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What’s behind the lights?

Living the Bend’s innovative dream

06 Aug 2019

Living the Bend’s innovative dream Image

By Sean Car

As the state government continues in its quest to establish a world-class employment and innovation cluster in Fishermans Bend, organisations like the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) are already leading the way.

Southbank Local News caught up with ARRB CEO Michael Caltabiano last month to get a taste of the sort of cutting-edge innovation that the precinct can look forward to seeing even more of in the future.

Last year, the ARRB established the nation’s leading transportation science research facility at Turner St right in the heart of the future Employment Precinct in Fishermans Bend, relocating from its previous headquarters in Vermont.

While Michael said that the move was largely inspired by a desire to move his staff closer to the CBD, being central to the state government’s vision for a National Employment and Innovation Cluster (NEIC) in Fishermans was also a factor.

“Fishermans Bend was attractive because of the industry that was here,” Michael said. “The overlay of the Fishermans Bend planning that really did have this as a transport cluster and the university [of Melbourne] moving down the road meant that it all fitted really well with our vision of where we wanted to be.”

“We have an opportunity here in Fishermans Bend to reimagine mobility, and how people live, and what that transportation looks like.”

ARRB is a not-for-profit private company limited by guarantee, whose shareholders are the road agencies of Australia and the federal government. It is the national transport research organisation. Employing scientists, geologists, engineers, IT and technology experts, economists and even psychologists, it is the source of independent expert transport knowledge in Australia.

Working with road agencies, all levels of government, academia, companies and the private sector, Michael said the ARRB mission was to help shape a better transport future, which meant “opening our eyes to new ways of thinking.”

This means providing up to date research on everything from pavement materials to road user behaviour, data for managing and designing our current road assets and developing the strategies and technologies for new intelligent transport systems (ITS). However, going a step further, it also means exploring all possible future mobility needs and technologies such as autonomous vehicles and solar roads, for example.

The ARRB collects the entire nation’s road systems performance data using a combination of means such as intelligent pavement assessment vehicles, traffic monitors and information gathered through smart phones.

Up to date information on everything from average speeds, traffic volumes, road roughness and flood damage can be monitored by ARRB’s mapping and modelling teams to save governments time and money; something not being done so well in Victoria.

“Victoria is behind the times,” Michael said. “It doesn’t use the intelligent pavement assessment vehicles we use in all of the other states because they choose not to. They think they know the answer based on a visual observation of the road. It’s just not possible.”

“We can overlay that roughness data with the speed data to find out if there are some linkages, for example. You can then overlay the decision making about which sections [of road] need upgrading and if they’re not upgrading those that make an economic impact you need to say why?”

The ARRB research laboratories, open to universities or the private sector to come and play, provide the facilities capable of testing next generation road materials to suit any condition and climate.

The multi-million-dollar facility is also home to the National Interest Service Library for road and rail and provides meeting rooms, workspaces and conference spaces purpose built to host a range of different transport agencies and organisations from around the country.

“There are no other laboratories in the world where you walk in and there are no lines on the floor, there’s no ‘you can’t touch this, you can’t do that’. There’s not a sign in this building. I treat everybody like an adult,” Michael said.

“This is the hub for infrastructure in the nation so we will have people come in here and do projects for six months and we’ll have teams of a dozen people to sit down and work with our people for a year. We have the space for all of them.”

He told Southbank Local News that ARRB was in active discussions with government to implement a Smart Mobility Lab in the precinct – the world’s largest test bed for next generation mobility solutions.

“That does a number of things,” he said. “It will be the only one in the country. It will be the biggest in the world because it’s 450 hectares of space and because it’s got industry, port, residential, new schools, it has the combinations of all of the ways in which we live for the future.”

“With a smart mobility living lab overlay, we can really deliver next generation mobility solutions.”

The work that ARRB do is the sort of innovation that the government is looking to attract more of in Fishermans Bend with a focus on advanced manufacturing and engineering. The Fishermans Bend taskforce is looking to global case studies, such as the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the United States or the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, to see how it’s being done elsewhere.

The government has also established a new priority precincts portfolio, which is overseen by minister Gavin Jennings. Fishermans Bend is one of a number of other precincts which include Sunshine, Werribee, Monash, Parkville and Latrobe.

With the University of Melbourne’s establishing its new engineering and design campus 200 metres from the ARRB headquarters in the early 2020s, the scope for collaboration presents mouth-watering potential for innovators.

However, when it comes to keeping up with the times, Michael said he believed Australia was a decade behind the modern world when it came to embracing and adopting new mobility technologies and exploring artificial intelligence (AI); something it had to change.

“The AI economy future is the new economy and it’s a multi trillion-dollar economy,” Michael said. “So is the mobility of the future, it’s the crossover. Mobility of the future is AI, personalised mobility, it’s a different way of doing business. It’s a different way of working and living.”

“This is the place at Fishermans Bend to actually explore and to play and to try and to do. With University of Melbourne and RMIT down the road, 80 per cent of all AI graduates come out of China. We have to be fixated on delivering the next generation of skills.”


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