social behaviour such as hacking into banking systems, and other networks. In the developer world, the term has been used in a positive way since the 1960s, (the term “crackers” is sometimes used by this community refer to what in popular terms are called “hackers”.)
Perhaps the earliest definition of hacker in this sense come from a legendary compendium of developer terminology known as the Jargon File (and otherwise known as the Hackers Dictionary). Here, a hacker is one “who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and stretching their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary”.
Among developers, hacking, hackers and hacks are far from negative things.
Why is failing an important part of hacking?
Traditional, more enterprise oriented IT projects are what I call the “fail slowly” approach. Requirements are gathered, specifications are put together, development takes place, then testing, then deployment. And it’s often only at the end of the project that we find out whether the project was a good idea. Of course, this is the right model for many types of projects. But in less well defined fields, exploring the problem space, developing some possible solutions and then quickly testing them can be a very powerful way to come up with possible solutions. Does the technology to achieve this actually exist? What existing products and services already address this issue? Is there a viable business model? What pathways to market might there be for this?
All this is about asking questions in order to knock down ideas, rather than taking forward ideas that really should be dismissed as unfeasible for all kinds of possible reasons.
On a hack day, you might generate several possible ideas, and dismiss most, before taking one forward, and this “fail fast” approach is an important part of this winnowing process.
Do you believe next generation broadband networks will drive innovation in app development?
The glib answer I tend to give is “I don’t know”. But in truth, predicting the future, even a short way out (ask any economist) is basically impossible. The future of the 1950s and 1960s, as exemplified by the Jetsons was all about flying cars, immersive video conferencing, and yet an essentially unchanged social structure.
In the 1950s, futurists imagined a world of holidays in space, and colonies on mars and the moon, but not a globally connected network enabling anyone to connect to anyone else in real time for almost no cost.
If I were to try to make a case beyond “the future will be great with broadband, just wait!” it would be about identifying that on a world where increasingly more things are digital, things we have traditionally called film, TV, music, games, books, news media, but also physical things are becoming digital via 3D printing. The ability to upload (or to use a better term, publish) as much as to download quickly (where most of the focus on broadband typically is) will be a fundamental opportunity for creative individuals and groups to participate fully in a global digital economy.
Australia has always been heavily dependent on “uploading”, as we are such an export economy. We build multi billion dollar LPG pipelines, shipping facilities, airports, which are all about “uploading” physical exports. Just as we’ve recognised such facilities as potentially constraints on our competitive place in the world economy, network speeds are clearly such a constraint.
Beyond that, if I knew, I’d be implementing it already (well, I am working on some ideas)…
Keen to code?
Further details about the Apps4Broadband competition and the wider opportunity for broadband connected homes can be found at www.acbi.net.au/broadband4apps
Media: Dan Chamberlain. P: +61 2 9372 4491. M: 0477 708 849. Email: email@example.com
By Janene Brown
“So what’s it like to be a scientist or mathematician?” “What do you really do in your job?” Volunteers in the Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools program have been answering these questions since 2007 through over 3200 partnerships with scientists and teachers across the nation.
During National Volunteer Week, the team at Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools want to say “Thanks a Million”.
Thanks to the scientists and mathematicians, for volunteering your knowledge and passion for your chosen field. Thanks to the teachers, for welcoming them into your classroom. Together you are making a substantial positive impact on thousands of students.
All our partnerships are unique. That’s the beauty of the program’s flexibility.
Some of our partnerships have annual visits to assist in excursions while others visit more frequently to work on a particular project. Across all partnerships, science and mathematics are made more accessible for students, transforming textbook learning into reality. Our scientists and mathematicians show the human side of their work, helping dispel the stereotypes which spring to mind when we say ‘scientist’ or ‘mathematician’.
This sentiment is best summarised by a NSW parent, “It’s fantastic that individuals are willing to offer their time to help facilitate the learning of our children. Please pass on a big thank you for being an inspiration for my son.”
Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools is an Australian Government initiative funded by Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and CSIRO.
Scientists have produced the largest flexible, plastic solar cells in Australia – 10 times the size of what they were previously able to – thanks to a new solar cell printer that has been installed at CSIRO.
The printer has allowed researchers from the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium to print organic photovoltaic cells the size of an A3 sheet of paper.
According to materials scientist Dr Scott Watkins, printing cells on such a large scale opens up a huge range of possibilities for pilot applications.
“There are so many things we can do with cells this size,” he says. “We can set them into advertising signage, powering lights and other interactive elements. We can even embed them into laptop cases to provide backup power for the machine inside.”
Using semiconducting inks, the researchers print the cells straight onto paper-thin flexible plastic or steel. With the ability to print at speeds of up to ten metres per minute, this means they can produce one cell every two seconds.
