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Idealog's Guide to Tauranga: Research and you shall find

Innovation is all about ecosystems. Ideas in Tauranga often begin in labs and tertiary institutions, before gradually making their way into the world as businesses.

Toi Ohomai is one of those tertiary providers, and it was born when Waiariki Institute of Technology in Rotorua and Bay of Plenty Polytechnic merged in 2016.

Areas of research interest can be inspired by local events, like looking into the ongoing effects of the 2011 Rena oil spill on the local marine environment.

“We’ve conducted strong social research in this area. One of the things I did in collaboration with researchers at the University of Waikato after the Rena was to look at the whole volunteer programme. We investigated the effectiveness of it and what it was actually like for the volunteers themselves,” manager of Pacific Coast Research Centre Heather Hamerton says.

The university has since been asked to build on that research by the Council in response to the flooding events at Edgecumbe.

Another interesting project originating out of Toi Ohomai’s new degree in Community Health is what’s happening with end-of-life care for gay, lesbian and transgender people, Hamerton says.

“We’ve designed an intervention and trialled and researched it with a hospice, but it’s quite a hard thing to do because social attitudes are quite difficult to change. This area of research is quite new – nobody else anywhere in the world has done much research work on this, so we’re wanting to build on it and go onto bigger things.”

Top notch

New Zealand athletes that will be competing in high altitude or hot climates no longer have to head overseas before they see how they perform under pressure.

The University of Waikato Adams Centre for High Performance opened in Mount Maunganui’s Blake Park in 2016, with an environmental chamber that can be set to specific heats, humidities and altitudes.

National teams like the Black Ferns and NZ Rugby 7s teams have travelled to the Bay to test out their skills within the chamber, which can reach up to 5,000 metres in altitude, 40 degrees Celsius and 100 percent humidity.

Researcher Stacy Sims says what sets the Adams Centre apart is the research team behind it that can assist with findings.

“It’s akin to an Olympic training centre with the biology angle, strength-conditioning angle, nutrition angle, so it’s about getting that extra two to three percent performance out,” Sims says.

“In a typical gym, you might have a programme or go do your own thing. Here you have the best of the newest science through the collaboration with the University of Waikato, so you’re merging sports science into the applied world.”

For those who are more wary of using high-performance technology, she says the Adams Centre provides the research to reassure them.

“It’s more the coaches that say, ‘It’s a lot of science, we’re not sure,’ so it’s about breaking through that and showing scientific proof of theory so that it’s going to improve the athletic performance rather than hinder it.”

Getting a slice

Another local company that specialises in using research to solve tough technological challenges is Cucumber, which helps companies deal with any business, marketing, sales and technology issues they’re facing.

At the forefront of a 40-person team is general manager Clare Swallow, who says Cucumber is unique because it is extremely research led, and looks in depth into solving the core problem at hand before it starts building a solution.

“People say what they want, but what they need is often really different,” Swallow says. “We do an empathy piece around what’s needed from a customer’s perspective, as opposed to being constrained by starting with the technology part.”

One of the businesses Cucumber has worked with is Independent Stevedoring Limited (ISL), which is a key service provider for the Port of Tauranga. ISL wanted to build an application that could optimise its log-loading process at the port, creating more efficiency and speed.

Cucumber conducted a thorough research process before building the app by going down to the port and talking to all those involved with the process so they could understand the problem inside and out.

It came up with a log-scanning application to replace the outdated sign off process that was used before it. The app tracks logs right through the supply chain to the customer via scanning, to the point where it shows the customer which vessel the logs have been loaded onto.

Swallow says the beauty of the Tauranga region is that the people and businesses are very interconnected and open to working together.

“We’re part of a bigger picture by sharing ideas locally – it’s a really connected town.”