JCU engineering big data future

Posted August 11, 2015


Professor Paul Dirks from JCU with HP Enterprise Group’s Les Pall. Graphic: solarseven/shutterstock.com

North Queensland engineering is taking on the brave new world of big data through ground-breaking course offerings at James Cook University.

A new major in electronic systems and the internet of things is being offered through the university’s Cairns campus from 2016 as part of the Bachelor of Engineering.

JCU’s College of Science, Technology and Engineering Dean, Professor Paul Dirks, said the major would focus on the fast-growing field of sensor technologies and the “big data” being generated.

Any projection of the future flagged the importance of these factors, yet there was not a single undergraduate program focused on the internet of things in Australia at the moment, Professor Dirks said.

“We’ve seen an increase in enrolments for double degrees in engineering and IT, so there’s really a market opportunity there,” he said.

Professor Dirks said entrepreneurship would be a key element of the course to help engineers identify and tap the myriad commercial opportunities arising from interconnectivity and data collected.

Sensors in everything from smart phones to city buildings and mining fleets were constantly collecting data which could be harnessed in new ways, he said.

HP Enterprise Group master strategist, cloud and emerging solutions, Les Pall said the new JCU course definitely reflected future skills demand, with industry experience indicating a huge desire to create value from the information that was out there.

“We have more and more devices with sensors on them - that includes smart phones but also instrumentation, smart tags, wearables – and that is creating an opportunity to harvest data at massive scale and get greater insight into the data to solve contemporary business problems,” he said.

Mr Pall cited the example of a far north Queensland engineer who was working on technology that allowed robots to go through a farm and identify when produce was ready for picking

“That requires quite a lot of large-scale data collection and processing and then analytic application to make sense of it,” Mr Pall said.

Based in Townsville and Cairns, JCU has recently undergone a comprehensive restructuring exercise centred on the grand challenges facing life in the tropics.

“We have done that exercise for engineering and have picked a number of themes we want to strengthen ourselves in - things like energy systems, sustainable development, natural resources and extreme events,” Professor Dirks said.

“We have come up with groupings that are no longer traditional engineering disciplines but mix up engineering and sciences around these themes.”

The College of Science, Technology and Engineering offers majors in civil, mechanical, chemical and electrical engineering as well as the new Cairns campus offering of electronic systems and the internet of things.

“Next year we’re hoping to start a program in civil engineering in Singapore as well and focus that on extreme events in coastal engineering,” Professor Dirks said.

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