Flying into the Future: YIA Innovation Forum 2018

Under a foreboding sky, we gathered at Classic Flyers Museum in anticipation of freshly brewed coffee and some interesting presentations to kick off our Thursday morning.

After a hastily eaten breakfast of fruit skewers, mini muffins, neatly stacked French toast, and egg tartlets, the PA fired up and Jono Jones, Blue Lab’s Head of Innovation and our MC for the morning, claimed the stage and welcomed the crowd to this year’s YiA Innovation Forum.

The first session featured three single-slide talks which gave us some insight into a few of the environment and ecological research programmes being conducted in New Zealand at present.  Rachel Lawton gave us the background to some of her work investigating farming of sea-vegetables (AKA seaweed).  Jenny Rudd was energetic in discussing the glossy BOP based lifestyle magazine UNO, of which she is owner and author, and Dr Mark Begbie amused us with his Scottish humour whilst outlining the plans for the agricultural research institute, PlantTech.

The three main talks of the morning followed.  First, Dr Alistair Scarfe gave us an insightful look at his journey from the adolescent son of a farmer tinkering with his old man’s welder, through his Massey University education to become co-founder and CTO of Robotics Plus, the world leaders in automated fruit picking. Juxtaposed against the background of vintage aircraft, the all black Multipurpose Orchard Robot displayed amongst the audience provided a 21st century lean to the setting.

Through heavy rain, which seemed at one point deliberately trying to drown her out, Maru Nihoniho told us her story of how she began as a typical kiwi teenager, eating fish and chips and playing Spacies with her spare change. During this time she developed a desire to produce a computer game based on Maori legend. After being treated to a few knockbacks in her early years, through persistence and tenacity Maru has since succeeded in developing no less than three games through her company Metia Interactive. Of particular note is the game title SPARX which was developed in conjunction with the University of Auckland and is intended as an adjunct treatment of depression in young people. Her latest release is the first instalment of Guardian, featuring wahine heroine Maia.

Suan Yeo wrapped up the forum by sharing his intercontinental journey to his current position as head of Google Education ANZ.  With his focus on teaching the next generation of technological innovators, Suan couldn’t have put it better when he stated that we are “building for a future we can’t see”. He went on to highlight the importance of giving children access to technology. Doing so opens up the world for them, they can visit any location on the globe from the comfort of the classroom and “when you give you give your children the world, you give them the power to change it”.

Big thanks to Groundswell Festival of Innovation and Priority One for pulling together another inspiring morning. Photos by Salina Galvan, courtesy of Groundswell.

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