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The countdown is on! The clock is ticking to get your project entered into the ASB Bright Sparks Competition for 2017. Entries close on Monday 2 October! If you haven’t already, get your online entry pack now — right here. Or if you would rather a physical copy, request one by email at brightsparks@skills.org.nz


The Pi’s (not) the limit for Zara and Josh Furry cats may not immediately come to mind when one begins a complex tech project. For Hillcrest High School duo Zara Olifent and Josh Wright, however, this unique combination earned them a finalist place in the 2013 ASB Bright Sparks competition. Both Zara and Josh own cats, and wanted a device that could feed them when no one was around. Their invention, PiFeed, stands out from other automated pet feeders as it can be customised and manually controlled through a mobile app. The project introduced the pair to Raspberry Pi, a small computer that fits in your palm and lets you programme your own inventions. Given its key role in their project, Josh says he still uses Raspberry Pi at home “for various small tasks”. It was the wider experiences and lessons gained from ASB Bright Sparks, though, that Zara and Josh value the most. “ASB Bright Sparks gave us a lot of encouragement to take an idea and go through with it. Neither of us had entered competitions before, and it certainly gave us a lot of confidence,” Zara recalls. Josh agrees, saying that the competition “encouraged [him] to pursue technology as a career choice”. The opportunity to mingle with and get inspired by fellow Bright Sparks is what particularly appealed to them. “It was amazing just being around so many

different people and ideas. A lot of people were interested in us and our project, and it was truly inspiring to see other inventors like us,” says Zara. “My favourite part of ASB Bright Sparks was seeing all the other exciting projects and getting to meet the others involved with the programme,” Josh adds. “The ASB Bright Sparks experience was a lot of fun, especially when you combine the project with an entry into a regional science fair, as we did. It’s great that you can repurpose the same project for two separate competitions.” So what next for this talented duo? Both are currently in their last year of high school and plan to go to university in Wellington. Zara hopes to study Economics, while Josh will begin a Commerce degree. Both have big dreams of taking on the world. Zara is determined to use her knowledge in economics and human behaviour to “make a mark on the world” and tackle issues such as environmental sustainability. Similarly, Josh has earmarked some time to travel after completing his studies in pursuit of a career that combines business and IT. Grand aspirations indeed, and a great example of how ASB Bright Sparks broadens the horizons of New Zealand’s youth. Zara Olifent and Josh Wright


Project Whale Lifter Developing Assistance for Stranded Whales A-Ward’s bulk handling capability has also extended to a three year project of passion to create a device designed to lift and move stranded whales safely back to the water. Deborah Ward, remembers the countless whale stranding’s that occurred in Farewell Spit. Deborah grew up in Nelson with her Father based in Collingwood, a few Kilometres from one of New Zealand’s most renowned and notorious whale stranding locations. With often futile whale rescue marathons occurring far too regularly; hence ‘project whale lifter’ was born. Simon and Deborah Ward own a global company, A-Ward, which specialises in custom designed loading equipment to lift massive amounts of weight such as loaded containers. With A-Ward’s mantra of ‘every problem has a solution’, Simon and Deborah worked closely with DOC Takaka and Project Jonah to embark on a challenging self-funded community project to come up with an inventive device that could eventually move stranded whales back into the water. Along with their children, Tex, Rosabelle and Verity, the family undertook extensive research around different whale species, habitats, how to handle them correctly and most common stranding locations, with the intention to see stranded whales harnessed and safely lifted back into the ocean with the least possible stress. Early February saw Farewell Spit make headlines once again with a stranding that was heart-breaking and unprecedented in its scale as over 400 whales beached overnight. Simon and Deborah were contacted by DOC in Takaka as the whales began to strand. Their lifting device had been transported to the region prior to Christmas in anticipation of stranding’s that usually occur between October and February.

Until this moment, the ‘whale lifter’ had only ever been tested on large drums of water, so this was the first opportunity to truly gauge its effectiveness. A-Wards whale lifter successfully lifted its first whale, however, due to the enormity of the stranding, it became apparent that they would probably only be lifting dead whales. Simon and Deborah came to recognise that the current model would have had a better application on a smaller stranding. Deborah cites that ‘one of the main factors to take into account is that pilot whales are extremely social and become stressed if members of the pod are moved, creating logistical difficulties for those trying to help them.’ She said that the device would be of particular benefit to move a whale that may have been stranded further down the beach, back closer to the pod. From this active research, Simon worked on making further improved modifications. The lifter now has a new winch system to make it as quiet as possible. One of the main objectives is to eliminate any stress at all on the whale while it transitions back to the pod. The mat shape has also been tweaked to better accommodate the fins and the A-Ward team are keen to eventually establish a trained group to operate the machine. This will help with future logistical challenges in efficiently moving such large marine mammals. Stressed whales weighing up to five tones can present a real danger when they thrash around with huge force, so it is important to Deborah and Simon that safety is paramount for any volunteers.


