From milk tank robots to flour made from crickets, Kiwi companies are turning to clever technology to do business smarter. Callaghan Innovation, which is running a series of lunchtime sessions as part of Techweek 2019, lists five areas where tech is making a difference.

Advanced materials – upcycling and adding value

Auckland's Mint Innovation laboratory researching ways to recover metals using bio-based techniques. Photo / Supplied
Auckland's Mint Innovation laboratory researching ways to recover metals using bio-based techniques. Photo / Supplied

On one hand we're living in a world of increasing resource constraints due to population increase, changing climate and depleted natural resources; on the other, consumer expectations in terms of the performance, quality and sustainability of products is on the rise.

That means New Zealand needs to get a whole lot smarter about how we use our resources.

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One way we can do this is to look at how we might better use our waste streams, and literally turn trash into treasure.

Kiwi company Mint Innovation is doing just that with its technology that extracts the gold from electronic waste.

Another approach is to use technology to add value to traditionally low-value commodity products.

Lanaco, for example, is using the wool off the sheep's back to create high-performance air filters for application in a huge range of environments and industries.

Machine learning and AI in food and beverage

Digital solutions provided by smart companies like Hastings-based Fingermark could make drive-thru service even quicker. Photo / File
Digital solutions provided by smart companies like Hastings-based Fingermark could make drive-thru service even quicker. Photo / File

We all get the idea that the kind of car you drive might say something about you. But can it really indicate what you might order at the drive-thru?

With around 70 per cent of fast food sales in the US made at the drive-thru, quick service restaurants (QSRs) are rapidly embracing machine learning and AI to more accurately predict who's about to pull up at the window, and what they're going to order.

Using digital solutions provided by smart companies like Hastings-based Fingermark, QSRs are gathering and processing data in increasingly sophisticated ways.

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And the kinds of data they're using might surprise you; analysing inputs such as the type of car a customer drives (and what their drivers order and when), is helping fast food firms deliver better service, create efficiencies – and ultimately make more money.

Democratisation of space

Rocket Lab has proved that space innovation is no longer the sole domain of national space agencies. Photo / Rocket Lab
Rocket Lab has proved that space innovation is no longer the sole domain of national space agencies. Photo / Rocket Lab

If space is the final frontier, then our entrepreneurs are now surely pushing over its precipice.

Rocket Lab has proved that space innovation is no longer the sole domain of national space agencies, and it's now possible for innovators to form a space technology startup with a couple of hundred thousand dollars.

Venture capital is increasingly flowing into this area, with whole firms, such as UK-based Seraphim Capital, dedicated to funding space tech.

Technology that harnesses "data from above" promises to have far-reaching applications in everything from agriculture and forestry, to fisheries and disaster management.

In particular, the convergence of the terrestrial and extraterrestrial internet of things will undoubtedly offer new solutions to tough problems.

Growth of alternative proteins

There's growing interest in using insect- and plant-based proteins to develop new food products. Photo / 123RF
There's growing interest in using insect- and plant-based proteins to develop new food products. Photo / 123RF

An increasing global population, growing scrutiny on traditional farming practices due to environmental and animal welfare concerns, and a movement towards plant-based diets are among the myriad trends leading to a growing interest in the development of alternative proteins.

Technological innovation is enabling huge growth in this area of the food sector, incorporating everything from the increasing sophistication of "meatless meat" products, such as those produced by Kiwi company Sunfed Foods, to cultured meat.

Then there's the growing interest in using insect and plant-based proteins to develop new food products.

Third-generation Wairarapa-based bakery Breadcraft, for example, recently launched a range of wraps on supermarket shelves under its Rebel Bakehouse brand that are made using cricket and hemp-seed flours.

Industrial robots protecting lives on land and sea

Invert Robotics' mobile inspection technology is now being applied in a wide range of industries. Photo / Supplied
Invert Robotics' mobile inspection technology is now being applied in a wide range of industries. Photo / Supplied

New Zealand has some amazing expertise in robotics, and these are being used to meet tough challenges faced in our traditional industries.

Invert Robotics, for example, has developed a climbing robot that is used in the dairy industry to inspect the inside of milk storage tanks – taking on an important task that's challenging and risky for humans to complete.

The company's mobile inspection technology is now being applied in a wide range of industries, with the firm recently raising $8.8 million in venture capital to fund its next growth phase.

Scientists working on projects as part of the Science for Technological Innovation National Science Challenges, for example, are also turning their attention to our forestry industry, developing robotic pruning technology that could improve safety in what is one of our most dangerous industries.

And research projects are also underway to develop robotic solutions for aquaculture, which could be used in environments too dangerous to send divers.

• For more about TechWeek 2019, visit the website.