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Govt funds research into solar tsunamis, decolonising algorithms and more

14 Sep 2020

The Government is investing $187 million in 17 leading-edge research projects, including several that are centred on innovative use and development of technology through the Endeavour Fund, New Zealand’s largest contestable research fund. 

Since the first Endeavour Round in 2016 (and not including the 2020 round), MBIE has invested in 265 projects with a total value of nearly $1 billion.

“Every year we see some fantastic research projects aiming to make a great contribution to our lives, and this year is no different. We’re investing in a range of programmes that will have ongoing long-term positive impacts for all New Zealanders,” says Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment’s Contestable Investments manager Dr Max Kennedy. 

“This year’s investments show our growing strength in applying leading-edge technology to realise and find solutions to the long-term challenges we face in our changing world.”

Just a few of the projects are outlined below. A full list is available on the MBI&E website, including a more detailed report.

University of Waikato was approved for $6 million to look into ways that “tikanga Māori (customary protocols) and Mātauranga Māori (Indigenous knowledge) [could] inform the construction of digital identities and relational responsibilities to data.”

“We address these challenges through research to theorise, develop and test Māori approaches to collective privacy, collective benefit and governance in a digital environment; develop novel approaches to data classification, provenance, and valuation that ensure Māori data can be recognised, tracked, and valued within data infrastructures; and move beyond current efforts to reduce bias in algorithms to explore what it means to ‘decolonise’ algorithms that adversely affect Māori communities, and how Indigenous AI might be harnessed to realise Māori aspirations for self-determined development,” according to the 2020 Endeavour Round Successful Projects report.

The Research Trust of Victoria University of Wellington will be provided $11.6 million to research high magnetic field electric propulsion for space - essentially, using superconductor magnets to propel and control spacecraft and satellites.

“High efficiency thrusters enable higher value satellite and spacecraft missions and enable more economical availability of data from space services giving benefits to end users of the data. The uses of satellite data are many: from environmental and hazard monitoring to national security, telecommunications, and asset management,” the report outlines.

The University of Otago was approved for $15 million to look into how to protect New Zealand’s energy infrastructure from the impact of solar explosions.

“Unusually large space weather events have caused blackouts and multi-million dollar equipment has been written off, including here. The concern is that an extreme event will happen again, and could do very large amounts of damage across the globe ... A very rough estimate for New Zealand suggests an annualised risk cost of NZ$1 billion a year.”

The research into these “solar tsunamis” aims to provide valuable insight that could mitigate the damage caused by these events.

The Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences (trading as GNS Science) has been approved for a total of $21.7 million. 

$8.5 million will be dedicated to tackling climate change and decarbonisation through developing new technology for producing hydrogen from water, a process known as electrolysis.

“Our research aims to stimulate the creation of next-generation technologies with an order-of-magnitude improvement in performance relative to existing water electrolysis-based hydrogen production systems, along with new capabilities in hydrogen storage and distribution,” the report states.

The other $13.2 million will go into improving the detection and characterisation of earthquakes and tsunamis through data collected by DART (Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami) buoys placed in the Pacific Ocean.

The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research was awarded $16.3 million for research in ways to use artificial intelligence to more efficiently process harvested marine animals for the variety of valuable molecules.

“The Cyber-Marine research programme will develop AI-integrated sensor systems able to immediately tell us what’s in the raw material, then use the information to direct optimised processing,” the report explains.