Students’ technology push into Germany

Two top La Trobe engineering students are part of the University's technology push into Germany following the Turnbull government's recent innovation statement.

They are Keegan Napier, who is working on more secure vehicle information technologies to help eliminate hackable cars, aircraft and trains, and Mitchell Ward, who is about to start with BMW's Research and Innovation Group on electric vehicle power systems. Both are based in Munich.

La Trobe Engineering Research Fellow in entrepreneurship, Dr Peter Moar, said they were 'front-runners for various initiatives which will see our best students work overseas, developing their talents to help Australia be more competitive internationally'.

Anti-hack self-drive cars 

Keegan Napier is doing a Masters of Engineering Research Internship with the Bavarian technology think-tank, fortiss.  Established by Germany's Fraunhofer Organisation, Technical University of Munich and the State of Bavaria, fortiss is a leading ICT industrial research body, similar to our CSIRO's Data61 group.

After an earlier industry internship with local defence industry contractors, Lockheed Martin, Mr Napier went to Munich in May last year, and will now spend another year there completing his degree.

His project is helping develop systems that will stop people from hacking into the software systems of self-driving cars and other vehicles of the future.

'It's an important field of electronics that is increasingly impacting on people's lives, especially in areas such as the automotive, transport and mining industries,' he said.

'In Germany I am gaining a lot of insight into industry needs, some of the things lacking here in Australia and the skills we need to develop that expertise.'

Mr Napier said he was looking forward to bringing these skills back to Australia. However, Germany can also learn a lot from Australians, he said.

'Australians tend to be flexible, not so constrained by hierarchical ways of doing things and probably better at thinking outside the box. This means we can often come up with solutions in a short amount of time, even when working under stress.'

Better batteries under bonnet 

Mitchell Ward starts his fourth-year technology project at the German automotive giant BMW's Research and Innovation Headquarters in February, as part of a team helping to semi-automate testing systems for BMW cars.

His studies so far have been on battery technology, solar energy systems, microprocessors and robotic control technology. 

'At BMW I'll be with a team working on battery optimisation for electric vehicle power systems.
'The company makes millions of cars,' said Mr Ward, 'and has to ensure their batteries can deal with loads, stress, heat, vibration, and can maintain good charge and discharge rates.'

The 'BMW test bench' he will be working on is the most advanced of its type in the world, he said.  However, he hopes some work may also involve more exciting, hands-on testing, putting cars through their paces on BMW's desert and alpine test tracks.

After finishing his internship and degree, Mr Ward plans to go back and work in Germany for a few years.

'Eventually I'd like to return to Australia to improve the way research and industrial innovation is carried out in this country – maybe establish my own company to bring that know-how back to Australia,' he said.

Media contacts:
Dr Peter Moar 03 9479 3024 or Ernest Raetz 0412 261 919

See also:
La Trobe know-how reaches for the stars