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Consultation launched on Australian robotics strategy

Discussion paper asks for input on how to develop expertise

The Australian government has opened a consultation on its forthcoming robotics strategy by launching a discussion paper saying the strategy needs to address workforce issues, public trust and public concerns about the impact of automation on jobs.

The paper, from the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, says Australia ranks seventh in global research impact ratings for “autonomous systems operation technology”, and ninth for both “advanced robotics and drones” and “swarming and collaborative robots”.

“Australia has immense research expertise and growing local capability to produce innovative robotic solutions and put them to novel uses,” it says.

The paper asks for submissions on areas of strength and weakness and how to further develop knowledge in robotics. Developing Australia’s capability will “depend on the success of Australia’s robotics R&D and the commercialisation of this technology”, it says.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are named as particular strengths. However, businesses have already told the department that they need better “collaboration across industries and between industry and research organisations”. Concerns have also been raised in consultations so far about the inability of domestic industry to offer the attractive salaries and opportunities available overseas.

The paper asks how robotics can be developed ethically, which may require “researchers, engineers, businesses and training providers [to work] closely with social scientists and ethicists”.

Favourable conditions

Launching the paper, industry minister Ed Husic said Australia’s advantages in the field included “world-class research institutions, a highly skilled workforce and favourable business conditions”.

He said the newly created A$15 billion National Reconstruction Fund would be able to support robotics development.

The final strategy will be developed with advice from an expert advisory committee chaired by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation chief scientist Bronwyn Fox.

Submissions close on 7 May, with in-person consultation meetings currently taking place.