Re­search and you shall find

In­no­va­tion is all about ecosys­tems. Ideas in Tau­ranga of­ten be­gin in labs and ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions, be­fore grad­u­ally mak­ing their way into the world as busi­nesses.

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Toi Ohomai is one of those ter­tiary providers, and it was born when Wa­iariki In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in Ro­torua and Bay of Plenty Polytech­nic merged in 2016.

Ar­eas of re­search in­ter­est can be in­spired by lo­cal events, like look­ing into the on­go­ing ef­fects of the 2011 Rena oil spill on the lo­cal marine en­vi­ron­ment.

“We’ve con­ducted strong so­cial re­search in this area. One of the things I did in col­lab­o­ra­tion with re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Waikato af­ter the Rena was to look at the whole vol­un­teer pro­gramme. We in­ves­ti­gated the ef­fec­tive­ness of it and what it was ac­tu­ally like for the vol­un­teers them­selves,” man­ager of Pa­cific Coast Re­search Cen­tre Heather Hamer­ton says.

The univer­sity has since been asked to build on that re­search by the Coun­cil in re­sponse to the flood­ing events at Edge­cumbe.

Another in­ter­est­ing project orig­i­nat­ing out of Toi Ohomai’s new de­gree in Com­mu­nity Health is what’s hap­pen­ing with end-of-life care for gay, les­bian and trans­gen­der peo­ple, Hamer­ton says.

“We’ve de­signed an in­ter­ven­tion and tri­alled and re­searched it with a hos­pice, but it’s quite a hard thing to do be­cause so­cial at­ti­tudes are quite dif­fi­cult to change. This area of re­search is quite new – no­body else any­where in the world has done much re­search work on this, so we’re want­ing to build on it and go onto big­ger things.”

Top notch

New Zealand ath­letes that will be com­pet­ing in high al­ti­tude or hot cli­mates no longer have to head over­seas be­fore they see how they per­form un­der pres­sure.

The Univer­sity of Waikato Adams Cen­tre for High Per­for­mance opened in Mount Maun­ganui’s Blake Park in 2016, with an en­vi­ron­men­tal cham­ber that can be set to spe­cific heats, hu­midi­ties and al­ti­tudes.

Na­tional teams like the Black Ferns and NZ Rugby 7s teams have trav­elled to the Bay to test out their skills within the cham­ber, which can reach up to 5,000 me­tres in al­ti­tude, 40 de­grees Cel­sius and 100 per­cent hu­mid­ity.

Re­searcher Stacy Sims says what sets the Adams Cen­tre apart is the re­search team be­hind it that can as­sist with find­ings.

“It’s akin to an Olympic train­ing cen­tre with the bi­ol­ogy an­gle, strength-con­di­tion­ing an­gle, nu­tri­tion an­gle, so it’s about get­ting that ex­tra two to three per­cent per­for­mance out,” Sims says.

“In a typ­i­cal gym, you might have a pro­gramme or go do your own thing. Here you have the best of the new­est sci­ence through the col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Univer­sity of Waikato, so you’re merg­ing sports sci­ence into the ap­plied world.”

For those who are more wary of us­ing high-per­for­mance tech­nol­ogy, she says the Adams Cen­tre pro­vides the re­search to re­as­sure them.

“It’s more the coaches that say, ‘It’s a lot of sci­ence, we’re not sure,’ so it’s about break­ing through that and show­ing sci­en­tific proof of the­ory so that it’s go­ing to im­prove the ath­letic per­for­mance rather than hin­der it.”

Get­ting a slice

Another lo­cal com­pany that spe­cialises in us­ing re­search to solve tough tech­no­log­i­cal chal­lenges is Cu­cum­ber, which helps com­pa­nies deal with any busi­ness, mar­ket­ing, sales and tech­nol­ogy is­sues they’re fac­ing.

At the fore­front of a 40-per­son team is gen­eral man­ager Clare Swal­low, who says Cu­cum­ber is unique be­cause it is ex­tremely re­search led, and looks in depth into solv­ing the core prob­lem at hand be­fore it starts build­ing a so­lu­tion.

“Peo­ple say what they want, but what they need is of­ten re­ally dif­fer­ent,” Swal­low says. “We do an em­pa­thy piece around what’s needed from a cus­tomer’s per­spec­tive, as op­posed to be­ing con­strained by start­ing with the tech­nol­ogy part.”

One of the busi­nesses Cu­cum­ber has worked with is In­de­pen­dent Steve­dor­ing Lim­ited (ISL), which is a key ser­vice provider for the Port of Tau­ranga. ISL wanted to build an ap­pli­ca­tion that could op­ti­mise its log-load­ing process at the port, cre­at­ing more ef­fi­ciency and speed.

Cu­cum­ber con­ducted a thor­ough re­search process be­fore build­ing the app by go­ing down to the port and talk­ing to all those in­volved with the process so they could un­der­stand the prob­lem in­side and out.

It came up with a log-scan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion to re­place the out­dated sign off process that was used be­fore it. The app tracks logs right through the sup­ply chain to the cus­tomer via scan­ning, to the point where it shows the cus­tomer which ves­sel the logs have been loaded onto.

Swal­low says the beauty of the Tau­ranga re­gion is that the peo­ple and busi­nesses are very in­ter­con­nected and open to work­ing to­gether.

“We’re part of a big­ger pic­ture by shar­ing ideas lo­cally – it’s a re­ally con­nected town.”

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