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Defence careers in AI and robotics

Staying ahead of the technology game is critical for Defence and skills in tech like AI and robotics could give you the cutting edge

Forget teaching Fido to sit, stay and fetch – the Army has mind control for its robotic dogs.

Two sergeants recently tested some tech developed by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) that allowed them to operate a robot using augmented reality goggles and sensors that detected their brain waves. By concentrating on flickering shapes on the screen, they could tell the robot where to go.

Testing out cool tech like this is in a day’s work in Defence. And it’s a team effort, with researchers from Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG), universities and even startups working closely with people from Navy, Army and Air Force to find ways to improve Defence’s capabilities.

The new wave

Technology like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, autonomous systems and machine learning could transform the way Defence operates. It’s all about making things faster, smarter and safer – as well as getting an edge over competitors.

The Navy recently tested 40 autonomous vehicles that can roam the ocean surface, under the sea or through the sky to help detect dangers or gather intelligence.

They’re also developing a robot submarine called Ghost Shark – best name ever! – that can lurk under the sea for long periods of time and travel long distances.

Meanwhile, Air Force analysts are using AI to sort through huge amounts of intelligence data and training it to detect and track targets of interest. They’re also investigating how AI can help people make smarter, faster decisions in risky situations. And the Australian government recently invested $10 million in developing AI tech for Defence, so there’s more to come!

With the right skills, a career in Defence could have you competing in a robot battle aboard a Navy ship, checking out the latest self-driving vehicles at the Army Robotic Expo or using a digital twin – a virtual model that accurately reflects a physical object
– to test new systems in the Air Force.

Back at the lab

Behind all the excitement of trialling new tech, there are heaps of dedicated researchers bringing it to life. DSTG is where Defence research happens, including cutting-edge projects involving autonomous systems like air and sea drones, as well as AI and robotics. 

There’s also loads happening in unis around Australia, especially at ADFA, which is home to the UNSW Canberra Artificial Intelligence Hub, where more than 80 researchers tackle AI from every angle, from tech to ethics. 

Get the skills

The Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) at UNSW (ADFA) offers streams in both AI and robotics and autonomous systems, so your tech passions are sorted whether you want to join active service or stay in civvies.

Be a digital defender!

Interested in cyber security? Check out DSTG’s Digital Defender program!

Every week, you’ll learn from a range of cyber specialists, with training covering everything from scripting to cryptography and digital forensics. At the end, everyone competes in a Capture the Flag challenge to see who is the ultimate cyber protector. 

If you’re lucky, you might even go behind the scenes at a Defence research facility to check out some top-secret stuff. For more, email digital.defenders@defence.gov.au – no secret password required!

Start your career here

Defence + Robotics & AI study

  • Bachelor of Science (Computer Science), UNSW (ADFA)
  • Bachelor of Computing & Cyber Security, UNSW (ADFA)
  • Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)(Mechanical),
  • UNSW (ADFA)
  • Bachelor of Artificial Intelligence
  • Bachelor of Information Technology (Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems)
  • Bachelor of Information Technology (Machine Learning)
  • Bachelor of Engineering (Mechatronics)

Defence + Robotics & AI jobs

  • Army Mechatronic and Electrical Engineer: $90,629*
  • Air Force Electronics Engineer: $87,989*
  • Navy Drone Mission Commander: $91,260*
  • APS AI researcher APS Level 3: $62,863–$69,265
  • Computer programmer: $69,991**
  • Mathematician: $71,885**

Source: defencejobs.gov.au/jobs/, apsjobs.gov.au/s/, payscale.com.au

*Pay on completion of initial military training and initial employment training
**Average base salary 


This article was first published in Careers with STEM: Defence 2023. For more Defence role models, head to our STEM + Defence role model hub!

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