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German geeks invade Australia

Still space for Brit techies, says Aussie senator

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Cebit Germany's top techie research house the Fraunhofer institute has turned its remorseless gaze onto Australia for one of its first joint research projects outside of Europe and the US.

The institute, which has been a resource for German industry for over 50 years but is probably most famous for inventing the MP3 format, will collaborate with NICTA, Australia's top flight tech research institute on issues around transportation and logistics.

The two will kick off with a joint project, which will be reviewed in three to five years, and which could ultimately blossom into a fully fledged research institute. The final shape of the collaboration, which is being backed by the New South Wales government, is due to be set later this week.

David Skellern, CEO of Nicta, said transportation was a particular focus for the institute. Apparently, 40 per cent of the world's traffic management systems run on technology developed by the New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority.

This technology was being refreshed he said, substituting cameras for inroad sensors. The first intersection using the revamped tech had gone live in October he said, and has increased throughput by 10 per cent. This is twice the equivalent of removing school run traffic from the equation during school holidays.

Dieter Rombach, executive director of the Fraunhofer's Institute for Experimental Software Engineering, said that apart from the logistics expertise, the organisation was attracted by Australia as a gateway into Asia.

Both Rombach and Skellern though highlighted the issue of skills shortages, even as they try to pool the world's top tech brains.

Skellern said while Nicta had 300 PhD students and could take on more if it had the scholarship funding available, Australian entrants to undergraduate ICT courses are running at just 45 per cent of what they were in 2000 - and that year represented equilibrium.

Not surprisingly, techies are top of the list when it comes to getting into the lucky country.

Australian Senator Kate Lundy said the country was running short and long stay programs for skilled geeks to plug the country's skills gap. At the same time, it was looking at how it could upgrade the skills of its existing workforce. ®

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