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Environmental Sensors to Revolutionise Infrastructure Management

Townsville has become home to world class devices that are set to revolutionise the maintenance of civil and mining industries across Australia. 

New Townsville based tech company, LiXiA Proprietary Limited, is using modern technology to create pole top environmental sensors that measure the structural integrity of electrical poles. They have recently completed a proof of concept trial and are now preparing to deploy around 350 sensors across Queensland.

“LiXiA is a new tech company formed through the collaboration of Rockfield with James Cook University,” explains one of the co-founders, Govinda Pandey, who is also the CEO of national engineering consulting firm, Rockfield Technologies. 

“We want to create an earth where infrastructure assets actively identify and communicate problems, converting maintenance liabilities into data-generating assets.”

LiXiA diagram

There are more than seven million poles across Australia powering our nation and acting as an essential component of lifelines in all communities. LiXiA’s environmental sensors provide a timely and cost-effective solution to understand the state of infrastructure assets, minimise human intervention and ensure that modern infrastructure is compliant with current standards.  

“Infrastructure assets such as power poles are challenging to manage because most of them are timber, and often experience deterioration and decay over their design life due to rotting or termite attacks,” says Govinda. 

“Therefore, electricity distribution companies conduct specific routine inspections on their poles, typically every five years, which is a difficult task to do.” 

“We realised there were trillions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure assets worldwide, such as power poles, that were at the end of their design life, but due to economies of scale, could not be replaced.”

Since the current method of determining the integrity of infrastructure assets is primarily through visual inspections, Govinda says LiXiA saw this as a great opportunity to connect a system of sensing devices, known as the Internet of Things (IoT), with the infrastructure industry and accelerate it into the digital era.

“With LiXiA, we came up with a bespoke IoT device, which attaches to the pole, takes the vibration signature and analyses the integrity of the asset by looking at the lean and twist of the pole.

“Traditionally, infrastructure development and environmental protection were seen as a zero-sum game. But now with the advent of technology we have an opportunity to truly redefine this paradigm,” explains Govinda. 

LiXiA’s wireless sensors create affordable energy and make the inspection process more efficient and reliable. They also provide alerts on catastrophic events such as bushfires and floods to mitigate environmental damage and improve urban planning practices. 

Govinda Pandey and Mangalam Sankupellay

“The sensors also record climatic information, like microclimate temperature, humidity and barometric pressure,” says Govinda. 

“This information will assist electrical distribution networks to implement a more time and cost-efficient maintenance program.

“Certainly, technology, if used effectively, can unlock the potential to reimagine harmony between built and natural environments.”

Thanks to the support of Townsville City Council and Smart Precinct NQ, LiXiA has been provided with a space at the Enterprise House, enabling them to locally conduct their data analysis and manufacture their solutions. 

“Smart Precinct has provided us with this fantastic space here at the Enterprise House, which we are utilising to start developing and building those gadgets,” continues Govinda. 

“Basically we are working on two projects out of Enterprise House at the moment, one is for the utility industry and the other one is for the Townsville City Council looking into the erosion problem and seeing how we can use image processing technology, together with IoT, to solve that problem, particularly from the disaster resilience perspective.

“We also have a facility here that we call the Accelerated Training Facility where we can use our image recognition technology to fast-track the learning of the system as well.” 

LiXiA is currently in prototyping phase of production and is preparing to manufacture large volumes of the device for both the national and global market. 

“We have successfully completed a proof of concept trial recently and as a next step we are deploying around 350 sensors across Queensland,” explains Govinda. 

“We have also received interests from interstate and overseas markets, and our conversations with these collaborators have significantly advanced over the past few months.

“Obviously, with COVID, there is a lot of talk about onshoring or reshoring manufacturing back in Australia. 

“In light of this, we have now formed a working group that consists of a number of civic leaders in Townsville to really explore that opportunity, so that we will have an ecosystem of IoT businesses that covers mining technology, agriculture, defense, and all those other sectors as well.”

LiXiA sensor Made In Townsville

The Internet of Things has the potential to generate between $4 trillion to $11 trillion in economic value by 2025. Due to a rapid rise of advanced manufacturing, it is also expected that there will be more than 40 billion industrial devices connected to internet by 2025, with COVID-19 seriously accelerating this trend. 

“Now with the democratisation of knowledge, technology and funding, tech industry clusters can develop anywhere on the planet,” explains Govinda. 

“The key to success is the ability to solve an acute local problem through co-creation and scale up globally.

“In North Queensland we have a number of traditional industries such as mining, agriculture, infrastructure and defense that are ripe for disruption. 

“If we can develop new technologies here in NQ and use our harsh tropical climate as a testbed, the products developed here will most likely work in most of the inhabited parts of the planet. 

“This is our rare opportunity to create a new sunrise industry that could create thousands of future ready jobs and put Townsville on a global IoT industry map.”

By Georgie Desailly for BDmag

Georgie Desailly

Georgie Desailly

Georgie is BDmag’s resident writer who is passionate about entrepreneurship, sustainability and regional affairs. She spent time studying in New York City where she was trained by some of the world's leading journalists at The School of the New York Times.
Georgie Desailly

Georgie Desailly

Georgie is BDmag’s resident writer who is passionate about entrepreneurship, sustainability and regional affairs. She spent time studying in New York City where she was trained by some of the world's leading journalists at The School of the New York Times.