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New frontiers in smart sensing

The NSW Smart Sensing Network (NSSN) has released its strategic plan through 2027 to accelerate solutions to critical societal challenges. Five priority themes have been identified that will coordinate and focus the research efforts of nine NSW universities. Across these themes, the NSSN will also focus on “smart” technologies to leverage the sensed parameters, including data fusion and artificial intelligence, as well as advanced manufacturing of the sensors themselves.

The new themes for the next four years are natural hazards, net zero, environment and agriculture, human health and smart places. These themes are aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Remote sensing for natural hazards

With natural disasters rising, multiple government inquiries into major events, such as fires and floods, have recommended increased sensing capability and data collection as a key mitigation strategy. The key stages in managing natural hazards are:

  • Prepare

  • Detect

  • Respond

  • Recover

Remote sensing can provide valuable data to inform each stage.

Sensing the right path toward Net Zero

On the path towards net zero greenhouse gas emissions, we need to know more than how many greenhouse gases are in our atmosphere. We need a better understanding of the complex interactions across a huge range of industrial and environmental processes. Fully characterising industrial processes and supply chains is important, as is quantifying the real impact of cleaner technologies.

There are many opportunities for sensed data in renewable energy, green hydrogen, recycling, and the broader circular economy to better inform strategies to reach Net Zero.

Monitoring agriculture and the environment

Beyond Net Zero, increasing pollution, biodiversity loss and degradation of agricultural resources are combined with the growing impact of climate change to create a perfect storm. While sensing technologies for air, water, soil, crops and more are mature, we need breakthrough innovations to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.  

Innovation needs to deliver sensors that are cheaper, smaller, more portable, more sensitive, and require less power so that we can cover the environment and agricultural lands comprehensively. This will not only help us understand what is going on but also help determine what solutions are working in a very changed landscape.

Sensing human health

Public health systems are under increasing stress due to the effects of an aging population and increasing rates of chronic disease, to name just a few challenges. Innovations in medical technology are at the forefront of addressing these challenges.

Medical devices including handheld point-of-care diagnosis systems and wearables that gather sensed data at any time, feed into increasingly sophisticated digital health solutions, often powered by artificial intelligence.

Smart sensing for smart places

Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world, with over 86% of the population residing in cities and towns. With a growing population and the effects of climate change, pressures on our built environment will only increase.

To maintain the liveability of our major cities, urban planners, infrastructure providers, and service delivery agencies need to deliver imaginative solutions to maintain liveability and community resilience.

Solutions for smart sensing

Supporting all these priority themes are a vast range of technologies, including:

  • Sensors: Researchers are pushing the performance boundaries of physical, biological and chemical sensors.

  • Supporting platforms: New frontiers are being explored, including sensors mounted on low-earth orbit satellites and a range of autonomous vehicles.

  • Data processing and analytics: From data fusion to AI, advances are transforming what we can learn from the data we collect.

  • Data infrastructure: With smart communities, sharing data via Open Data standards, digital twins and more is further leveraging how smart we can be with sensing.

  • User interface: This area puts the human back at the centre of the data frame, merging best practices for decision-making support with new technologies like augmented reality.

About the NSW Smart Sensing Network:

The above snapshot of the NSSN’s new direction is a good introduction to the organisation, which was established as an initiative of the NSW Office of the Chief Scientist and Engineer. The aim is to address key challenges by bringing world-class researchers at UNSW universities together with government agencies and industry to develop innovative solutions.

The organisation works with nine member universities and is focused on specific projects aligned with its mission. It also has a tool that allows you to search their database of researchers. If you can imagine a new way of doing things using a smart sensing solution it is likely one of the thousands of sensor researchers across NSW will be working on it or have it well aligned with their skill sets.


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