America and Australia: partners in innovation

Australia and the USA have long been close partners in research and innovation. And Australian inventions have had a huge impact on American lives.

The bionic ear is introducing children to the hearing world. Vaccines are protecting against cancer. Chewing gum is repairing tooth decay. And Australian astronomy helped make Wi-Fi fast and reliable.

Here we feature some of the latest collaborations and achievements. 

      • Protecting phones, robots and governments

        Your smartphone is likely being protected from cyberattacks and software faults by Australian software that works within the kernel of the phone’s operating system.

        Now CSIRO’s Data61 Group are working to secure America’s growing fleets of autonomous machines, with ‘microkernel’ software known as seL4.

        In a recent trial, Boeing’s unmanned Little Bird Helicopter was protected from cyberattacks by the software, which is also being used on autonomous US Army trucks being developed with the support of the DARPA High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems program.

        The genius of seL4 lies in its isolation between software compartments.

        “If your software runs the seL4 kernel, you have a guarantee that if a fault happens in one part of the system it cannot propagate to the rest of the system, in particular the critical parts,” Dr June Andronick from Data61 explains.

        Boeing’s unmanned Little Bird withstood cyberattacks thanks to Australian kernel software. Credit: Boeing
        Heading into deep water

        Out in the Gulf of Mexico Chevron are operating a $7.5 billion platform recovering oil and gas from two-kilometre-deep ocean.

        It’s the largest and deepest operation in the Gulf, with over 146km of pipeline bringing oil and gas to refineries.

        But pipelines operating at extreme depths in cold water and crushing pressure are prone to blockage. University of Western Australia researchers are helping Chevron keep oil and gas flowing.

        Ice-like solids known as gas hydrates can form in pipelines when water and natural gas are exposed to high pressures and the low temperatures of the ocean floor.

        “Deep ocean blockages are difficult and expensive to fix. You can’t send divers down,” says Eric May, the Chevron Chair in Gas Process Engineering at the University of Western Australia.

        “We’ve shown that new pipeline heating technologies are safe for both preventing and removing hydrate blockages. Working with Chevron Energy Technology Company in Houston, Texas, we’ve made software available to industry to help assess the risk of blockage.”

        The UWA team have established the Australian Centre for LNG Futures with the support of GE Oil and Gas, Clough Engineering, and the Australian Government.

        Australian researchers are helping Chevron keep oil and gas flowing through deep-water pipes. Credit: Chevron Australia
        From car batteries to grid storage

        There’s still life in lead batteries. East Penn Manufacturing operates the largest single-site, lead-acid battery manufacturing facility in the world in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

        They argue that their new lead batteries are 99 per cent recyclable and ideal for large-scale storage.

        To prove it, they’re developing a 3MW power storage system using the UltraBattery technology invented by Australia’s CSIRO.

        By combining lead-acid technology with a supercapacitor, the UltraBattery not only charges and discharges rapidly, but lasts four to five times longer than an ordinary battery.

        Paint fit for a Dreamliner

        Next time you board a Boeing Dreamliner, take note of its Australian paint.

        Developed by researchers at CSIRO, ‘Paintbond’ has now been adopted across the entire Boeing jetliner fleet. Why is it better? The new spray-on topcoat paint technology saves time, reduces the impact on the environment, and is safer to use.

        The polyurethane topcoat paint traditionally used on commercial aircraft protects them from rain, hail, sand, and dust. But the paint needs regular re-coating and that’s a time-consuming process.

        Before Paintbond, this involved sanding down the old coat of paint before applying a new top coat—a slow process that has a high injury rate for workers, produces harmful particles, and has the potential to damage the aircraft. Paintbond can be sprayed on and followed by a fresh coat of paint just 30 minutes later.

        A new heart

        Soon, US patients with heart failure who don’t have a donor heart lined up could have the option of a new heart.

        In 2015 a team at the Texas Medical Center gave a sheep a new heart. Within six hours of the operation it was on its feet and eating. The heart was the invention of a Brisbane researcher, Dr Daniel Timms.

        The BiVACOR artificial heart weighs half a kilo, and is small enough for a child while also being powerful enough for an adult. It’s made up of a titanium outer shell with a small spinning disk inside that levitates within a magnetic field, propelling blood through the device and around the body like a fan.

        Daniel dreamed up the idea of an artificial heart as a 23-year-old, and went on to develop and create the technology at the Queensland University of Technology.

        The BiVACOR device could act as an alternative to a heart transplant. Credit: Queensland University of Technology
        ‘Blood tests’ for big machines

        Mining companies across America are giving their big machines regular health tests and comparing the results with a global database for that machine. The result? They’re fixing machines before they break.

        This preventative health system was developed by an Australian company, Dingo, which now has 40 people working at its bases in Denver, Brisbane, and Calgary.

        Dingo maintenance support has improved the engine life of a widely used family of CAT mining trucks by an average of 61 per cent.

        Dingo was founded in 1991 by Paul Higgins when he realised that, just like blood tests, oil samples from machinery could reveal the health of the machine.

        “I thought, that’s brilliant. That’s the future right there—doing maintenance by using what the machine is actually telling you about itself,” he says.

        Dingo’s health checks are like a blood test for trucks.
        Credit: Dingo

        Read more about these, and other Australia-US partnerships at, including:

                • Creating quantum computers
                • Extended wear contact lenses
                • Protecting grain from insect attack
                • Clean air underground
                • Plastic mirrors on Ford trucks