Australian and American researchers and businesses are partnering to bring new manufacturing technologies to market
Paint fit for a Dreamliner
Next time you board a new Boeing Dreamliner, take note of its Australian paint.
Developed by researchers at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, ‘Paintbond’ has now been adopted across the entire Boeing aircraft fleet, and more than 1,000 aircraft have been re-coated using the technology so far.
Why is it better? The new spray-on topcoat paint technology saves time, reduces the impact on the environment, and is safer to use.
A communication ‘heartbeat’ has helped narrow the search area for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. The flight disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people on board.
“Essentially we’ve had to develop, and measure the accuracy of, a way to use the extra data collected during the satellite communication,” says Dr Neil Gordon, Head of Data and Information Fusion at the Defence Science and Technology Group in Australia.
“The main communication data is a ‘heartbeat’ signal every hour, asking the aircraft ‘are you there?’ When it says ‘yes,’ a little bit of information attached to that message is captured, giving hints on the speed and direction the plane is travelling, and the distance between the satellite and the aircraft,” Neil says.
Modern airplanes use up to half their fuel to overcome the drag caused by turbulence at the surface of an airplane.
In 2010, Professor Ivan Marusic’s team of engineers at the University of Melbourne became the first in the world to predict and model the behaviour of the eddies that cause this drag—known as boundary layer turbulence. And now they are trying to control them.
“Even a five per cent reduction could save billions of dollars, and millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide,” says Ivan, “which is a big deal to aircraft operators like Qantas.”
Airplane fuel consumption, shipping costs, climate change, engine noise, blue green algae spread, windfarm efficiency, and the speed of Olympic rowing boats could all change dramatically if scientists can crack the 150-year-old mystery of boundary layer turbulence.
And that’s what University of Melbourne engineers are hoping to achieve with a supercomputer model that can do 3,000 years’ research in one year, a purpose built wind tunnel, and a new air-sea interaction facility.
He isn’t a pilot, but few people would know more about ways of navigating while flying than Prof Mandyam Srinivasan (Srini) of the Queensland Brain Institute. And he’s steadily finding out more.
Initially known for his work in bees, since receiving the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in 2006, Srini has shown that birds and insects use a similar system of visual guidance to prevent themselves from crashing into trees when flying through dense forest.
Baker’s yeast could soon be turning sugar cane into jet fuel. Dr Claudia Vickers from the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) at the University of Queensland leads a team studying strains which already produce ethanol, industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
The researchers want to use the yeast strains S. cerevisiae to make isoprenoids, chemicals traditionally used to make pharmaceuticals and food additives, but which can also serve as fuel.
The idea is to give the yeast new functions, so they can consume sucrose from cane sugar and produce isoprenoid products, which can be used to replace or supplement traditional jet fuel, without modifying existing aircraft engines or infrastructure.
Claudia’s lab was originally looking at the gut bacteria E. coli, which could also be used to produce isoprenoids, but the yeast is now looking more promising.
Other research groups at The University of Queensland and James Cook University are looking to develop aviation fuel from algae and the oilseed tree Pongamia, both of which can be grown without competing with traditional food crops for land or water.
The University’s sustainable aviation fuel initiative has attracted several backers including Boeing, Virgin Australia, Mackay Sugar, Brisbane-based IOR Energy, and the US-based green energy company Amyris. It is funded by the Queensland State Government.
Photo: Dr Claudia Vickers is leading a team looking at modifying baker’s yeast to make aviation fuel.
An inexpensive, environmentally friendly alternative to a toxic coating currently used in Australian naval helicopters has been developed at Monash University in collaboration with CAST Cooperative Research Centre in Melbourne.
The magnesium alloy used to house the gearbox of Royal Australian Navy SeaHawk helicopters is prone to severe corrosion in marine environments, costing millions of dollars in maintenance every year. To protect the alloy from corrosion, it is covered with a chrome-based coating that is toxic to humans and the environment.
A Queensland University of Technology (QUT) engineer is developing techniques to automatically identify people in surveillance videos and recognise their movement and behaviour.
The explosion of video surveillance to make public places safer, says Dr Clinton Fookes of the University’s School of Engineering Systems, has created a new challenge for researchers—to make sense of what cameras and computers see. So he is investigating ways to extract and interpret important information from these visual sources.
The data generated by the proliferation of surveillance cameras, as well as the countless images and videos online, he says, are impossible to intelligently use without sophisticated computer vision technology that can automatically extract information from these sources, collate and report on it in real time.
As Clinton’s work is ideally suited to improving security in public places such as airports, one of his roles is technical director of QUT’s Airports of the Future—a major research project aimed at improving the experience of passengers passing through Australia’s airports.
His research in this field could lead to new discoveries in a range of areas including human-computer interaction, security, medical imaging and robotics.
Photo: Clinton Fookes is technical director of QUT’s Airports of the Future.
The only way to find out whether the internal structures of an aircraft are corroded is to pull the plane apart and look. But new nanotechnology-based techniques being developed by Prof. Tanya Monro, Director of University of Adelaide’s Centre of Expertise in Photonics, in collaboration with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, could make costly visual inspection in preventive aircraft maintenance a thing of the past.