Staff Profile: Peter Leihn – Using his energy to produce sustainable ideas

Published on May 18, 2015

Leihn_Peter_3011Peter Leihn may be relatively new to NICTA, but with a career that spans over 25 years, he’s no stranger to the world of ICT.

His vast experience includes stints in industry at companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Autodesk, before a move into government.  But it’s at NICTA that Peter gets to combine his passion for environmental protection and renewable industry, in the role of Director of Environment.

“I came to NICTA at the start of 2013 to fuse these two areas together heading up the Environment Business Team, finding mechanisms for technology to improve environmental and social outcomes for Australia,” says Peter. “From renewable energy and energy efficiency through smart grid deployments, to air and water pollution monitoring and management, deforestation detection, I see endless potential for ICT to play a role in environmental sustainability.”

Peter sees the role of NICTA’s Business Teams is to assist in bringing research and engineering through the innovation cycle.  Sometimes pushing technology out to market to identify commercialisation opportunities and sometimes pulling it through customer specific requirements.

“Finding problems that customers are willing to pay to solve allows the technology to continue to develop.  It funds ongoing research and allows us to have tangible results to promote the impacts of ICT to the community that supports us. Australia needs to be at the forefront of technology development and deployment to remain competitive internationally, and I see NICTA as leading the charge for the entire ICT industry here.”

Projects that the Environment Team are working on include National Map* and NICTA Flood Evacuation Planning.  National Map is a fully open framework putting government spatial data, which was previously difficult to access, into the hands of the community, software developers and industry to act as a key enabler of innovation and boost government and industry productivity.

The NICTA Flood Evacuation Planning project is able to compute, within a few seconds, the optimal plan, evacuating more than 1 million people in less than 40 hours – twice as fast as previous records. At the crux of the plan are the accurate modelling of transport networks, and real-time planning and scheduling of optimal evacuation times and routes.

It’s projects such as these that see Peter spend much of his time in Melbourne and as such he has recently taken on the role as interim Lab Director in Victoria, to lead the engagement with the Victorian Government, universities and industry.  NICTA has a depth of talented people in Melbourne and he is excited to be leading the Lab as NICTA repositions and rebuilds it for the future.

“As Victorian Lab Director and Director of the Environment Business Team I have access to amazing researchers across all of our disciplines and university partners that no-one in industry in Australia could dream of.  Then there is our amazing software engineering group building products like National Map* for our clients. Why wouldn’t you work at NICTA when you want to build new industries?” Peter says.

And  for the future?  “Victoria presents a massive opportunity for us to harness the research strengths of its universities, develop a vibrant software development ecosystem, and be a platform for innovation and new technology start-ups.   I want to see this vision through to reality and continue to build on our new Environment Business spin-ins Infact Analytics (environmental monitoring) and Terria (spatial analytics and visualisation). I think I have enough to keep me busy.”

Who would you love to have at a dinner party (dead or alive) and why?

George Orwell – I would like his thoughts on the internet of things.

If you had to choose between movies, books or music which would you choose and why?

I love a good book at night – it is the silence that goes with reading that I love after a long day. In the morning give me music. Movies are for aeroplanes.

What you love about working in R&D

The energy and optimism I find everywhere around me at NICTA.  The fact that we always start with the position that we haven’t done it yet but we think we can.

What would be your dream holiday and why?

One where I can surf before breakfast.  Skiing anywhere in the world that has real mountains is a close second.

What do you consider to be the ultimate scientist discovery?  

Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was pretty good.

For more information on NICTA’s Environment Business Team projects visit