Early detection is critical to managing bushfires before they cause widespread devastation.

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AI-Innovation Down Under: exci’s Journey of Triumph and Obstacles

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? 

This blog post discusses the cultural factors hindering the adoption of homegrown technologies and illuminates the challenges faced. It highlights how, amidst these hurdles, exci’s Early Wildfire Detection Service demonstrated resilience and ingenuity. Despite confronting numerous barriers, exci’s success serves 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. In the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a clear preference for products from abroad, and this, combined with the undervaluing of homegrown innovations, hindered the acceptance of local technologies.

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 Indexdropping 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 global 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. Given 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

David vs Goliath 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.

Fire detection Gerrards Lookout Image: Fire detection Gerrards Lookout
Fire detection Mt Coolum Image: Fire detection Mt Coolum
fire detection Dulong Lookout 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

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