Monthly Archives

August 2018

This shuttle is helping pave the way for autonomous vehicles

autonomous vehicle engineering

Autonomous vehicles are one of the biggest engineering challenges of the 21st century. What does it take to make them roadworthy?

In Sydney, a project is under way to answer that question. Go behind the scenes and learn more about how developers are building and testing driverless tech to create transport of the future.

Take a ride in this autonomous shuttle and learn more about the engineering challenges of autonomous cars at the upcoming Australian Engineering Conference. To learn more, click here.

One engineer’s mission to share how the world’s favourite structures came to be

structural engineer Roma Agrawal tell the stories behind our structures

In a profession short of superstars, British structural engineer Roma Agrawal is finding ways to explain her work to non-engineers.

Tall buildings are celebrities. From the Great Pyramid of Giza, which was the tallest structure in the world for nearly 4000 years, to today’s record holder, the Burj Khalifa, people are drawn to these structures, gazing up at them in awe.

On the south side of the River Thames in London stands The Shard, a 310 m skyscraper which was the tallest building in Europe when completed in 2012. Roma Agrawal was a structural engineer on The Shard and started receiving invitations to talk about the structure after it was completed, invitations that would ultimately take her down a parallel career path.

“I think the tower really captured the imagination of a lot of people,” said Agrawal.

“That’s really where I started, just telling people about my work on The Shard, about my job and about the structures that I’ve created and what a day in my life might look like. On the surface, it looks quite simple, but what’s important, a little bit deeper, is how one should communicate that message.”

Engineer and author Roma Agrawal.

She found many people were fascinated by her stories but surprisingly ignorant of what engineers actually do. She realised she had an opportunity to spread the word on engineering to a wider audience. The problem for many engineers, she feels, is that in their day-to-day jobs they use a lot of technical jargon. Their colleagues understand that language so they get used to communicating their work in those terms.

“But when you’re going out there and talking to people who aren’t engineers and you’re trying to inspire them, then you have to focus on stories,” she said.

“And that’s really important.”

Her talks evolved into newspaper articles and television interviews. Before long, a publisher approached her to write a book on the subject. She could have kept it to The Shard but she decided to think big, like a true structural engineer on tall buildings, and write a broader story encompassing many structures throughout history and the engineering behind them. The result is Built: The hidden stories behind our structures.

The book

One of the main stories in Built is her own; from one of her earliest memories as a toddler gazing up at the skyscrapers of Manhattan, through her childhood in Mumbai to university at Oxford and her career as an engineer. She described her favourite project, which is not The Shard but a footbridge at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, England. It was her first ever project.

“I started working on that project on my 22nd birthday, which was a very memorable moment for me,” she told create.

“I basically designed almost every aspect of that structure with the help of my boss. We were a very small team that worked on that structure. So it was really satisfying to have designed the steel cables, the steel decks, the concrete foundations.

“I did analysis on the dynamics. How does the bridge actually move? Are we in danger of wobbling? And then within 18 months of starting, I was then standing on it when it was nearly finished. And that’s really I guess what the job’s about. It’s being able to experience structures once you’ve finished them, and they become part of other people’s lives.”

She also introduces us to other people’s stories including that of Emily Roebling who oversaw the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. The bridge was designed by Emily’s father-in-law John Roebling, a German-American civil engineer who died of tetanus after an accident in the early days of construction.

His son Washington Roebling took over as chief engineer but became ill from the bends while working in the pressurised caissons being used to construct the bridge’s foundations. While caring for him, Emily took on the task of acting as go between for Washington and the people on site.

“But then she clearly starts studying the technical engineering, the maths, the cable theory, the material science. And then she starts actually managing the project,” Agrawal said.

“So for 11 years she’s out on site, speaking to labourers, solving their issues, negotiating with the politicians and the funders that are paying for the actual bridge. And I just love her story because we’re going all the way back to the 1800s. And people generally believed at the time that women were less intelligent than men; that our brains were not capable of understanding that level of mathematics. But she smashed all those assumptions about women and just delivered the project because she had to.”

