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Innovation startup interviews at The Precinct
We're giving you a behind-the-scenes look into the innovation world at The Precinct. Featuring Hypersonix Launch Systems Ltd, FloodMapp and Real Serious Games.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: Hi. My name is Dr Ken Dutton-Regester and we're here at The Precinct in Brisbane, Meanjin, land of the Jagera and Turrbal People. Now, it’s National Science Week and this year's theme is ‘glass: more than meets the eye’ and we're here today because it's a glass incubator of ideas, innovations, startups and scale-ups. And we're going to be talking to some of these scale-ups to see how they're making a real-world impact using science and technology.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: We're here at Hypersonix and we're about to talk to Professor Michael Smart, CEO and Founder. Let's go have a chat. I wonder if he's in. Oh there is!
Professor Michael Smart: Hey Ken, welcome.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: Hey nice to meet you.
Professor Michael Smart: Nice to meet you as well.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: So, tell us a little bit more about Hypersonix.
Professor Michael Smart: Yeah, so we're a small startup company here in Queensland and we're building hypersonic aircraft that are powered by engines called scramjets.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: Are scramjets rockets?
Professor Michael Smart: No they're quite different from rockets. They're actually an air breathing engine, so we use oxygen from the air, we suck air in, and we burn our hydrogen fuel with that air and then we generate thrust. So it's quite different from rocket which basically has to carry all its oxygen and it's essentially a large firecracker.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: What are you trying to do with these rockets? I mean, is it something that I can catch a lift on or something else?
Professor Michael Smart: Ah no something else, Ken, for the moment anyway. So, our first application is actually to try to take small satellites up to low earth orbit so in the next 10 years it's actually going to be more than 50,000 small satellites launched into space and we want to do that in a much more environmentally friendly and greener way. So, we want to fly to space like an aircraft rather than be launched like a rocket.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: What do these scramjets look like?
Professor Michael Smart: Yeah so, we have one over here we have our technology demonstrator, it's a hypersonic aircraft it's called ‘Dart’ and it's very sleek as you can see, and it's powered by a single scramjet engine which uses green hydrogen as fuel. And it flies at mark seven, which is seven times the speed of sound.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: If I caught a lift on that would I survive?
Professor Michael Smart: Ah, you would survive when it was flying. Perhaps as we boost up to mark 7, you might uh struggle a little bit. But no, flying mark 7 you just have a fantastic view of the earth as you're flying.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: How big are these rockets?
Professor Michael Smart: Yes, so this Dart is actually a technology demonstrator it's actually only three meters long. But our space launch system which we're working on would be of the order of 12 meters long so the size of a small aircraft and, you know, and that's the key thing we're talking about hypersonic aircraft as opposed to rockets.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: Tell me more about, like, what made you get into space?
Professor Michael Smart: Yeah, so when I was a kid, I still remember when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. My Dad and I watched that and it was a really formative time for me and I was always interested in space and when I was a kid I really wanted to work at NASA. That was my goal.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: And what was it like working at NASA?
Professor Michael Smart: And yeah, and I fulfilled my goal which is awesome and it was just such a great place to work so many interesting people doing all sorts of weird and wonderful things and really trying to come up with new ideas and that was really the really great fun part of working at NASA.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: That's amazing. So, tell me more about how you got started with this, I mean, is this something that you launched by yourself or funded on your own?
Professor Michael Smart: No, so launching, starting a small company actually requires a lot more skills than just the technology. So, I actually started the company with a friend of mine from university who's had a long business career. And together, you know, we combined together the commercial acumen and then the technology to form a growing company. So, it takes lots of different skills.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: How many aircraft have you launched to date?
Professor Michael Smart: Yeah, so in the company we haven't launched any. We're planning to launch our first Dart in about two years from now. But when I was working at the University, University of Queensland, we actually launched about seven different hypersonic payloads so we've done that, we've done quite a few flights
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: If you're launching in two years, can I come and watch?
Professor Michael Smart: Well certainly you can. So, we'll definitely be live streaming it during our launch phase so that, you know, the whole world can see it. Obviously at the range where we do the launch is a bit dangerous, but we'll definitely do it, doing the live streaming and the Twitter feeds and all those things so hopefully it'll create quite a bit of excitement.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: And so last question. What's the end goal what's the vision where do you see this technology going?
