Continuing our article series of introducing Queensland Defence industry representatives, today we interview recent AC2 STaR Shot workshop winner, Nigel Greenwood.
In this interview, Nigel shares about his career highlights and his insightful take on the Defence Industry and its future.
Getting to Know Nigel Greenwood
What is your current title/role/responsibilities?
I’m the founder and CEO of The MachineGenes Group of companies, including Evolving Machine Intelligence, a company that was recently awarded AC2 funding.
We’re a group of Queensland-headquartered tech start-ups developing and using new forms of evolutionary, explainable machine learning and adversarial AI able to run on isolated Edge devices.
As well as running the Group, part of my job includes doing ongoing mathematical R&D to continue designing AI, to keep creating and demonstrating new capabilities.
Career highlights to date?
My main highlights include being made one of Australia’s Spitfire Memorial Defence Fellows; receiving a US patent for our machine learning (ML)/artificial intelligence algorithms; becoming one of the semi-finalists in the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE and having some of our medical AI work showcased as part of the United Nations’ “AI for Good” Global Summit in Geneva, Switzerland.
Involvement in Defence Industry
In terms of defence, what are some of the innovations you are most proud to have worked on?
Demonstrating that we can evolve and grow explicit computational models (“digital twins”) of simulated engines as if they were organisms; using short fragments of noisy, incomplete simulated sensor data. Doing all this using a form of ML completely different from neural networks.
Industry memberships or associations that you are involved with / contribute to?
We’re a member of Queensland’s AI Hub.
In your eyes, how has the defence industry evolved over the last 10 years – both nationally and here in Queensland?
The defence industry has become more aware of building sovereign capabilities and the availability of globally bleeding-edge technologies being developed by various groups here in Australia, that could make these sovereign capabilities unique and globally competitive.
Instead of just building equipment to address immediate problems, it’s exciting to see Defence becoming more ambitious and forward-thinking.
Where do Queensland’s defence industry strengths currently lie?
In the 1990s Queensland had some of the world’s leading AI research mathematicians working here, trying to move away from neural networks to new AI paradigms.
In the early 2000s, a team of Queensland engineers achieved HyShot II, the world’s first successful flight demonstrating supersonic combustion in a scramjet engine.
For decades, much deeper capabilities have existed here in Queensland than people tend to appreciate. That, combined with a remarkably pervasive ability to build champagne solutions on a beer budget, represents a significant strength.
What opportunities do you see thanks to QDSA establishing a community/network?
Much of defence-relevant work has been done by researchers in near-isolation. In the past it’s been common to see very little communication between each other or with other relevant stakeholders such as potential investors, State and Commonwealth governments, and Defence Primes.
QDSA’s efforts are essential to enable this communication to happen.
What Alliance initiatives are you most excited about?
The recent funding workshop for the Agile Command and Control (AC2) Science, Technology and Research (STaR) Shot has us pretty excited at the moment!
What’s something you wish more people knew about industry opportunities to contribute to Queensland’s defence industry?
Here in Queensland, world-class programmers, mathematicians and engineers are already living and working with capabilities and specialities that could transform Defence.
But in my experience, the key has been to engage with the head offices of Defence Primes in North America and Europe, to create relevant projects that address their pain points, then do these projects from a Queensland office. By starting overseas, we get different perspectives of these pain points and we can then proceed to identify and solve the equivalent problems here.
In contrast, I’ve found it has been much more difficult to start by first trying to solve the relevant problem within Australia. To transform our local defence industry and capabilities, it seems one usually has to engage elsewhere, with global defence industry, first.
The good news is that in recent years the possibility of moving first in Australia has started to improve, for example via the STaR Shots programme.
The other big advantage that I’ve seen is that small external teams have the luxury of focusing on a singular problem over a sustained period of time. Unlike the hierarchies of big corporations which are often inefficient and time-poor, the smaller teams (like us!) have greater capability to solve difficult problems in unconventional ways.
Where are there opportunities for more industry partners to become contribute to Queensland’s defence and science industry but perhaps don’t realise it?
You don’t have to build the whole aeroplane; you merely have to be able to build the widget that enables the aeroplane to fly better than before.
So, concentrate on any one of the multitudes of widgets in a complex project—say, the building and maintenance of a high-value ship or aircraft— that could be improved and make that better.
Typically, the same problems repeat in multiple high-value projects. Demonstrate you can reliably reduce risks and costs for these and opportunities emerge like mushrooms after rain.
QDSA Upcoming Events and Opportunities
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The Queensland Defence Science Alliance (QDSA) is a university-led initiative to grow and connect an agile Defence innovation ecosystem, leveraging Queensland’s strengths, to deliver trusted solutions to meet Defence requirements.