Search Blogs

Recent Posts


Blog Categories

Posted: 10 March 2017
Callaghan Innovation's start-up team has resurrected a blog favourite for your reading pleasure.

Welcome to 2017, and what a start it’s been - Does anyone else feel like the expected "slow start to the year" turned out to be a hectic whirlwind of activity leaving us wondering why there are already hot cross buns in the shops..?
Here is the Start-up Team’s bi-monthly newsletter of updates, recent events and upcoming activities to keep you sprightly!
Take a moment, grab a cuppa and enjoy :)

Microsoft AgTech Hackathon

In collaboration with Microsoft, BCC, Sprout, Massey University, CEDA, Manawatu-Rangitikei Federated Farmers, Accelerate 25, Future Institutes and NZ Agrifood Investment Week - The AgTech Hackathon Launched on 24th February with Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, Ranveer Chandra talking about Microsoft's move into digital farming.

Teams will begin to work on solutions to every day on-farm opportunities from March 11th. Teams will continue to work on their solution during the New Zealand AgriFood Investment Week with final pitches to be held at Central Districts Field Days on March 17th.
Successful solutions will lead to business opportunities and the products could ultimately end up in market helping to make farmers work more efficiently all around the world. AgTech Hackathon is designed to not only help solve problems, but also enable a connection and conversation between our rural and urban communities.
This event represents a collaborative approach to addressing and innovating on everyday opportunities in one of our biggest industries, with potential to take these solutions global.

Acceleration 2017
2017 has already been a really exciting year on the accelerator front, with three scheduled, Callaghan Innovation funded Accelerators kicking things off in style!

Callaghan Innovation's Hemi Rolleston (2nd from right) and Elena Higgison (on the far right) at the Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator launch
Callaghan Innovation's Hemi Rolleston (2nd from right) and Elena Higgison (on the far right) at the Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator launch


Lightning Lab Electric - One of two fresh accelerator programmes under the Lightning Lab banner and hosted by Creative HQ Launched on 31 January at Genesis Energy in Ellerslie, Auckland, with guest speakers including Hemi Rolleston. 
o    Beginning with The Lightning Lab Electric Innovation Challenge is New Zealand’s first ever open call for innovation in the electricity sector. 
o    This has included the release of 30min power prices data for the public to use for innovation
o    The Ideas competition is currently open, seeking the best ideas in the categories of Consumer Solutions, Network Solutions and Grid Solutions, and a total prize pool of $40,000. 
o    The Accelerator programme will officially kick off in May 2017.

The Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator kicked off with a "Meet the Teams" evening on Tuesday 7th February in Wellington. It had impressive pitches from the cohort on day one, and was opened by guests Science & Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith, Xero's Rod Drury, our CFO Richard Perry, and Kiwibank's Peter Fletcher-Dobson and Mark Stephen.

Flux Accelerator has officially started, with six reportedly outstanding companies starting the programme on Monday 20th February.

Sprout Agritech Accelerator held their “best block course to date” in Hamilton on 27th & 28th January, with guest speakers Victoria Ransom, Paul Burmester and Larry Ellison talking about their entrepreneurial journeys, and sharing tips on how reverse engineering your business plan based on your exit strategy can really help to give you direction in the go-to-market phase.

Technology Incubators demystify some of the unknowns about transitioning into the commercial world
Representatives from Astrolab, WNT Ventures, Powerhouse Ventures and The MacDiarmid Institute made an expedition to beautiful Queenstown to host a session at the AMN8 [Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology] Conference on 14th February. 

Press coverage of the conference overall was exceptional, and the Callaghan Innovation funded Technology Incubator programme even got its very own mention over on The Spinoff

From this has come the observation that there is a common thread to the questions researchers across various institutions are asking. On this basis, the Start-up Team will work with our R&D stakeholders to develop a FAQ type document which will help demystify the process, and hopefully encourage New Zealand researchers to engage proactively with the technology incubator and repayable loan schemes as a commercialisation pathway.

