Putting over-crowded emergency rooms to bed

By Emily Lehmann 

Ever waited for a long time in a hospital emergency department and thought, there must be a better way?

It’s a common problem in the hospitals of Australia. While our nurses, doctors and medical staff are undeniable miracle workers, even they can only do so much. If there’s a sudden rush of sprained ankles, broken jaws and bruised elbows at your local hospital or medical centre needing urgent attention, then bed management can become crucial.

To help figure out how to manage this, we’ve come up with a handy tool to crunch the numbers and found that hospital demand is actually pretty predictable – particularly around major annual events (think Schoolies Week).

Austin Hospital, Melbourne.

Austin Hospital, Melbourne.

Today, the Victorian Government has announced that it will fund CSIRO to work with HealthIQ and Melbourne’s Austin Hospital for the first Victorian trial of our Demand Prediction Analysis Tool.

This tool is an adaptation of technology which is already being used by more than 30 Queensland hospitals to predict bed demand by the hour, day and week, helping to ease pressure on their emergency wards.

Using historical data to forecast bed demand, the tool has been shown to have a 90 per cent accuracy rate. It can predict how many patients will come through the doors, how serious cases will be and how many will likely be admitted to the hospital or discharged.

The tool anticipates the number of different injuries or illnesses likely to occur on any given day, so that hospitals can plan the staff, medical supplies and beds needed to care for patients.

The aim is to help hospitals manage waiting times so that patients arriving in emergency departments are seen and admitted or discharged within only a few hours.

The technology has the potential to save the Victorian public health sector around $9 million a year.

If the rest of the country was to adopt prediction tools like this, a huge $23 million in annual savings could be made across Australia.

The $230,000 trial is the first to be announced through the Victorian Government Technology Innovation Fund and will be completed by mid-2015.

Read more about our work to reduce hospital waiting times using new digital technologies.


Make our ASKAP telescope a star of the night sky

By Emily Lehmann

There’s a new star in the making in the world of astronomy, with our Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) named as a finalist in The Australian Innovation Challenge’s Manufacturing, Construction and Infrastructure category*.

We recently shared some of the first images produced  by the amazing ASKAP telescope. It comprises a cluster of 36 radio dishes that work in conjunction with a powerful supercomputer to form what is, in effect, a single composite radio telescope a massive six kilometres across.

This allows it to survey the night sky very quickly, taking panoramic snapshots over 100 times the size of the full moon (as viewed from Earth, of course!).

One of the ASKAP radio dishes, located in a remote area of Western Australia.

One of the ASKAP radio dishes, located in a remote area of Western Australia.

The world-leading facility is revolutionising astronomy, and this award nomination is a welcome recognition. You can vote for it here – just scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Now, for all you space cadets, here’s five astronomical facts about why ASKAP is out of this world and a sure-fire winner:

  1. ASKAP’s 36 radio dishes, each 12 metres in diameter, give it the capacity to scan the whole sky and make it sensitive to whisper-quiet signals from the Milky Way.
  2. ASKAP is an outstanding telescope in its own right, as well as a technology demonstrator for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). This pioneering technology will make ASKAP the fastest radio telescope in the world for surveying the sky.
  3. Once built, the SKA will comprise of a vast army of radio receivers distributed over tens to hundreds of kilometres in remote areas of Western Australia and Africa.
  4. The SKA will generate five million million bytes of information in its first day. That’s almost as many grains of sand on all of the world’s beaches.
  5. ASKAP is located in the remote Murchison Shire of Western Australia, which was chosen because there is hardly any human activity and so little background radio noise.

ASKAP is one of four CSIRO projects already in the running for different categories in the Oz’s Innovation Challenge (we’ve also written about swarm sensing and Direct Nickel). You can #voteCSIRO for any and all of them – just follow the links from the Challenge’s home page!


Next-gen technologies get down to Robo-business

It doesn't need to be a case of 'us vs them' - robots actually help humans perform better. Image - Franz Steiner www.webneel.com

It doesn’t need to be a case of ‘us vs them’ – robots actually help humans perform better. Image – Franz Steiner http://www.webneel.com

By Emily Lehmann 

A world in which robots and humans live side-by-side is no longer just stuff dreamed up in fantastical sci-fi movies (thank you very much James Cameron). ‘Cos if we’re talking about industry, the smart machine era is already here.