Another favourite is Bangladeshi civil engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan who developed the concept of using exoskeletons to support a building’s structure.

“In a technical engineering sense, he completely revolutionised the stability of skyscrapers. And it’s really because of his ideas of those stability systems that we can now build the really tall towers that we see going up in places like the Middle East and China,”Agrawal said.

“But I think what I really admire about him as an engineer, was that he blurred the line between what architects do and what engineers do. And he just had a different kind of philosophy about what design is. We now separate these two professions which wasn’t the case a couple of thousand years ago when you look back to the Romans for example. And he tried to kind of bring that back together a bit in the work he did.”

The Shard

The genesis of London’s tallest tower came in the late 1990s when the British Government began encouraging high-density development next to transport hubs. Developer Irvine Sellar had recently purchased a tower block adjacent to London Bridge railway station, one of London’s oldest and busiest stations serving both Underground lines and mainline destinations outside of London.

Sellar approached noted architect Renzo Piano who reportedly came up with the basic design (a very steep glass pyramid) on the back of a menu while lunching with Sellar. Piano has said the design was inspired by the idea of building a mixed-use environment containing commercial space, a hotel, residential space and public viewing galleries, each requiring less floor space than the previous, so the taper was obvious. Construction began in 2008 and was completed four years later.

The top of The Shard.

While the above ground building is striking, one of its most innovative elements is its foundations which were excavated at the same time as the tower’s core was being built up, the first time this technique had been tried in Britain. Agrawal was part of the team working on the foundations.

“We didn’t really have any precedent as to how this might work because it was a new technique that we were trying,” she said.

“So that was such an amazing experience to have actually been a part of a relatively new way of constructing a basement and the core of the tower.”

Rather than digging a deep hole the size of the future basement then drilling piles to support the entire structure, piles were drilled at the ground level then covered with the ground floor slab, while leaving a hole for the future excavation.

“While digging continued downward, a special rig was attached to the newly exposed steel plunge columns, this rig could build the central concrete core,” wrote Agrawal in her book.

“At one point, 20 floors of the huge concrete spine were being held up just by the steel columns – there was no foundation in place. It was a structure on stilts.”

western Europe's tallest buildingsAfter the foundations were completed, she also worked on the spire at the top of the tower which includes the viewing gallery for the building and a lot of mechanical plant.

“What’s really interesting about that piece of structure is that the steel is all completely exposed,” she told create.

“So there’s no hiding the welds, the bolts, the way we’re connecting up the different pieces of steel. The architects wanted it to look absolutely beautiful because millions of visitors would be coming to look at it, and we also needed it to be designed in a way that was actually safe to build. So that was a balance my team had to achieve when we were doing the design of that piece.”

She described the first time she ascended to the top floor of the tower, fighting back her queasiness for heights which was compounded by the fact that no glass had been installed yet and the tapering tower meant the floor space was quite small

“Even standing at the staircase, which ran through the centre of the floor, I seemed close to the edge,” she wrote in Built.

“I was at the intersection of the sky and humanity. After months of making models, doing calculations and creating drawings, I was finally seeing the project made real. It felt so much larger and more tangible than the sketches on a piece of paper or drawings on a computer screen. This phase of construction is a thrill.”

From spires to inspiring

Last year, Agrawal took on a new role as Associate Director (Structural Engineering) at AECOM. She described it as different to anything she’s done before; meeting with clients at the beginning of projects and shaping the design at a very early stage.

Roma Agrawal, with The Shard in the background.

But she still dabbles in her alternate communications career. Earlier this year she teamed up with AECOM’s Senior Vice President of Global Talent, Susan Dumond, to propose a skills manifesto for creating the engineer of the future.

“What’s the spark that will inspire the next generation?” they asked.

