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Australian government releases Battery, Robotics strategy discussion papers

The Australian government has released its National Battery Strategy Issues paper and National Robotics Strategy Discussion Paper, inviting comment and responses to direct questions posed in the latter. Consultation on the Battery Strategy closed 17 March, but submissions on the National Robotics Strategy Discussion Paper close on 7 May.

The very existence of these papers is an explicit acknowledgement by the Australian government that robotic, autonomous and battery powered devices of all types and sizes, including air, sea and land vehicles, will play a significant role in the future. In the defence sector, each of Australia’s three services already has a strategy for adopting what the ADF increasingly terms Robotic and Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence, or RAS-AI.

The Department of Industry Science Energy and Resources (DISER) issues paper on the draft National Battery Strategy acknowledges Australia’s strengths as a producer of many of the raw materials used in the manufacture of different battery types – though the Strategy focusses principally on Lithium-Ion batteries. It also acknowledges the massive growth forecast in downstream manufacturing out to 2035, especially in cell manufacturing, battery pack assembly and electric vehicles and charging.

And the Australian government has announced specific measures to support the country’s battery industries: establishing a Battery Manufacturing Precinct to boost domestic manufacturing and establishing a Powering Australia Industry Growth Centre to convert the country’s competitive advantages into local jobs and investment.

The draft Strategy canvasses four main themes:

  • Moving up the value chain
  • Turning innovative ideas into opportunities
  • Encouraging investment to grow Australia’s battery industries
  • Creating the enabling environment for industry growth

Defining ‘robots’ and ‘autonomy’ is just one of the issues confronting the same Department, acknowledges the National Robotics Strategy Discussion Paper. The paper addresses six principal themes, broken down into 23 separate questions. The themes include those definitions, Australia’s opportunity, existing national capabilities and strengths in robotics and autonomy R&D and manufacturing, trust and responsible development and use, skills and workforce development, and adoption.

The paper notes that in 2021 a team from CSIRO’s Data61 Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group won second prize in the US DARPA Subterranean Challenge, demonstrating Australia’s strengths in software, technology and research expertise. More recently, the Australian Space Agency signed an agreement with NASA to develop an Australian-made semi-autonomous lunar rover for the Project Artemis Moon to Mars mission, illustrating Australia’s global reputation in remote operations.

While there is no doubting Australia’s leadership in many aspects of robotic and autonomous systems, the country has long lacked a coherent strategy for identifying applications and opportunities and then investing profitably to pursue them, noting that to climb the learning curve in this field often requires patient capital.

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