World first IoT farming tech trial in NZ

Kriv Naicker 7.12.17 (002).jpg

A pioneering arable farming tech trial is expected to make a quantum leap to help boost New Zealand’s primary export revenue.

New Zealand has a low understanding of how the internet of things (IoT) can assist with farm management and sustainability and adoption of precision agriculture techniques also remains low.

New Zealand’s primary industry export revenue is forecast to reach $43.8 billion for the year to June 2019, an increase of 2.5 percent from 2018.

The latest Ministry for Primary Industries Situation and Outlook report gives an encouraging assessment of the major primary sectors which continue to grow, up $1.1 billion from the previous year.

The IoT tech trial at Kowhai Farm is a New Zealand IoT Alliance pilot in collaboration with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

The pilot aims to demonstrate that with the better use of digital technologies New Zealand primary sector businesses will be more productive and more competitive irrespective of their size or the sector they are operating in, NZ IoT Alliance executive director Kriv Naicker says.

“Worldwide, the adoption and implementation of precision agriculture has become possible because of the development of sophisticated sensors, robots and sensor networks combined with procedures to link mapped variables to appropriate farming management actions,” he says.

“Sensors, either wired or wireless, integrated into an IoT system gather essential data needed for cost effective and sustainable farm management.

“The IoT demonstration pilot is being undertaken on a site administered by the Foundation for Arable Research. The pilot is showcasing the technology needed for precision agriculture methods and techniques in a hands-on pilot demonstration that will be monitored and evaluated by the foundation.

“The trial aims to get farmers to see the value in deploying technology which is rapidly evolving and we feel that 2019 could be the tipping the point for New Zealand and the farming export sector,” Naicker says.

With the environmental impact of agriculture on the New Zealand landscape being a concern, farmers are improving their practices to minimise possible impacts. The installation of nitrate sensors in groundwater monitoring wells will help monitor the dynamics of nitrates.

 Using the IoT technology to provide a low cost and effective infrastructure to deliver nitrate readings to the cloud will allow groups of farmers to monitor their collective performance and work together to develop further mitigations if required. 

 A monitoring bore near Kowhai Farm has been instrumented with a Hydrometrics nitrate sensor. On the property Aquaflex soil moisture sensors, climate and plant heath sensors are also installed to demonstrate what is possible.

Four technology companies are working together in the first phase of the trial, the Tru Track consortium consists of, Tru Track, Lincoln Agritech, Met Technology Limited and Aquaflex NZ which is a division of Streat Instruments. The current demonstration is using the Sigfox network to deliver the data.

MBIE digital economy policy advisor Sandra Laws says the next phase of the pilot will see Spark and KotahiNet deploy a range of their sensors.

“This will further add to the data we’re collecting on growing conditions. Overall, the pilot will provide valuable insight into the potential of these emerging technologies, which could help boost the productivity and sustainability of New Zealand farm management practices,” she says.

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Artificial intelligence a key for New Zealand’s future

Ben Reid

Ben Reid

New Zealand needs to seize new opportunities in 2019 and harness new AI technologies to deliver positive social and environmental outcomes, AI Forum New Zealand executive director Ben Reid says. 

Reid has just returned from a major international conference in Bangkok which was hosted by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and Google's philanthropic arm, 

The conference involved representatives from around the world discussing opportunities to leverage powerful new AI tools to drive social and environmental impacts. 

“AI is here and making giant leaps forwards in our lives. Some of the examples discussed at the Bangkok conference included using recycled mobile phones to listen to rainforest sounds and detect illegal logging activities; using machine learning to analyse aerial photos to closely monitor the endangered dugong (sea cow) populations in Australia; and employing AI to improve screening results for diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes which affects vision.   

“We are seeing so much potential for AI to solve some of our grand challenges in New Zealand, too. AI can be used to reduce road fatalities from more accurate analysis of accident hot spots and also from autonomous vehicles arriving on our roads very soon.  In Sydney they have recently started trialling AI powered cameras to improve road safety.  