Professor Michael Smart: Yeah so, one of the goals is to make space much greener, much more environmentally friendly. But also, the technology is applicable to
flying from Sydney to London in two hours at mark seven so, you know, we'd love to be able to create our own airline and fly people across the world and much more quickly than they can right now.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: Having done some long-haul flights, that sounds amazing. Professor Michael Smart, thank you very much. Let's go check out our next startup.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: And next up, we're going to be talking to Julia Murphy, CEO and co-founder of FloodMapp. I'm pretty sure she's in. Let's have a look. Ah, there she is. Oh great.
Julia Murphy: Hello Ken, how are you? Good to see you.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: Nice to meet you.
Julia Murphy: Welcome to our office.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: Oh, this is fantastic. I love this green wall.
Julia Murphy: Yeah, it's very beautiful. We just moved into this space recently in
February. It's a great new home.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: So, tell us a little bit about FloodMapp?
Julia Murphy: So FloodMapp, our vision is to build a safer future. So, we help emergency managers with technology for flood forecasting and real-time mapping intelligence before, during and after a flood event to help them save lives and prevent damage
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: Sounds like a pretty important mission. I do see some very water themed meeting room names. Tell us more about that?
Julia Murphy: That's right, Ken. So, this is our Watershed Room, our Basin Room and our Catchment Room. Which is a little bit of a flood engineering joke. They're all the
name for really the same thing but it just goes with the theme of really what we do here at FloodMapp. So come on, I'll show you around the rest of the office. It's a beautiful space and we've got a really incredible multi-disciplinary team here. Flood engineers, hydrologists, data scientists, software engineers and creative people.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: So, tell us how the idea came about?
Julia Murphy: Come and take a seat, I’ll tell you. So, I studied environmental engineering and then went on to specialise in water resources and so everything hydrology, hydraulics and flood modelling and so it was, you know, my real area of expertise. And I think after experiencing the 2011 flood events and seeing, you know, my friends impacted, lose their homes and then two years later, you know, another flood event in Calgary 2013, I really wanted to use my skills to try and better fill the gap for flood modelling and emergency management to help people.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: And what was it like sort of taking that step to become an entrepreneur and starting a business?
Julia Murphy: Yeah, a real journey, Ken. I think the best way I can describe it is a roller coaster. Lots of ups, but lots of downs, you know, so many hurdles and
obstacles to achieve and, you know, taking a brand-new technology like ours all the investment into research and development when, you know, you don't even know what the model performance is going to be like and then to commercialise the technology. Look, it's been challenging. We'll walk around the rest of the office while I tell you. But also, you know, there's been just really high up points and I think the, you know, thing I'm most grateful about at FloodMapp is to work with just the team of the most incredible people and I'm so honoured that people this smart, you know, have joined us in our mission to do what we do. So yeah, we're walking by the Data Science Team at the moment. So, these guys are doing incredibly smart work, So, they have experience in computational fluid dynamics and data science to forecast flooding before it happens to help emergency managers distribute better early warnings for evacuation planning and for asset owners to prevent damage.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: And what advice would you have for other people, sort of, looking to start their own business or get an idea off the ground?
Julia Murphy: Look, I'd say first before you get an idea off the ground, start a business. You want to get industry experience to really understand the industry that
you're working in, you know, the people, the regulatory challenges, the politics. Understand where the pain points are and then look at how to solve that problem. And that's ultimately what's going to set you up for success.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: Okay, so the problem sounds key. I could see some really interesting images over on these computers. Can you tell me what's happening here?
Julia Murphy: Yeah, so this is our incredible Flood Operations Team in action. So, these guys have experience in flooded engineering and hydraulics and they are running our hydraulics model and generating a FloodMapp forecast now cast and post cast extents, to help emergency managers respond to flood events. So, this type of data is used by emergency services for, you know, planning swift water rescues, streamlining the recovery and, of course, understanding the people, property and infrastructure that are impacted by the flood.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: So, I imagine this technology was used pretty heavily in recent flooding events here in Australia?
Julia Murphy: Yeah, that's right. So, we were really glad that we could support Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and Queensland Reconstruction Authority with their response to the flooding and, yeah, our goal is to just better serve communities because the flooding that we've seen has just been devastating and heartbreaking and I think that's what makes us all so passionate about the work that we do here.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: And then looking to the future, where do you see FloodMapp going and the impact it can make?
