QUT Centre for Robotics
Biologically inspired neural networks to visually recognise places

Are you eligible for Breaking Barriers Category


I am a PhD student at the QUT Centre for Robotics (QCR). I am researching how to unlock the amazing navigational capabilities of animals to enable our robots and autonomous vehicles to be excellent navigators. 
In my research, I enable robots to distinguish between the many different places that they have seen before. I am inspired by the animal kingdom; animals have the incredible ability to recognise and navigate places at any time of the day and across different seasons, even if it looks completely different. My research addresses this challenge by creating artificial models inspired by our brain to recognise places. 
We collaborate with Intel to deploy our models on specialised hardware inspired by biological brains for maximum energy efficiency.
I am a QCR ambassador which involves hosting tours of the QUT Centre for Robotics to groups including high school students and the general public, introducing them to robotics. 

BENEFIT – A description of the benefit of your work to Queensland (max 500 words)

My research in bio-inspired solutions for robotic navigation benefits Queensland in various ways. During my PhD research and beyond, I hope to make a substantial contribution toward developing methods closely inspired by how our brain works that can perform robotic navigation-related tasks including recognising places. My research is based on visually recognising places to provide richer positional information and improved positioning performance which are critical for robotic navigation. The visual place recognition task is one of the key capabilities of autonomous vehicles to operate more safely and effectively. 
My research can potentially shed light on more energy-efficient solutions for the visual place recognition task, by drawing knowledge from biology and neuroscience. This can enable the operation of autonomous vehicles for significantly longer hours. 
My research is applicable to navigation and mapping for autonomous vehicles in a range of domains including transport, and mining. 
The transport sector has a large impact on our nation’s infrastructure to safely and efficiently move people and goods, which is relied on by almost everyone [1]. Australia has a relatively small population compared to the large size of the country, causing transport equity to be an issue, especially in Queensland’s rural areas. My research can contribute toward making rural areas more accessible through more energy-efficient navigation systems for autonomous vehicles. 
One of the challenges in the widespread use of electric vehicles is the feasibility of charging stations in rural parts of Queensland. Increasing the hours of operation of autonomous vehicles through energy-efficient algorithms can overcome this challenge. 
Mining, one of Queensland’s largest sectors, has created more than 8000 jobs in Queensland in the past 5 years [2]. The mining sector is advancing towards using autonomous vehicles on their mining sites to maximise their resource utilisation and prevent accidents from happening to human drivers. My research can enable autonomous vehicles on mining sites to operate more efficiently, reducing the number of times required to refuel, which is a time-consuming task. 
Queensland Government has been very supportive of robotics development across the state by fostering robotics research through the internationally-recognised research hub, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), supporting robotics start-ups to bridge the gap between research and industry and other initiatives including the Queensland AI hub and the Queensland Robotics to improve the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics sector and provide globally competitive and commercialise solutions in both within Australia and internationally. 
My PhD research can be potentially commercialised via collaboration with the mentioned Queensland-based industries. This will contribute to helping Queensland stay at the forefront of robotics and artificial intelligence. 
Our collaboration with international industry partners can provide an increasing number of opportunities in this growing field of bio-inspired systems and create future job opportunities. International collaborations in research and development are an important component in fostering research in the robotics sector and improving Queensland’s economy. 
[1] A Robotics Roadmap for Australia, 2022, Robotics Australia Group.
[2] Backing Queensland’s Mining Sector, 2020, The Queensland Cabinet and Ministerial Directory. 