“What, together, do we need to change? How do we create and encourage innovation?”

The pair spoke to engineers from around the globe, including Engineers Australia CEO Peter McIntyre who felt that the profession needed to work harder at getting its success stories into the mainstream media.

“I think that’s where we can start to change the hearts and minds of young students, parents and teachers,” McIntyre said.

Agrawal and Dumond agreed, with their first conclusion being they needed to fire up the next generation of engineers. Their other recommendations were creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce, training engineers to work on the infrastructure of the future, embracing what makes us human as certain tasks become automated, and rebooting the industry so that as new people come into the profession, its structures and leadership evolve with it.

On this last point, McIntyre told Agrawal and Dumond there is a key role for associations to play to ensure more rational, informed and honest debate about the big future infrastructure questions shaping people’s worlds.

And, as part of her personal goal to inspire the next generation of engineers, Agrawal is working on a new book about structural engineering, this time for children.

“We don’t have a title or anything yet,” she said.

“But there are going to be exciting structures in there with information about the materials we’ve built from, some people’s stories and some fun experiments that kids can also try out at home.”

The future of the engineering profession might yet be safe.

Roma Agrawal will be speaking at the upcoming Australian Engineering Conference 17-19 September in Sydney. To learn more and to register, click here.

Agents of change: How engineers can make a difference in the world

Satisfaction, skills and the improvement of society all result when engineers – and the organisations that employ them – lend their talent to nations in need.

Having just stepped off a flight at Darwin Airport, civil engineer Tara Bartnik is reflecting on the work she has done over the past 10 months.

She’s on a small break from an 18-month assignment in East Timor for Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Australia and WaterAid, where she is helping to develop local Timorese capabilities around water, sanitation and hygiene. During her discussion with create, it quickly becomes clear that this young engineer is thrilled to have the opportunity to do such work.

“The job satisfaction is amazing. In the organisation for which I work, there is only one other foreign employee. Everyone else is Timorese, and it’s very satisfying to see their skills improving,” Bartnik said.

“It’s been really good building relationships with the local staff. In terms of my career, it’s also excellent experience. Hopefully it will open doors to continue doing this kind of work. But, mainly, I can’t believe how lucky I am. It’s exciting and it’s constantly changing.”

humanitarian engineering Engineers Without Borders

Jimi Metcalfe (centre), an EWB field professional, and Piseth Kim (far right), an EWB sanitation engineer, talking with Phang Samoeurn, who runs a latrine construction business in Cambodia.

Few professionals speak of their jobs in such glowing terms. Perhaps it’s because ‘typical’ roles don’t involve working hand-in-hand, and hands-on, with the community that benefits from the project. Whatever the explanation, it is refreshing to know that engineers have the opportunity to recognise the real differences they’re making to the world.

Gavin Blakey is Chair of the Board of Directors of EWB Australia. At the 2018 Australian Engineering Conference, he will moderate a panel discussion about the ways engineers are changing the world.

Having the ability to recognise the change they make is vital as it leads to immense job satisfaction, he said. One of the best ways to truly appreciate the scale of change created by an engineer is to volunteer in a community that urgently requires it.

“Often, as engineers, we are down there in detail, doing analysis, identifying and solving the problems, creating the design,” said Blakey, a three-decade member of Engineers Australia.

“And if you’re down in the details all the time, it’s great to be able to lift your eyes to the horizon to see what a difference you’re making.

“To me, that’s what it’s about — the recognition that we are contributing and making a difference. So whether you’re designing a stormwater system or a building, whether you’re working with a remote community or in a high-density urban space, all aspects of engineering ultimately create positive change and make a difference in our communities.”

Seeing a need

EWB Australia was founded 15 years ago by aeronautical engineer Danny Almagor, who had previously wanted to take a year off to volunteer overseas. However, he could find no official way to do so. In 2003, with help from some engineer mates, he created the Australian arm of EWB.

