We are pleased to welcome Dr David Williams to the AARNet Board. He fills the position vacated at the end of last year by retiring board member Mr Nigel Poole. We thank Nigel for his invaluable contribution to AARNet and wish him all the best.
Dr Williams is a leader of information sciences-related research at CSIRO. Since November 2012 he has been CSIRO’s Group Executive – Information Sciences – a role that sees him lead CSIRO’s research in astronomy, digital productivity and services, mathematics and information and communication technologies.
“AARNet plays a vital role in Australia’s academic and research community, as the network with high bandwidth capabilities that connects the academic communities nationally and internationally and enables the Science to be done,” says Williams, who brings a breadth of knowledge and experience to the AARNet Board.
Prior to joining CSIRO, he was the Chief Executive of the United Kingdom Space Agency where he introduced a strategy for the long-term role for UK space and established the European Space Agency (ESA), among other achievements. He was Chairman of the ESA from June 2012, leading the 20-nation Council executive body that oversaw the ESA.
He has also worked at the University of Reading, in industry, the Natural Environment Research Council, the British National Space Centre and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). At EUMETSAT he was responsible for strategic and international relations, including developing cooperation agreements with India, China, Russia and the USA.
These days, in his role at the helm of CSIRO’s Information Sciences Group, translating the science of information and data into practical use, in terms of improving productivity in government through health services and through industry, is a key focus area.
The Group’ Digital Productivity and Services Flagship, for example, has developed a solution for delivering specialist eye care to remote communities.
Remote-I is a remote eye screening system that improves access to ophthalmology services.
Historically, people living in remote areas have had to travel to cities or large regional towns to have their eyes tested, which, he says involves the government paying for travel, and inefficiencies such as people not turning up to appointments and taking leave from their jobs.
“With Remote-I local clinics are trained to take hi-res images of the patient’s retina that are sent to a city-based ophthalmologist via a broadband connection for examination, and then only those in need of treatment need travel to the city,” he says.
CSIRO is now working on evolving this system to provide remote medical support for other health conditions.
“We can also envisage this system evolving as broadband connectivity improves, to provide remote support for minor surgery.”
The provision of health services in the home is a research priority Williams says, citing a mobile system for monitoring blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs in the home that feeds the information back to the medical centre via the Internet in real time, among projects in trial phase.
“The goal is to assist people to leave hospital as quickly as possible but as safely as possible,” he says.
Another priority is improving the efficiency of the response of government departments during emergencies.
“ For example, we’ve been working with the Department of Human Services to improve the efficiency of emergency response during bushfires. In order to respond more quickly and efficiently, Human Services needs information, such as how many people are affected, what the damage is, what roads are open, whether it’s safe to go.”
Productivity for oyster farmers in Tasmania is the focus of a project that is improving the model that manages oyster farm closures after heavy rain.
“Closures critically impact farmers’ livelihoods because they need to harvest and send oysters to market every day. We’re developing a model that will improve predictions so that farmers can manage these closures more efficiently.”
On his watch the Information Services Group needs to ensure Australia remains strong in Radio Astronomy. It’s one of the areas where Australia contributes significant infrastructure to the global effort, he says.
“Australia has a good history in Radio Astronomy; and through ASKAP (Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder) and the SKA (Square Kilometer Array) we have a good future.”
Underpinning radio astronomy is the challenge of big data management, which also applies to other areas of data analysis, such as how to use big data sets to understand health records.
“We need to work out how to reduce the volume of data in real time without reducing the important information in it, because –in astronomy– what we’re effectively looking for is a tiny needle in a very large haystack.”
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