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Up close and technical with Women in AI award winner

Australian Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley; Flt Lt Kate Yaxley; and Lockheed Martin Australia Chief Executive Joe North

At the Women in AI awards earlier this year, Defence expert Flt. Lt. Kate Yaxley was honoured for her achievements in Artificial Intelligence. Here is a 10 minute Q&A with this incredible award-winning flight lieutenant.

With the support of the Australia Air Force, Kate’s work with UNSW Canberra and Sturt University allows a better understanding of drone flight management, by looking at herding sheep effectively with drones.

1. Where are you from and where do you live now?

I am from country South Australia. I currently live in Canberra, where I am completing my PhD research as a Sir Richard Williams Foundation Scholar with the Royal Australian Air Force.

2. What made you start working in your field?

I was inspired to join Defence, and Air Force in particular, after completing work experience at a small aviation firm in Adelaide.

I enjoyed the technical challenge and problem solving, so I enlisted as an Avionics Technician and predominately worked on Orion aircraft. Curiosity and problem solving led me to an opportunity to complete an Electrical Engineering degree, specialising in electronic warfare (EW).

I became inspired to learn more about artificial intelligence after working jointly with the Defence Science and Technology Group, where we had the opportunity to collaborate with researchers who were working in the cognitive EW space.

RELATED: Australian cybersecurity industry needs you | Opportunity alert

3. How did you get your start? 

By having open conversations about my career goals with my supervisors, I was supported when I asked for the opportunity to complete a PhD.

I submitted a proposal and was supported by my supervisors. I am still supported by these same supervisors, who often ask about my career journey.

4. What help did you have along the way?

 My biggest supporter has been my husband. Nathan has been the primary caregiver of our children and supported our many moves as a Defence family. Professionally, I have had a number of mentors who have provided advice.

I have also had a number of career sponsors, as I mentioned, who have seen potential and supported me in following my goals.

Recently, I have been supported by a range of collaborators, who have provided their unique perspective to collectively work towards our goal of developing an autonomous system for sky shepherding.

5. What are you working on right now? 

I am currently working on finalising my PhD research. Together, with UNSW Canberra and Charles Sturt University, we are moving to a larger phase of mustering, that will support answering whether current models I have developed in my research are robust enough for use in machine education curriculums.

While my individual PhD research journey is coming to a close, the broader Sky Shepherds journey is just beginning.

6. What project or piece of work are you most proud of?

It is hard to say which single piece of my sky shepherds journey I am most proud of.

Collectively, it has enabled me to collaborate with some amazing researchers, which has resulted in a contribution to AI design philosophy and human-swarm teaming architecture.

One of the most enjoyable projects was developing the centre of influence using data collected during our initial field testing with sheep.

RELATED: What is artificial intelligence? 

By working with other PhD students, we were able to show that recognising the diversity of the flock could improve shepherding models. This was particularly important for me, as I believe both curiosity and diversity are vital to leadership, and innovation, so to see this reflected in the science was affirming.

7. Who, and how, does that impact?

The centre of influence has the potential to improve many aspects, not just shepherding. Including network traffic management, humanitarian activities, space operations, and the future of swarming technologies.

8. Congratulations on your win! What does winning this award mean?

 – for you?

Just to be recognised as a finalist was a big achievement. It was the first time I had nominated myself for an award, so to win was unexpected.

It was a lesson to believe in yourself and to not wait for others to recognise your achievements.

 – for UNSW Canberra?

This award was an opportunity to discuss the future of technology and the role diverse teams play. For my research group at UNSW Canberra, it was an opportunity to celebrate the many achievements during what was a particularly difficult time for everyone.

 – for the defence industry?

For AI in Defence, this was an opportunity to showcase the many amazing women working in Defence and Defence industry. To be recognised for such an award, is truly humbling.

9. What’s next in your industry?

In my opinion, what’s next is the translation of the intellectual capital in Australian universities to realising capability in both Defence and Defence industry.

10. Where do you see AI having the most impact in your industry?

In my opinion, AI will have the greatest impact by improving our integration with technology to support decision making.

This Q&A was provided by Mike Woodcock from Media Connect. To learn about what AI jobs you can pursue, try this careers with STEM quiz. 

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