Emerging technology scan: October

The Army Futures Team identifies emerging threats and opportunities in technology, encouraging and promoting professional discussion and debate about their potential implications for future land warfare.

This month, we consider developments in emerging technologies (emtech) in our near region. Read on to learn more about some of the key regional agencies in emtech, how to identify the best place to build renewable energy infrastructure and antimalarial treatments. Stay tuned for our scan of home-grown Australian tech in November.

EmTech Asia (the annual emerging technology showcase hosted by MIT Tech Review and held in Singapore) has announced key themes for its January 2016 conference that include digital life, urbanisation, knowledge augmentation and intelligent transportation — all significant when considering the future of land warfare. In particular, we look forward to seeing what Jun-Ho Oh, the Director of the Humanoid Robot Research Center (HUBO) at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) will speak about. In June this year, a team led by Professor Oh won the DARPA Robotics Challenge with their robot DRC-HUBO that was able to switch back and forth from a walking biped to a wheeled machine. The applications for future force robotics are mind boggling.

The Asian and Pacific Center for Transfer of Technology has developed the Global Atlas for Renewable Energy, a free online geographic information system that helps identify the best place for building renewable energy facilities. It draws on data such as wind speed and solar radiation to show ideal locations for exploiting wind, solar, hydropower, bioenergy, marine, and geothermal energies, and has been trialled throughout South East Asia. Given ongoing concernsabout the security implications of climate change and its potential to undermine Australian Defence Force preparedness, this tool could help Army develop smart energy solutions for operations or build renewable energy infrastructure in optimal locations during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

Last week, Tu Youyou became the first female Chinese citizen to win a Nobel Prize. Youyou’s extensive work in extracting an active element from the artemisia annua plant led to the development of artemisinin, a new treatment for malaria. The drug reduces the mortality rate of malaria by more than 30 per cent in children and 20 per cent overall. This recognition is significant for Army since malaria continues to be a risk for soldiers deployed to the Asia–Pacific, and because the Army Malaria Institute (AMI) conducts research into artemisinin resistance and other antimalarial drugs. According to the AMI, though there have only been seven cases affecting Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel in 2015, 487 individuals contracted malaria between 1998 and 2007 during a time of higher ADF operational tempo in the region.

It is also worth keeping an eye on a range of regional agencies working in emerging technologies. The Academy of Sciences Malaysia conducts horizon scanning with priorities in rare earth industries, fuel cell industries and plant-made proteins. The Malaysian Industry–Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) is exploring biomass and solar. Earlier this month, at the Festival of Science and Technology in Bandung, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) called for the building of a creative technology-based economy for the country. This is important at a time when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is expected to realise regional economic integration that will, among other things, facilitate technology transfer throughout South East Asia. The Philippines Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development is currently taking funding proposals for research and development in 2016, with priorities in sustainable energy, mass transport, industry competition, and environmental change. Emerging technologies are important to the economic prosperity of the region, and play a vital part in its overall security. We look forward to hearing more about how these projects will develop in the future and the opportunities they will create.

As part of the ongoing efforts to refine and improve its understanding of the future operating environment, Army invites comments, encourages questions and the exchange of ideas relating to the implications of these or other emerging technologies (including ones you think we should be aware of). Please send all responses to: future.landwarfare [at] defence.gov.au (subject: METS%20Comment)

The Emerging Threats and Opportunities section of the Army Futures Team explores the applications and implications of emerging technology and trends.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government. Further information.