Illawarra Mercury

Science key to defence

Date: 12/01/2012
Words: 461
Source: ILL
          Publication: Illawarra Mercury
Section: News
Page: 6
ALEX Zelinsky's expertise in robotics - pursued at the University of Wollongong - appears to be the perfect qualification for his new job as the chief scientist to Australia's defence forces.

Dr Zelinsky, 51, who was born and bred in Wollongong and sits on the University of Wollongong Council, was announced this week as the new head of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).

The DSTO has the task of providing scientific and technical support to Australia's armed forces, while investigating future technologies for defence and national security applications.

Dr Zelinsky, a Keira High School product, is now the group executive of information and communication sciences at the CSIRO, where he oversees a $220 million budget with 1085 scientists and engineers.

Yesterday he told the Mercury his PhD in robotics was an appropriate qualification.

"I think that's undeniably the trend - network-centric warfare, is what they call it," he said.

"And more and more autonomy in machines and systems - you've seen drone technology that's been used in warfare in the Middle East. That's a trend that's not going to, I see, be changed."

The desire to create devices that can see for themselves is one Dr Zelinsky knows well. A company he founded, Seeing Machines, has built eye-monitoring technology that can detect drowsiness or distraction in drivers. Its products are being bought up by mining companies worldwide to install in their vehicles. And his work at the CSIRO includes overseeing the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder and the new radio telescope now under construction in Western Australia.

Dr Zelinsky's Russian parents both fled their homeland after World War II and came to Australia, where they met. His father got a job at the Port Kembla steelworks.

Later he would complete a university degree in Wollongong and become a lecturer at TAFE. The family has now had three generations graduate from the university.

Alex jnr's career also started with a cadetship with BHP, which included a degree in mathematics and computer science at UOW. He left the steelworks in the early 80s as BHP embarked on a major downsizing drive. He then got a job lecturing in computer science at UOW and later did a PhD in mobile robotics.

Dr Zelinsky said UOW had a variety of capabilities that the DSTO could be interested in utilising.

"One of the things that I'll be doing in my new role is looking for more collaborative opportunities between the university sector and DSTO," he said.

And he predicted his next role would not be vastly different to his present job - one which has seen him named in Australia's 100 top engineers by Engineers Australia magazine.

"We work on what we call national challenges. At DSTO the national challenge is the defence of Australia and national security."

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