4 mins read 22 Mar 2021

Australia-France to establish space-related autonomous systems lab

A new collaboration between French and Australian scientists has launched to advance how we live alongside autonomous systems, furthering Australia’s research and development capabilities.

Machine learning will be just one of the capabilities boosted by the CROSSING Lab. Credit: Unsplash

A new international research laboratory is set to boost local and international expertise in future-relevant technologies, with Australian space industry activities being no exception. 

The new partnership, titled CROSSING (shortened from French Australian Laboratory for Humans / Autonomous Agents Teaming), links up multiple research institutions, including the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the University of Adelaide, Flinders University, the University of South Australia and the French technological university IMT Atlantique, as well as an Australian industrial partner, Naval Group. 

The research that will be generated from the collaboration is expected to have the potential to influence Australia’s space sector by opening new doors for research and development into autonomous systems, such as robotics and machine-learning software, which will become ever more important for our safety and productivity as we venture further into space for longer periods of time. 

Professor Peter Høj, Vice-Chancellor and President, the University of Adelaide, says that the CROSSING lab “provides an opportunity for South Australian Universities to build strong collaborations with CNRS and European partners to apply to European as well as Australian funding schemes, and to engage with industry in Europe with CNRS collaborators.”

Aside from its acronym, CROSSING is so named because it represents the crossover of ideas between multiple organisations and disciplines, including artificial intelligence, computer science, engineering, technology, human factors and psychology - all of which are linked into the exploration of space. 

Adding value to the Australian space sector, research and development to come out of CROSSING will be beneficial to space applications, such as the automation of the position, navigation and timing of naval ships and submarines, as well as research into human factors, such as psychology and sleep, that will play a key role in space medicine and life sciences research as we venture further into the Solar System and spend longer durations away from Earth as a species.  


South Australian Universities Building Towards Space Goals

The CROSSING lab will contribute expertise in autonomous robotics which can be operated remotely, as seen in this photo of ISS astronauts Jack Fischer and Paolo Nespoli [on screen] operating a humanoid to test control interfaces and telerobotic systems for astronaut-robot collaboration. Credit: DLR

The unique multidisciplinary lab will be based in Adelaide, putting South Australia (and indeed Australia) at the forefront of cutting-edge research in future-relevant technologies and industries. This will make CROSSING the first IRL in Australia’s history.

A number of South Australian-based Universities are also working with the collaboration across numerous space-related activities and objectives. To begin with, the University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute of Machine Learning (AIML) - situated on Lot Fourteen, along with the Australian Space Agency’s headquarters - will contribute its expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning, which is central to the project’s theme of autonomous systems.

To compliment this, the University of South Australia’s (UniSA) Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd welcomed the interdisciplinary collaboration, emphasising the opportunity to boost Australian-French scientific cooperation as well as Australian sovereign capabilities. 

“The University of South Australia is delighted to contribute to the laboratory its unique world-leading expertise in an interdisciplinary combination of research relating to Human Solutions for Complex Environments, including psychophysiology and behaviour, metrics-based ergonomic design and virtual reality and augmented reality,” he says. 

Human factors have long been a challenge for space life science researchers, so this contribution by UniSA may help shed some light onto how we could use VR and AR to assist astronauts in activities of daily living, and even simulate human interaction. 


The Australian Institute of Machine Learning, at Lot Fourteen in Adelaide, will be one of the participating research organisations in the CROSSING Lab. Credit: The University of Adelaide

For the CROSSING lab, Flinders University will also be contributing its expertise in autonomous systems, human factors and industry 4.0 advanced manufacturing. This could be vitally important for mining and agriculture endeavours, such as the in-situ resource utilisation of other celestial bodies, and the farming of new crops on the Moon or Mars. 

“This landmark collaboration further lifts South Australia’s internationally regarded defence research capacity and will contribute to the take up of advanced technologies by industry by devising effective and safe ways for people to work with machines that effectively ‘think’ for themselves,” says Professor Colin Stirling, Vice-Chancellor and President, Flinders University.