PhD student receives innovation scholarship at national naval and defence expo

Work in developing algorithms that will help robots crawl around submarine ballast tanks for vital maintenance inspection has landed PhD student Andrew Short a top national defence award.

Mr Short, who completed undergraduate degrees in mechatronic engineering and computer science, is two years into a PhD, funded by the Research Training Centre for Naval Design and Manufacturing (RTCNDM).

He was a joint winner of the Young Innovator Scholarship at the inaugural Maritime Australia Limited Industry Innovation Awards, presented by the Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon. Christopher Pyne MP, at the Pacific 2017 International Maritime Exposition in Sydney recently.

Mr Short’s work focuses on motion planning for robots, including automated welding processes that have been used in defence projects, such as the Bushmaster armoured vehicle.

More recently, he and partner research organisations have been investigating a new approach to robotic walking – known as legged motion planning – that combines several existing techniques to allow planning and movement in complex environments, such as tight spaces and uneven surfaces.

“I study algorithms that automatically create robot motions to perform a specified task, which is a fundamental requirement for flexible and autonomous robots,” he said.

“The inspiration behind this is to enable a legged climbing robot with magnetic feet to explore a submarine ballast tank. Currently this is a manual task performed by people, which is difficult and can be dangerous.

“While this is only one component of a full solution, this new technique is a step towards using robots for confined space inspection.”

The project involves three researchers collaborating between two universities and the industrial partner ASC, and focuses on inspection and motion planning algorithms.

Mr Short also spent a year-long industry placement working alongside roboticists at the CSIRO’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group.

As part of his research he has developed an Automated Offline Programming software library to support the development of industrial robots and simulators; this has also been sold commercially and he has co-founded a start-up company to commercialise further this software technology.

Automated Offline Programming (AOLP) generates robotic welding motions directly from CAD models, enabling flexible manufacturing for low volume production.

“As part of my PhD I spent a year at CSIRO learning about robotics that could be used outside industrial applications, which gave me different perspectives on solving problems that has been invaluable in other areas of my work,” Mr Short said.

A total of 15 Australian civil and defence industry innovators were shortlisted for these prestigious National awards across five categories.

Pacific 2017 International Maritime Exposition is the premier commercial maritime and naval defence exposition in the Oceania region.

The CEO of Pacific 2017, Mr Ian Honnery, said the quality and diversity of the entrants has been outstanding: “They were so competitive that for the first time the judges recommended that two entrants should receive High Commendations in their categories.

“Furthermore, the judges recommended that two entrants for the Young Innovator Scholarship for Defence should both be awarded the Scholarship.

“That tells you something about the strength of innovation activity in the naval and marine sectors here in Australia.

“Innovation isn’t just about having good ideas – it’s about putting good ideas to use,” Mr Honnery added.

“These innovators are trying to be game changers in their markets and we are delighted to be able to recognise their contributions and be a part of their journey.”

Originally Published on UOW Newsroom