TALE OF THE TECH

Idealog - - IDEALOGIC -

Tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion has been cen­tral to the de­vel­op­ment of Aotearoa, be­gin­ning with the first trav­ellers and their epic ocean voy­ages across the Pa­cific 700 years ago. And al­though it’ sim pos­si­ble to sum it up through a small se­lec­tion of ob­jects, we asked our mates at MOTAT, which has over 300,000 arte­facts span­ning trans­port, tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion, to high­light three of their favourite New Zealand tech­nol­ogy- re­lated tales. Jean Bat­ten is one of New Zealand’s great in­no­va­tors and avi­a­tors. Her achieve­ments as a solo nav­i­ga­tor in the 1930s are noth­ing short of in­cred­i­ble. Nav­i­gat­ing her way across vast dis­tances and fea­ture­less oceans with a wrist­watch and a com­pass, she was in­cred­i­bly ac­cu­rate with her land­fall points – of­ten within 100 yards. In an era be­fore GPS and satel­lites, this kind of pre­ci­sion is un­ri­valled. Her in­ge­nu­ity also served her well in her first two failed solo flights to Aus­tralia – both end­ing in crashes that or­di­nar­ily would have de­stroyed the air­craft and killed the pi­lot. Her re­silience and per­sis­tence to learn from both failed at­tempts en­sured that she would go on to achieve her am­bi­tions. A re­cent do­na­tion to MOTAT’s col­lec­tion from the Auck­land In­ter­na­tional Air­port in­cludes Bat­ten’s sig­na­ture white leather fly­ing cap, log books and a stop watch. These com­ple­ment the en­gine from her Per­ci­val Gull air­craft, and her awards and medals cur­rently on dis­play in the Mu­seum’s Avi­a­tion Dis­play Hall – all of which tell the in­spir­ing story of a Kiwi woman who was a record-breaker and a trail­blazer. Mov­ing from the hero­ics of the sky to the harsh­ness of Antarc­tica, you can’t talk about Kiwi in­no­va­tion and in­ge­nu­ity with­out im­me­di­ately think­ing of Sir Ed­mund Hil­lary. For MOTAT, Sir Ed’s achieve­ments are ev­i­denced nowhere bet­ter than the mod­i­fied Fer­gu­son TE20 trac­tor used in his ‘dash for the pole’. Ap­ply­ing de­sign think­ing, trial and er­ror and pure de­ter­mi­na­tion to sim­ple mo­torised tech­nol­ogy re­sulted in three of these trac­tors suc­cess­fully mak­ing the first land­based trip to the South Pole since Scott’s ill-fated mis­sion in 1912. Al­though orig­i­nally com­mis­sioned to pro­vide de­pot drops and sup­port for a Bri­tish ex­pe­di­tion, Hil­lary and his com­pan­ions de­cided to go to the pole them­selves. Bat­tling fa­tigue and trav­el­ling in the open-topped mod­i­fied trac­tors, the team ar­rived at the South Pole on 4 Jan­uary 1958. To see one of these trac­tors up close and per­sonal at MOTAT, with its flimsy look­ing can­vas cov­ers, awk­ward tracks and small size gives some in­sight into what a sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment this was. Round­ing out the se­lec­tion is the Ruther­ford en­gine in the Rocket Lab Elec­tron Rocket. Al­though not quite part of MOTAT’s col­lec­tion yet, this in­cred­i­ble piece of engi­neer­ing rep­re­sents the pin­na­cle of con­tem­po­rary New Zealand in­no­va­tion and in­ge­nu­ity on the world stage. The re­cent suc­cess­ful launch of Rocket Lab’s elec­tron rocket from the Mahia Penin­sula marks a sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment in the evo­lu­tion of New Zealand’s aero­space in­dus­try. The Ruther­ford en­gine has many of its com­po­nents, in­clud­ing the com­bus­tion cham­ber, valves, pumps and in­jec­tors, pro­duced by cut­tingedge 3D print­ing tech­nol­ogy. This ap­proach sig­nif­i­cantly re­duces both pro­duc­tion time and cost to bring the vi­sion of Rocket Lab’s founder Peter Beck to re­move bar­ri­ers to com­mer­cial space, closer to re­al­ity.

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