This page belongs to: Action Plan for Critical Technologies

Advanced robotics

Robots capable of performing complex manual tasks usually performed by humans, including teaming with humans and/or selfassembling to adapt to new or changed environments. Applications for advanced robotics include industry and manufacturing, defence and public safety, and healthcare and household tasks.

Key sectors

  • Agriculture
  • Health
  • Communications
  • Defence & Defence Industry
  • Energy & Environment
  • Transport & Logistics
  • Space
  • Mining & resources

Estimated impact on national interest

Economic Prosperity - High
National Security - High

Key Australian Government actions

Initiatives

  • Modern Manufacturing Strategy
  • Next Generation Technologies Fund
  • CRC for Trusted Autonomous Systems
  • Australia’s Critical Minerals Strategy promoting innovation in the sector
  • Digital Economy Strategy – Artificial Intelligence Centre to drive adoption of AI technologies in business
  • Advancing Space: Australian Civil Space Strategy 2019-2028
  • Artificial Intelligence Action Plan
  • National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy
  • CSIRO Robotics and Autonomous Systems Group
  • 2020 Force Structure Plan

Regulations

  • Defence and Strategic Goods List 2021
  • Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011

Example outcomes

  • Improved farm productivity through better efficiency and precision
  • Increased labour efficiency across all sectors
  • Improved animal welfare outcomes
  • Improved environmental outcomes through enhanced monitoring
  • Improved health outcomes from surgical and diagnostic robots and systems
  • Improved health outcomes for patients in remote areas, where robots can complement human healthcare professionals
  • Greater care capacity of trained staff with the addition of assistance robots in health and aged care
  • Improved throughput, safety and accuracy from automated mining and port operations
  • Improved supply chain security through local robotic manufacturing of critical components
  • Expanded defence capabilities and operations
  • Enhanced ability to respond to disasters, for example bushfires and search and rescue operations

Underpinning science

ANZ Standard Research Classification Category

  • Control engineering, mechatronics and robotics
  • Electrical engineering
  • Electronics, sensors and digital hardware
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Computer vision and multimedia computation
  • Human-centred computing
  • Information systems
  • Machine learning
  • Software engineering

Example applications

Readiness Level – Now

  • Industrial robots (welding, spraying, cutting, material handling, machine tending)
  • Robots for manufacturing, stevedoring, mining, including cobots
  • Logistics robots (automated guided vehicles, pick and pack robots)
  • Exoskeleton, robotic mule, robotic limbs
  • Surgical robots (minimally invasive surgery)
  • Care and hospital robots
  • Robotic farm systems for cropping and irrigation
  • Robots for emergency applications: search and rescue, firefighting
  • Robots for security applications: threat detection, bomb disposal

Readiness Level – 2–5 years

  • Deployable and adaptive communication networks
  • Air traffic management/safety e.g. counter uninhabited air systems
  • Emergency response and firefighting, including swarms for rapid search and rescue

Readiness Level – Beyond 5 years

  • Health and aged care service robots
  • Ingestible (robot) therapies (nanobots)
  • Robotic telemedicine and surgery
  • 3D printing robots for macro-structures (novel architecture, space applications and extra-terrestrial habitats)
  • Novel security and surveillance, including expansion in space, aero and undersea (including potential convergence with quantum technologies)
  • Convergence of robots with machine learning and artificial learning

Australia's place in the world

The United States has the highest research impact in this field, significantly ahead of 2nd ranked Italy, which specialises in high tech robots such as surgical and medical robotics. Australia ranks 9th and China fourth in research impact in this field. The University of New South Wales has the highest research impact for Australian institutions for advanced robotics, ahead of the University of Sydney and Queensland University of Technology. The United States has significantly higher amounts of venture capital (VC) investment compared to China, while China has the most patents.

While the manufacturing sector has traditionally led the way in deploying robotic technologies, the Australian mining sector is now world leading in robotic technologies to improve exploration, logistics and safety, increase productivity and efficiency and reduce operating costs. Beyond the mining sector, these advancements will have flow on applications across many sectors, such as space exploration, agricultural processes, and access for environmental applications.

