By Samuel Smith
Published: Monday, November 23, 2020
From space tech to supercars, Adelaide is quickly and quietly building a reputation as an innovative city.
City of churches, birthplace of the frog cake, home of the Mall’s Balls – Adelaide’s been called a lot of things over the years, but world-famous innovation hub? Perhaps not.
Things are changing though, rapidly. With big players like the Australian Space Agency, Lot Fourteen and Brabham Automotive now calling our city home, SA’s innovators are being recognised on a global scale, opening our eyes – and the world’s – to concepts that can be as simple as finding a faster way to do your shopping or as complex as developing artificial intelligence.
The Australian Space Agency
Space technology benefits all Australians.
How, you may ask? Think about GPS, weather forecasts and internet access – these daily conveniences all rely heavily on data from space.
Established in mid-2018, the Australian Space Agency falls under the remit of the Australian Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
It has a huge range of functions, from authorising satellites and rockets to inspiring and supporting Australians who want to work in the space industry.
“The Australian Space Agency’s role is to encourage a sustainable sector; one where the space industry leads investment, while we act as a partner, facilitator, and regulator,” says Anthony Murfett, Deputy Head of the Australian Space Agency.
“We are opening doors for international collaboration with counterparts including NASA and the European Space Agency, ensuring a safe regulating environment for the launch and return of space objects like rockets, and encouraging education and skills development through the inspiration of space.”
The Space Agency operates by the mantra: investing in space is investing in the future. This is embodied in its Moon to Mars Initiative, which will give Australian researchers and businesses the opportunity to support a NASA program.
“We’re partnering with NASA on its inspiring plan to go back to the Moon and travel on to Mars. As part of this, the Australian Government is investing $150 million to fuel the growth of businesses here in Australia so they can succeed in national and international space supply chains, and support NASA on its ambitious campaign,” Mr Murfett says.
“The program is an enormous opportunity for Australia’s space sector and is at the heart of our goal to triple its size to $12 billion to create around 20,000 extra jobs by 2030.”
Currently brewing within the Australian Space Agency and set to open in 2021, the Australian Space Discovery Centre will feature interactive exhibits and a collaboration space. Its aim? To teach the public how space improves life on Earth and inspire the next generation of the space workforce.
“There will be an exhibition dedicated to activities that support exploration of the Moon and Mars, screenings and live shows, an industry showcase where you’ll be able to engage with space businesses, startups and researchers, and a careers and information hub,” says Mr Murfett.
A National Mission Control Centre is also expected to open in 2021 as part of the Australian Space Discovery Centre.
“Saber Astronautics, an Australian business, has been awarded a $6 million grant to establish a national Mission Control Centre in Adelaide, within the Australian Space Discovery Centre,” Mr Murfett says.
“The Mission Control Centre will be a national facility for small-to-medium enterprises and researchers to control satellite and space missions and accelerate the development of Australian satellite technology.”
Believe it or not, 700bhp, mid-engined supercars are being built right here in Adelaide, right now.
The Brabham BT62 is an unrestricted GT track car, described by Top Gear as “the most track-focused hypercar in the world”.
It boasts a FIA-compliant chassis, sculpted carbon fibre body and world-class aerodynamics that give it up to 1600kg of downforce.
How did such a beast end up being produced in Adelaide?
Brabham Automotive Chief Executive Officer Dan Marks explains.
“Brabham Automotive was formed following the meeting of our capital fund, Fusion Capital (an Adelaide investment fund focusing on advanced manufacturing opportunities) and David Brabham, son of triple Formula One world champion, Sir Jack Brabham,” he says.
“Collectively, we saw an opportunity to harness the capacity and capability that existed within the South Australian automotive industry which had historically serviced GM, Ford and Toyota. We created a business centred around a niche technology-focused product for a global market.”
Today, Brabham Automotive’s headquarters is in Edinburgh Parks – Adelaide was a natural choice for production due to existing supply chains and engineering know-how.
Brabham also recruited personnel from Ferrari, BMW, McLaren and Koenigsegg (among other companies) and recently implemented a strategy to repatriate specialised Australian automotive engineers living overseas. A number of new recruits will be commencing with the business in the coming months.
The first track BT62 was delivered to the UK in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was no easy feat.
Multiple cars are in production in Adelaide at the moment, including a road compliant variant of the BT62 – the BT62R – which is road-registrable in jurisdictions including Australia and New Zealand.
Limited to just 70 vehicles in total, the BT62 track version starts at $1.3m and the road version at $1.5m.
Rising from the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site on North Tce, Lot Fourteen is being developed as a global innovation precinct, sitting at the forefront of culture and technology.
This hive of creativity is currently home to 43 startup businesses and 36 established businesses (including the Australian Space Agency) and aims to create high-value jobs in defence, tech, space and creative industries.
