How CSIRO is using the NBN to drive research

CSIRO is developing several new technologies that can take advantage of the National Broadband Network

The bandwidth and breadth of deployment of the National Broadband Network (NBN) has the potential to open up new possibilities for Australian industries.

One organisation already taking advantage of the burgeoning network's deployment is CSIRO, which is using the NBN's fibre to test and deploy new technologies.

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“Our focus at CSIRO is really about productivity, given that … we’ve taken a services approach to pushing forward productivity,” said Ian Oppermann, director, CSIRO ICT Centre.

In particular, it has focused on health, government, the commercial sector and smart secure infrastructure services.

CSIRO is also taking advantage of the NBN network in Tasmania to repurpose environmental data it has collected.

It previously carried out a project where around 3000sq. m of existing sensor networks were connected to carry out hydrological forecasting.

“Now what we’re doing in Tasmania is working with a few other groups to do a much more ambitious project which potentially covers a much greater area in Tasmania and allows us to do very widescale environmental sensing … and link that together using the National Broadband Network rollout in Tasmania,” Oppermann said.

“The point there is if we gather all this information from these different sensor networks, we can repurpose them.”

For example, data could be repurposed for forest growth monitoring or river flow monitoring.

“[We can] do things that are completely new with the bits [of information] that are available. That’s a completely new opportunity because we’ve got connectivity now between all the different devices,” Oppermann said.

“In those cases we take advantage of the NBN in the areas that it’s rolled out and we look to use the satellite solutions in the event that they’re not available. That gives us very, very widescale environmental monitoring capabilities with a relatively low infrastructure.”

Other CSIRO research also stands to benefit from widescale, high-speed broadband deployment. In the healthcare sectore the organisation is developing technology to better predict workflows in hospitals. Using historical data, CSIRO can predict patient arrival rates and how many beds might be required for emergency rooms on any given day. However, to do this it needs to have patient records in an electronic format to aggregate data.

“Then if we link hospitals together, we have a much bigger drawing area that we can look to optimise so we can then do better predictions by being able to share information between hospitals,” Oppermann said.

“That speaks to the high speed availability [of broadband] and also [the] affordability of broadband.”

CSIRO also has a pilot telehealth program set up in the Pilbara region of north-western Australia at a regional health clinic which captures images of individuals' retina. These images are typically around 24MB and have traditionally been burnt to DVD and sent by post to an ophthalmologist in Perth for later diagnosis.

However, using high-speed broadband, retina images can be quickly sent to the ophthalmologist over the internet.

“[If you have high-speed broadband], it doesn’t matter if you’re in a regional community in central Australia or north western Australia, now the ophthalmologist can have a teleconference directly with a patient whilst they’re imaging the eye,” Oppermann said.

In the government sector, CSIRO is working on technology that will allow government services to be diverted from traditional in-person interactions to an online platform in a virtual-type environment.

“We’re looking to replace the need to physically go to a government office, physically queue up and stand there and talk to a human being,” Oppermann said.

CSIRO has proposed a telepresence solution to make this process more effective and efficient, which goes one step beyond videoconferencing in that it allows the user to point, gesture and share their desktop with another person.

The NBN would help facilitate this type of technology and allow other resources to be utilised. For example, if an interpreter is required, they could be linked into the conference to create a truly networked experience, Oppermann said.

“You can link those resources in as you need without needing to chase someone up. So the whole point there is really [to provide] the same personal experience, the same human interaction and the same ease of gesturing and pointing but removing the need for people to travel to an office,” he said.

This would enable the public to gain easier access to government services, particularly in regional and remote areas, and also save the government money — Oppermann said Web-based solutions are often the least expensive to offer, compared to a call centre or in-person services.

Using online services would also allow organisations to optimise the user's online experience.

“That could actually enrich the information flow for a call centre or for a complaints desk when dealing with a member of the public.

“The ubiquity of connectivity means that if 99.9 per cent of people have access to some sort of broadband communication, you can actually look at changing the way you deliver services because you assume that people have access.”

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

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