Next-gen technologies like self-driving vehicles, remote augmented reality and fully-autonomous robots are now being used to help companies work better, from underground mines to the factory floor.

The latest and greatest in the ‘bots biz was all the talk last week at RoboBusiness 2014, where we took the opportunity to share our vision for the world of intelligent industry.

We want to create an environment where man and machine can work safely and productively side-by-side. To help us achieve this, we’ve developed Guardian technologies: a suite of intelligent, lightweight assistive robots that will increase the productivity and global competitiveness of manufacturing firms.

The robots include Guardian angel, mentor, helper and worker technologies, which all play their own important and unique role in assisting – but not replacing – people in the workplace.

For instance, Guardians can be used to hold or move heavy, awkward items, or be deployed in places not considered safe for humans to perform tasks – all while a person controls them remotely. Check out this video to see how they work:

We have some exciting news around one of our clever Guardian technologies, Zebedee, which is about to be enhanced with new features and improvements.

Zebedee is our leading handheld 3D laser mapping technology and the next generation version will allow manufacturers to create faster and more accurate 3D simulations of their factory production lines.

We’re also about to start a $2 million research and development partnership with UK-based start-up GeoSLAM on the developments to make this happen. You can read more about this on the IT Wire.

 


A Nickel for your vote

Last week we brought you bees with backpacks… but this week we’re bringing nickel back.

Please, don’t be scared – we’re not talking about that band. Instead, another of our awesome research collaborations – the Direct Nickel process – has been nominated for an award in The Australian’s Innovation Challenge. The project, which has the potential to unlock 70 per cent of the world’s nickel supply and provide an enormous boost to the Australian economy, is up for a gong in the Challenge’s Energy and Minerals category.

And again, we’re asking you to #voteCSIRO

So why do we think this deserves your vote? Well, ask any metallurgist and they will tell you: nickel is a versatile and important metal, famous for giving stainless steel its strength. In fact, nickel is used in hundreds of thousands of products: from nuts and bolts, to cutlery and cooking pots, through to industrial equipment and jet engines.

Fiona McCarthy of Direct Nickel working at our pilot plant in Perth.

Fiona McCarthy of Direct Nickel working at our pilot plant in Perth. Image – Chad Taylor

A new processing method for extracting this in-demand resource, developed by Sydney-based company Direct Nickel, is being tested at our brand-new, $3.5 million pilot plant in Perth.

It uses recyclable nitric acid as a more environmentally friendly and cost-effective way of extracting nickel from untapped laterite reserves, which are estimated to hold more than 70 per cent of the world’s total nickel supplies. And it just so happens that we have an abundance of nickel laterites in Australia, while other sources of nickel around the world are running low.

If all goes to plan, this processing method could be ready to roll out to industry in two years’ time – and it’s predicted that it could realise a $30 billion per year Australian nickel industry.

We reckon that’s worth a vote.


Taking a measured approach to CSG

CSIRO through the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) is undertaking a comprehensive study of methane seeps in the Surat basin.

By Tsuey Cham

Our scientists are taking to the sky above the Surat basin in south-west Queensland to answer a big question – is coal seam gas (CSG) green?

Not literally green, of course: CSG is invisible to the naked eye. What we’re actually looking to determine is the CSG industry’s greenhouse gas footprint. The industry is set to increase production in Australia in coming years, so it’s important to be able to adequately monitor current and future CSG developments and provide information that will help limit any potential environmental impact.

One way to determine the CSG industry’s greenhouse gas footprint is by measuring methane seeps. Methane seeps occur naturally from underground, as well as in soils, swamps and rivers. Another key component is measuring fugitive methane – methane that leaks from CSG well heads, pipes and other infrastructure.  Initial findings show that fugitive methane emissions are lower in Australia than the US.

In south-west Queensland, the Surat basin is where CSG activities are in full swing, with its network of production wells, pipelines, access tracks and warning signs. With CSG development in the basin increasing over the next few years, we are trying to establish the amount – and source – of methane emissions now,  so that in the future we can determine what is attributable to natural sources, and what is attributable to CSG activity.