Accelerator and Founder Incubator Procurement for June 2017 - June 2019
Responses to the RfP, which closed in earlu February, were outstanding, receiving an incredible range of high quality responses.
We received a high number of responses to the Founder Incubator RfP, General Accelerator and Maori Accelerator programmes. Some of the concepts and partnership models we have seen are incredibly encouraging and represent the high calibre of service we expect to drive the next generation of growth.
Panel meetings wrap up this week, with negotiations expected to commence by the end of March.
Expect to hear more in the next couple of months, and we’re looking forward to an exciting two years ahead with these initiatives!
Upcoming Events
16 March 2017 NZTE Agribusiness Investment Showcase
3 April Callaghan Connect Customer Day
4 April The Atlassian Effect: Dominic Price on How to Scale a Culture of Innovation
4-5 April Phil McKinney - “7 Immutable Laws of Innovation”
21 April Sprout Company Showcase 
13-16 March NZ Agrifood Investment Week
6-14 May Tech-week 
12 May Hi-tech Awards Gala

Is your event missing from the list? Leave a comment to get it added in the next issue

Posted: 16 February 2017
Callaghan Innovation Business Innovation Adviser Nathan Stantiall says the next generation of job seekers are yet to fully appreciate the potential of a job in the tech-savvy world of Manufacturing 4.0.

Manufacturing has an image problem.  The world is changing, a digital revolution has already taken place, technologies are shifting and businesses are innovating not just to win, but to stay relevant.
The NZ manufacturing landscape has changed, even in the last 20 years since I studied Manufacturing at University. Back then, New Zealand made appliances and cars. We now find ourselves better at short run manufacturing and better poised to meet ‘niche’ customer need. This makes us reactive, where we can customise at a fair cost with good quality. But is it attractive manufacturing?
I’ve just come back from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where the best, brightest and most innovative hot new consumer technologies are showcased. An example is Amazon Alexa who have teamed up with Intel to deliver a true voice activated smart home.  I came away knowing that this Internet of Things can put ‘sexy’ back into the manufacturing industry. 
Youth (millennials) are flocking to digital careers but are yet to fully appreciate its convergence into manufacturing, or better put ‘The Industrial Internet of Things’. We can hardly blame them. A software developer for a gaming, music or camera developing company (all of which thrive in NZ) has a lot more appeal than a traditional PLC or CNC programmer in a factory.  
Tech Futures Lab is running IoT courses in Auckland that showed me that $120 can get me a latest edition Raspberry Pi (a cheap computer), a breadboard (prototype your circuit board), free software and an ability to personally create an IoT device in minutes. OK, that sounds unbelievably simple, but it’s not far from the truth. 

AR overlays information onto the normal view
AR overlays information onto the normal view


Whether its Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Google or Microsoft, Apple or an Android smart phone, it’s very accessible and simple to prototype a connected sensor (IoT) for initial testing and validation. This could be to create smart consumer based products or to make a factory IoT connected, but either way the pathway is incredibly simple now. Even for those of us that don’t write code, (Learning C wasn’t part of my curriculum) you can borrow code from GitHub and various other sites by simply googling it. At this point it doesn’t really matter as you are simply prototyping to test, validate and ‘fail fast’ should that be the outcome. The real work begins post validation in ensuring your architecture is sound, IP is considered and that dreaded word ‘security’ is taken care of now we work in the cyber world. Investments that can then be made with greater confidence. 
Collaborative Robotics are opening up a whole new world of possibility for advanced manufacturing. These are humanoid style robotics and are inherently safe so don’t need to be locked up in a cage and are trained by moving their arms and end effectors (hands), as opposed to programming them. Callaghan Innovation has two of these robots available for NZ businesses to trial including Baxter. Proving how simple it is to use, a local 14-year-old had Baxter up and running in minutes and performing simple but detail specific tasks. These intuitive and quick to learn robotics  have quick pay-back periods and are, quite literally, bringing the Jetsons to the factory floor. 
Additive manufacturing is particularly fast moving and well represented in NZ. We have great metal printing capability and can now make low-run injection mould tooling from polymer plastic. CES this year featured a 3D printer that can print circuit boards. The Dragonfly 2020 is a dual material printer of both a polymer and silver to lay down up to 20 layers of tracks making it possible to build and test your electronics gizmo over a weekend.    

Justin Timberlake: bringing sexy back to manufacturing. Possibly.

And what will Virtual Reality start to do for advanced manufacturing? The DAQRI smart helmet now allows factory workers to get work instructions through their glasses. This means a paperless shop floor with detailed assembly instructions overlaid while your eyes stay on the task at hand. 
This is just a taste of what we expect to see at the Hannover Fair in Germany in April. New Zealand businesses will get to visit the birthplace of Industry 4.0. This has become the German term for the Industrial Internet of Things and is a key strategy pillar for many multinational manufacturers. This is where the IoT will take hold in their factories and I believe is the digital convergence that is bringing sexy back into Manufacturing. 

Posted: 08 February 2017
Callaghan Innovation national manager advanced materials Kirsten Edgar says smart businesses here and overseas are turning waste streams into valuable resources.

