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Platform in the works to aid New Zealand AI agritech

New AI computing power and technology is being developed to meet the demands of scientists for more efficient computing and processing of advanced research data via a new scientific partnership. The initiative, a marriage between the needs of PlantTech Research Institute in Tauranga and the expertise of New Zealand eScience Infrastructure (NeSI), is accelerating innovative research, starting in the agritech sector.

The new tech aims to remove computer processing bottlenecks that limit the ability of data scientists to train artificial intelligence models that learn from high volumes of complex and tightly coupled data. It will also greatly reduce the turnaround time for current AI research.

Horticulture and produce are among the first New Zealand industries to benefit from this faster AI computing infrastructure, with scientists using it to explore new approaches to data-driven horticulture in key sectors, including kiwifruit.

PlantTech and NeSI signed a Memorandum of Understanding in November 2020. NeSI has procured the first tranche of Nvidia A100 general-purpose Graphics Processing Units that are now being commissioned. NeSI is working with early adopter communities, including PlantTech, to pioneer and to use these technologies in the next few months and improve workflow and assess public and private research sectors’ demands.

The research institute says the MoU was the start of an exciting strategic partnership with NeSI to better understand and cater to the developing needs of New Zealand’s AI researchers. NeSI continues to ensure New Zealand’s research community is well catered for in traditional supercomputing driven by Central Processing Units, the field of AI research is driving demand for high-performance computing-based around GPUs.

The strategic alliance and MoU will see the research institute’s insights as a preeminent developer of AI solutions coupled with NeSI’s solution expertise as a preeminent provider of computational capability to ensure New Zealand has the right AI research platforms to take it to the next level of international competitiveness, now and into the future.”

NeSI director Nick Jones says the partnership provides NeSI with an opportunity to extend its national platform to be fit-for-purpose for data-intensive agritech workloads. For NeSI, this is a special collaboration, enhancing the capabilities and support they offer to New Zealand’s agricultural research communities, particularly those working in emerging technologies, such as AI and deep learning. It also gives them the opportunity to extend their reach, beyond the public research sector, to positively impact research in the horticulture industry, which is discovering that its pressing challenges can be solved by more precise technologies.

For the research institute, having access to the latest generation of systems brings capabilities that will enable new approaches to highly complex data challenges that will deliver step-change benefits across productivity, profitability, sustainability, provenance, and biosecurity. Particularly as the Government focuses on New Zealand’s economic recovery post-COVID-19 and executes the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan to build stronger and more productive horticulture and agriculture sectors. In its first year, the research institute has trialed innovative solutions to various challenges affecting the kiwifruit industry, including crop estimation and fruit maturity testing.

Through this strategic partnership, the two parties will ensure that New Zealand has the tools in the future to sustain the momentum. Achieving the transfer 80-100 times faster is hugely beneficial – a day-and-a-half becomes an hour. But for large data packages, the transfer is simply not practically achievable over the internet. However, there are challenges that they simply cannot address without the step up to a true supercomputing architecture. They expect that the new platform will act as a catalyst for boundary-breaking science in New Zealand.

PlantTech is sending its research data to NeSI’s platform with support from Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand (REANNZ). The not-for-profit Crown-owned company operates a super-fast network and serves the unique demands of scientists, researchers and educators by helping them move and share data-intensive research around New Zealand and the world.

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