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The development of a unique technology toolkit that provides 4D landscape models for practical management applications is again demonstrating that Charles Darwin University punches well above its weight when it comes to innovation.

The technology, developed by Dr Rohan Fisher, uses environmental modelling, cultural mapping and simulations of landscape processes projected onto 3D-printed terrains for use in a wide variety of knowledge exchange contexts. 

These Projection Augmented Landscape Models (PALMs) bring science and local knowledge together in a way that facilitates two-way learning in diverse, cross-cultural and cross-linguistic contexts. 

Dr Fisher, a landscape ecologist who works out of the Northern Institute, CDU’s social and public policy research hub, says: “The projection augmented landscapes look spectacular, like animated ‘holograms’ of country – they are multi-sensory and interactive, pulling people into learn and talk together by providing a stage to share stories from the land.” 

The tech makes the digital “physical” by creating tactile interactive spaces. The value of this tactility is supported by decades of research that has shown that multi-sensory engagement is important for thinking and learning.

The projection interface also incorporates game elements that allow participants to have fun while playing with the thresholds of the complex human-ecological systems they are exploring. 

The technology is robust, simple to set up and has been used out bush since 2016,primarily to support fire management workshops with Indigenous land managers across Northern Australia. 

But over the past 18 months, there has been a substantial increase in uptake of the PALM tech across a much broader range of government and industry sectors. This growing demand is occurring primarily for applications in mine site rehabilitation, the communication of climate change impacts, cultural and biophysical knowledge visualisation and mine site rehabilitation and disaster risk mitigation. Internationally, other groups have explored the application of PALM, the scope of this work remains limited to one-off and specialist applications. 

Dr Fisher, believes this groundbreaking technology could be sold throughout the world. 

“My lab has developed what is, as far as I know, the first streamlined commercialisation of this technology, allowing relatively rapid product development and deployment. The increasing demand and this unique production model is providing an opportunity to further cement our internationally exceptional position in this space.”

This work fills an important gap in communicating scientific information to people who make policy and/or drive action at both the government and community levels. An example of this has been its use by the Pacific Community for demonstrating the predicted water level increases, due to climate change, and the effect it will have on small pacific islands populations. 

Similarly, in its application for mine site rehabilitation, where it has facilitated the clear articulation of mine closure processes both to Traditional Owners of impacted landscapes and to senior executives responsible for closure outcomes. 

“The projection-augmented models provide a powerful way to visualise current and post-mine landscapes. It also supports the communication of a complex array of mine site data, including cultural heritage and modelled biophysical processes. 

“Making the third dimension explicit and tactile assists in building an understanding of landforms and processes in mined landscapes.” 

The models are being used by ERA and Rio Tinto as an important part of their rehabilitation process consultations with Indigenous and other stakeholders.

 Learn more about this work at