by Divina Paredes

Movers and shakers: University of Otago researchers develop groundbreaking communication tech

May 29, 2018
Digital Transformation

Dr Amita Deb and Associate Professor Niels Kj?rgaard, of the Department of Physics at the University of Otago, have created world-leading technology in the form of an optical antenna. Their work, just published in acclaimed journal Applied Physics Letters, simplifies how we currently communicate wirelessly.

Dr Deb says the widespread use of smart phones and appliances have “fuelled an unprecedented demand for high bandwidth wireless networks”. The emerging 5G network will feature greater bandwidth, but its signal is prone to significant weakening and interference.

The optical antenna the Otago researchers have developed enables the transmission of high frequency signals, with the advantage of being non-metallic, and with no electrical connection required, mitigating the issue of interference.

“You can communicate information without electrical interference. Because this is optical – just laser light, no metal, no electronic connections – it is cleaner and clearer.

“Optical fibre cables can also transmit light hundreds of kilometres with very little loss,” says Deb.

The technology interfaces wireless data with fibre optic data. It encodes a radio frequency signal within a laser beam – via an antenna in the mere form of a glass bulb filled with atomic particles – which can be transported via fibre-optic channels.

This would be like a radio station playing a song which is picked up by a laser beam, through a glass bulb, into an optical fibre. At the end of the fibre, light is detected and the song comes out of a speaker.

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The work was funded by grants from the Marsden Fund and Otago Innovation Limited, with the next step being to increase the speed of the technology and reduce its size.

“The delivery of wireless data via optical fibre is a highly sought after technology in emerging high-speed technology applications and people in the industry have been really excited about this development,” says Kj?rgaard.

He believes the optical antenna has military applications because it can’t be wiped out via an electromagnetic pulse, as well as in avionics. Miniaturised versions could also be used in biomedical settings such as electrophysiology, which measures the electrical activity of cells and tissues including the heart and brain.

Callaghan Innovation CEO Vic Crone

Callaghan Innovation CEO Vic Cronehas a clear and urgent message to the wider business community – there is much to gain with technology, but everything to lose by standing still.

“It’s a tough journey, but there is a wealth of support available both for technology-driven firms and those that simply want to use technology to solve day to day problems,” says Crone, as she congratulates the winners of the 2018 Hi-Tech Awards.

“Learning and collaborating with others in the innovation ecosystem is one of the best, but often missed, sources of support in solving difficult problems. Specifically tailored support for the right stage of growth can mean the difference between going global or giving up.

“Over the past five years at Callaghan Innovation we’ve worked with thousands of successful kiwi businesses, including a fantastic 70 per cent of this year’s Hi-Tech Award business finalists.

“Our experts work hand-in-hand with firms of all different sizes to develop and protect their technology, commercialise their products, source RD support, grow their markets and connect into the domestic and global innovation ecosystem,” she says. “We’re urging businesses to check out the support available and get in touch.”

Waikato Techweek’18 project lead Jannat Maqbool

Jannat Maqbool says more than 1300 people joined the 21 Techweek’18 events across the Waikato.

“We wanted to showcase the advantages of working in ICT in the Waikato region, and the depth of tech talent here,” says Maqbool, who was Waikato Techweek’18 project lead. “It’s amazing how much creativity and innovation there are in small towns, and we can tend to overlook them for the bigger cities, so we made sure events in Raglan, Thames, Taupo and Paeroa were on the agenda.”

Maqbool says the featured event, the Internet of Things (IoT) tour, was a highlight of the week. “More than 200 attendees were able to gain great insights into how IoT is being applied around us at a regional level,” says Maqbool. “This included the work of world-leading technical and scientific experts in Raglan to the applications of IoT in healthcare showcased at Zealong Tea Estate in Gordonton. Attendees learned about a telepresence robot and what the future looks like for pro-active primary care. The focus in Hamilton was smart cities, and in Paeroa they learned about the application of IoT in primary industries.”

“In its early days the Internet of Things centred on individual consumers and how they can use technology to enhance their lives. Now we’re seeing large organisations and cities start to adopt this technology to create connections between information technology and physical objects on a much larger scale.”

Maqbool also cites the M?ori Tech Showcase at Wintec. “We know the M?ori economy in the Waikato is growing fast in a business sense, and it’s also growing rapidly from an IT and technology point of view.

“More than 400 people attended the M?ori Tech Showcase, which shows the interest the sector is gaining, and how the use of IT and technology are being used to enhance M?ori business activity and connect people to New Zealand’s cultural story.”

Craig Purcell, business growth manager at Waikato Innovation Park and one of Techweek’18 Waikato organisers, says, “the fact that we are part of the national Techweek shows we can be really proud of the quality and scale of events hosted in the Waikato region.”

TechWeek visitors at the Waikato Innovation Park

Ryan Sharp has been promoted from business unit manager to general manager at Datacom. Prior to this, Sharp was at Air New Zealand, as national manager cargo, and before that, manager digital office.

Ryan Sharp at a CIO NZ roundtable discussion

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