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April 2019

Cities of the future will be built on big data to enhance the human experience

By | Engineering for humanity | No Comments

Engineer, architect and designer Carlo Ratti wants cities to be smarter so that we can live in them in new and better ways.

Walls made of water, mobile phones that measure bridge stability, skyscrapers that burst apart to reveal tropical gardens … Carlo Ratti’s ideas sound like science fiction, but for a man who has written a book called The City of Tomorrow, he is not much inclined towards prognostication.

“It can be very difficult to predict the future,” the engineer, architect and designer told create.

“The future is not written in stone; the future is something that we all build together. So it depends on the decisions that we make today, tomorrow, in a year and so on.”

Maybe that is why Ratti’s designs — from schemes that use big data to reimagine infrastructure use in urban areas, to high concept installations in expos and festivals — seem to transform the future into something that can exist right now.

Carlo Ratti at one of his creations. the Digital Water Pavilion.

“What we can do is experiment with the present,” he said.

“And I think that’s what we really should do as architects, designers, engineers — to try to look at the potential of the present and how we can change it. That’s a way to try to build the future, not to try to predict it.”

Coming together

A native of Turin, Italy, Ratti built up his knowledge of maths and physics studying structural engineering — first in his home country and then in France.

“And then I liked architecture, so I went to do architecture at Cambridge,” he said. He earned his PhD at the esteemed UK university and added studies in computer science to his repertoire.

“The path was very weird,” he said.

The Digital Water Pavilion has curtains of water dividing its spaces instead of walls.

“Those things started converging into this space, which is in between computer science, design, and engineering — which is the space of cities and intelligence.”

Today he is the Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Senseable City Lab, a research initiative that studies how digital information and layers of networks are transforming the way cities can be designed and understood.

He is also a founding partner of the architecture firm Carlo Ratti Associati, and has been described, by Fast Company, as one of the 50 most influential designers in America and, by Wired, as one of 50 people who will change the world.

His Digital Water Pavilion, an installation created for the Zaragoza Expo 2008, was listed as one of the inventions of the year by Time magazine. The installation was a structure with controllable and reconfigurable curtains of water dividing its spaces, rather than walls.

“It was a way to show people in an exciting way how digital could allow us to control atoms — in this case drops of water — in a new way,” Ratti said.

“To create an architecture made of that.”

New perspectives

The inventiveness in these one-off ideas comes to life in some of Ratti’s larger designs. One example is his CapitaSpring project in Singapore.

A 280-metre tall skyscraper designed with Bjarke Ingels Group, CapitaSpring forms a literal oasis in the centre of the South-East Asian metropolis.

The CapitaSpring building in Singapore. (Image: Big-Bjarke Ingels Group)

“This building has a tropical forest in the middle,” Ratti explained to an audience in Sydney this past November.

“With a public space where people can go and meet, you can have a coffee and look at the city in the middle of nature.”

But the building’s smart design outlook extends beyond this integration of natural and built spaces. It features an array of sensors, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things capabilities.

Even its car parks are forward-thinking, built with an awareness that a future of ride-sharing or self-driving cars might render vehicles for individual transport obsolete.

“You might need much less parking spaces tomorrow. So how do we do it?” Ratti asked.

One answer was not to bury the parking beneath the ground.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure that’s going to be useless tomorrow and we cannot convert it into anything else,” he said.

“Let’s keep it above ground … let’s make the structure inside a bit more flexible so that place could be used for some other activities tomorrow.”

Another Ratti project that brings together technology, data and the people that use each is Good Vibrations.

A creation of the Senseable City Lab, Good Vibrations is a scheme to check the structural integrity of tens of thousands of US bridges without relying on costly sensors or infrequent and potentially inadequate visual evaluations.

Ratti’s plan to find a new way to measure the ‘structural fingerprint’ of a bridge relies on the ubiquity of a device able to measure vibrations: the smart phone.

