OPINION: 2019 is set to be another year of technology bringing new ways of doing things and disrupting the status quo. The likes of Industry 4.0 (ie the First Industrial Revolution on steroids) will continue impacting every industry.
The trick to New Zealand thriving through these developments is how curious, adventurous and collaborative we are. With this in mind, and in no particular order, here are the business tech trends our Callaghan Innovation crew see really taking off this year.
Space tech and precision data
The democratisation of space represents one of the biggest opportunities for Kiwi entrepreneurs, with garage innovators now taking on huge and deep-pocketed international players like NASA.
* Rocket company Dawn Aerospace gets Kiwi funding for reusable ‘spaceplanes’
* Never underestimate NZ livestock farmers’ ability to produce wonderful meat
* Farming in the future the right theme for next year’s Fieldays at Mystery Creek
Expect more Kiwi innovators to join Rocket Lab on the international stage. Only recently, Dawn Aerospace, started by two New Zealand brothers, raised $3.35 million for its rockets, designed to carry small satellites into space.
But the true golden space opportunity lies in the vast amount of data supplied by new satellites in orbit, particularly Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites. This data and its accuracy will propel a phenomenal amount of innovation and research – from measuring waterway and forest health, to disaster response, precision farming and optimised transport. If we want to realise this potential, space innovators must be open to collaboration.
As AI progress quickens, machine learning, deep learning and natural language processing will set the new benchmark for automation and data-driven computing. New Zealand has some of the world’s top AI scientists and companies like Soul Machines and FaceMe will continue securing corporate customers and raising investment from the likes of Sir Stephen Tindall.
Plant-based and/or biodegradable plastics are firmly in the frame to make their mark in 2019. The rise of ethical consumerism and anti-plastic sentiment means alternatives, like Humble Bee’s non-toxic waterproof bioplastic, are attracting worldwide attention and investment. The challenge with bioplastics is to understand new material options especially their sustainability trade-offs.
“Greenwashing” is always a risk and for some situations long-use and reusable options might be better ie ‘the circular economy’. With the help of serious materials science, Auckland-based FoodCap is creating reusable bulk storage containers for specific foods like raw meat. As consumers have taken a step adjusting to reusable bags, businesses must also do more with less behind-the-scenes.
As the financial hype settles and people understand the wide potential of distributed ledgers, new applications will emerge. Look out for streamlined supply chains that guarantee the origin and quality of food products from farm to plate. With our trusted reputation, New Zealand is picked as a global centre for blockchain innovation.
The rise of smart packaging, mainly sensor enabled, will complement the rise of plastic alternatives. Smart packaging innovation allows food and other products to be tracked right from origin to the end consumer while recording quality, movement and temperature information, also helping extend product life.
With an economy highly reliant on our high-quality, pure and sustainable brand, smart packaging will help food exporters in particular deliver these expectations while stamping out counterfeits. The challenge will be building the digital foundations.
Ease of access to 3D printing via entities like Addlab in Lower Hutt will transform the design and proto-typing phases of new product R&D. With applications across every economic sector, even for rockets, it will liberate the way we procure parts and products.
Autonomous vehicles and robotics
HMI Technologies has demonstrated New Zealand can punch above its weight in the autonomous vehicle space with its Ohmio intelligent shuttles sought after for Korean and Chinese smart cities. Following Christchurch Airport’s lead, New Zealand businesses will want to trial autonomous vehicles on site. This year however expect to see more noise around autonomous sea-going vehicles – submarines as well as boats. They will drive innovation in smart aquaculture and autonomous shipping which is advancing quickly and transforming logistics.
Rugged robotics and adaptive learning robotic systems will help address labour shortages and safety issues in farming and horticulture. Some of our top scientists are developing cutting edge solutions being sold by the likes of Robotics Plus into huge farming industries such as the US. Support with research, preparation and integration will be key for wider adoption.
Alternative proteins are a considerable threat to the red meat and dairy sector, but also a significant opportunity. New Zealand is well placed lead in protein food science but what is often overlooked is the opportunity to better leverage our unique farm to plate story.
Our farming practices are under the microscope more than ever so expect to see the rise of fertiliser alternatives to superphosphates. Again, driven by the rise of ethical consumers who are also considering the impacts of sourcing phosphate from troubled parts of Africa.
Alternative fertilisers rely on organic sources of phosphorous such as manures, effluents and by-products of anaerobic digestion bioenergy plants. New Zealand businesses like AgriSea (seaweed), BioChar Fertilisers (charcoal), and Eko360 Environmental Products (controlled release) will continue to pave the way.
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket makes it into orbit in January after lifting off from the Māhia Peninsula.
With Kiwis like Mark Billinghurst pioneering world-leading augmented reality research out of the University of Auckland, New Zealand is in a prime position to drive the ongoing development of empathetic computing.
Lab on a chip (LOC)
These tiny chips with one or several laboratory functions are helping innovators achieve automation and high-throughput in bio screening. Low-cost 3D printing and laser engraving are making the manufacture of LOCs cheaper and easier, allowing more exciting technologies to emerge.
Locally, nanoscientist Dr Natalie Plank, from Victoria is developing a fertility testing LOC set to make it more widely accessible and Christchurch start-up CertusBio’s device helps customers make better decisions with real-time, location specific bio analysis. These innovations can improve the bottom line of dairy companies and prevent waste products entering waterways.
Jonathan Miller leads the Future Insights team at Callaghan Innovation, New Zealand’s innovation agency. It works with ambitious Kiwi businesses of all sizes, helping them grow faster with technology and science.