New drone test lab being developed in Australia


Charles Darwin University (CDU) will house an advanced manufacturing and test flight facility for the development of drones, as well as broader aerospace and defence industry parts. The CDU-RMIT TestLab is a joint investment from the Federal Government, the Northern Territory Government and CDU, each contributing $1 million to the project, which will drive workforce transformation in Northern Australia. CDU will partner with RMIT University, who will offer its knowledge in aerospace and defence industry, and Siemens who will provide high-tech software used by leading aerospace, defence and other industries world-wide.

The facility will be located at CDU’s Casuarina campus and will adopt and showcase Industry 4.0 practices and technologies. Industry 4.0 is the digitisation of the manufacturing process and is significantly transforming the way we innovate high-tech products.

CDU Vice-Chancellor Professor Scott Bowman AO said the TestLab project would showcase CDU’s strengths to support the advanced manufacturing and strategic priorities for Northern Australia. “The establishment of the TestLab with RMIT is a tremendous opportunity for us to combine our expertise and facilities to strengthen the Australian aerospace and defence industry,” Bowman said. “Hosting a TestLab means we have first-hand access to sophisticated facilities that allow the advanced manufacturing of aerospace and other uncrewed autonomous technologies.”

Minister for Education Jason Clare said the Testlab will encourage university and industry collaboration and help keep Australia at the forefront of technological advancements in Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution. “The project will strengthen the links between defence and aerospace industries and CDU and contribute to work by the NT Government to strengthen digital infrastructure in Darwin,” Clare said. “Once established, the Testlab will support advancements in the manufacture of remotely piloted aircraft as well as incorporate AI-assisted virtual planning, production, manufacture and maintenance to accelerate product quality and efficiency.”

Director of the North Australia Centre for Autonomous Systems at CDU, Professor Hamish Campbell said the project would attract innovative new businesses to the Territory. “We are seeking local businesses or interstate businesses wishing to relocate operations Darwin to partner with the TestLab,” Campbell said. “This is an exciting opportunity for Territorians wishing to pursue a career within the rapidly growing drone industry.”


A range of training programs will be introduced to support Australia’s Uncrewed Autonomous Systems as well as a new Higher Diploma in Advanced Manufacturing, which is being fully funded by the Federal Government, and open to enrolment later this year. Construction of the TestLab will begin in July in anticipation for a late 2022 opening.

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