As the researchers continue to scale up their equipment, the possibilities will become even greater for this technology. Eventually they hope to see solar cells being laminated to the windows that line skyscrapers and embedded onto roofing materials.
Read more in the media release.
If you thought ISS Commander Chris Hadfield’s micro gravity rendition of Space Oddity was the hit of the week, think again.
The latest album from electro music duo Daft Punk is being launched in Wee Waa this week and we’re ready to get down. It was reported that the French duo chose Wee Waa, in regional NSW, because of its proximity to our Australia Telescope. The global album launch will include a party at the Wee Waa show on Friday night.
The Australia Telescope Compact Array is so ready that it’s been getting down to Daft Punk’s Get Lucky.
Our researchers are getting into the swing of things too, giving a tour of the telescope operating room in signature Daft Punk helmets.
And finally, researchers dancing.
By Arwen Cross
People have been growing wheat since around 8000 BC, and we’ve used selective breeding to make sure it has characteristics that suit us.
So what characteristics do we want in wheat?
Some of the answers are obvious, like producing large amounts of grain and being resistant to common plant diseases. We even understand the genes behind some of our favourite wheat traits.
Other answers aren’t so clear. Selective or traditional breeding has been used by humans for thousands of years, including before we knew that genes were behind the characteristics we want from crops. So our scientists investigated which regions of the wheat genome have been chosen by selective breeding.
Dr Colin Cavanagh and his colleagues identified these regions of the genome by developing an assay for 9000 gene markers, known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs), throughout the wheat genome. The assay is available commercially on a DNA chip or microarray, so scientists worldwide can take advantage of it.
The scientists used the chip to scan thousands of varieties of wheat, and grouped them according to these criteria:
- what part of the world they came from (geographical region);
- whether they were winter wheat (which is planted before snow in cold climates) or spring wheat (which flowers as soon as it can without waiting for a cold period);
- whether they were modern wheat varieties or landraces (which are primitive varieties of wheat that are much older).
The researchers compared the gene markers between these groups to identify which parts of the genome have been targets of selective breeding: over time, between geographic regions and between winter and spring wheat.
Colin says that identifying the parts of the wheat genome that have been targeted by selective breeding is exciting because they may contain genes that affect characteristics like adaptation to climate conditions or disease resistance. Once these genes are identified, this information could be passed on to wheat breeders so they could be used for producing better wheat varities in the future.
The results of this study were published in an early edition of PNAS earlier this month. The international research team included researchers from CSIRO, the Victorian Department of Primary Industry and Kansas State University.
Humans have always had a bit of a fascination with robots, most vividly illustrated in some of Hollywood’s best films and cartoons. From WALL-E to Rosie the Robot in the Jetsons, the idea of building intelligent robots which help us in our homes or work is nothing new. So far, no one has been able to build a Rosie or Wall-E, but that might be about to change.
Our scientists are building a new generation of robots and IT systems that mirror some of the best loved robots from the silver screen. Their plan is to create a new category of bots known as Lightweight Assistive Manufacturing Solutions. In simple terms, IT systems and robotics which enhance human vision, strength and safety using virtual reality, telepresence and smart robotics.
They are focusing on robots for manufacturing which will assist, not replace, people in their jobs. Their vision is to have humans and robots working together. And to have robots on factory floors which can find their own way around, conduct multiple tasks and intelligently adapt to the environment they are in.
They launched a whitepaper outlining the plan at National Manufacturing Week this week. It’s going to take a while, but real-life WALL-Es (with a little less Hollywood glitz) could be here sooner than you think.
At the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex we're constructing new 34-metre wide antennas and we've reached a big milestone with one of them - Deep Space Station 35. Tomorrow, Friday 10th May, at around 7 am (subject to change) we should be lifting Deep Space Station 35's reflector (dish) onto its pedestal.
To make it easier to build these antennas, we build the antenna base, dish and subreflector separately and then link them together.
For the past two days I’ve been stuck in bed sick with a horrendous cough. By the end of day two I’m over it. I contemplate the 5 minute drive down the road to the doctor’s surgery, but the thought of sitting in a room full of other sick people with god-knows-what bugs floating around kind of creeps me out.
If only just like last’s week’s restaurant reservation booked online or that Skype call with my friend overseas, I could just schedule an online tele-consultation with my doctor without leaving the comfort of my own bed. I admit it might seem like a Gen Y problem but why isn’t a visit to the doctor easier in this day and age? Surely the idea of a video-conference with my GP to assess my signs and symptoms is better than trusting Google and coming up with my own self diagnosis right? It might just be a common cold or perhaps something more serious, but within a few minutes at least I’d know whether I really needed to take that trip to a germ invested waiting room for some antibiotics.
But, what if I lived in a remote community in Western Australia where my 5 min drive to the doctors could actually be 4 or even 6 hours drive. Now that’s a long way to go for a consultation! I’d have to take a whole day off work just to visit a doctor and in the end they may tell me I’m fine after all and I would’ve wasted a whole day driving in the car. And what if my flu was something more serious such as an eye disease like glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy.
