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Researchers to develop AI for geospatial intelligence

Researchers to develop AI for geospatial intelligence

Machine learning tool aims to detect and classify ocean vessels from satellite imagery

University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers will share in $1.2 million in funding as part of a Federal Government program to strengthen Australia’s critical geospatial intelligence capabilities.

Associate Professor Son Lam Phung, Senior Professor Salim Bouzerdoum, and Dr Fok Hing Chi Tivive, from UOW’s School of Electrical, Computer and Telecommunications Engineering, will lead the project – ‘What vessel is that?’ – to develop a machine learning tool that can detect and classify ocean vessels from satellite synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) imagery.

Machine learning is a part of artificial intelligence in which computers learn to perform tasks by discovering patterns and decision rules directly from data. 

The idea in this project is to develop a tool that can detect and quickly differentiate a fishing boat from a patrol boat, for example, or a military ship from a cargo vessel.

“There has been an increasing interest in maritime surveillance to counter illegal fishing and maintain maritime rights and interests,” Professor Phung said.

“Operating surveillance drones is not sufficient alone. By contrast, satellite SAR can acquire images at a larger scale for vessel detection.

“Detecting vessels in SAR images is challenging because of the complex background, high noise, varying target sizes, and high dynamic range of SAR images.

“For this project we will leverage recent advances in deep learning to process large-scale SAR images for vessel detection and classification.”

The funding is through the Analytics Labs Program of the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO) in the Department of Defence, and coordinated by FrontierSI, a research centre with expertise in spatial information technologies.

The $1.2 million program is designed to improve the AGO’s understanding of the modern machine analytics capabilities developed by industry, while raising industry awareness of AGO’s current and emerging challenges.

The project will also involve postdoctoral researcher Thanh Le and several PhD students (including Hieu Phan and Ly Bui). Hence, it helps training the next generation of researchers with skills in AI and machine learning to address defence and security needs.

Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price congratulated the successful applicants, saying their proposals demonstrated the immense value that could be realised when Defence and Australia’s defence industry team up to overcome key challenges.