“AI can be used to improve on current predictive analytics techniques for better social outcomes by training models from large datasets and case histories to better identify and recommend optimum courses of action. 

“AI is helping to reduce cancer deaths from melanoma by assisting doctors to identify cancerous moles earlier and more accurately (and helping to alleviate the shortage of trained dermatologists) 

“Researchers have looked at how AI can be used to reduce pollution - for example, by automatically identifying dairy cows which have strayed near waterways using machine vision on high resolution satellite images. 

“It is being used to improve educational outcomes by providing students with a 24/7 AI maths tutor, making individual tuition accessible to everyone. 

“And finally, AI will improve access to government services online whether via a simple chatbot on government websites or using AI to optimise digital customer journeys - enabling citizens to achieve what they want to do quicker and more efficiently. 

"AI and machine learning are often seen only as business tools to drive bigger profits. However, what we're clearly seeing now is that there are many opportunities to apply these technologies to achieve positive social and environmental outcomes. 

“The variety of applications covered at this conference across health, social justice, conservation, sustainability and climate change. AI is applicable everywhere and the tools are now becoming so accessible with open source and cloud tools readily available for anyone to get started,” Reid says. 

The AI Forum NZ is organising the AI-DAY conference in Auckland on March 27 and 28 which will showcase New Zealand and international case studies for how AI can be used to drive social and environmental outcomes. The event programme includes a two day AI for Good weekend hackathon.

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110,000 Kiwis in tech jobs; more expected in 2019

Graeme Muller

Graeme Muller

New Zealand, rated by the World Bank as the best country in the world to do business with, is still seeing massive and unprecedented growth in the high-paid tech sector. 

The number of tech sector jobs continues to grow rapidly, with 2830 new jobs created in 2017 and an estimated additional 3200 in 2018, making the tech sector easily the fastest growing in New Zealand, NZTech head Graeme Muller says. 

The employment growth has been fastest in computer system design firms like Xero, Push Pay and others who have added close to 15,000 new jobs in the past decade, Muller says.   

“A growing tech sector in 2018 is something for all New Zealanders to celebrate for many reasons. The growth is not limited to one part of the country. New tech roles are highly paid generating new wealth for regional New Zealand and research has found that for every new tech role created 4.9 other support roles are created in a community,” he says. 

“There are growing examples of globally successful tech firms operating out of the regions such as Animation Research in Dunedin, GPS-IT in Tauranga and TracMap in Mosgiel. 

“The regions are now looking more attractive for successful tech exporters. We saw The Straker Group, an internationally successful Kiwi translation software firm, begin the process of moving up to 20 of their staff from Auckland to Gisborne during 2018.  

“This growth in digital workers is not limited to the tech sector with most large organisations also trying to employ from the same limited talent pool which is driving up salaries to more than twice the New Zealand average. 

“The growing digital skills shortage was highlighted in an analysis of the market last year by the Digital Skills Forum and is the focus of a Digital Skills Hui at Wellington in March, bringing together all the relevant government agencies, leading tech employers, education facilities and NGOs to develop policy and programmes to enable New Zealand to respond quickly. 

“The exponential growth of the tech sector is expected to increasingly impact regional development in a positive way and New Zealand is well placed to benefit from a quick response to digital skills demand and future of work opportunities,” Muller says.   

NZTech works closely with government and is encouraged by the investment in teachers’ skills to support the introduction of the new digital technology curriculum in class rooms throughout New Zealand.

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Kiwis starting to embrace digital identity

Andrew Weave

Andrew Weave

NZTech will launch New Zealand’s first formal digital identity organisation in Auckland on Monday. 

Digital Identity NZ, a group of organisations and government agencies, has been set up to connect everyone in New Zealand that cares about digital identity. 

NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller says the organisation, which will be part of the NZ Tech Alliance, will promote the importance and potential of digital identity to Kiwis. It will work in partnership to promote open standards and policy that will allow innovation to thrive.   

Andrew Weaver, executive director of Digital Identity NZ, says that while we are using digital identity now in our everyday transactions, there is incredible potential in how it can be used in the future.  