Lot Fourteen will soon house a state-of-the-art Entrepreneur and Innovation Centre (EIC) as well as an Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre.
“We’re in the process of appointing a developer to construct and own the flagship, 16-storey Entrepreneur and Innovation Centre,” says Lot Fourteen State Project Lead, Diane Dixon.
“The EIC will accelerate innovation by co-locating industry and research, while an Innovation Hub on the ground and first floors will give visitors a window to the latest developments and technology through showcases and public events.”
The Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre will provide a globally recognised, immersive experience, acknowledging and celebrating one of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures.
In proof that residents of Lot Fourteen are already doing great things, 3 space industry companies – Neumann Space, Inovor Technologies and SITAEL Australia – were recently awarded a $3.95 million grant to help develop cutting-edge space technology.
They’ll utilise the funding to build a small satellite called SpIRIT that will be launched into space by 2022.
A stone’s throw away on North Tce, you’ll also find UniSA’s MOD. museum: a crossroads of art and science, with a huge range of interactive exhibitions, showing how research shapes the world around us.
Tonsley Innovation District
Back in 2010, the SA Government purchased the remains of the Mitsubishi manufacturing plant in Tonsley. Its vision was to transform the site into a sustainable economic base for future industries.
Today, Tonsley Innovation District, located just 10km from the Adelaide CBD, is the main hub of high-value manufacturing in South Australia.
The precinct is home to more than 1700 innovators from over 35 global and local businesses and 290 co-working members. Businesses like Tesla, ZEISS, Siemens Energy, Micro-X, SAGE Automation, AZZO, Phoenix Contact, Hydrogen Park SA, Flinders University and TAFE SA call Tonsley home.
Beneath the umbrella of high-value manufacturing, activity at Tonsley falls under 4 industry sectors: health, medical devices and assistive technologies; cleantech and renewable energy; automation, software and simulation; and mining and energy services.
This mix creates an environment where collaboration and innovation thrive.
Since 2017, the district has been home to cutting-edge autonomous vehicle trials, from Flinders University’s 10-seater FLEX shuttle (which is currently taking a break due to COVID-19 restrictions) to the 4-seater Aurrigo Pod Zero.
But what really sets Tonsley apart from other innovation hubs is its mini-city structure, combining residential, retail, education, commercial and industrial land in one district. It’s a progressive and innovative ecosystem of individuals, families, businesses and institutions.
GigCity provides gigabit-speed internet to the Tonsley community, while a new train station, currently under construction, will link Tonsley with the CBD and the Flinders University Bedford Park campus.
This connectedness makes it a kind of living lab: the ideal place to test technology that has the potential to transform the way we live, work and play in the future.
“We provide people with an entry into the innovation ecosystem – a place where you can actually do things. If [for example] you have a smart street lighting solution and need a stretch of road to test it – we’ll give it to you,” says Precinct Director, Philipp Dautel.
“We want to be outward facing and invite the community to test and trial innovative products that will impact our future lives.
“Things that drive and change our society cannot be tested in a 4m-by-4m room. They need a real-life setting, and that’s what we have here at Tonsley.”
ACE Electric Vehicles
In 2021, the Australian ACE EV Group is set to launch range of light commercial electric vans and cars, costing as little as $26,000.
Last year, ACE-EV sealed a deal with Adelaide truck-body maker, Aldom. They’ll soon begin assembling ACE Cargo vans in Wingfield using what Greg McGarvie, Managing Director of ACE, calls a smart pack.
The Cargo’s body parts have been designed in conjunction with business partners Dr Charles Kung (previously a chief engineer for Taiwan’s high-speed rail), and Gerhard Kurr (who helped design the Mercedes Benz Smart Car) and will be assembled in SA.
“The beauty of the technology we’re using is that it’s very simple. The first car we built here in Australia arrived in 6 boxes. An assembler was able to put the entire car together within 6 days and drive it out of the workshop,” says Mr McGarvie.
“ACE vehicles take one third of the energy to build compared to a ‘normal’ car, and they don’t require any water. The Adelaide factory will have a zero-carbon footprint,” he adds.
Innovation at RAA
RAA is no stranger to the innovation space. From supporting the development of EV charging infrastructure to connecting members with licensed tradies through our Trade Assist program, we’re always looking for ways to make life easier for our members and the wider community.
Just earlier this year, we launched brand new Solar and Battery services, and there’s plenty more in the pipeline.
We’re excited to share our new ventures with you in future editions of samotor, so make sure to check-in to see what we’ve been up to.
The bigger picture
It’s important to remember, smaller startups are bubbling away in all corners of the state too. Innovation is happening all around us, not just at dedicated hubs or within the walls of big companies.
By stepping outside the box, putting in the hard yards and harnessing the power of collaboration, SA’s network of forward-thinkers is growing rapidly, proving to the world that great things can come from our home state.