NICTA offers free elefant

An element of the backbone software behind the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA)’s traffic monitoring toolkit has been released as open source by National ICT Australia (NICTA).

The machine learning system, dubbed Elefant — Efficient learning, large-scale inference and optimisation toolkit — allows large amounts of data to be automatically analysed, interpreted and summarised.

The research organisation has built the system under the Mozilla Public License and hopes some of the 3700 downloads will result in feedback about the software.

NICTA says the platform can be used for complex biological and medical experiments that require tedious data mining.

The RTA currently uses Elefant as part of its Smart Transport and Roads project, which is introducing cheaper vehicle detection and tracking, queue length estimation and vehicle classification at intersections. The data is fed into an artificial intelligence-based control system over a network.

Elefant is one of a dozen NICAT-developed platforms now available for free on

NICTA embedded systems group leader, Gernot Heiser, said OpenNICTA will play a key role in the organisation's goal of gaining international attention and collaboration.

Open source software is impossible to ignore and it is an important way for people to collaborate," Heiser said.

Heiser said NICTA values open source as important for both academic and commercial reasons.

“Open source and commercialisation are not mutually exclusive, and this is frequently misunderstood” he said.

“In the end a portal is only as good as the material available through it so the key is obviously in developing world class software to distribute. I think we have made a pretty good start in that.”

Heiser said he would like to see more research organisations follow NICTA's lead and formalise processes for handing software back to the open source community.

“[Research organisations have been donating software back to the community] for a number of years but typically in an ad-hoc fashion and very often below the radar of the authorities,” he said.

“Basically, it is done without telling anyone and in the hope that the lawyers don't catch on. This, of course, has the potential for creating major problems (for the organisation). So I think it is important that a systematic approach is taken.”

NICTA announced its spin-out, Audinate, had secured a further $4 million in venture capital funding to develop high performance TCP/IP networking equipment last month.

The Sydney-based company has developed equipment that can replace up to 500 audio and video cables with a single cat-5 networking cable. It was used last year at the Star Trek premiere at the Sydney Opera House.

The University of Melbourne and NICTA had their ICT research and development funding topped up as part of efforts to foster closer collaboration between Australia and China in December.

As part of the Australia-China Special Fund for Scientific and Technological Cooperation — which is part of the International Science Linkages program — the University of Melbourne received $79,732 for joint research with the South West Jiaotong University on a "Z4 sequence design for wireless communications".

NICTA picked up $85,000 for its work on "graph-based representations of remotely sensed data for geoindexing applications" with Chinese partner, Zhejiang University.

The RD organisation also picked up $1.01 million in Federal Government funding for the development of an advanced video surveillance system for the Port of Brisbane in December last year.

The same month NICTA unveiled a new laboratory and HQ in Sydney.

The facility was officially opened by Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy and Industry and Investment NSW deputy director general, Barry Buffier along with NICTA CEO David Skellern and chair, Neville Stevens AO.

See a slideshow of the opening.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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