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IAG partners with UNSW to establish academic Chair in Risk and Smart Cities


Professor Vinayak Dixit has been appointed the new IAG Term Chair with UNSW Engineering to investigate how people and systems will interact in the Smart Cities of the future.

Newly announced as the IAG Term Chair of Risk in Smart Cities, Professor Vinayak Dixit’s expertise lies in the study of transport infrastructure systems. Having worked with the Gulf Coast Centre for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency at Louisiana State University before joining UNSW, he has spent much of his career looking at how movements on roads and highways can be affected by automated vehicles, travel-time uncertainty, and natural and man-made disasters.

But that description underplays both the gravity of his new role, and the creativity it requires. An assessment of risk in the unknowable future of a complex, rapidly changing and hyper-connected world relies on recognising, characterising and assessing what Professor Dixit describes as the ‘possibility spaces’ where technology, social paradigms and the environment interact. Moreover, it presents an opportunity to inform and guide how those possibilities play out.

“Consciously influencing those spaces to be what we want them to be, that’s what I hope I can contribute,” he says.

The IAG Chair position is the product of a long-standing relationship between UNSW’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and IAG, the parent company of some of the largest insurers in Australia and New Zealand. After a meeting on the sidelines of a San Francisco conference in 2016, IAG’s Director of Research and Development, Cecilia Warren, and Professor Dixit established a working partnership that gave IAG’s inhouse research team a highly valued connection to “people who are thinking differently”, and gave the Professor a new understanding of how research and industry can work together.

“That expertise that sits in industry is really, really critical,” he says, reflecting on the exponential benefits of industry collaboration. “As researchers, we are a bastion in an empire of knowledge, and we are part of a supply chain of innovation.”

Ms Warren and her colleagues are excited by the “porous borders” of the collaboration, and the impact it has had on the organisation. “The architecture that we have now means we can plug any sort of expertise in,” she says, referring to the now-established role of ‘Academic in Residence’ as well as multiple ‘PhD in Residence’ positions. “We don’t have to be the expert. The researcher is the expert. We have a mechanism and a framework for working with them as the research expert, and I think a mindset as well.”

In his new position as Chair, Professor Dixit will devote his time to an investigation of how people and systems will interact in the Smart Cities of the future, and the development of communities that will be safer, more resilient and better connected.

“It’s a win-win,” says Ms Warren. “Vinayak benefits from having some certainty around being able to undertake research in this space, and we will continue to benefit from his ideas and the ecosystem around that research. The broader community benefits, because the knowledge will be there for all to share.”