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New Zealand University Unveils Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Development Laboratory

A state-of-the-art purpose-built Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Development Laboratory, which will allow students to use advanced technology, has been opened on the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) Hawke’s Bay Campus in Taradale. The ribbon was cut by Hilton Collier, Chairman of the EIT Board, in front of staff and students this week, according to a recent statement.

The new lab includes a deep-learning server for machine vision and learning, HTC Vive Pro wireless virtual reality, a fume-extraction required by 3D printers, and a workspace that incorporates electrical supplies and bench-space for electronic fabrication and soldering, among other things.

Fred Koenders, Executive Dean, Faculty of Commerce and Technology, explained that the lab reflects the Bachelor of Computing Systems (BCS) role in Hawke’s Bay businesses, where horticulture processing and manufacturing represents a major contribution to the regional economy. “These industries are a likely destination for many of our graduates, and where significant productivity gains may well be achieved through pragmatic application of the kinds of technologies housed in this facility.”

The statement noted that the expanded facility doubles the capacity of the original 12-user lab, which had quickly become too small for the popular BCS Intelligent Systems major. EIT partnered with electronics company Omron to showcase the Omron Cobot to Hawke’s Bay industries. The Omron Cobot is a collaborative robot that can be used in a range of different scenarios where robots need to work alongside humans. The bot at the campus is set up to work with scenarios in the fruit industry and has a vision system that can be taught to recognise different objects.

Students will use the Cobot to develop their skills in programming the robot to recognise specific attributes including looking for blemishes or selecting fruit of a particular shape and size. The laboratory is also an extension and partnership with the Trades Academy at EIT, where Tutors, at both the Taradale and Tairawhiti campuses, have provided a training ground for secondary schools interested in technology, including drones and robots, 3D design, and 3D printing.

“We need our students to be thinking about tomorrow’s world and to be in a position to lead our organisations through the major changes forced on us by, for instance, COVID-19, and the natural evolution of change brought on by competition and the need for efficiency,” Koenders noted. He added that the new equipment makes sure that EIT is relevant, up to date, and progressive when it comes to teaching and student learning. The added advantage is that Hawke’s Bay industry will also get the benefits of this sort of technology.

Earlier this month, the University of Waikato has launched a new AI Institute, Te Ipu o te Mahara (A Receptacle of Consciousness). It is focused on translating New Zealand’s world-leading expertise in AI, real-time analytics of big data, and machine learning into commercial businesses and applications.

As OpenGov Asia reported, the Institute Director, Professor Albert Bifet, said that the purpose is to link Waikato’s world-class training and education with leading research and ultimately boost New Zealand’s growing tech industry. “Artificial intelligence and Maori tech have been identified as enabling growth engines for New Zealand and the purpose of Te Ipu o te Mahara is to leverage our world-leading expertise to benefit New Zealand.”

Research into real-time analytics for big data offers huge opportunities to create new businesses and transform existing businesses in the country. It offers a step-change in computer performance, the efficiency and effectiveness of processing the huge datasets behind deep learning, machine learning, and AI.

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