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ELSA Centre of Excellence teams up with RMIT to combat disasters

Elbit Systems of Australia’s (ELSA) Centre of Excellence in Human-Machine Teaming and Artificial Intelligence is teaming up with RMIT University to develop drone technology to protect lives amid the chaos of unfolding disasters.

The two-year partnership, announced at the ELSA Centre of Excellence (CoE) Open Day in Melbourne on 6 June, will undertake two joint research projects using drones to assist with mass evacuations during natural disasters and other emergencies.

ELSA Managing Director Major General (retired) Paul McLachlan AO, CSC, said he was anticipating some cutting-edge research to be carried out over the next two years.

The CoE was officially opened on 6 June by Victorian Minister for Trade Martin Pakula MP who noted that it is the first of its kind outside Israel and the USA. “It adds to the growing number of universities, research organisations and businesses in Victoria’s growing defence sector and many of them are located here at Fishermans Bend. This area has long been a centre of innovation,” he added. The CoE is a joint venture with the Victorian government which is looking to enhance the State’s defence as well as civilian R&D.

“Our partnership with RMIT University demonstrates that we are determined to create solutions to deal with the complex problems that emergency management organisations face during natural disasters,” said. Paul McLachlan.

“The projects will research how to use drones to count the number of people in designated evacuation zones, then to co-ordinate and communicate the most efficient evacuation routes to everyone in the zone, as well as monitoring the area to ensure that everyone has been accounted for.”

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, released in October 2020, clearly recommended there was a need to improve evacuation planning:

“Effective national coordination will be a critical capability in managing natural disasters on a national scale or with national consequences. Arrangements need to be clear, robust and accountable,” the report says.

“It is rare that an emergency management organisation has access to research and development money to spend as most funding goes to operations that is spent – _and quite rightly – on appliances and people,” said Mr McLachlan, who has also served as a Commander of the Operation Queensland Flood Assist taskforce.

“Our vision is to create an opportunity to collaborate and co-develop innovative technology that would make their jobs easier and better and that’s what this partnership with RMIT signifies today.”

As Elbit continues its enhancement of ELSA as an Australian subsidiary, collaboration and diversification with industry partners is a top priority, Mr McLachlan added.

RMIT University’s Professor John Thangarajah, Director of the Centre for Industrial AI Research and Innovation, said he looked forward to the research collaboration with ELSA’s team at the CoE.

“RMIT is proud to partner with ELSA’s Centre of Excellence for the research projects in which we are determined to break new ground for emergency services and government agencies to ensure the safety of those who are caught in distressing circumstances that sadly we are all becoming familiar with after recent fires and floods,” Professor Thangarajah said.

Research is due to commence later this year.

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