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NZ Govt initiative encourages tech innovations

22 Sep 2015

The New Zealand Government is has officially launched the Technology Innovation National Science Challenge, which will focus specifically on developing new technologies to create commercially successful breakthrough products.

Steven Joyce, Science and Innovation Minister, has confirmed initial funding of $32.92 million for the challenge.

Hosted by Callaghan Innovation, the challenge will involve three Crown research institutes and eight universities, all collaborating with businesses.

“The Challenge will spearhead cutting-edge technological research for the benefit of New Zealand industries,” Joyce says.

“It will aim to enhance New Zealand’s capacity to use physical and engineering sciences for economic growth with an emphasis on new materials, new manufacturing processes, robotics, automation and analytics.

“We live in an environment where new technologies emerge every day, which will rapidly change and shape how we do business.

“To take best advantage of this, we must drive New Zealand’s culture of innovation forward, beyond the immediate commercial horizon,” he says.

The research will initially focus on four areas:

  • New manufacturing technologies and materials, such as biopolymers - using natural products to create materials like plastics
  • Sensor technologies, for example to map groundwater flow, which has useful applications for agriculture
  • Medical technologies for more personalised treatment of chronic disease, with a focus on diabetes
  • Data analytics that provide cloud-based decision tools for industry.

One key research initiative will work with New Zealand-originated biopolymers to create new, plastic-like materials suitable for 3D printing, Joyce says.

“Biopolymers use natural products, and so they can be difficult to work with. Solving this problem means biological waste could be used for 3-D printing of a huge array of manufactured products, from engine components to furniture,” says Joyce.

Another project will investigate the fundamental physics of large-scale, sub-surface electromagnetic sensing, and its application for measuring groundwater.

“This project would revolutionise our understanding of groundwater flow by allowing us to measure the velocity of groundwater - in the region of millimetres per hour, over a scale of tens of metres - without having to drill monitoring wells.

“Understanding groundwater movement is crucial for making effective use of our agricultural resources and minimising the environmental impact of farming activity,” he says.

This Challenge will see businesses involved in the research process earlier on, to help create ground-breaking technology that can be more easily commercialised, says Joyce.

“The work of the Challenge will also complement the broader work of Callaghan Innovation, by considering ways to grow the New Zealand economy through closer relationships between the science and business sectors,” he says.

The National Science Challenges are designed to tackle the biggest science-based issues and opportunities facing New Zealand. This will be the seventh of New Zealand’s 11 planned challenges.

Each Challenge includes both new funding and funds that will become available as current research contracts directly related to each Challenge mature.

The new Challenge money comprises $133.5 million over four years allocated in Budgets 2012 and 2013, and continuing funding of $30.5 million per year thereafter.

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