As we face the pressure of rising costs and demands on our health system due to an ageing population and an increase in chronic disease, we need to think differently about how we deliver health services says Dr Sarah Dods, Leader of Health Services for CSIRO’s Digital Productivity and Services Flagship.
“We are currently spending 20 cents in every tax dollar on health and that is forecast to increase to 40 cents in every dollar by 2043. At that stage health will consume our entire state government budgets if we don’t change the way that we do things.”
Telehealth services offer us an opportunity to do old things in new ways and new things in ways we never thought of. They can help us to responsibly improve productivity, improve access to health services so that escalating health issues can be addressed earlier, and offer better quality of care to patients.
Telehealth services made possible by the arrival of fast broadband services across Australia can deliver many health services especially into remote communities, reducing the need for travel; providing timely access to services and specialists; improving the ability to identify developing conditions and provide a means to educate and train and support remote healthcare workers.
They can also reduce the burden on our health system by keeping hospital ‘frequent flyers’ such as chronic disease sufferers or the elderly, which accounted for over 70% of Australia’s $103.6bn health expenditure during 2007-2008, to manage their conditions from home.
Video-based teleconsultations are now available to patients in some locations, but this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what broadband can deliver.
At CSIRO we are on the way to help making the next generation of telehealth services a reality.As part of the NBN enabled Telehealth Pilots Program administered by the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) funded by the Department of Broadband and Communications and the Digital Economy, CSIRO has been awarded two large grants to help conduct important clinical trials needed to inform the wide scale roll out and integration of telehealth services for Australia. The trials will run for 12 months and involve over 1100 patients across the two studies in rural health clinics, hospitals, local health care districts, nursing homes and patients in their own homes across Australia.
“We are very excited to be at the helm of these projects bringing together the best minds across CSIRO from health services research, computer science, mathematics, statistics and social science, to work with our partners on Australia’s largest telehealth study” said Dr Dods
“Our team is also looking forward to working on our NBN-enabled Indigenous Tele-Eye Care project testing our Remote-I system over satellite broadband service. We will show how this telehealth service can be rolled out to multiple rural and remote areas and help address the difficulties these indigenous communities face in accessing specialist eye care services”.
To find out more about our NBN telehealth research trials.
Today marks a very special occassion for all geeks around the globe -International Star Wars Day (aka May-the-fourth-be-with-you Day). To get the download on all things Star Wars as well as what is in store for the future of robotics research, we spoke with our very own ‘Yoda of robotics’ Dr Jonathan Roberts.
When did you first become a Star Wars fan and what makes you love the series so much?
I became a fan the moment I saw Star Wars IV – A New Hope. It was 1977 or 1978 (released on Dec 27 1977 in the UK where I grew up) and I was 8-years-old. I loved the spaceships, the creatures, the adventure but most of all the droids (robots) so much that I wanted to be Luke Skywalker and wear his crazy white jacket and trousers – I hence took up Judo. I got badly beaten up but at least I had the outfit!
Dr Jonathan Roberts, Director of the Autonomous Systems Lab at aged 10 wearing his Star Wars paraphernalia on the weekend The Empire Strikes Back was released
How did the series influence your career in robotics?
After ESB (Empire Strikes Back) and ROTJ (Return of the Jedi) screened, I decided that I had to be an astronaut or a space scientist. I eventually did a degree in Aerospace Engineering as well as some parachuting to test if I had what it would take to make it in the industry. During my course, I found that I loved spacecraft design subject the most. I could not quite believe that I was at university learning how to design an actual spacecraft.
Soon it came time to decide on what area to do a PhD in. I figured that astronauts were going to use robots, just like in Star Wars, so I decided to do a PhD in the area of robot vision. I found that I actually loved actually doing robotics research and I realised that space travel was a bit too risky for me.
How does the robotics work you do now in our Autonomous Systems Lab differ from the robots in Star Wars?
The main difference is that the droids in Star Wars are capable of far more general tasks than what robots are designed to perform today and often lend a hand in all sorts of applications. For example, R2-D2 is a droid designed to help work spacecraft, yet he also occasionally subs as an excellent spy and cocktail waiter.
Robots on Earth today tend to be made for very specific tasks and are not particularly easy to train to perform activities outside their intended scope. However, we are currently developing robotic systems which are designed to assist people in a variety of circumstances. While some may work alongside people in a factory others are designed for tasks considered impractical or too hazardous for humans. This is exactly what droids do in the Star Wars universe, except of course droids help all types of weird creatures, not just people.
What does the future hold for robotics research?
For robotics to become mainstream they will need to be simple to teach, they must be affordable, and they must be dependable. The concept of a dependable robot is one that goes beyond high reliability, but also includes the idea that a robot must behave as you would expect it, it should be trustworthy, secure and safe.