Opportunities and risks

Australian productivity and way of life will be significantly affected by advanced robotics. There are already examples of robotics being used in traditional labour intensive roles, such as brick laying , fruit picking, weed control and warehouse packing. As robotic technologies, and other convergent fields advance, robotics will have a place in the skilled workforce, for example in surgery which has been shown to contribute to improved outcomes by less invasive procedures and standardised surgical approaches.

The immense improvements in productivity from increased automation and robotics will enable Australia to compete globally and build a resilient manufacturing sector, and maintain our world leading mining capabilities. Increased productivity and automation will create new and different jobs for people across all sectors.

Robotics design is generally optimised for functionality which may not consider security during development. This approach creates a high chance of deployment of robotic technology with significant vulnerabilities to cyber-attack both directly to the robotic device and to the associated infrastructure such as data storage, learning models and so on. As robotics and autonomous systems advance and converge, there is a risk that this capability will be subject to both intentional and unintentional interference resulting in undesirable outcomes to individuals or systems. This risk is potentially further compounded by an over-assumption of the capability of the robotic system. These risks need to be carefully considered and mitigated to ensure the full potential of robotic technologies is realised, without compromise of human safety and security.

The successful deployment and realisation of advanced robotics is also dependent on reliable supporting infrastructure, such as high speed wireless communications, and a skilled workforce to build, operate and maintain these systems

Research impact (RI)

Australia ranks 9th for research impact in a field where the United States has the highest research impact ahead of Italy (2nd) and the United Kingdom and China. Total volume of published research has increased at around 12% p.a., over the 5 year period 2016–2020, with 19% of research involving international collaboration.

  1. USA - 29868
  2. Italy - 10507
  3. UK - 8692
  4. China - 8553
  5. Germany - 6840
  1. Australia - 3105

The research impact provides an indication of the productivity of a country or institution. Here, productivity was assumed to be represented by the volume of publications (i.e. scholarly output) as an indicator of the resources & facilities, and the level of interest in the publications as an indicator of quality.

VC investment

The United States has the greatest amount of venture capital (VC) investment in this area with more than 3 times the amount that’s invested in China; Australia has the 7th highest level of investment. Investment globally in this area has been growing at 22% p.a. since 2016.

  1. USA
  2. China
  3. Israel
  4. Canada
  5. Japan
  1. Australia

Data from Crunchbase. The Crunchbase database provides a partial view of the global VC landscape. However the quantity, quality and richness of the data are considered to be statistically significant, and indicative of global trends.

Patents - international

Most patents for this technology were filed by Chinese applicants or inventors, with 3 times the number of the United States. Australia ranks 14th. Overall patent applications have been increasing at 15% annually since 2015.

  1. China - 9659
  2. USA - 3187
  3. R. of Korea - 1761
  4. Japan - 1235
  5. Taiwan - 736
  1. Australia - 72

Research institutions - international

The United States has 5 institutions in the top 10 international institutions. The remainder of the top 10 international research institutions includes institutions from Europe and the United Kingdom.

Rank Top International Institution Research Impact
1 Harvard University | United States 2611
2 Stanford University | United States 2407
3 Johns Hopkins University | United States 1672
4 French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) | France 1471
5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology | United States 1367
6 Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies | Italy 1362
7 Imperial College London | United Kingdom 1333
8 Cornell University | United States 1278
9 University College London | United Kingdom 1257
10 University of Naples Federico II | Italy 1093

Research institutions - Australia

Within Australia, the University of New South Wales has the highest research impact. All Australian institutions are currently outside the international top 50.

Rank Top Australian Institution Research Impact
1 University of New South Wales 454
2 University of Queensland 305
3 Queensland University of Technology 295
4 Monash University 276
5 University of Sydney 264
6 University of Wollongong 222
7 University of Technology Sydney 201
8 University of Melbourne 188
9 Deakin University 178
10 Peter Maccallum Cancer Centre 68

Patents - Australia

Top 5 Australian Patent Applicants Patent Families
Fastbrick Intellectual Property 8
Automation Innovation 2
Leica Biosystems Melbourne 2
Simplify Medical 2
CSIRO 1

Patents filed by Australian businesses, 2015–2019.