From Perth bush to deep sea: How WA is leading the world in remote operations
Summary: Nestled between acres of notorious pine plantation and the picturesque Whiteman Park, Telstra’s Perth International Telecommunications Centre has been connecting the city to satellites whizzing past in space high above the skies for decades.....
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The centre's rows of white dishes look like something out of Area 51. They are all trained firmly on the sky 24/7, pinging data to satellites, but now that connection extends to some of the deepest parts of the ocean.
On Friday Telstra and Fugro, the geo-data company that conducted the search for missing flight MH370 in the Indian Ocean, officially launched a remote operations centre at PITC.
WA's resources sector is no stranger to remote controlling machinery – miners such as Rio Tinto and Fortescue weaving it into their operations several years ago – but this is a first for Telstra and Fugro, using satellites instead of fibre to control robots in harsh environments.
“Prior to the ROC we controlled our sub-sea robots with a team on-board a vessel at sea, a very challenging and harsh environment that presented many barriers to transformation," Fugro general manager Sam Forbes said.
“Together with Telstra we’ve created what we believe is the first of its kind in the world – a real-time robotic command and control centre that operates over satellite communications and is focused on subsea operations.
“The ROC is the start of an exciting new era for this technology type. There is the potential to create an innovation hub and facility that can support both government and industry’s technology aspirations for remote monitoring and operations."
From the comfort of their swivel chair in Gnangara, using the same joystick that F-16 fighter pilots use, operators are controlling submersible robots to conduct inspections, repairs and maintenance on infrastructure for LNG giant Woodside in the North West Shelf.
Mr Forbes said Fugro was told a satellite operations centre couldn’t be done, so they approached Telstra who offered the use of the PITC.
Fugro couldn't put an exact figure on the number of jobs created as a result of the new venture because it was highly dependent on contracts, but it expected demand for the service to grow and has options for expansion.
Telstra chief executive Andrew Penn said the ROC would be used to test opportunities across a range of industries, including space.
"The exciting thing about this technology is once you grasp what can be done with underwater submersibles being operated remotely, that could also apply to other applications, whether it's in remote mining and even things in outer space," he said.
"The simple point what we're trying to do is to solve controlling an unmanned robot a long distance away.
"Solving that is really about solving this latency problem. So if we can actually control from here, in real-time, with almost zero latency a submersible 2000 kilometres offshore and four kilometres down on the seabed, then you can just extrapolate that. It doesn't need to be underwater, it can actually be in outer space."
Science, Innovation and ICT Minister Dave Kelly said the location of the centre would attract a more diverse workforce.
"The fly in fly out operations that are common around the state can be a bit difficult for some people, here with this remote operation centre in suburban Perth, we can attract people of diverse genders and cultures," he said.