“The bridge’s vibrations are transmitted from the road surface, through the tires, into the suspension system, and vehicle cabin,” explained the Senseable Cities website.

“The vibration sensors located in the vehicle can capture traces of the bridge’s structural dynamics.”

A trial involved sending cars back and forth across San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge.

“We collected all the data and it turns out you can actually get a lot of information,” Ratti said.

“Of course, it’s not super accurate.”

But aggregating large quantities of data — if the technology were incorporated into a common app like Uber, for instance — would allow a lot of bridges to be monitored at once, highlighting which ones show trouble signs and might need closer scrutiny.

BIM me up Scotty

Engineers are a driving force behind artificial intelligence, but in building information modelling (BIM) software, Ratti sees danger — at least for some engineers.

“BIM is a digital representation of the physical world,” he said.

“And BIM, I think, is going to destroy a lot of work that today is done by engineers.”

By way of example, he points to a pavilion designed by Carlo Ratti Associati for Milan Design Week in 2018.

“We did everything in BIM,” he said.

“This is just commercial software — but I think that BIM plus artificial intelligence will lead in just a few years to a condition where a lot of the structural calculations … of a building are going to be totally automated.”

To survive, engineers must focus on their creative talents.

“Engineers usually are the ones who power the transformation, but in this case, they might be the victims,” he said.

Engineering poetry

Among Ratti’s future projects are a bid to revitalise the grounds surrounding Paris’s Eiffel Tower, reinventing the space as a modern and digitally informed boulevard.

Testing Good Vibrations

Another involves a sustainable battery factory in Sweden that incorporates principles of the circular economy into its design.

“It’s for a company called Northvolt,” he said.

“It’s two people who left Tesla and started this kind of Gigafactory in the north of Sweden. We’re very excited; it’s a building all made of wood, all circular.”

It is a demonstration of how Ratti’s vision of the city is more than an antiseptic void of apps and algorithmic efficiency.

“I think you can use the same technology also to create art and amazing interactions for people,” he said.

“It depends if you want to see it or not, but I think there’s a lot of poetry.”

He quoted Shakespeare’s Coriolanus: “What is the city but the people?”

When people talk about smart cities, Ratti believes they can too easily forget about that human dimension.

“Cities, when they emerged 10,000 years ago, they emerged as a place that was a magnet for people,” he said.

“I think what is going to change a lot with technology is the way of living and inhabiting the city.”

Carlo Ratti will be the opening keynote speaker at the World Engineers Convention 2019, 20-22 November in Melbourne. 

Register now.

Dr Collette Burke, Victoria's first Chief Engineer

Victoria’s first Chief Engineer shares her vision for the future of the state

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With $10 billion of annual engineering projects in track, Victoria has created a new position to ensure impeccable advice and direction. Meet Victorian Chief Engineer Collette Burke.

There is a staggering portfolio of engineering projects in Victoria right now, from bridges to roads, railway stations to sporting arenas and hospitals to libraries.

It seems that everywhere one looks, new life is sprouting: unique shapes created to fit the future needs of a fast-growing state. Such a broad set of builds requires strong direction to ensure consistency, quality and fit for purpose.

Victoria's Chief Engineer Dr Collette Burke.

Chief Engineer Dr Collette Burke (front centre) will shape the future of engineering in Victoria.

The Victorian State Government realised that with so much on the line, regular expert advice was essential. In January this year it appointed Dr Collette Burke to the newly designed role of Victorian Chief Engineer. For Dr Burke it’s a role that, in a way, she’s been preparing for since she was 16 years old.

After undertaking work experience during her school days in civil engineering at a construction project at Melbourne Airport, she knew exactly where her future career would lie.

“I thought it was absolutely amazing,” she said.

“The work, the dynamics, the planning and building of the most amazing infrastructure you could possibly imagine – I said, ‘That’s it. This is what I’m going to do!’.”

