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Business Research and Innovation Initiative (BRII) Pilot Round 2 - Managing the biosecurity of hitchhiking pests and contaminants on shipping containers

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR)
Partners: Australian Government Business
Tags: Biosecurity, Agriculture, Pest management, Robotics, Drones, Scanning Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning Automation
Audience: Other
Anticipated Funding: $100,000
Applications close: April 17, 2019
Last Updated: February 26, 2019 6:22 AM
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The Challenge

Incoming shipping or sea containers, whether carrying cargo or arriving empty, can provide a pathway for hitchhiking pests, organisms, diseases, weeds and contaminants to enter Australia and create a biosecurity risk. Australia is free of most significant pests, organisms, diseases, weeds and contaminants that are present in other countries. Every arrival (International traveller, cargo consignment, vessel or container) has the potential to change this status and introduce exotic pests and diseases which could spread, harming our agricultural industries and natural environment. This can also affect our reputation as an exporter of `clean and green’ produce.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) manages the biosecurity risk associated with the external surfaces of containers from high risk countries through targeted physical inspection.  Where the containers are treated in an approved Sea Container Hygiene System prior to import to Australia, this intervention is reduced.  Containers from other countries are randomly selected for less intensive inspection.  All containers destined for unpack in a rural location are subject to internal and external inspection.

Inspecting containers can be challenging, time-consuming and costly. The underside of typical containers have structural folds every 30cm to 45cm which can potentially block line of sight inspection by humans and even robotic sensors. Containers also have high levels of rust and dents/scratches that provide hiding spots for hitchhiking pests or organisms which can vary from insect, snails, eggs or egg masses, animal material (hair, faeces, feathers) plant material (seeds, straw, twigs, leaves, fruit and vegetables), plant pathogens (fungi, nematodes, bacteria, viruses), and soil (dirt, mud, clay and sand which could harbour nematodes, bacteria etc).

Managing biosecurity is also becoming more challenging with trade volumes and container arrivals expected to double by 2025. 

For this reason DAWR is looking for innovative and cost-effective solutions to improve the detection and management of hitchhiker pests and other contaminants on or in containers.  This may include new technologies and computer algorithms, or modifying existing technology or solutions.

Solution requirements 

The solution(s) should permit quantitative measurements to detect hitchhiking pests, diseases and other contaminants on or in containers. The final technological solution(s) should consider new technologies and different approaches (as an alternate to human inspection), including but not limited to the following:

  • Sensors mounted on static platforms at wharfs or within port precincts. 
  • Mobile platforms such as drones and robotics.
  • Handheld devices that can be used in a point-and-shoot fashion. 
  • Automated container cleaning solutions/facilities which can be installed at ports. 

The impact of the technology/solution on the efficient movement of containers in and out of wharfs and port precincts will need to be considered, as will the aptitude for:

  • Use by a wide range of staff without specialised training being required.
  • Remote sampling and diagnosis of volatiles within a container to limit human exposure to containers that may have been fumigated or infected.
  • Real time data capture and results display.
  • Operation in different environments (e.g. heavily congested and automated container receival port in a metropolitan or peri-urban area versus smaller port in a rural area) and for different pests and pathogens (there may not be a one size fits all solution). 
  • Future scalability (e.g. inspection of ships holds and air cargo containers, commodity specific inspections, and to detect `invisible’ contaminants like paint odour or toxic fumes, or container structural defects).  


A solution should also have scope for private commercialisation on a national or global scale.

The Partners

Australian Government Business

Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible you must:

  • have an Australian Business Number (ABN)
  • and be one of the following entities:
    • a company, incorporated in Australia
    • an incorporated trustee on behalf of a trust
    • an individual or partnership, provided you agree to form a company incorporated in Australia to enter into a grant agreement
  • and have a turnover of less than $20 million for each of the last three years. This includes the turnover of any related bodies corporate. If an Australian university or public sector research organisation controls your company, your turnover must be less than $20 million for each of the last three years. Newly established companies are welcome to apply.

You are not eligible to apply if you are:

  • an income tax exempt corporation
  • an individual or partnership (however, an individual or partnership may apply if they agree to form an eligible corporation before signing a grant agreement)
  • a trust (however, a corporation that is a corporate trustee may apply on behalf of a trust)
  • a Commonwealth, state or local government agency or body (including government business enterprises).

Terms and conditions

For complete details on the terms and conditions that govern the Managing the biosecurity of hitchhiking pests and contaminants on shipping containers challenge please refer to the website.

How to apply

To submit an application for the Managing the biosecurity of hitchhiking pests and contaminants on shipping containers challenge please refer to the website.