New centre to bridge gap between academia and industry

NZi3 opens at Canterbury this week

The University of Canterbury is opening its national ICT Innovation Institute, called NZi3, on April 23.

The national institute, housed in a new, purpose-built building, is the first ICT research facility of its kind in New Zealand, says NZi3 director Darin Graham.

The centre aims to bridge the gap between the academic world and the industry, he says.

"The challenge is how to do this in a formalised fashion," he says. "How to get creative ideas flowing between the two sets of organisations."

The idea is to bring researchers and the ICT sector together under the one roof. Among the founding partners are IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Jade Software and Tait Electronics.

To help change New Zealand’s socio-economic environment the industry needs to have great new ideas for products and services, and the place those ideas are going to come from are universities, says Graham. He says it’s a win-win situation — the industry gets talent working on problems, the students get experience working in the industry and increase their chances of getting hired when they graduate. This opportunity to get work experience will also attract students from overseas, says Graham.

The NZi3 will focus on finding needs and problems in the industry, and finding the researchers to work on those problems, he says. Multi-disciplinary teams — made up of researchers, students and industry experts — will look at how ICT can help for example the energy sector, health, agriculture or the environment, says Graham.

It’s about bringing people together and working on creative solutions, he says.

The prime motivation for establishing the $20 million centre was a shortage of suitably-qualified ICT graduates. Graham believes the shortage stems from parents, who saw the burst of the dotcom bubble in the 1990s, telling their kids not to go into ICT.

The research that will be done, and is already being done, at the ICT Innovation Institute, covers a range of areas. There is for example a Geospatial Research Centre that has developed an indoor helicopter, which can survey the interior of buildings and transmit data and images back to computers for analysis. There is also a Wireless Research Centre. Other projects already underway are using the IBM Blue Gene supercomputer, based at the university, for modelling for the human body — bio-mechanical modelling, says Graham.

One of the outcomes is that 25 summer-jobs at companies in the Canterbury region have been found for students, he says.

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Tags ICT innovationDevelopment IDUniversity of Canterbury

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