Having gone on to study a Bachelor of Civil Engineering, a Master in Engineering Science, Harvard Business School courses and a PhD in risk management, Dr Burke is now the Managing Director of Exner Group, General Manager of Karsta Middle East and a Director on the VicTrack board.

In a candid interview with create, Dr Burke shared her vision of the future of engineering in Victoria.

create: How long is your appointment as Victorian Chief Engineer?

The appointment is for two years, but I am hoping to build a solid work plan that will extend far into the future for the role of the Victorian Chief Engineer.

create: What are your key priorities in this role?

Initially my focus will be on the extensive portfolio of projects in Victoria, so a key priority is to provide support and advice to government on those projects.

Another key area is looking at how we foster better connectivity between government, industry, educational institutes and professional bodies. How do we align and leverage off industry, performance and capability in an environment of such significant investment and growth?

With this level of growth and investment comes major demand on resources — so there will also be a strong focus on the engineering capability not just in government, but across the state. We have to look at how we leverage the engineering capacity and how we work with the education sector to make sure our young people coming through into the industry get practical experience and exposure to the profession, just as I did.

This way, we create the spark and continue to feed their interest in this field and facilitate them entering the workforce as job-ready graduates. Continuing to work towards a very deep pool of experienced engineers is essential.

create: So the role is as much about the engineering profession as it is about the government?

I believe it combines both, as a support to the government and across the project portfolio, with a key role in raising the profile of the profession. This will ultimately benefit government, industry, professional bodies and educational institutions.

We have to forge these partnerships in order to deliver and create the infrastructure that will allow our cities to continue to develop. Those partnerships and connectivity are critical.

create: How can the industry better serve the Victorian Government?

Engineers have very good technical and problem-solving skills, so now it’s important to take those skills and look at building an expert knowledge bank. We need to make it easier for engineers to build relationships and networks. We’re not just in offices undertaking design calculations, or out in the field executing construction. We’re building precincts and entire cities. We don’t just build infrastructure independently.

Infrastructure must be synergised in the existing and future environment. We need a collaborative approach that includes an understanding of environmental impact and social impact. It’s a different mindset from how engineers worked in the past. Digital engineering technology and project visualisation will greatly assist with this.

create: How far has the engineer’s registration system gone right now in Victoria?

It’s a bill that has been tabled in parliament, therefore it’s going to evolve in the path of legislation. As Victorian Chief Engineer I will provide advice and support to assist the registration system being implemented.

The system will create consistent assessment and registration of engineers in Victoria, and one of my key goals is to ensure it is implemented with minimal disruption to the engineering profession. Built into that system will be a continued professional development component to make sure engineers are keeping their knowledge current and building the industry’s knowledge base.

create: You’re also passionate about levelling the gender playing field?

Victoria's first Chief Engineer Dr Collette BurkeInterestingly, when I was younger and came into the profession, I must admit I was quite oblivious to the fact that gender was an issue. I was just so excited to be in the industry and simply didn’t understand that gender created a difference in my role.

Through my past involvement as President and National Director of the National Association for Women in Construction, I began to understand the wider gender issues in industry. I have worked hard in all organisations I have been a part of to ensure we continue to develop initiatives and pathways to attract, develop and retain a greater percentage of females.

We still have quite a low percentage of women in engineering. We need to continue to find mechanisms to attract more young women and ensure they are supported to reach leadership roles. This will add to creating non-homogenous teams, which produce smarter and greater outcomes.

create: How has the reaction been, so far, to the appointment of a Victorian Chief Engineer?

The reaction is overwhelming and very exciting. A significant number of both industry leaders, and governments are wanting to explore the opportunities and changes this role can bring to Victoria.

Common threads through the diverse engagement have centred around raising the profile of the profession, resources and capacity in the state, proven technology that can easily be adopted to assist performance of people and projects, and sustainable construction. I have incorporated these items into my priorities for the forward work plan.

create: At the end of your two-year appointment as Victorian Chief Engineer, how will you measure your success?

