This week, I’ve been blown away learning more about the amazing AI and Robotics research happening in New Zealand’s universities.
At the AI Forum Connect event in Christchurch Professor Simon Brown discussed his work developing low power neuromorphic chips – devices which mimic the behaviour of the networks of neurons in the brain, using nanoscale switches which emulate synapses. While it’s early days, this technology has a huge potential impact to provide a low cost computer chip to build brain-like structures. This will also support new approaches for solving highly complex tasks, including pattern and image recognition.
At the Auckland AI Forum Connect event, Professor Bruce MacDonald and researcher Mahla Nejati of Auckland University’s Advanced Robotics Research Centre (CARES) detailed the applications they have been working on in healthcare and orchard robotics. Bruce also has a neat term for modern intelligent robots, ‘Embodied AI’.
Excellent progress is being made in a partnership between University of Auckland, University of Waikato, Plant & Food Research, MBIE and Tauranga based RoboticsPlus to develop fruit picking (kiwifruit and apples) and pollinating robots. The aim to solve the productivity and labour shortage constraints of the kiwifruit industry, in particular, is starting to show spectacular results. RoboticsPlus has recently raised a significant capital round to start taking these intelligent machines to market internationally. Watch this video for insight to the future of horticulture.
Given so much of our economy is still centred on the primary sector: forestry, wine, aquaculture, dairy and meat, there is a win-win transformational opportunity here for New Zealand. By applying these intelligent robots to our primary sector we can achieve the step change in capacity and productivity (plus worker health and safety) that enables growth and international competitive advantage. Maybe the even bigger opportunity is to take this technology IP to market internationally and help transform the primary sectors globally, aiding the quest to feed 10 Billion Mouths.
This requires strategic investment from the incumbents. The University of Auckland example has shown that research partnerships can deliver incredible potential for kiwifruit and apple growers, so which sector wants to be next? Contact Jarmo Crivelli at Auckland Uniservices for more information on how to engage with Bruce and the CARES team and David Humm at University of Canterbury. There are similar opportunities for AI and robotics research partnerships with all Universities throughout New Zealand and I’m looking forward to surfacing more of the amazing research work.
In other news, last week I had my first meaningful customer service interaction with a chatbot! I’d left my Kindle on a plane on Friday afternoon, so went to Air New Zealand’s website, clicked Ask Oscar, typed in ‘lost property’ and after a couple of questions was rapidly directed to the correct form to fill in. Ninety minutes later (and outside standard working hours on Friday evening) I received a call saying that they’d found my device and it was ready to pick up at the airport. This was a great customer service experience, enabled by technology. It’s just one, small but significant example of how advances in conversational AI are incrementally improving our day to day lives!
Next week, I’m looking forward to speaking about Artificial Intelligence – Is New Zealand Ready? at the InfrastructureNZ Building Nations Symposium in Auckland. I am extremely encouraged that AI is now finding its way onto the agenda in every industry, not just tech.