Reuse, recycle, upcycle – these are words which have either been part of our conversations for a long time, or in the case of ‘upcycle’, have come to prominence relatively recently through a variety of pinterest accounts, blogs, and other forms of social media.

Recycling refers to reprocessing a waste product into something useful, generally of a very similar nature but of a lower value, for example recycled office paper being turned into toilet paper. By comparison, upcycling is often used to refer to crafting old products into something with more value, for example, turning scrap wood into a side table.

Upcycling is moving beyond its craft emphasis though with some awesome examples of industrial-scale materials waste-stream upcycling happening.

A good case in point is the Ford Motor Company, which has partnered with Novomer to produce polymer foams for seat cushions in their cars. Novomer has developed a process where carbon dioxide captured from industrial plants is converted into higher value polymers – this not only adds value to a waste stream but also helps lock a greenhouse gas into a solid form.

A Ford assembly line in the 1920s
A Ford assembly line in the 1920s, letting all their valuable CO2 go to waste.


We’re doing this in New Zealand too. Aduro Biopolymers have produced two new products from New Zealand agricultural waste streams. Novatein® is a bioplastic made from bloodmeal, a coproduct of the red meat industry that would usually be used as a fertiliser. Feathersorb™ is an environmentally-friendly cost-effective industrial absorbent product range made from poultry feathers, large volumes of which would normally be incinerated or disposed of in a landfill. A clever start up company, CarbonScape, is converting low value biomass waste stream, such as sawdust from the wood industry, into high value products like activated carbon by using microwave technologies.

More work is afoot at various New Zealand R&D institutions, such as Scion and Otago University, to develop the science that could lead to valuable waste stream upcycling. This research includes, among others, the development of the prototype Zespri biospife, a spoon-knife combo that is made from bioplastics and contains waste kiwifruit biomass; a gel that improves surgical outcomes and is made from chitosan, an extract from crab shells and squid pens; and a process for turning cattle bone into a new bone regeneration graft material to fight osteoporosis.

There are some fantastic local stories here, but I would raise the question – what other ‘waste’ or ‘low value’ material streams are currently being ignored which could be resources for innovative New Zealand companies to generate high value products? And how much is already being done in our R&D community that our companies could invest in or use? Time to get our thinking caps on!

Zespri's spife tool
Zespri's spife tool



Posted: 12 January 2017
Callaghan Innovation international partnerships manager Victoria Hallum gives her thoughts on the most useful and, er, inventive creations she saw at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The five best

Buddy the Robot – Bluefrogrobotics
Back at CES for a second year after more development.  There are so many robots here with interesting uses - educational, assisted living, elder care, medical, security - but most don't seem to get the human connection right. You’ve got to want to have these guys around. Buddy is just someone you want to invite into your life. 

Hypervsn – kino-mo
The Hypervsn spinning holograms at the kino-mo stand in Eureka Park were the stand out, with crowds six-deep for the whole four days You couldn't take your eyes off them. They were mesmerizing, and awesome for promoting anything. Yes, it’s existing technology, but put to use in a way I've never seen before. And they were great with music.

A French company that uses radon detection to (it claims) provide alerts for an earthquake up to 10 days in advance. The science is not exactly settled on whether radon detection is a useful alert mechanism for major quakes, but if the likes of AYKOW aren’t trying to create forecasting mechanisms, we’ll never get there. 

MyEye - OrCam
Israeli firm OrCam have come up with a device to help the nearly blind. The MyEye device is a small camera mounted in reading glasses reads any printed text, on any surface, including newspapers, books, computer screens, restaurant menus, labels on supermarket products, and street signs, instantly relaying it to the user through a built-in mini speaker.
OrCam MyEye also recognizes stored faces of individuals and identifies consumer products.

OrCam's reading and facial recognition technology
OrCam's reading and facial recognition technology

Part VR game, part assistive technology, part workout, ICAROS’ mission statement is “we work on making you fly every day”. The user straps into an apparatus which allows them to simulate flying while working their core muscles. More complicated than your average gym class, but a hell of a lot more fun, too. 

Smart or smart-arse?
The prefix “smart” is rapidly becoming overused to describe anything vaguely Internet of Things-enabled. So here are a few examples of smart-apparel that may or may not be genuinely smart – you decide.

Studies suggest close proximity of mobile phones to men’s, er, most valuable assets can harm fertility. Spartan have added 35 percent silver thread to cotton boxer shorts to create a fabric that acts as an electromagnetic shield.

Under Armour has created a range of “connected footwear” sports shoes which takes the MapMyRun concept a bit further, with the shoes ‘talking’ to MapMyRun, recording cadence, pace, and the mileage lifetime of the shoe. It can also measure the wearer’s muscular fatigue level before he or she even gets started.

