Australia’s ambition to position itself as an ‘innovation nation’ is overshadowed by the disheartening reality of gradually losing ground to global competitors. This stark contrast raises a vital question: What hinders Australia from fostering a culture of innovation? In this blog post, we uncover the remarkable journey of the Black Box Flight Recorder, a testament to the obstacles Australian innovators have bravely tackled.
Delving into the cultural factors that impede the adoption of homegrown technologies, we shed light on the challenges faced. However, amidst these hurdles, we bring into focus the remarkable achievements of exci, an Australian company that exemplifies resilience and ingenuity. Despite confronting numerous barriers, exci’s triumph stands as a compelling lesson, echoing the triumphs of underdogs throughout history.
Neglected at Home, Triumph Overseas – The Black Box Story
Australia faces significant challenges in translating innovative ideas into reality, a historical struggle exemplified by the development of the Black Box Flight Recorder by David Warren. Initially, Warren encountered difficulties in generating interest in his invention, with Australian authorities showing little enthusiasm.
However, a turning point emerged in 1958 when Sir Robert Hardingham, a former British Air Vice-Marshal, voiced his admiration for the black box’s potential during an informal visit. This pivotal moment triggered a successful presentation in England, prompting the UK’s Ministry of Aviation to consider mandating the recording of instrument readings. Canada also witnessed similar success stories.
Despite the global acknowledgment of the black box’s life-saving capabilities, its progress in Australia encountered obstacles owing to a lack of domestic support. This setback allowed other nations to take the lead in its production and dominate the burgeoning market.
Cultural Barriers to Innovation in Australia
Cultural influences play a significant role in how Australia adopts innovative solutions. Previously, there was a clear preference for products from abroad, and this, combined with the undervaluing of homegrown innovations, hindered the acceptance of local technologies.
Before the pandemic, Australia witnessed the growth of a risk-averse culture that impacted businesses and innovation. This cautious approach contrasts sharply with the dynamic business adaptability and creativity observed in places like Silicon Valley. Here, a culture endorsing risk-taking and acknowledging the potential for failure has fueled considerable entrepreneurial endeavors.
Colonial Mindset and its Impact on Innovation
These circumstances bring to light the question of whether Peter Warren’s assertion about a lingering colonial mindset, as reflected in his father’s story, holds true. He argues that during his father’s time, Australia didn’t perceive itself as a global equal and often believed that significant developments were only happening overseas. Peter contends that this lack of interest in his father’s work is rooted in that colonial mindset, which he believes continues to hinder the country’s progress even today.
Australia’s Downwards Spiral in Global Innovation Index
Australia’s disappointing 24th position out of 132 nations in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s 2023 Global Innovation Index – dropping 4 places since 2018, supports Peter’s assertion of the persisting colonial mindset in the country’s approach to innovation. In contrast, China is several spots ahead of Australia, highlighting the apparent loss of ground to agile international competitors.
Despite significant investments in research and development, Australia’s innovation ranking remains low. This can be attributed to factors such as the scarcity of top-tier academic institutions and challenges in effectively commercializing and monetizing innovations. However, the most prominent structural barrier stems from Australia’s three-year political cycle, resulting in noticeable policy inconsistencies that impede successful innovation within the country.
Beyond the Blackbox Shadow – exci’s AI Bushfire Detection
In this context, exci stands out as an Australian company that achieved remarkable international success in the field of AI-powered bushfire detection, presenting an innovative response to a pressing global issue.
During the 2020/21 Californian fire season, exci processed over a billion images from more than 1,000 ground-based cameras and analysed 500,000 satellite images for the presence of smoke and heat. The system monitored a staggering 130 million acres spanning across North America. During this period, exci’s system exhibited a remarkable 66% fire detection within a minute, 95% within five minutes, and nearly 100% within ten minutes, with an impressively low false positive rate.
Challenges in Gaining Traction in Australia
Back in Australia, exci was the first to showcase its advanced AI technology’s remarkable capabilities to a worldwide audience during a live demonstration at the Sunshine Coast, Queensland in January 2021.
During this time, Australia was still recovering from the devastating 2019/20 Black Summer bushfire, leaving long-lasting psychological scars. Giving this context, an optimistic reception for an early bushfire detection system might have been anticipated. Yet, despite praise from Australian politicians and substantial media coverage, the authorities failed to translate their praise into action.
exci’s Journey: A Modern David and Goliath Tale
Image: David vs Goliath
exci’s journey draws parallels to the legendary biblical story of David battling Goliath. Despite facing well-funded competition from overseas, exci has excelled in multiple aspects. Since emerging four years ago at the Sunshine Coast, its technology has been proven in large-scale deployments both overseas and in Australia.