Julia Murphy: Look, I think there's so much impact this kind of technology can make and ultimately we want to take the technology global to, you know, help save lives and prevent damage all over the world. We're starting with some work in the US there that's our next big market and one of the projects we've been working on is this one here where we've actually integrated FloodMapp now cast real-time mapping to overlay it to understand the depth of flooding over roads, to predict flooded roads in real time dynamically and then fed that in as an API into Waze to give alerts and reroute traffic around flooded roads. So, this is ultimately meaning that drivers
are avoiding flooding and being safer on the roads. So yeah, this kind of technology has huge potential to save lives and help more people.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: This is fantastic. Well thank you very much, Julia. It's been an absolute pleasure lots of exciting things happening.
Julia Murphy: Such a pleasure, Ken. Thank you so much for coming to visit.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: Thanks for showing us around.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: And now we're here to talk to Karen Sanders, co-founder of Real Serious Games and CEO of the Queensland XR Hub. I can see her right here. Hey Karen.
Karen Sanders: Hey Ken. How are you? Yeah, come on through. Welcome.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: So, Karen, tell us more about Real Series Games?
Karen Sanders: Real Series Games is an XR content creation company that was founded in about 2009 and we've got over 30 staff here in Brisbane and we've been developing, you know, applications for training in the mining and engineering sectors. So come on through, I'll show you a little bit about the XR technology. So, a lot of what we do is delivered on headsets. So you get the headset so there are different varieties of headsets like these and there are also augmented reality headsets. So, Microsoft has the HoloLens for instance and essentially you're developing an application, like an application on your mobile phone, but it's on a headset.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: And so, when it goes on your head, like, where does that transport you to?
Karen Sanders: Oh Ken, you could go anywhere you want to.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: Can I go to space?
Karen Sanders: Yeah, I can put this on and I'll be on Mars, you know, and so the beauty is you can really take people to anything that you'd imagine. You can take
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: So, what is the benefit of using this technology for the organisations that you provided for?
Karen Sanders: For us, we're doing a lot of workforce training. So, in that instance the application that would be on the device would be something like field training. So, if you're working in the rail sector for instance and you've got to learn how to undertake service on a train, and trains are really long, you know, half a kilometre long and we can take that experience that you'd normally be trained in in the yards, bring that into the headset and we can train people more safely on how to undertake their, you know, their future roles.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: I imagine it's a little bit more engaging as well. I mean, do you use gamification?
Karen Sanders: Absolutely. So, come through, keep walking. So, Emma's over here. Emma's the Operations Manager for the Queensland XR Hub and she's doing some testing on a virtual reality application right now. And it really is around that developing on the computer, testing in the headset, you know, that type of thing.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: And so, tell us more about the Queensland XR Hub. What's the main purpose there?
Karen Sanders: Yeah, so you're standing at the Queensland XR Hub today, and the hubs around, you know, it's like a traditional technology hub that we're looking to activate an ecosystem around XR. So how do we find all of the startups, scale-ups, connect them with government, industry investment and really make some noise about this, the opportunities that these technologies can provide to government and industry.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: Sounds like a really important initiative, but I have to say, I've seen this in the corner. What is this contraption?
Karen Sanders: Yeah, I've got to show you this. This is called a cat VR, but it's a device that enables you to strap yourself in so you're safe, you put a headset on here but it enables you to run at pace through a computer game environment, right. So, I can be running through a city, but I come back and land on the same spot, if that it
makes any sense. But you watch people on YouTube and they are sprinting when they're using this device and playing games, so it's kind of fun.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: It looks like a cool contraption. But, one question though. Is, like, how did how did you, sort of, get into this? Did you sort of see yourself getting into XR game development when you're a kid?
Karen Sanders: No, not at all. So, I did a Civil Engineer, I'm a Civil Engineer by profession and I worked on some major projects where we got to build 3D CAD models of refineries and stuff and we'd use those models to communicate to the workforce what was going to be built, and when VR, when the opportunity to get involved in VR came around it was really exciting because you could see how if you could bring those models into the headsets you could take people to, you know, onto site anywhere and start training them. So, no I had no idea that I was going to head down this pathway.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: That's so crazy. Karen, it's been a pleasure.
Karen Sanders: Thanks very much, Ken. Thank you.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: It's been really fascinating to see where all these different companies are going and how it's making an impact using science and technology.
Dr Ken Dutton-Regester: Well, that's a wrap. It has been so great to see the innovation happening here in Queensland and the impact that it's having on the world. Now, if you want more science there are a tonne of events happening in this year's National Science Week. So, check out the inspiring Australia Queensland website. That's it from me. I'll catch you next time.