UTS Tech Lab: a new way to bring both industry and academia together

Associate Professor Ray Kirby, director, Tech Lab Operations, FEIT, The University of Technology Sydney tells PACE how industry and academia can complement each other.

The collaboration between industry and academia has been an ongoing topic of debate for decades. Australia has well-regarded research emerging from different fields but ranks last globally when it comes to businesses collaborating on innovation with higher education or research institutions.

Another report revealed that Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP) could increase by $8 billion over the next 10 years, if Australia reached just the OECD average for collaboration between industry and academia.

Meanwhile, the NSW Innovation and Productivity Scorecard released last month noted that, while NSW leads Australia in terms of research collaborations per institute, there is scope to improve collaborative research efforts in NSW and nationally.

The opening of the University of Technology Sydney’s Tech Lab in September is a step in that direction. Led by the UTS Faculty of Engineering and Technology, the purpose-built, $65 million facility covers 9,000 sqm in the Sydney suburb of Botany, in close proximity to a major new technology and innovation precinct recently announced by the NSW government.

Tech Lab is a unique research facility in Australia, where academics and researchers from diverse fields work in tandem with industry and government to develop innovative solutions for the world of tomorrow, taking new technologies from early readiness to commercial viability.

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The facility is designed to deliberately disrupt traditional university approaches to undertaking research. Tech Lab seeks to build consortia to work on projects under the Internet of Things (IoT) theme, housed within its diverse laboratories.

Tech Lab aims to work with a wide range of companies, from big to small, including working with startups to continue to build on Australia’s research strengths. It brings industry and academia together to deliver the most technologically- advanced products and services. This will provide growth for businesses and jobs for the students and the wider community. Created to nurture collaboration and partnerships with industry and government, Tech Lab features an open plan design, both in its lab spaces and its activity-based workspaces. This encourages collaborative work and interaction between researchers and specialists. Work and meeting spaces are available so external partners can work alongside UTS researchers.

IoT is a strategic research focus for Tech Lab, linking together the multidisciplinary research strengths within its walls to foster a new capacity for technological impact in countless arenas. The multidisciplinary nature of the facility strategically links research strengths from numerous areas of engineering and IT. The lab leaders at Tech Lab are experts in their fields, and provide research direction using state-of- the-art facilities. Tech Lab capabilities span but are not limited to: civil and environmental engineering; mechanical and mechatronic engineering; software, electrical and data engineering; systems; management; and leadership.

Tech Lab will offer R&D projects, consultancy, contract work and short courses. It is equipped with state- of-the-art capabilities that include, among other things:

  • computational intelligence and brain-computer interface (CIBCI) lab;
  • multimedia lab;
    centre for autonomous systems (CAS) lab;
  • centre for electrical machines and power electronics (CEMPE);
  • photonics;
  • acoustics lab;
  • large-scale structural testing facility;
  • material characterisation and service life performance lab;
  • geotechnical laboratory;
  • X-labs;
  • and laser doppler vibrometry lab.

Partnership is at the heart of Tech Lab’s philosophy and the facility is focusing on creating robust applied research collaborations between academia, industry and government, in
spaces where people can meet, generate ideas and make them happen. Spaces are also available for contract and consultancy work, and for external partners to explore and upskill in new and developing technologies.

Tech Lab has already welcomed organisations such as Sydney Water, which will work with the facility in robotics and smart sensing in pipelines, as well as Nokia, which will run training courses out of the facility. Tech Lab is also in discussion with many other companies interested in working with UTS in the new facility, especially in areas such as smart cities, IoT, and advanced manufacturing.

Tech Lab will not only help Australia draw closer to countries with strong traditional research collaboration cultures, such as Germany, Canada and Singapore, but leapfrog other nations in innovative approaches to skill building and cross- disciplinary problem solving.