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A New Zealand partnership is developing new artificial intelligence (AI) computing power and technology to meet demand from scientists for faster processing of complex research data. 

The PlantTech Research Institute in Tauranga and New Zealand eScience Infrastructure (NeSI) have partnered to accelerate innovative research.

Horticulture and produce are among the first New Zealand industries to benefit from this faster AI computing infrastructure, with PlantTech scientists using it to explore new approaches to data driven horticulture in key sectors, including kiwifruit. 

It will remove computer processing bottlenecks that limit the ability for data scientists to train AI models that learn from high volumes of complex and tightly coupled data. It will also dramatically reduce the turnaround times for current AI research. 

NeSI has procured a first tranche of Nvidia A100 general purpose Graphics Processing Units (GPGPUs) and is working with early adopter communities, including PlantTech, to pilot these new technologies.  

“This is a special collaboration, enhancing the capabilities and support we offer to New Zealand’s agricultural research communities, particularly those working in emerging technologies, such as AI and deep learning,” says NeSI director Nick Jones. 

PlantTech chief executive Dr Mark Begbie says access to the high-performance GPU-based platform is critical for PlantTech’s market driven, horticulture focussed research, as well as for the wider primary sector. 

“Having access to the latest generation of systems brings capabilities that will enable new approaches to highly complex data challenges that will deliver step change benefits across productivity, profitability, sustainability, provenance, and biosecurity,” he says.  

“Achieving the transfer 80-100 times faster is hugely beneficial – a day-and-a-half becomes an hour. But for large data packages, transfer is simply not practically achievable over the internet.”  

“In 2021, this is more important than ever, particularly as the Government focuses on New Zealand’s economic recovery post-COVID-19 and executes the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) to build stronger and more productive horticulture and agriculture sectors.” 

In its first year, the research institute has trialled innovative solutions for the kiwifruit industry, including crop estimation and fruit maturity testing. 

Dr Georgina Rae, NeSI’s science engagement manager, expects the new platform will act as a catalyst for boundary breaking science in New Zealand. 

“Other countries have been exploring these capabilities for years, but having an indigenous, accessible platform in New Zealand will support the momentum we’re seeing build around technology and solutions that support data driven decision making on orchards and farms.”  

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