Prototyping for a cleaner world

REANNZ, Unitec, NIWA and Wuhan University are working collaboratively to help address the concerning issue of air pollution via an innovative project.

Whatever the innovations and advances of the future are, we will not discover them by working alone. National networks like REANNZ have been built to allow researchers, scientists and educators to collaborate effectively, which is exactly what is happening in this project tasked with tackling air pollution in China.

Unitec and NIWA talk about their collaboration with Wuhan University

Two REANNZ members, 
NIWA and Unitec, are working on a project with Wuhan University in China to solve environmental issues using their combined technologies and capabilities. Wuhan, an industrial city of 15 million people on the Yangtze River, suffers from very high levels of air pollution, and when they wanted to do something about this, they looked to New Zealand. 

"New Zealand sets a great example for a very clean country. It is seen overseas, especially in China, as a country that has managed its environment very well."

Dr Hossein Sarrafzadeh, Head of Computing, Unitec Institute of Technology

So who is doing what?

  • NIWA brings high-end environmental science and monitoring capability;

  • Unitec is keen to develop a range of capabilities with Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT);

  • Wuhan University and local commercial software company LJDY will provide a range of Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping and visualisation software; and

  • REANNZ will facilitate the networking and data transfer capabilities between the parties using the New Zealand and Chinese R&E networks.

"Having a really high performing network connection between China and New Zealand is absolutely essential to this project. We've worked with REANNZ for many years now and we’ve always had them as part of out mix of network infrastructure support. It would be incredibly difficult to do a project like this without having that high-speed network capability between institutions that REANNZ has provided."

Rick Ede, CEO, Unitec Institute of Technology

Working together, these institutions will focus on important issues that could have a real impact in Wuhan, and potentially cities all over the world.

They will be using tools such as low cost, widely distributed devices equipped with environmental sensors. These are built into buildings, phones, cars, electricity networks, even personal wearable devices, delivering huge amounts of data about the world around us. They will also use small autonomous vehicles, such as drones for both the air and water with cameras and sensors to build a picture of a city. 

LJDY will create a new 3D modelling programme allowing researchers and academics to see entire cities in 3D, both over and under the ground, creating real-time visualisations of environmental data.

"I think most people are familiar with things like Google Earth. This system takes it to a whole new level. It’s not just a representation of the city, it’s actually a more detailed, literal model of the city. When you attach that to an Internet of Things sensor network you’re able to start pulling information about what’s happening with freshwater flows, with sewage flows, what’s happening with traffic flows."

Andrew Watkins, General Manager Information Technology, NIWA

The 3D mapping of a city full of sensors will be trialled in Auckland, which was selected because, with its relative remoteness, it is one of the few places in the world where you can investigate what happens with pollution without any interference. 

Once the technology works successfully it can be deployed in Wuhan, and potentially any city in the world. This project could have huge economic benefits for New Zealand as technology is developed and shared, as well as huge environmental impacts for the whole world.

We generate large amounts of data, we import large amounts of data, we’re always shifting large amounts of information all over the world, not just within New Zealand. Being a member of REANNZ is important for NIWA because it’s an essential part of how we do what we do. What we can achieve between us is much greater than what we could all achieve individually.

Guy Coulson, Air Quality Scientist and Manager Urban Air Quality and Health, NIWA


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