We’re heading into a new era that involves significant technological development. This means the way in which we deliver projects will be different from how we’ve done it in the past. This role is very much around ensuring a fostering of knowledge and a sharing of advancement, innovation and development between the government, the private sector, educational bodies and professional bodies.

Dr Collette Burke will be a keynote speaker at the World Engineers Convention 2019, 20-22 November in Melbourne. 

Register now.

Agricultural robots will help farmers feed the world – and do it sustainably

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Agricultural robots could address productivity and labour demands on farms, as well as help farmers operate more sustainably.

Professor Salah Sukkarieh’s work at the University of Sydney’s world-leading Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) has taken in automated stevedoring, aerospace, mining, farming and more.

Sukkarieh is best known for his work on agricultural robotics, which has earned him honours that include a nomination for the 2019 New South Wales Australian of the Year and the CSIRO Eureka Prize in 2017.

Agricultural robotics offer a highly promising set of technologies that seem on the cusp of adoption on farms.

“I’d never been a specific industry person; I’ve always just been interested in systems engineering, together with, when it’s possible, field robotics,” Sukkarieh told create of his work on ‘agbots’, which began early this century with weed identification using drones.

“I have been doing a lot of agricultural robotics work, but simultaneously I did some work for Qantas and I’ve been doing work in mining. But yes, the main focus is agriculture; that’s where a lot of the action is at the moment now, to try and see how we can help the farmers.”

Salah Sukkarieh with agbot Ladybird, which can check on the health of crops.

Sukkarieh was Director of the ACFR’s research and innovation efforts — a constant push and pull of development, application, then further development based on how technology performs with industrial partners — from 2007 to 2018.

Part of the reason he stepped down from the role last year was to step up his efforts to bring agricultural robots to commercial reality.

Home on the range

This nearly market-ready concept of ‘smart farming’ will be a part of the World Engineers Convention (WEC) 2019 this 20-22 November, at which Sukkarieh will present.

WEC 2019 focuses on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and smart farming fits with one of six themes at the event: ‘Engineering for Humanity’.

Helping farmers and, in turn, helping feed a global population that is estimated to reach almost 9.7 billion by 2050 is a goal of increasingly sophisticated farming methods.

According to the ACFR, the technology drive began with sensing on farms, followed by the application of data analytics, decision-making software, and eventually — driven by increasingly powerful computation — the real-time use of data necessary for field robotics to be used.

Growing season

The farming sector has a set of difficulties to overcome. Farm workers have an average age of 56 in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. End customers and therefore supermarkets and grocers are demanding perfect fruit. There is a shortage of available labour.

And there is a need to operate more sustainably. Sustainably grown food is something of a passion for Sukkarieh.

“I think there’s something in me that likes and wants to focus on how do we help the environment and how do we help the stewards of the environment, which are the farmers,” he said.

“Robotics are going to see reduced chemical use as well as help them optimise their use of things like planning for weeds and so forth.”

One recent project that will assist greater sustainability is SwagBot.

SwagBot is a four-wheeled, solar-powered robot able to navigate undulating terrain and obstacles such as logs.

It can be remote-controlled by a person or go through a pre-set route while applying collision avoidance algorithms and GPS.

It originated as a low-cost vehicle for smallholder farmers, funded by a three-year philanthropic donation and a one-year grant from Meat and Livestock Australia, a repeat collaborator with the ACFR.

It can tackle problems in grazer farms like weeding, tracking animal health through various sensors, and collecting soil samples.

“We started looking for new sensors, new machine-learning techniques, new types of robotics, to be able to do weeding based on a small sampling basis,” Sukkarieh said.

“We’ve done all that in the last few years.”

Being able to cut down on herbicide use through mechanical or precision spot weeding is appealing for both cost-saving and sustainability reasons.

Having a solar-powered robot for precision farming would mean fewer emissions from spent diesel from the distribution of agrochemicals.

Besides the sustainability and productivity gains that smart farming offers, it also promises a move away from chasing economies of scale.

