Putting data to work: D61+ Live

While day one of Data61’s flagship event, D61+ Live explored where Australia stands in relation to data science and data analytics, day two looked at the technology that flows from the vast amounts of data being produced.

Attendees were primed to start thinking about what data could be used for after the Artificial Intelligence panel. As Dr Cheng Soon Ong, principal researcher at Data61, highlighted, the core mission of scientific endeavour is to take data collected in the field, by whatever method, and turn that into knowledge. With machine learning, scientists can also take the knowledge gained from analysing the data to inform better questions about collecting the data in the first place.

With this overall framework informing discussion the application of machine learning, based on data, to everyday life could be discussed. Sue Keay, research director of cyber-physical systems, noted that by using artificial intelligence, consumer products can be turned into autonomous robots, with self-driving vehicles being the obvious example. However, Keay pointed out, there is room for other products such as self-driving shopping trolleys, to move throughout existing buildings such as supermarkets, without wholesale redesigns of the landscape, similar to how self-driving cars can operate on existing roads. This can also be applied in the home, where instead of redesigning a dwelling with a proliferation of sensors and devices, an individual assistance robot can be introduced to the environment, for a similar outcome.

Speakers went into more depth on the issue of robotics and automation in a session dedicated to such devices. For manufacturers, robots are a familiar presence, with production lines being a home for robots since 1961 when the first industrial robot, Unimate #001, was introduced into a General Motors assembly line in Trenton, New Jersey. However, there remains a gap between the tasks associated with process automation, where tasks are clearly defined and compartmentalised, and dynamic workplaces where tasks, layouts, and materials are constantly changing.

Bridging this gap will require a plan and support, particularly for smaller business which lack the talent or capital to invest in robotics, something that Keay saw as lacking. Nicci Roussow, CEO of social and service robotics firm Exaptec noted, areas such aged care are ripe for the introduction of robots, however these sectors need a change management policy in place to ask and answer the questions of why a robot is being brought into a company and what is its intended use.