What’s the story of JAR Aerospace?
It was founded in 2016 by four university students, including two UNSW Engineering students, who wanted to develop Australia’s capabilities in unmanned systems. They wanted to enhance local knowledge so that instead of having to import this technology, Australia can grow its own aerospace industry. That’s where the education component comes in. We are training younger generations, and working to align this content with the STEM curriculum in schools, to build capacity for the future. Today, UNSW Engineers make up over half of JAR’s team of about 15, which is pretty cool.
What does your role involve?
I’m a Lead Mechanical Engineer and develop drones for a range of applications. One of those is defence and over the last year I’ve developed, tested, 3D-printed and delivered our technologies both physically and at conferences.
One application we are developing is a UAS for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) that flies around with optical sensors looking for threats, enhances communications and assists ground vehicles and patrols. We are currently working on getting this system airworthy certified by Australia’s governing body CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority).
Are the applications transferrable into the civilian realm?
All the platforms we develop for defence can be used in the commercial space where they can assist in communications, optical surveillance and monitoring for many different things. In our focus on education, we are developing our concepts and systems into an educational platform, for schools and different bodies to teach them how to build, fly and program drones.
What made you decide to study mechanical engineering?
I was interested in everything when I was growing up! I drove my parents crazy asking, “why, why, why?” I loved to see how things worked and whenever I was given a new toy, I’d pull it apart, even before I played with it, so I could put it back together again. I ended up focusing on mechanical engineering because you can work anywhere and learn a lot about everything.
Looking at your CV, I’ve never met anyone who was involved in quite so many student groups as you: Redback Racing, MechSoc, CREATE, soccer, ultimate frisbee, underwater rugby, the Circus Society… What did you get out of all this participation?
I love communicating, getting involved, hearing other people's stories and trying new things. When I got to university and saw all these amazing societies and communities, I couldn’t help myself!
I gained great friendships and had a lot of fun. But it was amazing to go from the classroom, having learnt about things like stress and fatigue, for example, to then apply that knowledge and create a product that helped the Redback Racing car speed around a racetrack. That was incredibly fulfilling. I loved having a tool in my hand, as well as a pen.
We hear a lot in the news about ‘killer robots’ and the danger of machines making life and death decisions, does it worry you that your tech is travelling into dangerous realms for humanity?
It crosses my mind a lot. There’s a lot of advanced tech out there, so it is a worry, but the technology that JAR is involved in is primarily for ISR and communication solutions. There is always an operator in the loop so whatever the drone does, it requires a person on the other end to acknowledge any significant task or actionable item.
Do you have any big ambitions for your future career?
I’ve consciously been getting involved in startups because that’s the direction I want to go in the future, and I follow all those big companies, like Google and Tesla, because I am inspired by the things they’re doing with batteries and renewable energy. That’s what I want to get involved in: creating a more sustainable and safer future through product development and innovation. Right now, I’m honing my abilities while waiting for that lightbulb moment to know what form that will take.