NT drone lab to boost aerospace industry

·2-min read

A new Northern Territory drone test flight and development facility will boost Australia's defence and aerospace industries, the federal government says.

The Charles Darwin University lab will enable industry to partner with researchers to advance AI-assisted technology manufacturing and skills training.

"This test lab is all about bringing more businesses to the territory, more expertise, creating more jobs, building more skills," Education Minister Jason Clare told reporters on Thursday.

Spatial systems expert Hamish Campbell said the lab would help Australia become an industry leader in uncrewed autonomous systems and remotely piloted aircraft.

"Over the next 10 years we will see autonomous systems flying all over Australia. This test lab is about creating Australia's sovereignty in that space," Professor Campbell, director of the university's North Australia Centre for Autonomous Systems, said.

"If we've got these air frames travelling hundreds of kilometres across our country, we need to be manufacturing here and we need to be designing them and developing them."

The lab will also be an advanced apprenticeship training site where students, researchers and industry experts can work and learn together.

The Darwin-based university will partner with Victoria's RMIT University and German technology manufacturer Siemens, with the latter providing hi-tech software used by the aerospace and defence industry worldwide.

The facility will adopt and showcase Industry 4.0 practices and technologies, the fourth industrial revolution, which enables the digitisation of the manufacturing process.

"The project will strengthen the links between defence and aerospace industries and CDU and contribute to work by the NT government to strengthen digital infrastructure in Darwin," Mr Clare said.

"Once established, the test lab will support advancements in the manufacture of remotely piloted aircraft, as well as incorporate AI-assisted virtual planning, production, manufacture and maintenance to accelerate product quality and efficiency."

He said drones built in the lab could also be used to deliver medicines and other goods to remote communities across the NT in the future.

"That's the future, building drones here, helping people wherever they live, whether they're in big capital cities or in some of the most remote parts of Australia," Mr Clare said.

The Charles Darwin University-RMIT TestLab is a joint investment from the federal government, the Northern Territory government and the university, with each contributing $1 million to the project.

The university will introduce a range of training programs to support Australia's uncrewed autonomous systems, as well as a new higher diploma in advanced manufacturing, which will be open to enrolment this year.

Construction of the TestLab will begin in July, with the launch scheduled for late this year.

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