Shift is a technology consultancy, and their specialty is electronic learning (e-learning) programmes. The tech gurus that work at Shift connect with the learning professionals at Skills to create innovative smart technology solutions. These range from online platforms to teach government officials, to mobile apps to train financial advisors. The solutions they create get people thinking about how their training applies in the real world, and they are easy to use and track progress through.

it’s being made for. Shift consults, and then makes focused recommendations to get results. Online systems – online Learning Management Systems (LMS) are becoming more and more popular. Learners log on to an online platform to complete a course, and Shift can design and create these systems to suit the organisation. All of the above – Shift will work with organisations to understand their business environment and create the best solution to suit them.

programmes they develop capture people’s attention, and help them to learn what they need to know in the best possible environment. Shift is also looking into innovative new ways to use technology, and stay on top of future trends. This includes looking into micro-learning strategies, because 67% of us now use mobile devices to access learning. It also means incorporating techniques from games into learning landscapes, and keeping an eye on developments in artificial intelligence and 3D holograms.

The ways that Shift create these high-tech learning solutions: Apps – sometimes a learning programme will need a mobile app created specifically to suit it. This requires creative thinking to understand the people that will use it, and then design something that matches this. Consulting – part of the process of making smart technology solutions is understanding the organisation

Sometimes this will involve a mixture of lots of elements, including solutions which aren’t based online. Whatever the requirement, Shift has the experts to find the answers. Over 40% of the world’s top 500 companies are using electronic learning, yet the average employee has only 1% of their working week to dedicate to learning. Shift is working hard to ensure the technology-based

Below is a short video to show you how e-learning has progressed in recent years. It shows the Royal London Hospital using Virtual Reality (VR) technology to show a live stream of an operation. This technology is not just being used in the UK, but throughout the world. It’s safe, efficient, and can reach people who may not have been able to access this information before.

Kelly, S. (2016, April 14). Cancer surgery broadcast live in virtual reality [Video file]. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/av/technology-36046948/cancer-surgery-broadcast-live-in-virtual-reality


ASB Bright Sparks Judges for 2017 Ross Petersen is the proud founder of ASB Bright Sparks and started the competition in 2000. His hard work and tireless commitment have grown the competition from humble beginnings into the national programme it is today.

Garry is the ASB Bright Sparks chief judge and has been involved with the competition since it first started. He is also the founder and managing director of The Resources Guys, which provides strategic development, mentoring, governance, and advisory services for tech companies.

Garry Reynolds The Resource Guys

Garry’s list of career achievements includes leading a Deloitte Fast 50 tech company that trebled growth in recent years, being the CEO of a technology exporter whose revenues grew from $1.5mil to $18mil in 18 months, and numerous other leadership roles at tech firms around the world.

Originally an industry researcher, then an electronics teacher, Ross came to work for The Skills Organisation full-time to run the programme and to work with schools.

Ross Petersen Skills

With vast experience in innovation, research, and development, Garry is widely respected in the New Zealand and global tech industry and is the perfect person to lead the ASB Bright Sparks judging panel.

Mira is an experienced app developer on both iOS and Android platforms. She has a diverse set of skills from embedded systems to web development, and currently works as a Software Specialist at ASB.

Nicole is a Bachelor of Science (Computer Science) graduate currently in ASB’s Start Me Up programme, which has a focus on technology and innovation. Her work involves prototyping different technologies and experimenting with a wide range of gadgets. As part of her first rotation in the programme, she worked at ASB’s Innovation Lab, examining the design of architectural software.

Nicole Wilcox ASB

Nicole has previously worked at a big data start-up and a financial services company. Her goal over the next few years is to become a full stack web developer.

Although Ross retired in 2016, he is still very active in the ASB Bright Sparks community and now sits on the judging panel. His advice and wisdom are regularly called upon by those involved with the programme.

Mira Kim ASB

She is also an active member of a local makerspace and maintains a keen interest in electronics and robotics. Mira is passionate about making technology more accessible and promoting diversity in the tech industry. She regularly attends tech meet ups, as well as speaking at conferences.


ASB Bright Sparks Judges for 2017 Luke is an experienced Embedded System Engineer with a demonstrated history of working in the industrial automation industry.

Snjezana Soltic is a qualified electrical engineer with more than 20 years of tertiary teaching experience within the field. She obtained a Master degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Zagreb and a PhD in Computer Science at the Auckland University of Technology. Her main research interests are in the areas of evolutionary computation, applied optoelectronics, data mining, and biomedical modelling.

Currently a Project Management Engineer for Flexware, he has a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) degree, focused in Electronics and Computer Systems Engineering.

Luke Spencer Flexware

Luke is an expert in interfacing mobile and PC apps with real world embedded systems, as well as weigh scales and hydraulic controllers.

Snjezana Soltic MIT

Chris holds a bachelor of applied science (Environmental Science) from AUT. He is an experienced Environmental Scientist for New Zealand’s top environmental and engineering consultancy, Tonkin and Taylor. He specialises in Hydrogeology (groundwater science) and contaminated land and works on a range of projects across New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific. Most of Chris’s work stems from a need to determine the potential environmental effects from various activities and come up with practical ways to mitigate potential environmental effects, generally for large commercial clients and local government.

Chris Shanks Tonkin and Taylor

He is passionate about the environment, particularly groundwater and the issues associated with intensive land use, sea level rise and over abstraction. In his spare time, he spends as much time as possible exploring the outer Hauraki Gulf, scuba diving, free diving and saltwater fly-fishing.


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Thanks to our sponsors for the 2017 ASB Bright Sparks competition!

The Spark - Edition 5  
The Spark - Edition 5  
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