About 20 kilometres south of the Victorian border town of Wodonga lies the Driver Education Centre Australia (DECA) housed in the Wodonga TAFE Logic campus – the largest heavy vehicle training organisation in Australia dedicated to teaching students, including Australian soldiers, how to drive heavy rigid and articulated vehicles.
In fact, TAFE is a longstanding partner to the ADF, providing ADF medical training and technical trade training for the Army. Wodonga TAFE is now looking to leverage this partnership to expand the Logic campus through the Heavy Vehicle Technology Program into a 100-hectare mega-facility where the ADF can train drivers to face the challenges of the future.
"Wodonga TAFE has a national footprint, which is what we need to service a national capability like the ADF," Dr Brendan Kellaway, Chief Innovation Officer for Wodonga TAFE and a former program manager for Army, said to ADM. "We’re looking to expand the Logic campus across 100 hectares into an approving, experimentation and training ground for heavy vehicle technology, specifically to do with robotics and autonomous systems."
The expansion would include a robotic and mechatronics facility, a cyber facility, a crash and explosive testing area, obstacle and gradient courses, sealed and unsealed tracks, a skid and rollover training area, simulators and more.
The idea is to create a future-proof training environment, one that includes IT security as a matter of course to attract companies looking to test autonomous vehicles.
"Fundamental to the design of this is a cyber range. That is cyber nodes that can be put anywhere in the 100 hectares and a central computer laboratory," Dr Kellaway explained. "If you’re going to provide a proving ground for the company that’s building autonomous vehicles, then you’ve also got to host the IT security experts."
This is the second part of the Heavy Vehicle Technology program: building the advanced trades skills required to operate and service future technologies.
"We've got to look at the technology of the future and make sure that defence industry and soldiers are receiving the training that they need to enter into the workforce," Dr Kellaway explained. "For example, they have to be able to use 3D printing to work, to repair robotics, to modify robotics and to program robotics, to advance printed circuit board manufacture. "So what we’re doing in the second project is building from Certificate II to Diploma level qualifications in those domains – robotics, autonomous systems, advanced manufacturing and even remote piloting."
The third part of the program is Schools to Industry STEM Pathways, which aims to attract high school students into TAFE education and onwards into placements in defence industry.
"This is where we build the future workforce from the ground up," Dr Kellaway said. "We can build the training facilities but to build the future workforce we have to target high school kids and get them interested in STEM, give them sponsorships, conduct industry STEM days or summer camps and entice them to come to TAFE and onwards into placements. It’s an ecosystem."
According to Dr Kellaway, these ambitions will meet Defence's Sovereign Industry Capability Priorities – and could better do so with greater input from end users in the ADF.
"What I want is for soldiers and officers to come along and workshop a design with us, tell us what some of their requirements are and how we can do things better because, as you know, there’s a lot of intellectual capital in the Defence Force," Dr Kellaway said.
The program is currently in high level design with GHD Group and will progress to market once investment is secured.
"This is more than just a normal proving ground and a normal training ground," Dr Kellaway said. "We want to build the defence industry workforce in our region and support the building of the future Defence workforce."