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Thursday, 14 October 2010 21:55

NICTA's Skellern to make way for robotics guru


There is to be a passing of the torch at Australia's peak ICT research agency NICTA, with long serving chief executive David Skellern to retire early next year.

NICTA said it had appointed University of Sydney robotics expert Hugh Durrant-Whyte as its new CEO following a international search by executive placement specialists Russell Reynolds and Associates.

Professor Durrant-Whyte, who currently heads Sydney Uni's Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR), will join NICTA in December and work with Dr Skellern through a handover process until early next year.

Like the hugely respected Dr Skellern, Prof. Durrant-Whyte brings to the role a mix of both research and commercial expertise to the role, having been successful in both product development and business.

Prof. Durrant-Whyte established an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in robotics and has spun out a number of companies - most recently Marathon Robotics, which recently secured a $57 million contract with the US Navy. His has worked on numerous robotics and automation projects in Australia across industries as diverse as agriculture, large-scale mining, and transport and logistics.

Last month he was named NSW Scientist of the Year for 2010.

The appointment was immediately welcomed by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Innovation Minister Kim Carr, who share portfolio responsibility for NICTA.

But as welcome as securing a leadership candidate as qualified as Prof Durrant-Whyte, the loss of Dr Skellern is a blow. Dr Skellern has been with NICTA since its embryonic beginnings, and gave the organisation a creative culture that was both quite different in the Australian experience and peculiarly productive.

Dr Skellern fostered within NICTA a philosophy in which world-class research was both the aspiration and the reality, and which encouraged its people to pursue opportunities for international collaborations and opportunities for commercial success.

NICTA chairman Neville Stevens said Dr Skellern had "put NICTA on the map both nationally and internationally."

"He inherited a fledging organisation of promise and transformed it into an internationally respected research and development group able to tackle major problems facing Australia," Stevens said.

Senator Conroy paid tribute to Dr Skellern's achievement at NICTA, saying he had worked tirelessly to put Australian ICT research in a global context, and had been the driving force behind internationally successful research collaborations.

"I trust he will continue to contribute to the development of a vibrant ICT sector in Australia and raising our profile on the international stage, and I look forward to working with him in the future," Senator Conroy said.

Innovation Minister Kim Carr said Prof Durrant-Whyte was one of Australia's most accomplished scientific researchers, who had a history of academic excellence stretching in an unbroken line back to his undergraduate years at the University of London.

"He is eminently qualified to lead Australia's national ICT research institute," Senator Carr said.

Prof Durrant-Whyte said the advent of the National Broadband Network made it an exciting time to be involved in ICT research. He said getting the agency's research out the door and into the market - to create wealth for Australia - would continue to be one of NICTA most important tasks.

"I am confident that NICTA can play an important role in finding solutions to some of the pressing challenges we face in sectors such as healthcare, energy, transport and logistics," he said.


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