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Microsoft partners with Australian Institute for Machine Learning to build space capabilities

By Reporter
09 September 2021 | 1 minute read

Microsoft and the Australian Institute for Machine Learning at the University of Adelaide have partnered to research cloud, AI and machine learning applications for space.

Microsoft and the University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute for Machine Learning signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for research into how cloud computing, AI, machine learning and computer vision can enhance space operations.

The collaboration, dubbed “Project AI Off Earth”, is expected to broaden research into modelling and simulation of space activities, create algorithms to support data processing on-board satellites, enhance remote operation of satellite constellations as well as improve space debris tracking and SDA (space domain awareness).

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It is hoped that both organisations will be able to leverage one other’s capabilities in AI and machine learning, including by utilising Microsoft’s Azure space offering.

“The University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute for Machine Learning (AIML) is ranked among world leaders in the application of AI, computer vision and machine learning to real world problems,” a release from Microsoft read.

“Microsoft has deep experience in advanced cloud computing and cognitive systems and is building Azure Space, a set of cloud offerings which allow organisations to leverage geospatial data, access anywhere bandwidth, digitally engineer space systems, and engage in remote edge computing – including in space.”

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Professor Tat-Jun Chin, professorial chair of Sentient Satellites at the Australian Institute for Machine Learning at the University of Adelaide, outlined that he hopes the partnership would enable satellites to analyse data in orbit, without having to relay the information back to Earth.

“The relationship with Microsoft will give us access to cloud-based platforms that will allow us to focus on the investigation on the performance of algorithms used to analyse large amounts of Earth-observation data from satellites, without needing to be concerned about gaining access to space at the onset,” he said.

“Our work on these algorithms has the potential to contribute to many applications, including agricultural land management, water management, mining practices and understanding of economic activity among many other applications.

“AIML’s vision is to be global leaders in machine learning research, and high impact research translation. To penetrate the global market we need to collaborate with international partners and this relationship with Microsoft presents the opportunity to do that.”

According to the release, the Institute and Microsoft have already begun partnering using the Microsoft Azure Orbital Emulator. The Emulator is a cloud-based system that simulates large satellite constellations.

The Emulator further enables Project AI Off Earth to develop and refine algorithms and machine learning processes without having to launch satellites.

The University of Adelaide’s deputy vice-chancellor (research) Professor Anton Middelberg said the partnership demonstrates how the University is rising to new challenges posed by the space domain.

“The University of Adelaide undertakes world-leading research in the space sector, as well as many other fields, which aims to find solutions to the challenges facing society,” Professor Middelberg said.

“This exciting new relationship between the Australian Institute for Machine Learning and Microsoft will help AIML’s expertise to have an impact on a truly global scale.”

The partnership was announced amid huge growth in the Australian space industry, signalled by the Australian Space Agency’s objective to increase the number of people working in the industry to 20,000.

SA Minister for Trade and Investment, Stephen Patterson, suggested that the announcement had signalled the state's – as well as Australia’s place – in the global space industry.

“Adelaide has established itself as the very heart of Australia’s space industry. This agreement between AIML and Microsoft, which is building a space team, is a signal of what’s to come,” Minister Patterson said.

“Australia has the opportunity to be a leading player in the global space industry and this sort of international collaboration – centred on Adelaide but with a truly global focus – will strengthen the local industry, help build skills in this important area and reinforce Adelaide’s reputation as the epicentre of space activity in this part of the world.”

[Related: SA cyber SME to secure nation’s space systems]

Microsoft partners with Australian Institute for Machine Learning to build space capabilities
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