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New partnership to develop powerful platform for New Zealand agritech AI research

A freshly inked scientific partnership is developing new AI computing power and technology to meet demand from Bay of Plenty-based scientists for faster processing of complex research data.

The initiative, a marriage between the needs of PlantTech Research Institute in Tauranga and the expertise of New Zealand eScience Infrastructure (NeSI), is accelerating innovative research, starting in the agritech sector.

It will remove computer processing bottlenecks that limit the ability for data scientists to train artificial intelligence (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.

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.

PlantTech and NeSI signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in November 2020. NeSI has procured a first tranche of Nvidia A100 general purpose Graphics Processing Units (GPGPUs) that are now being commissioned. NeSI is working with early adopter communities, including PlantTech, to pilot the use of these new technologies for the next few months, to tailor environments and workflows to meet their needs, and to assess public and private research sector demand to inform future investments.

PlantTech chief executive Mark Begbie says the MoU was the start of an exciting strategic partnership with NeSI to better understand and cater to the developing needs of New Zealand’s AI researchers.

“As NeSI continues to ensure New Zealand’s research community is well catered for in traditional supercomputing driven by Central Processing Units (CPUs), the field of AI research is driving demand for high performance computing based around GPUs. The strategic alliance and MoU will see PlantTech’s insights as a preeminent developer of AI solutions couple with NeSI’s solution expertise as a preeminent provider of computational capability to ensure New Zealand has the right AI research platforms to take it to the next level of international competitiveness, now and into the future.”

NeSI director Nick Jones says the partnership with PlantTech provides NeSI with an opportunity to extend its national platform to be fit-for-purpose for data-intensive agritech workloads.

“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.

“It also gives us the opportunity to extend our reach, beyond the public research sector, to positively impact research in the horticulture industry, which is discovering that its pressing challenges can be solved by more precise technologies. In doing so NeSI has leaned into its relationships and distributed teams to connect locally with PlantTech. Our national eResearch infrastructures are keen to support expertise on the ground - working with PlantTech we’re establishing an approach and opening a path to other possible partnerships in the Bay area and other regions.”

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