Taking CSG measurements.

A four wheel drive-mounted methane detector, with onlookers.

To do this, our scientist are using airborne sensors aboard helicopters to measure natural methane emissions. With this data in hand, they then calibrate and validate it with land-based sensors to identify how much methane naturally occurs from the ground.

Findings from this research will provide a methane emissions data set that can be used to compare against changes in methane emission as CSG production increases; and will add to the bigger picture of assessing the industry’s whole-of-life-cycle greenhouse gas footprint.

For more information, visit GISERA or our website.


Voting in swarms is all the buzz

By Emily Lehmann

There’s been a buzz around town about our bee research this year, and for good reason.

In a world first, we’ve been microchipping thousands of bees with tiny sensors in Australia and South America to monitor their activity and the way they interact with the environment.

Bee with backpack/

A bee. With a backpack. What of it?

We’ve called this ‘swarm sensing’ and it could help gather the information we need to find a solution to the mysterious and devastating decline of bees around the world.

While we’ve been buzzily strapping these tiny sensors on bees in the Amazon in collaboration with Vale Institute of Technology, there has been a swarm of attention around our work back home.

Swarm sensing hit the polls earlier this week, as one of five finalists in The Australian Innovation Challenge’s category for Environment, Agriculture and Food. And, it’s up to the people – that means you – to decide which one of these innovations deserves to win $5000.

Bee hive

These guys are an important link in the global food chain – and they need our help!

Now, if cute honey bees wearing mini, colour-coordinated ‘backpacks’, isn’t enough to sway your vote, then we’ve gathered a few hot facts about why this work is so critical to get you over the line:

  1. Around one third of the food we eat relies on bees for pollination. If bees are in danger, so is our global food supply.
  1. By aiding agriculture, honey bees earn an estimated $4-6 billion for Australia every year.
  1. Wild honey bee populations are dropping drastically or vanishing all together around the world. There are two major problems causing their decline: the varroa mite and the little understood Colony Collapse Disorder
  1. While there is a real risk, bees in Australia have not been affected by the Varroa mite or Colony Collapse Disorder.
  1. Parasites, pollution and pesticides are potential factors in the decline of honey bee populations.

To vote CSIRO, visit The Australian Innovation Challenge article and select ‘swarm sensing’ in the poll at the bottom of the page. Go on, #voteCSIRO and do it for the bees!


Managing water across borders

Koshi River in Nepal

Koshi River in Nepal. Image by Amy North

As World Water Week draws to a close, we want to tell you about a water management project we’re involved with in the developing world.

The Koshi River basin covers some of the poorest parts of China, India and Nepal. The river stretches more than 700km, from China in the north, down through Nepal and across the Himalayas, and finally feeds into the Ganges River. Millions of people live in the region – many of them in flood-prone areas – and rely on the river and the fertile floodplain for their livelihoods.

We’re helping to manage the river better and improve the circumstances of the people living there.

The area is subject to floods, droughts landslides and flows of debris. Erosion also leads to heavy sedimentation, and rivers have been known to change their course.

NASA image showing course change

This NASA satellite image shows a change of the Koshi River’s course.

The effects of climate change aren’t helping, either. Glaciers in the upper reaches of the Basin are melting, bringing water and sediments down to the plains. The people of the Koshi River Basin are in an increasingly vulnerable situation. The impacts of climate change are disturbing water supply and agricultural production. Adding more pressure, the demand for energy and food production is rising.

Raising the stakes even higher, the Koshi Basin also has areas of significant biodiversity, including a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Australian Aid, we’re working with partners including the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, the International Water Management Institute and eWater  to develop an integrated modelling framework for the entire basin. We’re helping to develop water balance models that capture the relationship between climate (both rainfall and temperature) and stream-flow (and flood risk) in the Koshi River Basin.

We’re also working on characterising the seasonality and variability of stream flow, and, if possible, the expected trends in stream-flow. We’ll also develop techniques for understanding the likelihood of particular stream-flow estimates.

We aim to use the research and knowledge gained from these projects to allow a regionally coordinated approach to developing and managing the Koshi Basin’s water resources. The people of the area, and the environment, should both benefit.


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