Growing up on a farm provoked Chris Madden’s fascination to learn about how things work. From a young age he realised the importance of computers and that realisation led him to study at ANU where he graduated with a combined engineering and computing degree, majoring in mechatronics. Chris is now a Robotics and Vision Scientist at the Defence Science and Technology Group. We caught up with Chris recently to learn more about his journey so far.
“I have had a very unconventional life, but the skills and experiences I gained from ANU have enabled me to make the most of it. My experience amongst experts in robotics led me to believe that improving the capabilities of robotics requires them to have a much better understanding of the environment they operate in.”
Chris’ interest in practical projects at university led him to work at National ICT Australia (NICTA) where he built their visual information laboratory in Sydney.
He then undertook a PhD in computer vision, focussing his research on tracking individuals as they were observed by low cost surveillance cameras across a building or campus. His research has the potential to reduce the workload of Security Officers or Police Officers when investigating incidents.
After completing his PhD Chris was given an opportunity to head overseas and apply his skills as a postdoc at Kingston University. Chris spent a year undertaking video analysis, which formed his entry into the UK Ministry of Defence's Grand Challenge on robotic surveillance.
“For this challenge our group created a team of ground based robots and aerial vehicles. The team of robots could work together to map a village style landscape and find any potential threats as autonomously as possible. The threats included soldiers, snipers and vehicles with weapons and they had to be distinguished from civilians and other vehicles in the area.
“The challenge highlighted how difficult it is for robots to autonomously coordinate and perform such tasks, even if it does keep soldiers out of harm’s way. Robots still have a long way to go before their artificial intelligence can outperforms humans, especially where a degree of ingenuity and innovation can make a task easier or more effective.
“Many new robotics challenges are running now to push the boundaries of what robots can do at specific tasks, such as those done by DARPA, the Outback Challenge run by CSIRO and QUT, or the Australian DSTO sponsored Intelligent Ground Vehicle Challenge,” he said.
Following his time overseas, Chris returned to Australia with his family and once again took up a position as a postdoc, this time at the Australian Centre for Visual Technologies at Adelaide University. In 2011 Chris moved on to the Maritime Division at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation as a Defence Scientist where he continues to contribute to the field.
“As a Robotics Scientist I’ve been involved in a lot of interesting projects including operating a 1.4 tonne unmanned underwater vehicle. I’ve also provided support for the exploration project of the AE2, Australia's Second World War 1 submarine that was sunk during the Gallipoli Campaign.
“All of these experiences have built upon the skills that I began developing as an undergraduate at ANU. Although my career has undergone many twists and turns along the way, it has certainly enabled me to do a variety of very interesting work."