by George Nott

Inside ‘The RIC’: Data61’s new robotics test facility

Mar 12, 2019
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CSIRO’s Data61 has launched a 600-square-metre test facility, for researchers and industry to put robots through their paces in a variety of environments.

The $3 million Robotics Innovation Centre – dubbed ‘The RIC’ by staff – sits on the site of CSIRO’s Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies in Pullenvale, near Brisbane.

The facility features a 13 metre by five metre pool to test aquatic robots – like CSIRO’s autonomous underwater vehicle Starbug, which has been used to monitor the quality of water in Lake Wivenhoe in Queensland and the D’Entrecasteaux channel in Tasmania – and also boasts high-accuracy robot manipulators and telemetry systems for testing.

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“It’s a large shed where people can come and test out their robotic technologies in a large area, with more realistic scenarios, to help develop more efficient, safer robots,” said Fred Pauling, leader of Data61’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems group.

“We’d definitely like to hear form organisations that want to test their equipment that don’t necessarily have their own facilities to do that,” he added.

Collaborating universities and industry partners can also use the facility’s large range of mobile robot platforms and arms, and field-deployable UAVs and UGVs.

“We’ve also got a control room where people can come and sit in air conditioned comfort in the Brisbane summer and control their experiments,” Pauling said.

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The RIC is home to the largest motion capture system in the Southern Hemisphere.

Similar to the techniques used by actor Andy Serkis to portray Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies, motion capture can be applied to humans and robots to collect data on their interactions and movements.

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“It will probably get even bigger as we integrate it into the structure of the building,” Pauling said.

The surrounding site features a range of environments to test robots out in the field, like bushland, urban canyons, and creeks.

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CSIRO and Data61 are global leaders in robotics research, having developed a fleet of legged robots – including the world’s first large scale ultra-light hexapod MAX and another which is capable of crossing tricky terrain like theAmazon Rainforest floor.

Pauling’s group is currently competing in the ‘Subterranean Challenge’, a global challenge by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which tasks teams with quickly and remotely mapping, navigating and searching for items in perilous underground environments.

To aid that effort, the RIC could soon be extended to include an underground test facility, either by digging tunnels, or mocking up the environment with shipping containers.

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“Robotics and autonomous systems technologies, underpinned by machine learning and artificial intelligence, will unlock new value in all manner of sectors including manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare and mining,” said Adrian Turner, CEO at CSIRO’s Data61.

Data61 last year led the formation of the Sixth Wave Alliance (SWA), bringing together government agencies, universities and industry to “put Australia on the map as the global leader in robotics”.

Sue Keay, former chief operating officer ofthe Australian Centre for Robotic Vision and key developer of A Robotics Roadmap for Australia, joined Data61’s ranks in December as leader of its Cyber Physical Systems program.

“By creating a cohesive approach to robotics RD through closer collaboration, supported by world-class facilities like the Robotics Innovation Centre, we can ensure Australia is well placed to benefit from Industry 4.0 and help to protect and accelerate our nation’s ongoing economic success,” Turner added.