Innovation, connectors and interfaces between parts of an emergent system

You’re looking at two Segues ® converted by Marathon Targets in Sydney into a moving target for the training of our military.  The input segues cost a few thousand and after Marathon Targets have armour plated the moving parts, and built software and various controls to turn the vehicle into an autonomously moving target moving in and out of buildings according to pre-set ‘styles’ of movement, these items sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars each. They’re now used by the Australian army which has the largest squadron of them, and the US military has some it is trialling. There’s nothing like them anywhere else.

Here’s their corporate story from their website.

Marathon shipped the world’s first smart targets for live-fire training in 2008. Smart targets are powered by cutting-edge robotics technology, delivered in a bullet-proof, easy-to-use package. Marathon’s targets enable armed forces to train with an unprecedented level of realism.


Marathon was founded by three PhDs from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney. For the past 9 years, we have collaborated closely with the Australian Defence Force to meet their rigorous requirements for improving moving marksmanship.

Marathon has offices in Sydney, Australia, Huntsville, Alabama, and a European office in Toulouse, France.

On a field visit for Innovation Australia last week the three founders were clear that it was essentially the initiative of the army that brought about the whole venture. Some unit, or perhaps a particular person lamented the unrealism of the available targets and the lack of availability of them anywhere on the market. And so they inquired of these guys if they could do something. Voila, a new startup was born. The relevant unit in the defence forces have been very supportive in helping test the technology and purchase and work with the output of the incipient firm.

There are no doubt lots of opportunities for public sector agencies and the people in them to notice things that they need, or things that could be done new ways. And here is a success story. But I’d like to know if this kind of thing is routinely recognised.  Because it should be. We should be deliberately encouraging and then recognising such initiative wherever it is shown. Then we might get more of it.

As the economy gets more information intensive, the opportunities for such innovation should increase as the opportunities for multiple use of platforms that the pubic sector runs, or could build or help come into existence multiply. As an economy develops, it becomes more complex. Indeed, one could argue, as Ricardo Hausmann does that progressive complexification is the process of development.

Likewise the increasing complexity of pretty much everything makes it harder to run things by command and control and ramps up the significance of initiative and innovation right down in the weeds where the opportunities for new complexification occur. Further, innovation is often difficult at the interfaces of different organisations – where no-one can be held responsible for the system as a whole. There must be oodles of opportunities for the public sector to stimulate innovation in the way it has here, and where that happens, it’s likely to be much more cost effective than the simple provision of subsidies to R&D.

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11 years ago

Just wondering whether “Segues” was meant to be “Segways”?
When I was in Europe recently I noticed a number of tour groups in various locations used Segways for doing their city tours. Anybody seen any sign of that happening here? I am in Perth so wouldn’t expect it here for a while.

11 years ago
Reply to  rossco

I think you’re right Rossco, Segway makes more sense, although the author couldn’t punning on how the Phds managed to “Segway” publicly funded research into private gain. Anyway I’d like to see a lot more of it as well just not in money pits like defense.