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More big ideas for 2017

December 29, 2016
In this era of maximum disruption and its twin, brilliant innovation, the opportunities and the challenges for businesses, utilities and industries of every stripe are enormous.
As we pause for a break to reflect on the year that’s been, it’s also a time to look to the future and imagine what it looks like.

We canvassed eight super-smart leaders from a broad spectrum, including avionics, mental health, energy, carbon markets, research and academia and asked them the same two questions:

  • What’s one big opportunity for either your industry or the Asia-Pacific region in 2017?  

  • What’s one technology or idea that could disrupt your industry in 2017?

Their considered answers provide a veritable feast for thought. This feature is being published in two parts. Make sure to check out the other installment.


Roberto Sabatini, Professor, School of Engineering, RMIT University
Head of Group, Intelligence and Cyber-Physical Transport Systems
Program Leader, Aviation Systems and Human Factors
HDR Director, Aerospace Engineering and Aviation

Big opportunity
The Asia-Pacific is seeing the highest air traffic growth rates globally. This poses great challenges when working on improving safety, efficiency and environmental performances, particularly considering the considerable airspace fragmentation of our region. Additionally, all forms of transport are seeing the emergence of autonomous platforms that need to be integrated in the network without introducing safety risks or bottlenecks. These two factors are offering great opportunities for research in intelligent and cyber-physical systems, which lead the way to trusted autonomous operations.

Disruptive technology or idea
The most promising areas of research in trusted autonomous systems with potentially disruptive advances include the introduction of a unified separation assurance and collision avoidance method, the development of cognitive human-machine interfaces and interactions and of dynamic, adaptive and interactive forms of decision-making supporting the coordination and control of multiple heterogeneous platforms. Separation assurance and collision avoidance are in fact essential functionalities for autonomous vehicles that can also contribute to the safety of manned vehicles. Cognitive human-machine interfaces will ensure that human operators will still have full understanding and control of the operation of their vehicles but without causing an overload of information. In combination with these two emerging technologies, the development of dynamic, adaptive and interactive forms of decision-making will finally support the trusted autonomous operation of multiple and highly-heterogeneous vehicles in a shared environment.


Jane Burns, Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney
Professor of Innovation and Industry

Big opportunity
Our Industry is the Medtech Pharma Industry and in mental health the big opportunity is the use of Digital Health, that is new and emerging technologies, to reshape the way we provide high-quality-person centred care that customises treatment and wraparound support to the needs of individuals in the context of their families and their communities.

Disruptive technology or idea
In mental health, the use of smart algorithms to ensure that people get the ‘right care at the right time’, and then tailored tech solutions (brain imaging, e-clinics, small and big data) married with therapeutic solutions, including pharmacological and natural medicines.


Andrew Bray, National Coordinator, Australian Wind Alliance

Big opportunity
Distributed generation also means distribution of economic benefits. As concentrated power generation moves out of the Latrobe and Hunter Valleys to wind districts through the country so does the income that accrues to the local communities that host energy generation. For wind farms, this income extends well beyond the construction period to encompass lease payments to farmers, rates to councils and community enhancement funds.

It’s underappreciated just how transformational guaranteed income can be for small regional communities. One farmer I spoke to called it a “once-in-a-generation, no, once-in-two-generation bonanza!” To give just one example, there are three wind farms proposed for the hilly area between Glen Innes and Inverell in northern NSW. If all of these are built (one is in construction and construction for a second has just been announced), the community enhancement funds alone will contribute over $500,000 per year for 25 years into a community of around 20,000 people.

As new wind farms are rolled out this year we’re looking forward to some deeper thinking about how these funds can be used to build resilience in these communities.

Disruptive technology or idea
Community ownership. Community-owned energy projects allow families, individuals and renters to suddenly become players in the energy system and shifts the balance away from large companies and governments.

It's going to take longer than 2017, but after early examples in Hepburn Wind and Denmark, community ownership models are taking off with small examples in Windlab projects and some form of community ownership being proposed for the new Sapphire Wind Farm in Northern NSW. Victoria is looking to promote the idea through its 40% renewable scheme by 2025.

We think community energy could have a significant influence in increasing the connection between wind farms and the communities that host them.

Adopting clear targets for the amount of electricity sourced from community groups is needed. Scotland increased the number of community energy projects from three to 300 in just 10 years after the government saw the potential and took clear action.


Fang Chen, Group Leader and Senior Principal Researcher, Enterprise Analytics at Data61

Big opportunity
I think the biggest opportunity is the use of data: using data-driven solutions to revisit the approaches for different industries. A lot of industries have 20 or 30  years’ of accumulated data, and we’ve reached the point where that data can tell you a story. At the minimum it can validate the current processes, but often you also find a new discovery from the data when you overlay different data sets—you find some missing link that people never thought about before.

Those insights will drive changes in people’s decision making; they will make industry more profitable, make industry more standardised in its processes. And it will make the customer happier; the customer side of the information can be more integrated into decision-making.

Disruptive technology or idea
What will change everything is good-enough data-driven methods that will change decision-making processes, from reactive processes to preventive and proactive processes.

What I mean is that when you do predictions based on data, people argue that if you predict wrong, what are you going to do? But the tipping point is becoming good enough for people to trust and believe and use the data in their daily practice. Instead of 60:40 accuracy to inaccuracy of predictions, we’re seeing more like 80:20 accuracy. The good thing is, you can always review data-driven solutions or predictions: you can test them backwards.

For example, we work with one of the utilities, and at the start of this year we gave them the 2016 prediction list of possible and likely events so they could check it against actual occurrences. The other day, the asset manager called me and said, “Yeah, we recently had a bad incident that actually popped up very high in your prediction list.” So that’s people checking algorithmic predictions against real outcomes and after a year they will probably conclude that they can use the predictions with confidence.