Moku:Lab incorporates a new type of computer chip that, unlike conventional Central Processing Units (CPUs), can perform millions of operations in a single clock cycle.

Company Profile

Company: Liquid Instruments Pty Ltd

Sector: Scientific and Technical Services

Location: Canberra

Profile: Incubated within the Australian National University (ANU), Liquid Instruments is a start-up specialising in the development and manufacturing of high-performing test and measurement equipment. There are applications for the technology in science, education, manufacturing and astrophysics.

Why R&D is needed

Gravitational wave detection attracted attention when scientists from a collaborative global project were able to measure the universe's gravitational waves for the first time. The existence of these waves had been predicted by Albert Einstein 100 years ago, although he wasn't convinced anyone would ever be able to measure them.

Proving the existence of gravitational waves has opened a new field of astronomy for scientists. Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is used to discover the waves. LIGO is a highly sensitive optical instrument that can detect waves created in a collision between two black holes more than a thousand million years ago.

Researchers at ANU, who had been part of the international research team involved in the discovery of gravitational waves, recognised the technology's wide-ranging potential. They went on to establish Liquid Instruments.

Incubated at the ANU, the company has since translated knowledge from the development of LIGO into a ground-breaking portable measurement device called Moku:Lab. The device incorporates a new type of computer chip that, unlike conventional CPUs, can perform millions of operations in a single clock cycle. Moku:Lab is also reconfigurable within fractions of a second - meaning it can switch between different devices almost simultaneously.

Liquid Instruments CEO Prof Daniel Shaddock explains that the device is used by scientists and engineers to build, test and repair electrical equipment and finds applications in manufacturing, science related R&D, education, telecommunications, astrophysics and defence. Globally, the Moku:Lab is targeting a $5 billion niche market of the overall $25 billion test and measurement equipment market.

Professor Shaddock says transferring some of the complex digital signal detection technology developed for LIGO to a commercial product was a challenge. The company undertook an extensive R&D journey focused on algorithm development and coding as well as hardware design. After releasing the Moku:Lab to market in 2017, the company is about to pass $1 million in sales distributing the device across 30 countries.

The company's CEO is convinced that the Research and Development Tax Incentive (R&DTI) program has been a significant contributor to the successful realisation of the technology.

The R&DTI allowed us to take more risks than we would have otherwise, which has resulted in a much more compelling and competitive product and hopefully will result in more export dollars for Australia.

Professor Daniel Shaddock, CEO, Liquid Instruments

How the Research and Development Tax Incentive helps

Professor Daniel Shaddock explains that he was initially unfamiliar with the R&DTI and uncertain whether their research would be eligible under the scheme. Confirming the research's eligibility with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (DIIS), however, helped the company to secure additional funds from joint venture investors.

“From the very first day of getting investment, having the support of the R&DTI was a key differentiator in bringing more investors on board.”

Liquid Instrument's CEO says that his company invests about $1 million annually in core R&D and the R&DTI accelerated the development of their technology.

“Without the R&DTI, the company wouldn't have been able to do as much as we wanted. The R&DTI allowed us to invest more and earlier than we would have otherwise which helped the company to grow a lot more quickly,’ Professor Shaddock said.

“It also gave us some security that we knew we can continue on with the activity which we otherwise may not have had given our cashflow situation of a very new start-up.”

ANU has also benefited from the R&DTI-supported project. Department representatives encouraged the company to remain co-located within the university. The close link between the commercial and research side of the business has been beneficial, leading to knowledge and capability sharing. Liquid Instruments also shows students an example of a career path outside academia - within Australia.

Highly trained and qualified science professionals and graduates frequently migrate overseas for better jobs, taking knowledge and potential out of the country. Growing opportunities for researchers to stay in the country is good for Australia.

“This strong link will mean that we’ll keep the R&D arm of the company based in Australia and these are exactly the types of jobs that I would like to see stay here,” he said.

Professor Shaddock also gives another example of how the R&DTI program focuses on driving the Australian economy. When searching for a supplier for the manufacturing of the technology's hardware, the company was unable to find an Australian vendor and engaged a US supplier. As the R&DTI scheme encourages the use of local vendors, Liquid Instruments was motivated to continue searching - eventually finding an Adelaide supplier.

“The R&DTI encouraged us to look around more locally. It's very valuable for Australian companies to encourage them to think locally and to look for local talent and suppliers.”

The technology developed by Liquid Instruments has extensive applications with economic and social benefits. It applies to the development of laser communication systems that enable very high bandwidth communication, including in internet infrastructure.

Another example of the product's application is environmental monitoring. One of the algorithms developed for the Moku:Lab will be used for a NASA mission to measure how water moves around the earth's surface. The GRACE Follow-On mission will provide maps of how the icecaps are melting in the Antarctica and Greenland and help to monitor groundwater.

Liquid Instruments is also partnering with the Australian Department of Defence through the Defence Science and Technology Group as part of efforts to update military communication systems. The company's technology will be used to establish an uncrackable high-security communication system.

The high-end R&D work through which we’re developing intellectual property that will drive the economy forward in the future, that’s the type of work that I would like to see stay in Australia and that’s exactly what the R&DTI has encouraged us to do.

Professor Daniel Shaddock, CEO, Liquid Instruments

R&DTI Impact Facts

  • Around $1 million invested in R&D yearly.
  • Newly developed technology exported to around 30 countries.
  • Contributed to the development of cutting-edge measurement technology with application in manufacturing, science-related R&D, education, telecommunications, aerospace and defence.
  • Supported ground-breaking R&D in core physics associated with fundamental economic and social benefits, such as the monitoring of groundwater.
  • Generates domestic employment opportunities for highly skilled staff.