Arthur Lowery is internationally recognised for his innovations in optical communications and commercialisation of research ideas. Arthur has founded two companies, Virtual Photonics Pty Ltd (now VPIphotonics) and Ofidium Pty Ltd). He has also published more than 320 scientific papers. Arthur is the Director of the Monash Vision Group, which aims to develop a bionic eye implant by 2019 and has been funded by the Australian Research Council’s Special Research Initiative in bionic vision. Arthur is a Fellow of the IEEE (for leadership in computer aided design of optical communications systems), ATSE and the IET. He is currently a CI in the Centre for Integrative Brain Function, working on Brain-Machine Interfaces. Between 2011-2017, Arthur was also a Science Leader in the ARC’s Centre of Excellence in Devices for Ultrahigh bandwidth Optical Systems (CUDOS).
As a child, Arthur was always disappointed by the constraints placed on him when constructing Lego and Meccano kits. Bored with simply replicating the image on the box, he wanted to make something capable of producing unknown, unpredictable results. It is this drive that led him to his first breakthrough as an engineer and researcher. With new technology established in his PhD and later developed with colleague Phil Gurney, Arthur founded VPIsystems, a software company whose products have been used to establish high-bandwidth telecommunications networks around Australia, the US, Europe and Russia. The software has become a cornerstone of optical communications research and has been referenced in more than 1000 publications around the world.
Unlike the static constructions kits of his youth, the VPIsystems software is near endlessly flexible, a simulation able to quickly predict the outcome of combining a range of technologies within a data-centric network. Arthur continued this record of translating research into real world success when he joined Monash in 2004. Along with Professor Jean Armstrong, Arthur and Jean turned pioneering bandwidth-boosting research into patented technology – known as optical OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing). Arthur then founded a spin-out company, Ofidium, to develop techniques to increase the transmission capacity of new and existing optical fibre links. Arthur’s research success has been broadly respected. He is Chair of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering at Monash and has over 200 refereed publications and several patents. He is a Fellow of the Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (USA), the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, and of the Institution of Engineers and Technology (UK). Such a pedigree is needed when you are project leader of a research effort as ambitious as the Monash Vision direct to brain bionic eye collaboration. The project will develop a brain implant to directly stimulate the V1 visual cortex and be appropriate for people of all ages with vision impairment caused by a number of conditions, including glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. These three conditions cause up to 85 per cent of cases of clinical blindness. Using digital cameras mounted on a pair of glasses – customised for both indoors and out – Arthur and colleagues from Monash, Alfred Health, MiniFAB and Grey Innovation will be able to send visual signals directly to the brain, bypassing any potentially damaged optics such as the eyeball and optic nerve.
‘The scientific trick is taking the large amounts of information, the megapixels of information coming from the camera and working out the best way to present it in a few hundred pixels, dots of you like, that will be presented on the brain in order to give the maximum amount of useful information,’ Arthur says. ‘Similar to the way radar works or the way the brain makes sense of the blurred images of a movie, it is amazing what you can do with what seems like very limited information. ‘One of the keys is that, just like a movie, the visual information is being updated very rapidly, and your brain is quite good at putting limited information streaming into it into a context. ‘For people with major vision impairment the bionic eye will restore their freedom and independence.’