Today, more than 100 projects have been undertaken by EWB Australia in eight countries, including East Timor, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Cambodia. From electricity solutions to smokeless stoves and fresh water systems, engineers have brought measurable improvements to the lives of people around the globe.

An EWB women in engineering workshop in Bobonaro, Timor-Leste.

A volunteer role with EWB Australia, Blakey said, offers the volunteer several professional and personal benefits.

“They gain great people skills in an environment that can be quite challenging, but which is also very supportive,” he said.

“We have employers who have told us that if they see job applicants who have listed ‘EWB Australia volunteer’ on their CV, they go straight to the short list. Those companies know that the experience gained by volunteering is incredibly useful for them in their career.”

There are now 20 full-time equivalent staff and more than 1000 volunteers, plus a range of corporate supporters under the umbrella of EWB Australia. In 2016-17 the organisation contributed approximately 33,360 volunteer hours in the service of local social impact and put more than 9000 engineering students at 28 universities through the EWB Challenge, an academic module that solves real-life challenges in developing countries.

EWB Australia volunteers typically have their travel and accommodation funded by the organisation and are provided with a stipend for living expenses.

Disaster response

While EWB Australia helps to create engineering capacity within developing territories, United Nations Standby Partner RedR Australia responds at all stages when disaster arises, such as the cyclone that hit Vanuatu in 2015.

The United Nations estimated that up to 90 per cent of buildings across the island nation were damaged by Tropical Cyclone Pam, with public infrastructure such as water supplies, schools and hospitals also seriously affected.

Civil engineer and RedR Australia deployee Ted McDonnell, whose role is supported through the Australia Assists Program, is leading the Public Building Recovery Program, co-funded by the Australian Government and implemented by the government of Vanuatu.

Ted McDonnell in Vanuatu.

“When I arrived in Vanuatu in January 2016, the effects of Tropical Cyclone Pam were still very visible on the streets of the capital Port Vila and on the island of Tanna in Tafea province,” McDonnell said.

“Many buildings were missing all or part of their roofs. There was damage to building structure and internal damage due to water getting into the buildings.”

McDonnell said the main aim was to repair or reconstruct the facilities to the original state while ensuring they met current building standards.

“We’re also seeking opportunities wherever possible to ‘build back better’ and improve the facilities to meet current or future requirements,” he said.

“I overheard one of the police officers state that the police houses in Tanna we built are now the best facilities in the country. He was speaking with pride. That’s an outcome worth celebrating!”

Like Bartnik, McDonnell knows his work makes a tangible difference.

“Hopefully Vanuatu will get to a point where local capacity has increased and the country will be able to manage the annual cycle of natural disasters,” he said.

“Until then, there is a place for organisations like RedR Australia to assist in risk reduction, response and recovery activities. It’s challenging work, but I’m glad I’m here.” 

Gavin Blakey will be leading a panel discussion about how engineers help make the world a better place at this year’s Australian Engineering Conference 17-19 September in Sydney. To learn more and to register, click here

Creating an Industrial Internet of Things from space

Since she was a small child, Flavia Tata Nardini has been fascinated by space. Now, she is the co-founder and CEO of space startup Fleet, which is working to create a “digital nervous system” to connect remote industries using nano-satellites.

She imagines a future where everything can be connected through the Internet of Things. A farmer can track every cow, or a distributor can track how every piece of fruit is faring in a shipping container.

“We have an opportunity here to create technologies that are going to change people’s lives forever,” she said.

She sat down with us before her appearance at the upcoming Australian Engineering Conference to talk about the ways we can improve life on Earth – from space.

To learn more about the Australian Engineering Conference and to register, click here

WA Scientist of the Year on cities, sustainability and how to get it right

scientist of the year

Peter Newman, a professor of sustainability at Curtin University, was recently named Western Australia Scientist of the Year 2018. In the lead-up to his appearance at the Australian Engineering Conference, he sat down with us to talk about sustainable urban design, transport practices and why more engineers should contribute to policy.

