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IoT, 5G and sensor networks feature in Spark's new innovation studio

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 25 March 2021, 10:32 am

Spark has opened an innovation studio beneath its Auckland headquarters to showcase emerging technologies it sees as increasingly important to its business case for 5G and its own dedicated Internet of Things (IoT) network.

Digital economy minister Dr David Clark was on hand yesterday for the opening of the innovation studio, which has four zones that point to the areas of opportunity Spark is eyeing up - utilities management, smart environments, emerging tech and asset management.

In the utilities zone, IoT specialist and Spark partner Adroit, showed off its smart data buoy nicknamed 'Murray', which is being used by the aquaculture industry to remotely monitor key indicators such as salinity and temperature of mussel farms.

Connectivity is supplied to the buoy, which is in operation at a mussel farm in the Firth of Thames, is provided by Spark's Cat-M1 network, which is a dedicated IoT network run from Spark's existing network of mobile sites.

Murray the smart buoy

The big benefit, according to Adroit's founder Ulrich Frerk is that mussel farm operators know with precision when they need to pause harvesting of the mussels following large rain events that reduce salinity, which isn't good for the mussels.

Cat-M1 is used to connect smart meters for the likes of Trustpower. But Spark sees major potential to expand its uses to everything from smart city infrastructure monitoring and video surveillance to telematics and outpatient monitoring.

In the smart city zone, Spark showed off a partnership with its own data-focused division Qrious and Auckland Transport to connect sensors on everything from rubbish bins to park benches and street lights in central Auckland's Wynyard Quarter. 

A dashboard gathering data from the sensors allows more efficient management of services such as rubbish collection. Typically a rubbish truck will do the rounds of the city, manually checking bins to see if they need emptying. With smart bins communicating their status constantly, routes could be prioritised to cover only the bins that need emptying. 

In the Emerging Tech Zone, Toyota showed off a virtual reality application that allows prospective car buyers to do a virtual walk-around of a car and sit in the driver's seat, with the interior colour scheme and car body paint colour switching based on their preference. Toyota currently has hundreds of demonstrator cars around the country for customers to try. But VR can play a role to familiarise people with new models that aren't in the country yet or where demonstrator cars are in short supply.

Spark sees 5G connectivity and edge computing being used to supply data-intensive mixed reality applications around the country.

Also featuring in the innovation studio is AWS, Spark's cloud partner for the innovation studio, which will work with the network operator to showcase IoT solutions that offer benefits to New Zealand companies.

Screenshot 2021-03-25 at 10.28.14 AM.png

NZTech CEO Graeme Muller trying out Toyota's VR experience

Carbon-cutting tech

Another key area under development is asset management - using IoT sensors and RFID tags for asset and fleet tracking. Spark says that IoT connections on its network increased by 65% in the first half of full-year 2021, suggesting a technology that has been widely talked about in the industry for years, is finally attracting widespread usage. 

Spark will change out the showcased technologies every six months to highlight new ways its networks can be used. A major angle pushed yesterday by Spark CEO Jolie Hodson is using emerging technologies to help meet the country's 2050 carbon zero goals.

Spark points to research from the Exponential Roadmap Initiative that shows digital technology innovation cut emissions in the last decade in its own sector and offers the potential for emissions reduction across the board.

"Between 2010 and 2015, data traffic quadrupled and the number of mobile subscribers increased by 30%. However, at the same time, the emissions of the overall digital industry and the electricity used for operation both declined about 15%, while ICT emissions remained roughly constant," according to the 2020 Exponential Roadmap Initiative report.

The main reasons for that were "massive gains in energy efficiency and a shift in computing from desktop and laptop to handheld devices". 


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