CSIR development boffs hit hi-tech note
From radar and drones to cyber security, SA researchers are punching well above their weight globally
Armed with enquiring minds and a drive to take technology to the next level, a handful of SA researchers are rocketing the country to new heights by becoming one of the world’s leading tech developers.
Based in research labs east of Pretoria at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), just over 200 researchers have spent years honing their skills to develop groundbreaking security and defence technology.
Radars, drones, electronic warfare and cyber security technology systems were demonstrated in the capital on Thursday.
Pilot projects have already yielded positive results, with the hi-tech Meerkat camera and radar system dramatically reducing rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park.
The long-range system, say its developers, allows poachers to be identified through dense bush up to 10km away. The result has been a spike in poacher arrests and a drop in poaching incidents.
Thursday’s defence and security system demonstration was designed to target entrepreneurs, investors, consultants and venture capitalists.
Businessman and CSIR entrepreneur-in-residence Lourens Botha said the demonstration showed the capabilities of some of SA’s brightest scientific and engineering minds.
“We are seeing among the world’s best when it comes to radar, aeronautic and optic, cyber and electronic warfare engineers.”
Botha, whose work acts as a bridge between the CSIR and industry investors, said the demonstration showed that SA was on par, and in many cases ahead, of global technology researchers.
“Research is vital for the continued development of a country. Today is about finding partners to help industrialise and commercialise the research and technology.”
He added that many of the industrialists attending the demonstration were linked to global companies, which were eager to include SA research in their products.
Dr Motodi Maserumule, the CSIR’s defence, peace, safety and security executive director, said the number of SA defence and security researchers, especially those involved in radar and electronic warfare development, were poached by other countries, especially Australia and the US, showed how valuable they were.
“When we have international visits many cannot believe what we are producing given how small our teams are. We have about 250 researchers, producing what many other countries have entire armies of researchers developing.”
Maserumule said their technology, especially aeronautic and electronic warfare systems, was in high demand, with their researchers working on test platforms in the Middle East, France and the US.
“Given the interest shown ahead of the demonstration, we had to cap those wanting to come at 120. There were hundreds who wanted to be here, which is a good sign.”
He said what was important now was to persuade government of the potential that research and development held for the country’s development.
“Even when big global countries are under strain financially, they continuously invest in research and development, knowing that a financial upswing of their economy will come.
“What we need to be doing now is developing in skills retention and entrepreneurship which, along with small business, has the potential to create huge economic growth.”
The CSIR’s defence, peace, safety and security strategic research manager, Johan Strydom, said the technology demonstrated was ready either to be rolled out as is or integrated into other systems.
“Our radar systems, such as the Meerkat, have had phenomenal successes, especially against poachers. Its more than proved its weight, showing its potential when it comes to safeguarding borders.
“Today’s demonstration is about attracting investors, especially in the security sector, who are looking for technology to secure the country’s critical infrastructure such as oil pipelines, water and power systems and harbours.”