Engineers Australia: What was it like to be named Scientist of the Year?

Peter Newman: Fantastic. I have always been a scientist, but I realised early that having a science background could only really show what the problems were and help set a vision for the changes needed.

If I was to deliver this vision, I needed to understand how government systems like planning worked and also how politics worked. I was very fortunate to have been given experience working in government and in politics.

The combination of science, planning and politics has enabled me to not just imagine the future but to deliver it. I have applied this approach locally, nationally and globally, and I found I could make a contribution.

This recognition as WA Scientist of the Year suggests that others can now see how a scientist can cross into planning and politics and still be seen to have kept true to the fundamentals of being a scientist.

Engineers Australia: What are you most proud of in your career?

Professor Peter Newman.

PN: The work in resurrecting the railway in Perth over the past 40 years was a labour of love, as nearly every election we were able to win one more step along the journey. The last election was a $6 billion extension of five rail lines – that is a long way from bringing back the Fremantle line, which I led the campaign for in 1979-1983. I was able to write papers and books about the lessons I learned, and with Jeff Kenworthy providing data we helped spark a rail revival.

Now I am the coordinating lead author for transport with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). I was also involved in numerous local issues like stopping the logging of old growth forests, creating a new water future for Perth and the Roe 8 victory.

Engineers Australia: What is the importance of more scientists and engineers contributing to policy and planning?

PN: You must begin with a vision derived from science or engineering, but you can’t deliver this unless you can do policy. This requires a combination of planning in whatever part of government the issue is based and politics. You must bring together these three elements – science and engineering, planning and policy – and they are not something we get taught in the STEM disciplines.

Engineers AustraliaWhat does sustainability mean in terms of urban design? Is it just green spaces, or something more?

PN: It is much more and has become the major paradigm guiding all development. My work has been to apply the concept to cities. Sustainability in cities is when we can reduce the metabolism (resource consumption and waste) while simultaneously improving the liveability (jobs, community, green space, health).

This can be applied at any scale – from household to precinct and local government, through to whole metropolitan areas. We are now applying it to the three urban fabrics that are part of every city: the walking city, the transit city and the automobile city. These have different histories and metabolisms and need to be treated differently by planners and engineers who suggest there is only one type of fabric (automobile-based urban fabric) with manuals that detail how it should be managed.

Engineers Australia: How do you think Australian cities do when it comes to sustainability and things like transport or infrastructure?

PN: We have been a leader at times in some global sustainability issues and mostly do our bit in major global agreements. But our cities remain middle ground at best when it comes to metabolism.

The Economist rankings are good at showing we have cities that generally work well on their liveability scale. On metabolism we are not as good as European or wealthy Asian cities when it comes to transport and energy, and we can learn much from them.

However, we do have some signs that these changes are happening. The disruptive innovations of solar, batteries and blockchain are world leading, and our growth in public transport investment suggests some big changes are underway.

My next project is to see how trackless trams and local shared mobility will disrupt cars and oil. I hope these changes will all continue so that in five to 10 years I can say we led the world in removing both coal and oil from our cities.

Professor Peter Newman will be speaking about the future of sustainability and resilience at the Australian Engineering Conference 17-19 September in Sydney. To register, click here

We are in the middle of an explosion in drone capability, says expert


Expert Dr Catherine Ball says the way we currently use drones is only scratching the surface of what they can do for us.

When luxury Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana sent a bunch of drones down the runway of its Milan show in February this year, the fashion world was aghast. Flying robots carrying the brand’s jewel-encrusted leather handbags?

While millennial fashion models might have felt cause for concern, across the globe in Brisbane, environmental scientist Catherine Ball was celebrating the unexpected use of drones.

“It got me very excited,” she said.

“Here was a collaboration between fashion design, creativity and drones used in a scenario that you would never have thought of.”