Instead of bigger machines and more chemicals, having robots and data available at the plant level shifts the focus away from commoditisation.

Asked if he sees an expectation for engineers to deliver more sustainable solutions, whether for a farm or elsewhere, Sukkarieh said yes.

“I don’t think we’re getting much of an option, because I think everyone realises the urgency given our finite resources,” he said.

“I think there’s a growing awareness of and an effort to understand what sustainability means, both in engineering and in general. And so I think that has become important and I think there’s more awareness.”

Field and sky

Sukkarieh’s work has relevance beyond land-bound applications. A concept study for Qantas on efficient flight planning has grown into a major project between the carrier and the ACFR.

The eventual results will be rolled out over the course of this year.

Named Constellation, the system builds on path-planning work on drones, picking the best possible route based on parameters like weather and traffic flow.

“It dawned on us that we could improve the flight planning using mathematical optimisation and deep-learning techniques, as well as path planning algorithms that we could maybe develop to give you more efficient routes,” Sukkarieh said.

“If you have more efficient routes, then you also use less fossil fuels and also emit less carbon into the air.”

The five-year project on Constellation began with five research fellows. Over time, the team grew to 15 at the ACFR, with roughly the same number contributing at Qantas.

The system picks an optimal solution using millions of data points, considering the best path, speed and altitude for flight, and operating within safety and other constraints.

It produces a ‘cost map’ at the end. According to an article in The Sydney Morning Herald from December 2018, the subtle changes suggested by the system could save nearly a percentage point on fuel, representing $40 million based on Qantas’s annual bill.

‘Engineering for Humanity’ is one of the themes at the World Engineers Convention (WEC) 2019, 20-22 November in Melbourne. 

Dr Collette Burke

Victoria’s first Chief Engineer talks how to raise the profile of the industry

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Victoria recently appointed Dr Collette Burke as its first Chief Engineer, a position that will help shape the state’s drive to modernise its infrastructure and make STEM an integral part of its economy.

As she begins her tenure, Dr Collette Burke spoke with create digital to tell us what’s on her agenda, how we can raise the profile of the engineering profession, and why you’ll start to see more Chief Engineers across the country.

create: What is your experience in engineering, and why were you chosen to be Victoria’s first Chief Engineer?

Collette Burke: I was selected for this role largely due to my extensive experience in the public and private sector. I started my career in site engineer roles, working my way to executive management and now into directorship and advisory roles.

I’ve delivered a diverse range of infrastructure projects including telecommunications, rail, road, marine and tunnels, and also have a PhD in risk management over the lifecycle of a construction project. This leaves me well placed to advise on risk management and best practice.

create: Australia has Chief Scientists, but few Chief Engineers. Why do you think we need Chief Engineers now?

CB: Investment in infrastructure development is currently at unprecedented levels, and it’s going to continue to grow over the next five to 10 years. I believe the government has realised the need for more expert input on how we design, engineer and deliver projects so we can develop world-class infrastructure for the benefit of our communities.

create: What are some issues on your radar?

CB: For quite a while we’ve been talking about integrated transport networks – how they operate and interlink, and how we move around cities and states. Moving into the future, there is a need to look at how we can maximise the use of existing assets, and how we can link that with further developments in data collection to look at things from both a state and national perspective.

We also have a shortage of engineers in both the private and public sector, so resourcing issues could continue to worsen. Upskilling our younger engineers with good quality work experience in the private and public sector will not only give them an advantage when entering the workplace, but it will also ensure the future supply of an appropriately skilled engineering workforce.

create: How can we raise the profile of engineers and their contributions to society?

CB: I believe government, industry and professional bodies have always had a good relationship. However, the mechanisms have not been in place to move the engineering profession forward in a united way.

Part of my role will be tapping into agency and industry bodies to see what’s on their agenda. After a couple of months, we should be able to gauge the mood of the industry and determine priorities.