Under Armour's smart shoe
Under Armour's smart shoe

Another Under Armour creation. Bioceramic sleepwear that emits far infrared light, reducing inflammation, allowing athletes to recover faster through sleep. At least, so says their spokes-athlete Tom Brady, of the New England Patriots and under-inflated balls fame.

Laundroid is the world’s first laundry-folding robot. Using complex image recognition and folding capability, it currently takes the Japanese invention five to 10 minutes to fold a shirt. Handy if you have lots of time and money to throw at your irrational phobia of folding clothes.

The Sprucebot provides free wifi to customers at cafes and bars, and allows the staff to record information about the small talk they engage in during their visit. When the customer returns, the shop staff get an alert prompting them on where their conversation left-off. Making those nice moments of interaction less genuine and more accurate, just like you wanted.

Posted: 14 December 2016
Baxter is a smart, collaborative robot. Callaghan Innovation has been putting him to work alongside humans on productions lines around New Zealand for the past couple of years.

Callaghan Innovation has been letting businesses see for themselves if robotics could help improve productivity and efficiency, letting their human staff focus on higher-value work. But don’t take our word for it, let Baxter explain for himself.

Baxter the Robot

Tell us a bit about yourself?

Sure, I am an industrial, collaborative robot. I’m designed to do simple industrial jobs such as loading, sorting and handling of materials. I can do these jobs working right next to people, because I can sense when someone moves close to me and I can measure how much force I am applying to something and stop if it’s too high. I was created by Rethink Robotics in 2012. I am 1.8m tall, 140kg and can be wheeled about anywhere. I have a younger brother called Sawyer.

What do you like best about your job?

I like a challenge! Unlike my cousins who require the environment around them to be very precise, I can adapt to things. For example, I can pick up items that aren’t precisely aligned, then re-orient and place them correctly. I can also see stuff around me, which means I can recognise parts - important when you are trying to sort apples from oranges. I also love working! When my human coworkers need rests, I just carry on, in fact when they go home at the end of the day I carry on then too! Don’t worry though, I’m not going to take over, I need my human coworkers to work on higher value things around the factory. I’m good at adapting to a new job quickly too, just wheel me in, I’m easy to programme and away I go, no safety cages and no complex jigs and fixtures.

Baxter emotions

What do you think are places where you might be better suited to work than a person? Why?

I just love the repetitive stuff! My human coworkers get bored more easily but I can keep up with repetitive jobs like loading material into machines that can be quite dangerous such as presses and guillotines. My skills mean I don’t put my fingers where they shouldn’t go. I can also handle hot, cold, fragile, sharp and sticky stuff humans don’t like touching. I’m good at counting and inspecting stuff too.

For a business thinking about robotic technologies, what is your advice about where they should start?

I would recommend the Better by Lean business workshop run by Callaghan Innovation which helps you review your business processes and management systems to improve productivity, reduce waste and enhance customer experience. In my experience, businesses that automate well do so when their processes are already “lean”.

Start thinking about automation opportunities in your business: Which processes could be good candidates for automation, which of these would be suitable to test? Engage with potentially affected employees. Many businesses have found that they redeploy any affected staff to other higher value activities.

Build a business case to show how automation supports your business needs. Think about the benefits, and what challenges could be overcome. Consider how will you measure whether automation has been valuable and develop a strategy for re-deploying your existing human resources.

Determine the operations model. Ask whether you have right staff and infrastructure to assess for new automation opportunities and support the automation, both hardware and software.

Identify your automation partners, who best fits with your needs and your business and understand what you are paying for.

Finally, have a strong implementation plan. Determine how long the pilot should be if you have one and what are the stages after this?

Who is your hero in the robot world?

‘Data’ from Star Trek

What’s next for you?

In the longer term, one of my creators Jim Lawton from Rethink Robotics says there are a couple of things that will help my friends and I be more useful in the future. The first is increased dexterity, such as being able to thread a needle or unwrap a package. Secondly, teaching machines to learn algorithms that can see the bigger picture, for example, if an algorithm is trained to recognise dogs, we can do that with a high level of accuracy. But if we are shown a picture of a family playing frisbee with their dog on the beach, we will be clueless about anything else besides the dog. As a consequence of these improvements, we will be able to access vast databases, recognise people, machines and parts, be able to derive insights and act on them.

In the short term, I better see which Callaghan Innovation customer I am meeting next!

Get in touch and find out if I might suit your business or consider our Better by Lean programme. My email is and I'm @robot_baxter on Twitter.