A world leader in drone research, Ball is fascinated by the future of the technology, which stretches well beyond the world of fashion. She will be sharing her insights in a panel discussion at this year’s Australian Engineering Conference (AEC).

The production of drones for personal and commercial use is growing rapidly. Data from research and advisory company Gartner predicts the global drone market will be valued at $US11.2 billion by 2020.

Ball has delivered a number of world-firsts in environmental and infrastructure surveying using drones, monitoring bushfires, coral reefs, and collecting a range of data to assist in effective ecological and engineering processes.

She sees drones as an efficient tool for translating patterns of nature in remote locations. Her breakthrough project occurred in 2014 while working with engineering and environmental consultancy URS (now AECOM) when she flew human-sized drones to track turtle habitats along the coast of Western Australia.

They spotted an endangered oceanic manta ray species not seen in many years, and she was promoted to regional lead for unmanned aerial systems. She was also awarded Telstra Woman of the Year (Corporate) in 2015 for her work in drone research.

Ball has a PhD in microbial ecology and is currently the managing director of Elemental Strategy, where she consults to government and private industry on the adoption of technology, such as drones. Ball also works with She Flies, which promotes gender equality in science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths (STEAM) careers.

Drones to the rescue

A love of nature was fostered while watching David Attenborough documentaries as a child. However, Ball’s initial interest in the environment was sparked at the age of five when she saw a television program about the 1984 famine in Ethiopia.

“It’s one of my earliest memories,” she said.

“I remember being quite shocked by it.”

Ball said the current application of drone technology represents the mere tip of the iceberg.

“The idea that we can use drones to get to places and people faster to save lives is really floating my boat,” she said.

“I am excited about how drones are developing outside of the data collection aspect. Some of the humanitarian projects that really excite me involve delivery of blood or drugs or transporting a human organ when needed through a congested city via drones.

“It’s happening in parts of Africa already, and I feel like it should also be happening here in Australia. It’s something we’re looking at, particularly in Queensland. How can we support our remote and regional communities with this kind of technology? Australia is probably the best place in the world to fly a drone.

“We were the first to have commercial drone legislation in 2002, and a lot of other countries look at the Australian model in terms of space regulation. It’s the best place in the world to be a drone scientist.”

Ball also sees drones having an impact on future engineering processes such as data visualisation.

“You can process the data, put it in 3D, stamp the different spectral signatures and walk around inside a virtual reality system without actually having to be on location,” she said.

“The high-resolution nature of the data means that you can look for things in ways that you wouldn’t normally and visit places without having to set foot in them.”

More than selfies

Ball is also inspired by the rise of wearable drones. Gartner’s research shows the personal drone market grew by an estimated 34.3 per cent in the 12 months to February 2017, and Ball believes these pocket-sized machines will be increasingly valuable in gathering vital data.

“Imagine having a little wearable selfie drone and you come across something that’s broken or an accident has happened or there’s a flood level that needs to be checked,” she said.

“Yes, there might be some rather silly uses for wearable drones, but having a geotagged photograph to help somebody in an incident is also something worth thinking about. I always like to take it back to a genuine humanitarian opportunity.”

Dr Catherine Ball will be a speaker at the Australian Engineering Conference 17-19 September in Sydney. To learn more and to register, click here

This futuristic room really helps bring your data to life

data arena

Engineers are used to looking at schematics and data sets, but what if there was a way to take those data points and visualise them in a completely immersive way?

Imagine being able to do a walk-through of a building before construction even begins. Or create replicas of assets to see where faults occurred and why.

Data arenas, like the one at University of Technology Sydney, let you do just that. It’s a 360 degree, 3D stereoscopic, interactive data visualisation facility that is being used by engineers to visualise and experience data sets like never before.

Experience it for your self and learn more about how engineers are using this space at the upcoming Australian Engineering Conference. To learn more and to register, click here

Why engineers – not politicians – need to solve our infrastructure problems

infrastructure design

Professor Peter Newman wants entrepreneurial engineers to solve our infrastructure problems rather than politicians.

