2018 Kenneth Finlay Lecture: Introducing Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte

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Students, staff, alumni, special guests, friends of UNSW. It is a great pleasure to welcome you here tonight for the 21st Annual Kenneth Finlay Lecture. I am delighted to have been asked to introduce tonight’s speaker, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte.

Before I do, I too would like to pay my respects to the Bedegal Elders both past and present, and extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders present here today.

I also give my thanks to Professor Foster, and everyone at the School of Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering, for coordinating this terrific event.

It’s a truism that engineering is one of the greatest strengths of UNSW. Since our inception almost 70 years ago, when the University was based at the Sydney Technical College in Ultimo, right through to the present, engineering excellence has been synonymous with UNSW.

Today, we have Australia’s largest engineering faculty, housing more than 800 staff, 36 research centres, and educating more than 16,000 students. If global rankings are anything to go by – and I really think they are – our Engineering Faculty continues to prove that it is not only the best in Australia, but among the best in the world.

Today, UNSW engineers are everywhere, working at the highest levels of research, government and industry, tackling important, worthwhile challenges. And this success is owed to a great many people who have supported our university over the years, including the man after whom tonight’s lecture is named, the late Kenneth Finlay.

As a prominent mining executive in the 1990s, Kenneth was a great supporter of UNSW. He also established himself as a pioneer of improving mining safety, a priceless legacy still felt across the sector today.

Tonight I have the pleasure of introducing our speaker, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte. Professor Durrant-Whyte is a world-leading authority on machine learning and robotics, and recent appointment to the esteemed role of NSW State Chief Scientist and Engineer.

Prior to this new post, the Professor was Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Ministry of Defence. He has also spent time as a Professor and ARC Federation Fellow at the University of Sydney; as CEO of National ICT Australia; and as Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Autonomous Systems and the Australian Centre for Field Robotics.

Professor Durrant-Whyte has published over 300 research papers, and graduated over 70 PhD students. He is an honorary Fellow of Engineers Australia, and a Fellow of the IEEE, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, the Australian Academy of Science, and the Royal Society of London.

Professor Durrant-Whyte has worked with many major companies, even co-founding a handful of successful start-ups himself.

He is especially well-known for delivering the automated container terminals in Brisbane and Port Botany, and for his work with Rio Tinto in pioneering the delivery of the automated “Mine of the Future”.

Given all of this, I was surprised to learn that in his home life, Hugh is a self-described Luddite. No mobile phone and very little email and internet. The common mythology says that, while at one stage he had a license to drive a nuclear sub, he has never held a license to drive a car.

Admittedly, I found this out from a Sydney Morning Herald profile written on him from about ten years ago! Maybe he has joined the rest of us in the 21st century since, and can set the record straight here tonight.

Professor Durrant-Whyte’s lecture this evening will, of course, focus on mining, and the immense opportunities that data automation and innovation has created for the sector.

Looking twenty-five years into the future, he will outline the changes that the mining sector will need to undertake to remain competitive in the digital age.

Tonight’s lecture will, I trust, inform, inspire and excite. Please join me in welcoming, Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte.