Technology Analysis

Top researchers developing tech for the edge in battle

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Autonomous sensor research will help Western military forces stay ahead of the capabilities of their enemies (Screenshot via YouTube)

A research team is developing the next generation of autonomous sensors, technology that will keep military applications one step ahead. Paul Budde reports.

AUTONOMOUS SENSORS are the bridge that connects the physical and digital worlds. A new team of CSIRO researchers is working on the next generation of sensor technologies needed to unlock digital innovations that allow us to rapidly understand and predict the world around us.

Broadly, autonomous sensors will accelerate the emergence of new tools to grow digital decision-making within application domains, potentially multiple domains. The goal is to combine fundamental sensor research with autonomous engineering solutions.

This, in turn, is intended to provide advanced sensing and platform technologies for the domains of military command, environmental monitoring, health monitoring, mining, agriculture and manufacturing.

 More specifically, the Autonomous Sensors Future Science Platform will focus on two themes:

  • fundamental sensor development — developing sensors for different applications and industries; and
  • advanced engineering for autonomy.

Basically, CSIRO wants to investigate how these sensors can be autonomous, can be deployed in harsh Australian environments, can survive those environments and collect data in them.

It is not surprising that this technology caught the attention of the military as I discussed with my American colleague, Dr David Bray.

They are looking at this technology in the context of Multi-Domain Command and Control (MDC2). This is the strategy for integrating and coordinating command and control operations simultaneously across air, land, sea, space, cyber and electromagnetic domains.

Across the defence and national security landscape, all involved are grappling with the speed of technological change and the deteriorating strategic context. Everyone, from capability development to planning to operations, is aware that Western allies no longer have a technological advantage over peer adversaries. This means to win the future battle, we must be focused on gaining situational advantage — making decisions better and faster than the enemy.

By defining the need for MDC2 in context of the human flaws and irrationality in chaotic, uncertain, ambiguous circumstances – as well as the ability of the adversary to contribute to that uncertainty and the inherent flaws of any technological system and its processes – David elevates the discussion beyond any single challenge.

This is vital because the modern battlespace is anything but homogenous. It is a seething mass of digital infrastructure that includes edge assets, public/private clouds, embedded weapons systems software and a host of Internet of Things (IoT) — all built separately, over a long period of time and for different purposes.

To solve the challenges of MDC2, this paper outlines a range of action-oriented steps to be taken:

Each step supports one or both of these top-line statements:


  • Strong and gifted commanders, at all levels, must remain at the centre of the solution. They must learn, and continually relearn, how to take best advantage of available technology to inform development of the next generation of systems.
  • Only a hybrid cloud architecture can provide a consistent, standards-based approach to development, security and operations. This smarter architecture allows for workload portability, orchestration and management across multiple environments.

For defence and national security – when the mission is this critical – agility and flexibility are paramount. Such a complex undertaking does not mean a lack of planning or unstructured implementation. It means taking the right approach to avoid being locked in and unable to respond to a changing environment.

Some interesting videos on this topic can be found here and here.

Paul Budde is an Independent Australia columnist and managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

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