The current hot area of robotics is in the air. Unmanned flying robots are becoming easier to develop and are based on affordable electric multi-rotor helicopters. For robots to become droid-like they will need fantastic perception systems to help understand what is around them and new types of planning systems that allow them to work out what to do and how to do it on-the-fly. We might not have a robot which can solve all our problems right now but maybe we will in the not too distant future.
Have a favourite robot? Tweet us @CSIRONews using #maythefourth and let us know which bot you love the best!
Media: Dan Chamberlain. P: +61 2 9372 4491. M: 0477 708 849. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
May-the-fourth be with you. Sci-fi fans and geeks around the world are gearing up to celebrate some of the most popular robots ever created tomorrow on International Star Wars Day. For the love of robots, we’re unveiling our latest crop of bots.
In the suburbs of Brisbane (not that far, far away…) our scientists have been busy developing the next generation of robots. Advances in ICT research will see closer collaboration between people and robots in the not so distant future.
Some of our favourites include:
Telepresence Robot – which can move around and offer a virtual video-conferencing experience. From national museums to under the Great Barrier Reef, this technology will eventually allow all Australians with a high speed broadband connection especially those in rural and regional areas to experience and access a range of our national landmarks or treasures, despite the tyranny of distance.
Stealth Robot – move over David Attenborough because this robot aims to track and observe animals in their natural habitat without being detected. Using acoustics to monitor surrounding sounds, the robot uses them to mask its motions so that it can move without being detected and appear as part of the natural habitat.
Starbug – an inexpensive, miniature autonomous underwater vehicle ideal for data collection and ecosystem surveys. It helps to get marine data from areas which humans wouldn’t be able to travel.
Helicopter Robot – an unmanned automatic helicopter designed to remotely inspect dangerous or hard to get to infrastructure such as powerlines, buildings and bridges.
Hexapod Robot – with a similar aesthetic to an insect, this multi-legged robot can be used for monitoring and mapping uneven and unstructured terrain which can be difficult to navigate with wheeled robots. It has 18 servo motors which provide rich sensory feedback to the control software allowing it to detect when the robot interacts with an obstacle and also to assess the type of terrain it is traversing on.
Have a favourite robot? Tweet us @CSIRONews using #maythefourth and let us know which bot you love the best!
Check out our video for more information:
Media: Dan Chamberlain. P: +61 2 9372 4491. M: 0477 708 849. Email: email@example.com
By Angela Beggs
If hearing the word bandicoot immediately sends your mind spinning back to the mid ’90s Playstation game, Crash Bandicoot, then you’re not alone.
Back then, if you’re anything like me, you may have been reciting the Spice Girls’ Wannabe or doing the Macarena, all while sending Crash jumping and spinning through the air to conquer level after level on the island of N.Sanity.
Or maybe you immediately think of the small native Aussie marsupial. These furry little omnivores have been likened in appearance to a rat but with a much pointier snout. They forage for worms and leaves by night and live mainly in bushland.
But there’s a new bandicoot on the block.
This one is handheld, lightweight and has a black and yellow body. When plugged in it can scan and detect cracks and manufacturing faults in buildings, damage to aircraft from storms and it can even act as a security measure detecting objects in lightweight materials like wall panels.
This baNDIcoot™ uses Windows-based graphical analysis to process the data it scans providing quick results on site and the handpiece means users can make assessments in remote locations that may have been difficult to reach previously.
Unlike other scanners, it is small – think the size of a late model Playstation – it’s about as easy to use too. It’s already helping small to medium manufacturers, as an alternative to big, costly scan systems.
It may not be cute and cuddly but this baNDIcoot™ is definitely ahead of the game. Read more on our website.
By Sally Crossman
Technology, originally invented by CSIRO, has been given a top global award for its smart building energy management system.
Intelligent decisions about the building conditions are made by the system based on information, like weather data and personal comfort levels. The system assesses this information every few minutes – constantly adjusting and monitoring the conditions.
BuildingIQ has found that the heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) energy use is reduced by up to 25 per cent after installation of the software. The technology can also help to reduce peak demand, a major driver behind recent electricity price rises. The technology can be applied to large office buildings and retrofitted easily.
“We’re so pleased that the technology has been recognised with this award and it’s great to think that our system is going to be able to make its way into even more buildings in Australian and the US,” says Dr John Ward, CSIRO research leader.
At the start of the year, BuildingIQ secured $9 million in venture funding which should help the dream of expanding the system’s use to more buildings. The technology has also won multiple industry awards.
“The award shows that our science has global reach and a real impact on the energy efficiency of very large buildings like the iconic Rockefeller Centre,” says Dr Alex Wonhas, Director of the Energy Transformed Flagship.
Read more about it at: www.csiro.au/OptiCool.