Australia’s ever-expanding cities are placing significant burden on vital infrastructure, such as transport, housing and energy supply.  Peter Newman, professor of sustainability at Curtin University, will address the liveability, workability and sustainability of our cities – and the way in which they might be improved – during a session at this year’s Australian Engineering Conference (AEC).

Newman will interview Sir Rod Eddington, former Chair of Infrastructure Australia, whom he met on the football field in Perth more than five decades ago.

“I was his coach,” said Newman, “so clearly I was the senior person in the relationship, although I was all of three or four years older than him. He often still calls me ‘coach’ and, of course, I call him ‘Sir Rod’.


Engineering our cities


As it is engineers who build our cities, they must play a key role in improving their sustainability, said Newman. He cites British civil engineer and ‘Father of Railways’ George Stephenson as a fine example.

“The first railways came about because engineers were entrepreneurial enough and politically connected enough to make them happen,” he said.

“Prince Albert was a great supporter of the railways and he had the entrepreneurial engineer, Stephenson, who came along and said, ‘We can build this if we get real estate developments to fund it’.”

Newman believes entrepreneurial engineers will play a vital role in improving our cities’ transport infrastructure in the near future.

“The new engineering that I really love is called the trackless tram,” he said.

“It’s an autonomous tram that is actually a series of buses in convoy, but they just follow sensors down the road. They’re electric, they get recharged at the stations and they’re much cheaper. They are what I believe is going be the next generation [of public transportation].”

While China is leading the way in trackless trams, Newman said he expects the technology to soon reach Australia.

“It’ll be the engineers who pick up on it,” he said.

“They’ll team up with entrepreneurs, developers and good governments and we’ll get a new regime of building trackless tram systems through our cities that will solve many of our current problems.”


More rail, less road


Newman said our cities can be engineered so that home and work are accessible within 30 minutes. According to him, our cities become dysfunctional when further time is added to the journey.

“Sydney is the worst – it’s very close to 40 minutes per journey to work,” he said.

“Melbourne is next, and it crossed the line about 10 years ago. Brisbane crossed about five years ago and Perth crossed it two years ago. They need to claw it back. It’s increasingly dysfunctional because younger families are just falling apart. It’s like fly-in fly-out every day. There’s a big social impact as well as economic impact.”

Newman said cars serve an important purpose, however he sees a risk of them becoming master rather than servant.

“Those cities that have become automobile dependent, such as Detroit, are now struggling economically,” he said.

“Cities like Houston and Atlanta are rebuilding around rail and they’re doing well, because that’s where the new jobs are, the new knowledge-economy jobs.”

He said he believes the time has come for high-speed rail here.

“That linking up across the country is something that every continent has done except us,” he said.

“There is one plane a day between Tokyo and Osaka, two of the biggest cities in the world, and that’s because every 10 minutes, there is a fast train transporting people, and you can’t beat that.”

Such firm views on high-speed rail should make for an interesting debate during this year’s AEC when Newman takes the stage with Eddington, who is not a fan of high-speed rail.

Professor Peter Newman will team up with Sir Rod Eddington at this year’s Australian Engineering Conference to discuss the vital role engineers play in advancing our cities’ liveability, sustainability and workability. To learn more and to register, click here.

It’s time to change the way we think about AI and robotics

AI and robotics

When we think about artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, it’s usually “us versus them”, says Dr Catherine Ball. But according to her, that’s not the case at all.

The rise of things like wearable and implantable technologies mean people need to rethink their relationship with AI and robotics. What’s needed for this to happen?

We asked Dr Catherine Ball ahead of her appearance at the upcoming Australian Engineering Conference to explain what the future looks like when AI and people work, live and play together.

There will be a panel discussion about human-AI interactions and the ethical implications at the upcoming Australian Engineering Conference. To register, click here