Covering 25 million acres of Australian forestry and plantations, from Victoria to Northern Queensland, exci’s system serves as a testament to the success of bootstrapped endeavors driven by resilience and ingenuity, overcoming the typical reliance on substantial funding in innovation.
Changing Consumer Behaviour: Australian Made
In May 2023, exci proudly earned the esteemed Australian Made Campaign license. The green-and-gold kangaroo certification logo, recognised by 94% of Australians as a symbol of trustworthiness and genuine Australian origin, has gained significant importance. This shift in consumer behavior is a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, fostering a renewed appreciation for local industries and their role in the community.
Factors Driving the Consumer Shift
Boosting Local Economy: Australians recognize the need to support small businesses that continue to face challenges due to pandemic-related restrictions.
Trust in the Australian-Made Logo: The green and gold kangaroo logo symbolizes trust and authenticity, resonating with the ethos of supporting domestic businesses deeply embedded in Australian culture.
Perceived High Quality: Australian-made products are esteemed for their quality and prestige.
Supporting the Workforce: Buying locally is seen as an ethical choice, supporting job creation and employment.
Green Consumerism: With the growing environmental concerns, products with the Australian Made logo are associated with eco-friendliness, appealing to environmentally conscious consumers.
Sunshine Coast Council’s Innovative Response to Bushfires
The Sunshine Coast Council sets an example for fostering innovation and resilience within the community. With a focus on technology and environmental protection, the Council implemented exci’s AI-technology, providing a crucial defense against wildfires. exci’s system analyses images from cameras located at Gerrards Lookout, Dulong Lookout, and Mount Coolum for the presence of smoke.
Within the last 6 days since exci’s system has been in operation, it detected and reported 66 fires to the Sunshine Coast Council and Queensland fire emergency services (QFES), highlighting its role in defending the region against the increasing threat of wildfires due to climate change.
Image: Fire detection Gerrards Lookout
Image: Fire detection Mt Coolum
Image: fire detection Dulong Lookout
Harnessing exci’s AI Innovation to Build Community Resilience
The Sunshine Coast Council’s dedication to implementing exci’s cutting-edge AI technology exemplifies the potential for local governments to champion innovative solutions. By fostering an ecosystem that nurtures local entrepreneurs and investing in technology, regions like the Sunshine Coast can drive economic growth and bolster community well-being.
The Role of Innovation in Australia’s Future
Innovation in Australia faces challenges, yet its benefits improve lives and work, underlining its enduring significance in fostering an inclusive society and economy.
Necessity of Innovation in a Complex World
In a complex, interconnected world, innovation is pivotal for national economic performance, job creation, and the enhancement of living standards. Harnessing the value of ideas and creativity is crucial as traditional productivity drivers decline, positioning Australia as a global innovation frontrunner and fostering a resilient, progressive society.
Fostering a Holistic Approach to Innovation in Australia
Australia’s innovation trajectory requires a comprehensive strategy, including tackling cultural inclinations towards foreign products and nurturing an environment that encourages risk-taking and creativity.
Policies should support long-term innovative ventures beyond short-term political cycles, with enhanced collaboration among the government, private sector, and academia to bridge the gap in commercializing innovative concepts.
Leveraging the Changing Consumer Behaviour for Local Growth
Recognising the shifts in consumer behavior influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, leveraging the trust associated with the Australian Made logo can reinforce consumer support for local enterprises by highlighting quality, ethical options, and environmental sustainability of Australian-made products.
Forging a Resilient Innovation Narrative for Australia’s Future
Australia’s innovation narrative must embrace learning from challenges, advocating risk, creativity, and a strong belief in the potential of local talent and ideas. Fostering an environment that values and nurtures homegrown initiatives positions Australia as a global pioneer in innovative technologies and solutions, significantly contributing to national prosperity and global stature.
Working Towards a World-Class Innovation System
Despite Australia’s advantageous position, proactive measures are necessary to establish a world-class innovation system securing a promising future for the next generations in a rapidly evolving global landscape. Achieving innovation excellence demands collaborative efforts, highlighting the need for all Australians to unite in realising this transformative vision.
by Gabrielle Tylor
exci – The Smoke Alarm for the Bush
AI-Assisted Fire Management Tool
16 October 2023u