Below is an extract of Data61 CEO Adrian Turner’s latest op-ed in the Australian Financial Review, examining the potential for advanced manufacturing and artificial intelligence in an Australian context. Read the full piece here.



Making the virtual real: hypersonic flight and self-healing cars

Hypersonic flight is here. It’s defined as flight at Mach 5 or above, five times the speed of sound. To put that into context, a transatlantic plane flies well below Mach 1, while an F35 Joint Strike Fighter flies at Mach 1.6. In the future, hypersonic commercial flights could potentially get from Sydney to London in under three hours.

Australia has had an expertise in hypersonics since the 1980s, when we played an instrumental role in developing the scramjet engine. The scramjet’s engine relies on combustion of fuel in a stream of air. It reaches enormous speeds using compressed atmospheric oxygen for combustion with the fuel, resulting in highly efficient forward motion. But reliable hypersonic flight will not be possible without new materials to withstand the furnace-like heat produced and new methods of cooling the leading edges of hypersonic vehicles. In this, as in so many others areas of human endeavour, new discoveries in the components we use to build things are absolutely key.

Materials behind our greatest innovations
Advanced materials science is responsible for touch and foldable screens for phones, lightweight high-strength materials to build drones, ultrapure glassis chlorosilane used in high speed internet. As well as new coatings that repel water to reduce friction on the hulls of cargo ships or prevent ice forming on any surface, including office buildings.

CSIRO has invested into advanced materials research through its Active Integrated Matter future science platform, which counts autonomous design as one of its research test beds. This applies the concept of evolutionary algorithms to the design of new robotic parts, combining materials, manufacture, modelling and design to conceive new types of robots able to perform previously impossible tasks – including deploying from deep sea to deep space and completing complex long-term missions in the harshest environments Australia has to offer.

Advanced materials solutions in many areas have been elusive but the convergence of new materials and manufacturing processes, underpinned by machine learning and AI, as well as autonomous systems and robotics, is opening up a new frontier for industries like aerospace, mining, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food, health and energy. We are on the cusp of a Cambrian explosion of new materials and with ground-breaking applications, including new self-healing materials.