ROLE MODEL – Why do you think you are a good role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM? (max 500 words)
I believe I have been and will continue inspiring women and girls to pursue STEM education and become the next generation of leaders in STEM fields.  
I come from a refugee background. My parents are from Afghanistan and I was born in Iran. In 2008, my family decided we should move to Malaysia to register for United Nations. After five years, we were accepted by Australia and moved to Queensland in 2013. 
It matters to me for women and girls to learn about the STEM careers as I would not be where I am today if it was not for my role models including my teachers, and peers who inspired me to pursue a challenging but very exciting career in STEM.
On my first day of proper schooling beginning in year 10 in Queensland, I could not imagine I could get a university education, let alone pursue a STEM career. However, my Maths teachers saw my interest in Maths and Science and recommended that I go to Sparks Engineering Camp in year 11. In the camp, I learned so much about engineering disciplines and pathways, and the positive impact it has on improving our lives, which inspired me to pursue robotics. 
The fact that I could receive a world-class education in STEM demonstrates the wide range of opportunities available in Queensland, especially to women and girls. I hope that sharing my story with others and promoting STEM through my roles, inspires more women and girls to pursue STEM careers. 
I have always tried to give back to our community in various ways. I volunteered for the Lions Club of Brisbane the Lifeline Bookfest in 2016 and 2017. 
In 2017, I was very lucky to receive the QUT Learning Potential Fund (LPF) Scholarship. So, I became an LPF ambassador to share the positive impact the scholarship has on the students in need with many donors. I shared my STEM career journey in a video (in the production stage), to promote the LPF scholarship. 
In 2017, I successfully applied for a software engineering internship at Deswik through the Women in STEM: METS Careers Pathway Program. In 2018, I shared my internship experience at one of Austmine’s information sessions to encourage my peers to apply for internships.  
I am honoured that QUT recognised my contributions to the university and wider community by awarding me with the Student Leadership Award in 2018. 
I was a QUT STEM ambassador throughout my undergraduate degree where I facilitated many STEM workshops for high school students to familiarise the students with STEM careers through exciting hands-on projects. This role allowed me to promote STEM fields through STEM-related projects and inspire high school students, especially girls, to consider STEM careers by sharing my journey.  
The most rewarding parts of my role were the positive feedback I received from schools after the workshops on how the students were very inspired to pursue STEM careers, and meeting multiple students, from past workshops that I facilitated, again at QUT studying STEM degrees. 
ENGAGEMENT – Describe any STEM promotion or engagement activities that you have undertaken, including both scientific and non-scientific audiences, particularly with women and girls (maximum 500 words)

In 2009, when I was 13 years old, I started teaching English, Mathematics and Science to refugee students at a community centre built for refugees in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This was only a year after my family, and I moved to Malaysia and I enrolled in that community centre to learn English. This was possible with teachers’ training courses provided by the UN for refugees. I developed hands-on activities for my mathematics and science subjects to enhance students’ learning experience. My few years of teaching in Malaysia were very rewarding, as I got to see the students’ progress and their active and growing interest in learning STEM subjects.
In 2016, I volunteered for a one-day Power of Engineering Program, which introduces Year 9 and Year 10 female high school students to STEM careers through exciting hands-on projects.
In 2017 and 2018, I was a general committee member of the Science and Engineering Alumni Dean’s Scholars (SEADS) Program. I organised the Mentor and Mentee Program in collaboration with another committee member. This role enabled me to provide suitable mentors to the new Dean’s Scholars, based on their skills, career goals and expectations of the program. Providing mentors to the new members, especially the female students, ensured that they are aware of the personal and professional development opportunities available.
I was very honoured to be the student speaker at the QUT Dean’s Scholars Dinner in 2019 where I got to highlight the significance of STEM education through my journey.  
Through my role as a STEM ambassador, I actively participated in the QUT Open days to speak one-on-one to prospective students including women and girls about STEM careers and my experiences so far. I promoted STEM pathways through events including the Engineering Link Project and STEM Camp.      
As a STEM ambassador, I programmed and accompanied a humanoid robot, Pepper, to various events including STEM workshops, TEDxBrisbane, and World Science Festival. This opportunity enabled me to interact with young audiences especially girls to introduce them to humanoid robots. In QUT’s Robotronica 2019, I was invited as a student speaker by the QUT Institute for Future Environments (IFE) to share my experiences as a university student and my work with the Pepper robot, promoting opportunities in STEM to the general public.  I delivered a Pepper Workshop for STEM Camp 2019, teaching students about developing interactive applications with Pepper. It was fascinating to see that the students were very eager to learn and develop very interesting interactive applications for the Pepper robot.
I was a computer lab demonstrator for Control Systems EGB345 in semester 2 2020, where I got to help students to learn more about control system engineering.  
I participated in QUT’s 2021 Three Minute Thesis competition to share my PhD research with the wider community. I was very lucky to become one of the QUT finalists representing the Faculty of Engineering. Although the competition was held online via Zoom, it was great to receive positive feedback from the online audience.