Engineers tend to be quiet achievers on the whole. Promoting the profession will be not just working with government and industry, but interacting with universities, working in STEM education and looking at how we can promote those subjects to the younger generations.

People generally have a good understanding of what engineers do out in the private sector, however it’s important to promote and showcase roles and opportunities offered across all of engineering. We need to better understand career paths for engineering and how we can foster this development.

I also believe there is a need to create consistent standards across the board. In Victoria we are introducing a registration system for engineers, which will be an important step to achieving this goal. 

create: You have a history of promoting women in engineering. Will this be something you focus on during your tenure as Chief Engineer?

CB: We need diversity in the industry to get optimum outcomes, and certainly that includes diversity by gender. We need to make sure we continue to promote women, that we have good role models, and that we encourage younger women into the profession.

Having held the position as former director of the National Association for Women in Construction, I’m particularly interested in how we look at promoting and retaining women within the profession.

create: What legacy would you like to leave?

CB: This is a new position for the state, and as Victoria’s first Chief Engineer, setting up a solid foundation from the start will ensure future success for the Chief Engineer’s role.

I look forward to working with my state and national counterparts. I’m excited to interact with them and discuss how we can trade ideas and experience to ultimately raise the profession as a whole.

Dr Collette Burke will be a keynote speaker at the World Engineers Convention 2019, 20-22 November in Melbourne.

Register now.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s plan to jumpstart Australian innovation

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As both an engineer and entrepreneur, Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel knows how to make things happen. He brings to his new role energised leadership, a vision to support great science and research, and the courage to confront real issues.

Soon after he was announced as Australia’s next Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel addressed the media at the National Press Club.

His speech began with a story about a fearsome and powerful warship, the Vasa, that was built in Sweden in 1625. Various tasks, he said, were outsourced to specialists in other countries during the ship’s three-year construction process.

Halfway through the build, the King decided he wanted an extra deck with more cannons, and of course his wish was granted. Twenty minutes after the ship’s launch in front of an enormous gathering on the shores of Stockholm’s harbour, it sank. A total of 53 lives were lost.

There had been no testing prior to launch, Finkel said. Specifications had changed at political whim. The workforce was split into silos, some separated by national borders. There was no prior research, no prototype built and no appetite for frank and fearless advice. In other words, there was no science.

Four hundred years later and science – evidence-based testing, modelling, candid and open discussion – is even more important in order to meet current and future challenges. Now that he holds the office of Chief Scientist, Finkel intends to create a new roadmap for Australia’s scientific future and, thereby, contribute to raising the nation’s scientific output.

Direct research funding

“Research infrastructure, of course, is not the roads and buildings,” he said.

“It’s the big ticket scientific equipment that has a national utility that will underpin our future ability to understand the cosmos, where technology is taking us, artificial intelligence, self driving cars, medical breakthroughs, and also capture and archive and use the information that gives us knowledge about our history and culture and our stories.

“I use the word ‘research’ rather than ‘science’ because the brief is not just to look at the physical sciences. It is not just to look at the natural sciences, but also to underpin and support the research [from] the experts from humanity, the arts and social sciences, too.”

Finkel’s aim, essentially, is to define where government might direct large amounts of research funding over the next 15 years in order to develop infrastructure on a national scale, accessible to researchers around the country. Such infrastructure, or ‘big-ticket scientific equipment’ as he called it, will mean great science becomes possible. With great science comes innovation – not that we don’t have a good innovation track record already.

“Australia is actually quite innovative and entrepreneurial, but not always in the space where people are looking for it,” Finkel said.

“People tend to look for entrepreneurship in ‘high tech’, ‘bio tech’ anything that ends in ‘tech’ … and they just don’t necessarily see it elsewhere.”

Look at the banking and mining sectors, he says, and you’ll see plenty of innovation. “Banks have developed and implemented back-end software and front-end software for their customers that transformed the way banking is done in this country,” he said.

“It’s much easier to do a transaction of any sort here than in America.”

