Smart ideas funded in 2021 Endeavour Fund

Four ‘smart ideas’ from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington researchers, about everything from 3D data storage and improving power infrastructure reliability, to undersea volcanoes and interactive design, have been funded in the 2021 Endeavour Fund.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) Endeavour Fund is New Zealand’s largest contestable research fund. All four University-led projects to receive funding—including two projects led by Dr Shen Chong from the Robinson Research Institute—are in the Smart Ideas category, which aims to catalyse and test promising, innovative research.

Each of the awarded projects will create and grow knowledge-intensive industries, contributing to a better future for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Professor Margaret Hyland, the University’s Vice-Provost (Research), welcomed the awarding of funding to the University, which she says will enable the successful applicants to lead the kind of multi-institution collaborations for which Te Herenga Waka is known as New Zealand’s number one university for research intensity.

“Thanks to these awards, our researchers can expand their ground-breaking work tackling some of the most important issues of our time, including the improvement of systems that safeguard against natural disasters, as well as innovation in data storage and wireless monitoring systems,” she says.

Dr Shen Chong from the Robinson Research Institute is leading a multi-institutional and international team in a three-year Smart Ideas project that has received just under $1 million to create the world’s first wireless sensors to monitor the safe operation of power generators, power distribution systems, and high-power charging stations for electric vehicles. This development is essential to ensure reliability of Aotearoa’s electricity generation and distribution systems, and helps with the country’s goal to achieve a net zero carbon emissions economy.

“The passing of the 2019 zero carbon bill set new targets for greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand,” says Dr Chong. “The increased use of green transport systems such as electric cars, mass transport and freight, will make us even more dependent on reliable electrical power distribution infrastructure. But our infrastructure is aging, and the increased uptake could cause electricity failures that would impact on our livelihood and wellbeing.

“Our project aims to solve this by developing new optical wireless sensors that could detect faults and anomalies in this infrastructure. These sensors aren’t susceptible to magnetic and electrical interference and will work reliably in high-voltage environments.”

Dr Chong is also leading a team of University researchers in a three-year Smart Ideas project that has received just under $1 million to develop new “green computing” technologies based on luminescent materials, to store data in three dimensions. Data stored in this manner can be retained for over 100 years without any electrical input, and the technology has the potential to reduce electronic waste drastically, as well as reducing the power used by data centres by up to 90 percent.

Areito Echevarria from the School of Design Innovation is leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers in a three-year Smart Ideas project that has received $1 million. The research aims to generate computational models of human behaviour that will allow New Zealand’s interactive media industry to share cultural stories and represent emotions in a new way.

Dr Ian Schipper from the School of Geography, Environment, and Earth Sciences is leading a multi-institutional team in a three-year Smart Ideas project that has received $1 million to develop tools to better assess underwater volcanic hazards to improve risk forecasting. His team, which includes researchers from GNS Science and BoxFish Research, aims to create the world’s first portable Remotely Operated Vehicle-based instrument and sampling systems to investigate Aotearoa’s underwater volcanoes.

“Understanding the nature and extent of volcanic hazards is critical to minimising risk to people and infrastructure in New Zealand. While our terrestrial volcanoes are extensively monitored and studied, the activity and hazards associated with our underwater volcanic vents remain unknown,” says Dr Schipper.

“Our work will allow us to make fundamental contributions to global efforts to better understand subaqueous volcanism, and ultimately transform our understanding of our own volcanic risk exposure.”

Several Te Herenga Waka researchers are also involved in research that was successfully funded through other institutions.