Unlocking technological and commercial creativity

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A LABORATORY-MADE bone substitute and a robotic toy for children with autism are some of the innovative projects students have been working on as part of a new programme at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

Students enrolled in the Master of Advanced Technology Enterprise (MATE) programme, which ran for the first time last year, focuses on developing products or services with commercial application. Each project has its roots in research carried out at the university.

MATE is an interdisciplinary one-year research programme – the first of its kind in New Zealand. The programme explores the relationship between scientific research and commercial product development by establishing teams developing high-value enterprises from research projects with real commercial potential.

“The New Zealand education system encourages a spirit of invention, innovation, and collaboration. It’s a place where ideas are born and grow to have global impact, and teachers actively encourage this kind of creativity,” said Education New Zealand’s South and Southeast Asia regional director Ziena Jalil. Projects have included investigating the use of a laboratory-manufactured material as a replacement for bones and teeth, which would have many potential applications in human and veterinary medicine.

“Our product was created from chemical building blocks similar to natural hard tissues, with veterinary dentistry being our initial target market,” said Oliver Townend, who was part of the research team.

Another intriguing MATE project involved refining a prototype robotic toy, named Auti, a bundle of fur with legs that will respond positively to gentle touch and sound and shuts down in response to negative behaviours such as hitting or screaming.

MATE programme director Paul Smith said the idea is to provide children with autism with something that offers positive behavioural feedback.

“It’s an interesting, challenging project – exactly the kind of thing we like our students to be pursuing.” A strength of the programme is that it brings together small teams of up to 20 postgraduate students from diverse academic backgrounds.

“What MATE is really about is teaching students to work as a team, to think creatively and to show technological and commercial initiative.

“The idea is not to churn out large numbers of generic business entrepreneurs but to help our students broaden their skills as technology developers and business people,” said Smith.

Jalil said the programme illustrates the emphasis the education system in New Zealand has on helping students discover their full potential, and giving them the skills to achieve that potential.

“Personal development is key to learning in New Zealand. Students are encouraged to come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things, to try and achieve something beyond what they think they’re capable of.

“This programme also combines academic study with real-world application resulting in a qualification with global relevance. Hands-on research and development skills are in demand and students who study in New Zealand are well equipped to take on the challenges of the future,” she said. To find out more about the MATE research programme, visit www.victoria.ac.nz.

For more information on study options in New Zealand, visit www.studyinnewzealand.com.