Droning on about innovation

This article has photo gallery Published on CMDR Fenn Kemp (author), ABIS Bonny Gassner (photographer)

Location(s): Sydney

Topic(s): Fleet Base East

Defence personnel watch on as a drone flies with a tethered underwater camera during a technology demonstration from Fibre-Tech Solutions held at Garden Island, Sydney. (photo: ABIS Bonny Gassner)
Defence personnel watch on as a drone flies with a tethered underwater camera during a technology demonstration from Fibre-Tech Solutions held at Garden Island, Sydney.

The launch of drones from the air and from the sea heralded the start of an innovative series of demonstrations at Fleet Base East in Sydney.

The lunchtime displays are the brainchild of the naval engineering community.

Marketed as a ‘launch pad’, the displays provide opportunity to challenge and innovate through a series of cutting edge demonstrations where industry and innovators can showcase their technologies and ideas.

Navy combined with the Defence Capability and Sustainment Group work with BAE Systems and Thales Australia to deliver seaworthy guided missile frigates and the group is committed to embracing new ways of thinking and new technologies.  

Organiser Mr Don Moloney said the drone displays marked the first of many such demonstrations, designed to spark discussion and creative thinking across Navy.

“Innovation is all about finding and implementing great ideas,” Mr Moloney said.

“That means bringing innovators to us, as well as changing the culture of our community to one where our own great ideas and innovators have the opportunity to grow.”

The purpose of the display was to demonstrate the versatility of manmade fibre, and its many uses in military applications, including shackles, ropes, cables and ballistic protection.

The display showcased the strength and lightweight characteristics of the cables followed by hooking an aerial drone up to an underwater camera tethered with a thin but enormously strong cable housing optical fibre.

The aerial drone took off from the Small Boat Dock Enclosure at the Sullage Wharf, quickly drawing an interest from the lunchtime crowd.

The demonstration however wasn’t without drama.

“About eight minutes into its flight, a sudden gust of wind blew it off course,” Mr Moloney said.

“Our drone was dragged beyond the intended area towards the small boats and the operator struggled to keep it under control. In the end, the little drone fought hard, maintained its attitude and slowly made its way back to the small boat dock where it began.”

Back on the ground safely, the demonstration had the desired effect, triggering discussion and debate about potential uses.

An underwater drone with a high definition sonar was deployed a week later from the same lunchtime location.

The company involved, already has interest from the Army in their technology and wanted to showcase it to Navy, in particular the diving community. It too drew interest and discussion after an entertaining demonstration.
FFG Systems Program Office Director, Captain Greg Laxton says such displays were planned to occur regularly as part of a much larger innovation campaign.

“Engineers - if willing to take on innovative projects - are uniquely skilled to deliver enormous transformative potential,” Captain Laxton said.

“I hope what we end up with here will become the example which others can follow.

“In the end, innovation is more than just engineers and technicians.

“I hope that this will be the start of a groundswell of innovative thinking that will take us over the tipping point, and create an environment where people can have a go without the fear of failure. An environment where it is safe to innovate,” Captain Laxton said.