“Whether it is signing onto a website to buy something, visiting a hospital, paying a bill or getting a tax refund there are now hundreds of times a week people need some form of digital identity and there are so many ways of providing it. 

“That complexity can be challenging for us as customers or users of that technology, and there are also questions of security, privacy and consent that are becoming increasingly important for us all to consider.  

“Some banks now allow customers to use selfie-ID, a form of facial recognition, to open accounts without having to visit a branch while other organisations use finger prints or voice recognition. 

“One example of being at the cutting-edge of digital identity is Single Source, a blockchain startup which recently partnered with Delta Insurance to provide a decentralized blockchain identity system. 

“We are the country’s newest not-for-profit organisation, bringing together private and government organisations working to make digital identity easier and more secure for everyone in New Zealand. 

“We are driven by a purpose of ensuring New Zealand is a country where everyone can fully participate in society by confidently expressing their digital identity,” Weaver says. 

Different countries are taking different approaches, many of them centralized around a single government ID number. Estonia has issued every citizen a digital ID card since 2001, Japan and India also require you to use a single government number to access government services.  

“While we have had RealMe in New Zealand for many years it is time to relook at whether a single centralised ID is the best approach in a world where people want ease of use and mobility at the same time as privacy and security.   

“It's important for all New Zealanders, companies and organisations to know exactly what digital identity is. It not only prevents fraud; it's also about asserting who we are in this society. As we do more and more online, it is necessary to adapt how we enable people to claim who they are,” he says.

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NZ facing growing number of cyber incidents

Graeme Muller

Graeme Muller

Kiwis will continue to face record digital threats and cyber incidents every month, NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller says.

New Zealand is not exempt from global digital threats and is currently facing malicious and illegal hacking incidents from cybercriminals, cyber-terrorists and organised crime, Muller says.

He was commenting today on the latest quarterly national Cyber Emergency Response Team (CERT) threat report which shows a record number of 736 cyber incidents reported, of which 112 were referred to police and nine to Netsafe.

Muller says cyber security criminals have the capacity to develop and launch complex cyberattacks and to identify weaknesses in cyber-components.

“According to new trends we are seeing an increase in cyber-attacks. This means early detection of cyber threats and cyber weaknesses is essential. Those responsible for defence need to establish effective and efficient means for assessing threats and for developing appropriate protection as quickly as possible.

“The increasing number of cyber-incidents as outlined by CERT NZ make it clear that New Zealand is, like other nations, facing a substantial challenge in cyber security. That’s one of the reasons we are holding a major New Zealand cyber security summit in Wellington on October 18.

“In the dynamic world of cyber security, threats and severe breaches are both tightly guarded and imminent.

“British Airways recently reported 380,000 transactions made on their website and mobile app from August 21 to September 5 were compromised.

“The attack came 15 months after the carrier suffered a massive computer system failure at London’s Heathrow airport, which stranded 75,000 customers over a holiday weekend.”

“Kiwis need to keep talking about cyber security as criminals are using technologies to find new ways to undertake crime, NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller says.

“Criminals are using advanced technology but so are the good guys, he says. Biometrics, the use of thumbprints or retinal scans, are increasing.”

“It is fantastic to see that organisations are reporting security breaches to the CERT as this sharing of information is one of the best ways to reduce vulnerabilities as a country. But their figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

“The CERT will also become the go-to-place for people and organisations looking for information about potential attacks and how to protect themselves.

“The connection of devices to the internet creating an Internet of Things creates opportunities for cyber criminals to access these devices if not properly secured.

“Here in New Zealand the National Cyber Policy Office, a branch of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, is working with the IoT Alliance to develop our local approach to this threat.”

The annual cyber security summit in Wellington next month will involve senior business, government and tech leaders to ensure New Zealand remains a safer place to do business by being one of the most cyber vigilant nations in the world.

The summit will examine the changing cyber landscape and its impact on businesses and organisations which are coming under a growing number of threats from cyber-attacks.


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