Before joining QUT as an Associate Professor in 2011, Rob worked in a wide variety of roles and locations for Shell International’s Exploration & Production division. He started his career in Shell’s Strategy & Economics team in 1997 and then worked for several years as a production engineer in the company’s overseas operations (offshore and onshore). He then left Shell for three years to work as an Industrial Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge, but re-joined Shell again in 2004 to become the company’s Executive Coordinator of R&D. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.Eng. in mechanical engineering from McMaster University in Canada. He also earned a Master’s degree in Technology & Policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a PhD in engineering from the University of Cambridge, where he was a Gates Cambridge Scholar. He is a Fellow of both the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and Engineers Australia and is chartered as a Eur. Ing. in Europe. He also serves as an adviser to Unearthed Solutions, EnergyLab, and several energy and resource sector technology startups around the world.
What is your research focus?
Most of us agree that the world’s energy and natural resource systems are not as sustainable as they need to be, and that they are in dire need of innovation and transformation. Broadly speaking, my research looks at these industries and asks questions like: (1) why has change historically happened so slowly in these sectors, and how can we make them deliver the needed changes more quickly; (2) how are digital technologies changing the competitive landscape of these mission-critical industries, and (3) how can tomorrow’s resource and energy companies use new digital innovations to improve their sustainability and profitability?
What excites you most about the digital economy?
I’m blown away by the rate of change that digital upheaval can bring about in otherwise staid and conservative industries that never changed much before they were disrupted. In some cases, we’re seeing centuries-old business models getting blown up by an app in only a few years, e.g. Uber. What’s not exciting about that?
Are you an optimist or pessimist about the future?
In the long-term, I am hardwired for optimism. If you turn down the volume of today’s headlines and soundbites and take a long-term view of where we are as a civilization, we’ve never had it better in terms of quality of life, lifespan, health, etc. Sure, we’ve got problems today—but every era has its own challenges. We’ll solve them. Hey, we made it this far, right? And digital technologies will probably figure prominently in that.
Finish this sentence: In 2050, there will be…
… a few problems here and there but, through ingenuity and with a few bumps along the way, the world will probably be even happier, healthier, and more prosperous than it is today.
Rob giving a keynote address at the United Nations’ Resource Week conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in May 2019.