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Australia's most innovative companies

Last Updated Sep 14, 2018 · Written by Rob Schneider


Australia is called the "lucky country" as if everything we have fell into our laps. A better way to describe Australia may be the "innovative country." Since Australia was settled, we have had to innovate to survive. Australia's most innovative companies don't make the news, but they have transformed technology in a number of fields, not just in the home.

Australia's Most Innovative Companies

Australian innovation goes back to before the first settlers landed. The boomerang is an indigenous Australian invention and one of the first inventions that successfully used aerodynamics in its design.

The early settlers had an isolated existence, but needed to trade with Great Britain to survive. They invented a way to make ice artificially that allowed them to ship meat to Great Britain without spoiling.

We haven't stopped innovating. Some other Australian innovations include the:

  • First full-length feature film
  • Rotary clothes line
  • Dual flush toilets
  • Baby safety capsules

In a variety of fields, Australia has led the way forward. You may be surprised by some of the newer technologies that were born in Australia.

Wi-Fi

When we think of the internet, we usually think of Silicon Valley in the United States. In fact, Australia is responsible for something most of us use every day: Wi-Fi. 21 years ago, on January 23 1996, the CSIRO patented its WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) in the United States. Since then, they have received over $420 million in revenue from the technology.

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The story of Wi-Fi starts much earlier. CSIRO researcher John O'Sullivan was working on an experiment with atoms and black holes. The experiment failed, but a mathematical formula he used during the experiment led to the discovery of Wi-Fi. The technology is complicated. Basically, while sound waves work by displacing air, Wi-Fi has magnetic and electric aspects which allows it to work in a vacuum-like space.

While John O'Sullivan is given credit for the discovery, he points out that he was part of a team of researchers. The original Wi-Fi had glitches. The team discovered a way to split Wi-Fi signals and recombine them at the receiver using an algorithm known as "Fast Fourier Transforms" (FFT), which was not a CSIRO discovery. This made Wi-Fi faster and more reliable.

Thank Australia for Your Online Apps

We use Wi-Fi every day and often use apps (applications) on our smartphones and computers. We have two Danish born Australians to thank for some of our most-used online apps. The brothers formed a start-up company, Where 2 Technologies. Their original app was downloadable, but they had trouble finding a backer.

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The brothers pitched their idea to Google, but pitched it as a web-based application rather than a downloadable application. Google liked the idea and bought Where 2 Technologies for an undisclosed amount in 2004. Google Maps is based on the technology and you can find dozens of other web-based apps today. While no one knows how much Google paid for the company, it's safe to say the brothers are living comfortably today.

The Bionic Ear

Tens of thousands of hearing-impaired individuals around the world have an Australian researcher to thank for their restored hearing. The history of the "bionic ear" goes back to 1967, when Graeme Clark wanted to help his deaf father. In 1970, he became Dr. Graeme Clark and took a position at the University of Melbourne. Today, Cochlear® sells 70 percent of the world's hearing aids.

The bionic ear has a long history of refinement and improvement. The first Baha® recipient was Mona Andersson in Sweden. The device she received in 1977 was a bone conduction hearing implant. She was thrilled with the result, saying, "for the first time since childhood I could actually hear the birds singing."

Further refinements were made and Cochlear® set up an office in Denver, Colorado in 1984. The following year, their Nucleus implant system got FDA approval. By 1994, over 10,000 Nucleus implants had been made. In 1995, Cochlear® was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. The company continues to innovate and the "bionic ear" has improved even more in the past 20 years.

The Harrington Seed Destructor

Herbicides are one way to control weeds, but they have their drawbacks. The Integrated Harrington Seed Destructor (iHSD) is a cleaner way to control weeds. This is a very recent Australian innovation designed by Ray Harrington, a WA farmer. It is so new, it hasn't made it to the market yet, but it's probably only a matter of time.

According to the company website, the iHSD works by traumatising weeds. This has several advantages:

  • Fewer weeds return the following season
  • The device reduces the number of herbicide-resistant weeds
  • Organic matter is returned to the soil

While the iHSD is not currently on the market, a South Australian company, de Bruin industries, is now the exclusive licensee to develop and commercialise the technology. According to the Grains Research and Development Corporation's (GRDC) deputy chair Kim Halbert, "Weeds are one of the greatest constraints to grower profitability, costing the industry $3b every year, and the weed destructor technology is an important part of our integrated weed management response”.

SmartCap for Miners and Drivers

There is a lot of ‘smart’ technology around today. Most smart technology is used for home automation and in industry. Life by SmartCap is an ingenious fatigue monitoring technology that measures the wearer's brainwaves and gives real-time feedback, helping them to manage their alertness on the go.

The SmartCap is the brainchild of Dr. Daniel Bongers of Brisbane. According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, the SmartCap works in two ways. It has a display unit that shows your brainwaves and a warning unit that rings when the user is dangerously close to a microsleep.

Currently, SmartCaps are being used by drivers. Dump truck drivers at Rio Tinto's coal mines in the Hunter Valley use them and other coal mining facilities. They are used in Australia, America and parts of Africa.

Like the iHSD, the SmartCap is a fairly new development. When it catches on, it has the potential to save lives on the world's highways, where truck drivers often succumb to microsleep and cause accidents.

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