AI, AR, VR in the Hobbit land

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Innovation Day Event held in Auckland. Having just arrived in the country I was doing a bit of idle Googling and was curious about the tech sector in New Zealand; what was going on in this little island so far away from the rest of the world? My curiosity led me to the event page for the Innovation Day, however it was sold out!

I was bitterly disappointed as the event had some very interesting speakers and their presentations really peaked my interest. Knowing that being such a popular and oversubscribed event it would be a long shot, I emailed the event organiser and asked if there was any chance I could attend… and to my surprise I got a response saying they could squeeze me in!

Prior to my decision to travel to New Zealand my knowledge of the country was like much of the rest of the world, in that I knew it was full of sheep and Hobbits. But after a bit of research I found that there is a fair bit of activity in the technology sector and it is in fact the country’s third largest in terms of overseas revenue earned, just behind Agriculture and Tourism.

With that in mind, below is a brief highlight package of some of the amazing companies I saw that are doing some very cool work in the New Zealand tech sector:

Baby X

This is the creation of The Laboratory for Animate Technologies, which is a part of the University of Auckland.

New Zealand has some very talented visual artists which I surmise is from their prominence in the movie industry, with a large concentration especially in Wellington with Weta Workshops of Sir Peter Jackson fame. The man behind The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and King Kong.

Baby X is an interactive, animated, virtual prototype that has the ability to learn and react like a human with extremely real and lifelike facial expressions. If you would like to see a demo of Baby X in action check out this video.


Looking towards the future of the workplace and the digital workforce, FaceMe has developed a digital employee. It has done this using advanced AI algorithms and some slick work on the visuals to give it some very realistic and natural facial expressions, especially impressive is its ability to mimic.

Precision AI

Precision AI are developing a robot that is able to detect the ripeness of fruits and vegetables with the aim of eventually having it pick the ripe ones. Imagine the efficiency gains for the agriculture industry of having the picking of crops down to an exact science!

Other notable participants of the day were:

  • IEROSPACE aiming to produce New Zealand’s first 3D-printed electric vehicle.
  • Method
  • WE Tech
  • Staples VR which has used Virtual Reality in the Auckland children’s hospital to calm down kids going through operations using fun VR experiences.

It was a thoroughly fun and informative day and I would like to thank the organisers for putting on a truly great event. Having attended I feel extremely excited to explore even more of the Tech scene here in New Zealand and I look forward to sharing my experiences and findings with you all.

If you have any recommendations or suggestions of events or companies that I should look into please let me know.

P.S. When you have a spare few moments I have found a brilliant video series by Ashlee Vance(the author of the Elon Musk biography) on behalf of Bloomberg which looks at New Zealand’s tech sector.

Authors: Daria Kogut, Andrew Thibaud