The first Robotics Roadmap, pioneered by the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision in partnership with defence, manufacturing and healthcare industries, has been unveiled in Canberra this week.
Leaders in academia, industry and government across key sectors including resources, built and natural environment, manufacturing, services, agriculture, defence and healthcare helped shape the Roadmap through submissions and workshops held in late 2017.
The world-leading Australian Centre for Robotic Vision pioneered the concept, collated submissions and co-ordinated the vital national roadshow across five Australian capital cities ahead of producing the report.
The centre's chief operating office, Dr Sue Keay, said the roadmap is a vital step for the nation as it looks to invest in robotics to grow the economy.
"We are very pleased to officially launch Australia’s first Robotics Roadmap today in Canberra," said Dr Keay.
"Australia’s Robotics Roadmap is a critical step towards a national strategy to invest in robotic technology to create and support a vibrant economy, community and nation."
The roadmap aims to create the grounds for the necessary co-operation to allow robots to help unlock human potential, modernise the economy and build national health, well-being and sustainability.
"Australia’s continued high standard of living depends on us improving productivity 2.5 per cent every year. With our ageing population this won’t come from labour productivity alone but will rely on automation. Automation is predicted to deliver Australia a $2.2 trillion dividend over the next 15 years if we encourage businesses to accelerate their uptake of new technologies such as robotics," said Dr Keay.
"With support and collaboration between industries, government, researchers and developers in coming years we will see robotic technology developed that can help maintain our living standards, protect the environment, provide services to remote communities, reduce healthcare costs and create more efficient and safer workplaces.
“With Australia currently ranked as 18th in the world for global automation by the International Federation of Robotics, it’s time we start understanding robots as everyday problem solvers rather than scientific fantasy. As a community we need to understand and harness the potential of robotics technology to improve our lives.
"Australia has a talented pool of robotics leaders and researchers who are working on some incredibly exciting projects. We have an opportunity to take a collaborative, multi-sector approach to education, funding and legislation to benefit industries and lead the way in the development of robotic technology that can solve real global challenges."
Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel AO, said the roadmap is crucial in unlocking Australia’s robotics potential for industry.
"When I was a child, robots were the realm of science fiction alone. Even through the decades that followed, simple automation and machines failed to fill the grand promises made by my favourite books," Dr Finkel said.
"But in the last few years, that’s all changed – robots and artificial intelligence are appearing in every industry sector, with huge practical impact on the way we live, work, and plan for the future. This roadmap shows just how quickly this field is moving, and the rewards available to a robot-ready Australia."
The roadmap says the $200 billion investment in Australia's defence industry is ideal as industry looks to form technology clusters.
"Regional clusters are known to act as hothouses for generating new ideas, new applications, and the establishment of new companies to exploit these," the roadmap said.
"With the emergence of key Defence sector investments in Australia, and the growth of the Defence budget to 2 per cent of Australia’s GDP by 2020-21, it is an ideal time to look at the formation of clusters to support the development of an Australian robotics industry."
The roadmap also flags a lack of skills in robotics as a risk to national security.
"Robotic technologies are vital components of the industrial internet (Industry 4.0) used in critical infrastructure and defence applications. A lack of skills and capability in these areas poses a credible national security risk. Australia needs to develop and maintain a strong capability in robotics to protect the industry, in a similar manner to having national capability in cyber security to protect the information and communication technology industry," it said.
"A loss of Australia’s capability in this space would mean that we would have to rely on foreign countries for expertise, which can be a risky proposition. For example, in 2016 the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) agreed to the Chinese company Midea's takeover of German high-tech robotics manufacturer Kuka (which has offices in the USA). This decision led to changes in Germany’s rules on foreign corporate takeovers where there is a risk of critical technology being lost abroad. The change is seen as necessary to protect critical infrastructure including power grids and hospitals. Similarly, Australia blocked a tender from China’s Huawei Technologies to supply to Australia’s national broadband network NBN."