In our mining sector, Finkel continued, you only need to look as far as the processes, systems and technologies put in place by businesses such as Rio Tinto and BHP to automate mines and make them more efficient, cost effective, environmentally friendly and safer for mine workers, to see innovation on a massive scale.

But still, the innovation in technology sectors as a measure of contribution to GDP is very small, likely below 1 per cent. Also low are the current translation levels of academic research to industry relevance.

And so science and innovation, which when done well go hand in hand, are twin obsessions for Finkel. The question is, how will he go about encouraging both?

Wear an engineer’s hat

As well as developing a plan for the next generation of all-important research infrastructure, Finkel said he is one of a panel of three reviewing the $2.9 billion a year R&D tax incentive to ensure it really is effective at encouraging research and development that would not otherwise have taken place.

As Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Science Council, he will measure the nation’s progress against nine national science and research priorities. He is also planning to develop a dynamic database of extracurricular STEM initiatives to teachers, students and parents, to help develop children’s interest in the topics from an earlier age.

All of this is just the beginning, the first steps to solve an enormous problem. But thanks to his education and experience as an engineer, Finkel said, he has the ability to break a problem down into manageable pieces.

“I think that, as an engineer, I bring that ability to analyse problems and test and deliver solutions in a very methodical fashion,” he said.

“With my engineer’s hat on I think of my role as an upside-down T. The base of that upside-down T is a lateral, or latitudinal component. That’s the breadth of research activity across publicly-funded research institutions.

“The vertical arm, which is the longitudinal component, is the translation of that research activity into the community for economic or societal benefits. So, perhaps what I bring as an engineer, beyond what I would bring if I was a scientist alone, is the specific interest in the translation all the way through to economic and societal benefits.”

That engineer’s outlook has also taught him that failure represents learning and opportunity, and that even a sunken ship can be turned into a positive.

At the end of his address to the National Press Club, Finkel explained that the Swedish warship Vasa sat on the bottom of the harbour for 333 years and was finally raised, almost perfectly preserved in the icy waters, in 1961.

“Raising it was a phenomenal feat of ingenuity and engineering,” he said.

“It was installed in a purpose-built museum, where more than a million people every year line up to see it. To Sweden, the Vasa is now a great source of national pride.

“Sweden didn’t give up on building ships. They built two-deck gunships. They built three-deck gunships. Gunships that became the pride of the Swedish military for the next 30 years. They helped to usher in the age the Swedes call ‘stormaktstiden’ – the Great Power Period. Failure – repurposed as a symbol of success. But we don’t have to get there from the bottom of the harbour. Let’s take the direct path to our own stormaktstiden, our Great Power Period.”

Let’s talk nuclear energy

Some have said that Dr Alan Finkel is pro nuclear energy. Where does he really stand on the divisive energy source? In a recent interview with the news website The Conversation, Finkel was asked about his views on nuclear energy. His answers made his point of view perfectly clear.

“I am not an actual advocate of building nuclear electricity,” he said.

“I am somebody who feels we should have an open debate about its potential to contribute.”

What is important, Finkel said, is that we choose an ambition, rather than a technology. That ambition, he believes, should be zero emission technology. In order to then achieve that goal, we must look at technologies that could make it a reality.

In this case, the big four energy sources would be solar and wind, coupled with some sort of energy storage method, as well as hydro and nuclear.

“Other ones that get talked about often in discussions, such as waves and tidal, just have not proved to be practical,” he said.

“If growth [in energy demand] is strong and if we are determined to approach a zero emissions supply as part of our commitment to meeting the Paris accord, then we have to use zero emissions technologies.

“But whether or not we should build nuclear depends not only on whether the technology can deliver zero emissions electricity, but also on the economics and the societal acceptance. And ultimately that is very much a decision for politicians.”

Dr Alan Finkel will a keynote speaker at the World Engineers Convention 2019, 20-22 November in Melbourne. 

Register now.