Australia’s small to medium enterprises (SMEs) make up over 95% of businesses countrywide, forming an important part of the economy. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they were some of the first to be affected, with restrictions curbing their activity and revenue. To keep these SMEs afloat while continuing to help Victorian researchers further their work in the realm of defence, the Defence Science Institute (DSI) offers a range of grants to facilitate mutually constructive collaborations.
One of the first projects to benefit from a DSI grant and a PhD student scholarship that would prove vital in furthering research during the COVID pandemic, was a collaboration between researchers at RMIT University School of Engineering and the Leigh Valley Hawk and Owl Sanctuary in Victoria, to study the intricate kinematics of bird flight. The research, conducted by RMIT’s Dr Abdulghani Mohamed and Professor Simon Watkins, is part of an international collaborative research project with University of Bristol Aerospace Engineering Department and Oxford University’s Animal Flight Group, funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR).
The stimulus package was welcomed by the sanctuary, which organises educational visits and personalised encounters with birds of prey to further environmental awareness. Mr Martin Scuffins, the sanctuary’s Director explains, "Our sanctuary conducts a diverse range of displays for environmental education purposes including school incursions and public displays. To this end, we have a team of fifteen trained birds of prey which provide students and the public the chance for a close-up encounter with these magnificent highly evolved predators. However, with the lockdown measures and restrictions brought about by the global COVID pandemic, this education work has regrettably come to an end until such times as restrictions ease and the economy gradually recovers. We have been able to respond to the crisis in a variety of ways, including by providing online video resources for schools in the form of mini-documentaries and video incursions, but these measures, although popular, are not financially lucrative. The research project with RMIT, which provides fascinating insights into the aerodynamics of our trained birds, is supporting our work greatly and helping to enable the sanctuary to continue to operate through this difficult period."
Dr Abdulghani Mohamed, RMIT’s project lead, explains the significance of the support received by DSI during the crisis to help high-risk SMEs such as the Sanctuary. “There are a number of challenges imposed on the project by the COVID crisis, however, the support received by DSI will drastically reduce risk, keeping the project on track,” he says.
Professor Simon Watkins, who started studying bird flight and their amazing capabilities over a decade ago says, "Birds are far more adept at mastering flight and this work not only supports the bird sanctuary but will lead to furthering our knowledge, which should translate to better flight capabilities. These include the new generation of autonomous aircraft that enable flying sensors that will help in everything from wide-range visual mapping to delivering pizzas (and perhaps people) to the cities of the future.”
This project is one of many to emerge from DSI’s beneficial funding initiatives and demonstrates the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration, even in times of crisis. DSI encourages interested researchers and SMEs to get in touch so we can gain a better understanding of the nature of their work and provide research solutions. For more information on our grants and available funding opportunities, subscribe to the DSI newsletter and visit the DSI website.