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Space, automation and sound insulation projects gain millions in funding

14 September 2018

Insulation to protect space objects returning to Earth, better sound insulation for multi-storey buildings and introducing automated skills and knowledge into the kiwifruit industry all receive research funding from this year’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Endeavour funding round.

The research, in the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Engineering, is awarded just over $2 million in total. Dean of Engineering Professor Nic Smith welcomed the funding, saying it would allow some of the country’s top engineers to continue to develop innovative and smart solutions to benefit all of New Zealand.

“I’m incredibly excited to see the impact that new engineering technologies are having, from primary industry through to emerging opportunities such as space technology, and I think this work will be of real importance to the future of the country.”

Dr John Cater from the Faculty’s Department of Engineering Science is awarded just under $1 million to develop a new metal foam to create a shield that allows an object to re-enter Earth’s orbit without being destroyed.

The project will use numerical modelling to simulate the massive forces and thermal stresses which objects returning to Earth are subjected to and develop a type of metal foam shield with the right shape and structure to prevent them burning up.

“The outcome of this research would allow high-value objects such as satellites to re-enter Earth’s orbit without damage and could also contribute to the development of the titanium industry in New Zealand where lightweight thermal insulation would help guard against electric battery fires,” he says.

Professor Bruce MacDonald from the Faculty’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is awarded more than $16.7 million to develop augmented reality technology and Artificial Intelligence for the kiwifruit industry and provide expert guidance to orchardists and pickers on the premium time to pick fruit and prune vines.

The project is a co-development with NZ grower organisations, individual growers including Māori crop companies, and agricultural machinery manufacturers.

“Our programme aims to deliver human-assist and automation technology that will transform horticulture into a data-enabled industry, changing the focus from manual labour to transferable expert knowledge and skills,” Professor MacDonald says.

Developing better sound insulation and predicting sound transmission is the focus of a project by Dr Mike Kingan of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. With new funding of almost $1 million, Dr Kingan and his team will investigate the acoustic qualities of cross-laminated timber which is particularly suitable to building large volumes of high-quality, multi-tenancy housing in New Zealand.

Because it is a relatively new material, its acoustic performance is not well understood which inhibits developers from using it.

The research will develop a software tool to model how sound transmits through this lightweight material and assess whether cross-laminated materials may help reduce sound transmission.

“Our work will generate new knowledge and develop methods for designing quiet, economical and affordable housing which has a wide range of benefits,” Dr Kingan says.


Anne Beston | Media Adviser
Communications Office
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