By Chris Thomson
New Zealand has no shortage of companies with the potential to make a global impact if they reach for the skies.
But it can be hard to build momentum for take-off on their own. Fortunately, there are ways Kiwis can overcome their namesake’s aerodynamic shortcomings – and that’s by partnering with likeminded businesses, and forming mutually beneficial collaborations.
Callaghan Innovation helps New Zealand companies achieve greater success by forming collaborative projects that reduce the costs of doing research and development (R&D) and promote knowledge sharing.
One of these focuses on the New Zealand Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) sector, a rapidly expanding technology frontier, which, if we move fast enough, could see New Zealand assume a leading role in a global industry estimated to be worth $US82billion by 2025.
Knowing the potential of this technology – or rather collection of exponential technologies – and the promising position New Zealand UAV technology businesses were in, we spearheaded a collaborative innovation project to bring them together to share knowledge, accelerate product development, and maximise the benefits of this technology for a range of NZ industries. This included hosting a national UAV conference and tradeshow that connected research groups, suppliers and end-users, forming the UAVNZ industry association, providing input into civil aviation rules to enable future UAV operations, and helping set up dedicated airspace for UAV testing. We also funded the Airshare website, which connects suppliers and customers, and which has seen significant growth in the number of UAV technology companies registered on it over the past 12 months. We’ve also facilitated a growing number of collaborative R&D projects among UAV companies involving technology for electricity lines inspection, perimeter security, and agricultural applications, introduced companies to crucial international expertise, and now we’re seeing a significant rise in grant applications for UAV-related R&D projects. Activities in this space are also attracting growing offshore interest, with increased enquiries from foreign companies looking to relocate R&D here.
To grow the sector further, support industry collaboration and develop future talent we’ve also launched the C-Prize – a unique innovation challenge designed to stimulate cutting-edge UAV technology for the screen industry, helping multiple industry sectors benefit at once. This world-first has really taken off, attracting global interest and the support of top film directors including James Cameron and really putting New Zealand on the map as an innovative early adopter of a game-changing technology. Not only is this helping UAV companies get – and stay – airborne, it’s helping them do so more efficiently, with less noise and more stability.
One of the many companies involved in this effective collaborative project is Raglan-based Aeronavics. Their CEO Linda Bulk says: “The benefits of this kind of collaboration is clear – not only is the range of government support to help companies grow now much more visible and accessible in this area, but we also benefit from increased contact with universities and other industry groups where we can really learn from each other. Being able to liaise with them and Callaghan Innovation’s key coordinating role has been very beneficial indeed. I’d have to say the sky is now the limit – or, as one of our distributors recently said, ‘not anymore’.”
Callaghan Innovation’s work doesn’t stop at UAVs – that is just one of the many collaborative innovation projects we’re leading, in a range of exponentially growing fields such medical devices, wearable technologies and more. All with the goal of helping companies benefit from the power of connections and producing partnerships that help solve common innovation and technology problems. We’re also taking companies to the world – encouraging and promoting groups of businesses by planning and facilitating technology missions to international events and visits to world-class innovation facilities, as well as engaging with clusters of Maori businesses with a desire to innovate or create shared opportunities. This way, New Zealand business will see that one day they need never look up again in envy, but rather down on their achievements, from the heights of success.
Chris Thomson is Aviation Sector Manager at Callaghan Innovation, New Zealand’s business innovation agency. We help businesses succeed through technology. You can contact us on 0800 4 22552.