CSIR to embark on new strategy


The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) will soon launch a new strategy under Project Synapse to grow the development and localisation of its technologies, including defence and security technology.

CSIR CEO Dr Thulani Dlamini on Friday briefed the media on the upcoming strategy, which will focus on enhancing industrial research within the organisation and developing closer ties with the industry and investors to develop and localise technology.

In August 2017 the CSIR embarked on Project Synapse to improve its relationships with its stakeholders and industry and develop and promote research and technology development. “To achieve this, the organisation will leverage emerging technologies, especially those rooted in the fourth industrial revolution, as well as its current capabilities and those of its partners,” the CSIR said.

Chairperson of the CSIR Board, Professor Thokozani Majozi said that there is an urgent need for the CSIR to respond to the needs of the private sector, and that collaboration would strengthen industrial development, thus creating much-needed jobs in the country.

He said the CSIR’s mandate is to foster scientific development and to change people’s lives for the better but “we have to survive.” He said the CSIR was in survival mode between 1988 and 2006 when it relied on contract research and consulting for funding. At the moment 30% of the CSIR’s revenue comes from government funding and the rest from contract research, but as this is mostly from government institutions the CSIR needs to look at more involvement from the private sector, Majozi said.

The new CSIR business model pays attention to income sources, new offerings, cost structure, customer segments and value propositions as well as partnerships with high education institutions, industry, state-owned enterprises and government.

The CSIR strategy is centred on nine clusters. The clusters are NextGen Health, focusing on driving a local health care industry; Advanced Agriculture and Food, strengthening the agricultural industry and associated agro-processing value chains through advanced technology and predictive science-based tools; Future Production: Chemicals, improving the competitiveness of chemical industries through innovation in biochemical conversion, pharmaceuticals and advanced materials; Future Production: Manufacturing, facilitating supply chain integration and improving production processes by leveraging technological advances and supporting Industry 4.0 readiness; Future Production: Mining, supporting the growth and revitalisation of the mining industry through innovation for process, equipment and health and safety; Defence and Security, strengthening capabilities in defence, civil security and cybersecurity through advanced technologies; Smart Places, achieving smarter resource use (energy, water, climate change and environment), infrastructure and service developments through transformative technologies; NextGen Enterprises and Institutions, transitioning South Africa’s private and public sectors into a digitalised era; and Smart Logistics, enhancing the efficiency and safety of transport and logistics infrastructure and operations in support of a competitive economy.

Dlamini added that there is an array of technologies that are ready for commercialisation and need industry partners, citing a smart sensor developed to monitor indoor airborne infection risk, such as the risk of tuberculosis spreading.

The CSIR said it is developing defence and security capabilities for South Africa’s borders, while fostering cybersecurity platforms to conduct business. The Meerkat Wide Area Surveillance System was designed to detect and track rhino poachers at poaching hotspots in the Kruger National Park and has been used with great success.

The CSIR has recently restructured, with its divisions becoming clusters, effective from 1 April. For example, the Defence, Peace, Safety and Security (DPSS) division is now known as the Defence and Security cluster. It has some 400 scientists and engineers working in it and has developed a wide array of new technologies.

As part of raising awareness and drawing in industry support, the CSIR aims to host more open days to showcase its research and attract investors – as the CSIR only develops technology and does not market it, external clients are needed to take products to market or invest to finish development. Each CSIR sector aims to have a business development and commercialisation function within it.

The Defence and Security cluster held an open day earlier this year during which it displayed some of its many offerings – cluster head Dr Motodi Maserumule said the cluster has 30 technologies ready to go. On the aeronautical side, this includes the two metre wingspan Indiza and twin-engine LEMU unmanned aerial vehicles and an active aerostat.

On the electronics side the CSIR has developed and exported its digital radio frequency memory (DRFM) devices that generate jamming waveforms and forms a core of the Electronic Warfare Environment Simulator Systems the CSIR develops to test radar and electronic systems.

The CSIR’s Inundu airborne pod is also used for electronic warfare testing and evaluation. It can simulate anti-ship missiles in air-to-surface combat, as well as air-to-air. It is platform agnostic, but has been flown on the Denel Cheetah, Hawker Hunter and BAE Systems Hawk. Defence and Security is planning to develop a new version of the that will be able to be flown at supersonic speeds – the current Inundu is limited to subsonic speeds.

Simulation technology includes the Dynamic Scenario Planner, a software application for the setup, planning and visualisation of simulated scenarios; and the Radar Environment Simulator Test and Evaluation System, which tests radar systems. The CSIR’s Sensors and Electronic Warfare Engagement Simulation (SEWES) system simulates an environment with any number of platforms, sensors and electronic warfare systems. It is used to test electronic warfare effectiveness, doctrine and training.

Developed for the Meerkat system is the Otus 10 km range camera – complementing this is the new Tyto affordable, 5 km range variant for infrastructure security, amongst other uses.

A relatively new item of technology is a unique gunshot and missile launch detection system. Unlike most conventional gunshot detection systems which rely on acoustic sensors, the CSIR system uses infrared sensors to detect when a firearm is discharged or a rocket motor launched.

For many years the CSIR has been developing passive radar and it continues to develop this technology, with multiple nodes installed at five sites around the country.

Another detection/surveillance technology developed by the CSIR is a Wide Area Surveillance System that provides a 360 degree view around a vehicle plus the locations of threats/targets whilst personnel stay safely inside the vehicle.

The CSIR has developed a system for the detection of explosions, such as landmines or improvised explosive devices, and which then triggers an active mitigation system to neutralise the detonation.

Other technologies on display at the open day in February included add-on protection packages for vehicles to protect against explosive attacks; a deflection gauge to measure the response of materials to explosive blasts or ballistic impact; and the Cmore domain awareness system that integrates information from various sensors into one display that allows the commander to form a picture of what is really happening.

On the cyber front, the CSIR showcased its Network Emulation and Simulation Laboratory (NESL), which replicates existing or planned networks via physical and virtual devices to test a network. It can simulate cyber security incidents like denial of service attacks or ransomware.

Similarly, the Cyber Vulnerability Detection System is used to monitor the cyber landscapes of organisations, regions or nations and detect vulnerabilities within connected devices. The Cyber Test Range is another network simulation system where hardware and software behaviour is analysed and vulnerabilities exposed. It can be used for training and as a testbed for cyber experts.

The Defence and Security cluster will try and move into the private security environment and promote some of its products like Cmore to entities like the South African Police Service, and is talking to multiple government departments.