From mussel buoys to rubbish bins – Spark’s ambitions for its IoT network

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Peter Griffin

Spark's new innovation studio serves as a showcase of technology harnessing IoT and mobile networks to collect data in real-time to inform better decision making.

Of all the delicious kaimoana harvested in New Zealand waters, it’s hard to go past green shell mussels when it comes to bang for buck.

A 700-gram tub of fresh mussels will set you back around $7 bought from a supermarket and deliver more nutritious protein than higher-priced scallops and oysters. The Government in 2019 announced a plan to grow mussel industry sales by five times within 15 years – from $600 million to $3 billion.

It’s an ambitious target that will rely on selling more mussels both locally and in overseas markets. But it will also require the country’s mussel farmers to work smarter as they increasingly farm in cooler, deeper waters further away from the shore and seek to reduce their impact on the marine environment.

Part of the solution is to add intelligence to the floats and buoys that make up mussel farms, so that the hundreds of farms around the country can be monitored remotely and in real-time.

“We are definitely seeing the highest demand around water monitoring,” says Ulrich Frerk, the founder of Adroit, a start-up he created in 2014 to focus on the emerging uses of Internet of Things (IoT) sensor networks.

Adroit’s Ulrich Frerk. with the smart water sensor.

Murray the smart buoy

Adroit last week showcased its smart mussel buoy, nicknamed Murray, as part of Spark’s newly launched innovation studio, which has been established to showcase technologies operating over Spark’s nationwide Cat-M1 IoT network as well as its mobile networks.

Frerk showed Umbrellar Connect a water sensor that’s similar to one sitting on a buoy at the Westpac mussel farm in the Firth of Thames.

“Laboratory-based testing can now be performed by IoT devices in the field, which is a game-changer,” says Frerk.

He took a solution of salty water and added it to a tank the sensor was sitting in. Three minutes later, a digital dashboard monitoring the sensor showed an uptick in salinity, one of the key indicators mussel farmers monitor along with water temperature.

Sensors like the one on Murray can help the mussel industry avoid costly pauses in harvesting, says Frerk.

Mussel farms are required by the Ministry for Primary Industries to shut down harvesting activity in periods of heavy rainfall. Run-off from the land carries animal faeces and microbes that can affect the health of the mussels and pose a risk to humans consuming them.

“The [mussel farms] might have a low salinity level which will close the farm for up to five days,” he explains.

“This is based on a rain model where the device might be 70 kilometres away. We are able to close for maybe three days because we have real-time data right from the farm itself in the middle of the ocean.”

Using Spark’s IoT network, Adroit is able to feed data to its platform which is hosted in the AWS Cloud, giving much more accurate information on which to make mussel farm management decisions. A dashboard feeds key metrics to farm operators, while artificial intelligence applications can use the data to produce insights to inform long-term management.

Another Adroit client, a garden landscaper, is using IoT sensors to better manage large garden irrigation systems.

“The data we received from the sensors has enabled one of our clients to reduce the water consumption by 30%,” says Frerk.

“The issues surrounding water management are complex and serious,” he says.

“It’s our responsibility. We all need to take ownership and start acting now.”

Sustainability is a major theme of Spark’s innovation studio.

Changing the way we work

Climate change can often be positioned as a sacrifice or cost,” Spark Chief Executive Officer Jolie Hodson said at the studio’s opening.

“One of the opportunities for us to think about, as a business, as a country, is how we use technology to help create new revenue opportunities to help reduce the costs of delivering on lower emissions,” she said.

The Climate Commission, Hodson pointed out, had created “new bold targets” for emissions reductions that meant that “every business and every New Zealander is going to have to change the way that they work”.

Businesses would face greater compliance requirements and would need to look for operational efficiencies in the push towards a zero-carbon future.

In another part of the Innovation Studio, a project involving Spark, its data analytics group Qrious and Auckland Transport, showcases how councils can more efficiently manage municipal services with the use of sensor networks.

A dashboard shows AT the status of rubbish bins and smart street lights.

The Wynyard Quarter on Auckland’s waterfront previously played host to Spark’s 5G network, which included an autonomous shuttle running over 5G. Now it has wired up rubbish bins, street lights and even park benches with sensors as part of a smart city proof of concept.

“If you go down to Wynyard Quarter you can look around the bins and you will see these devices,” says Qrious Chief Technology Officer, Stephen Ponsford. With smart street lights, Auckland Transport could more efficiently manage lighting in the Wynyard Quarter, while smart bins took the guesswork out of council rubbish collection.

“Rubbish bins are a fundamental aspect of controlling our human impact on environments,” says Ponsford.

Most rubbish trucks around the country operate on prescribed routes checking each bin and emptying it if required.

“If you take these rubbish bins, and you multiply them on an Auckland or New Zealand scale, you have thousands and thousands of hours of trucks driving around emptying bins, that in many cases are completely empty.”

Augmenting fieldwork

The sensors in the Wynyard quarter tell AT the status of each individual bin, so routes can be created to service only the bins that need emptying.

“These heat maps tell us what bins are used more frequently. We can start to not only collect them more frequently, so they don’t overflow. But we can also start asking questions like should we be putting in more bins,” says Ponsford.

The partnership also created an application for Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality device that a field worker could wear to get a visual overlay of information related to each IoT-enabled piece of infrastructure.

“If we then take things like [traffic] congestion data, weather data and other environmental factors, we can continue to enhance these solutions,” says Ponsford.

Qrious is working on a number of applications that combine Spark’s IoT network and mobile connectivity with cloud-scale data processing and artificial intelligence.

For Adroit’s Ulrich Frerk, the real promise of the technology lies in analysing data fed from sensors to yield business insights.

“If we think about these solutions, IoT is the enabler. But data is the key.”

Companies and technologies showcased in Spark’s innovation studio:

Smart environments

Spark’s IoT Visualisation layer works with IoT networked sensors to provide easy, accurate monitoring of air quality, temperature, humidity, soil moisture, noise and light from an easy-to-use dashboard on a computer or mobile phone.

Qrious offers data platforms, solutions, models, and dashboards to combine data from a range of IoT sensors into one place to provide a complete picture of an environment to support operational and strategic decisions.

Adroit’s latest monitoring technology provides wireless real-time monitoring and control solutions for water, air, soil and weather quality to ensure regulatory compliance, operational efficiency and maintenance of health and safety on site.

Parkable’s Smart Parking technology uses advanced ground-mounted sensors connected via the Spark network to provide real-time visualisation of parking availability so staff, tenants and visitors can plan their commutes for effortless parking.

NB Smart Cities’ remotely operated IoT-connected Smart Lights can be dimmed and brightened as conditions and demands dictate, as well as monitor pedestrian and cycle traffic and provide CCTV to keep people moving swiftly and safely.

Smart Sense’s Smart Waste IoT connected sensors detect when rubbish bins require collection, so rubbish trucks are only on the road when needed to prevent unhygienic and unsightly overflow.

Asset management

Spark’s asset and fleet tracking solution which utilises Digital Matter devices and the Blackhawk dashboard provides visibility of high-value assets and vehicles. This data could help improve asset utilisation, promote staff safety, reduce costs, and save time.

Zebra’s latest technology provides real-time tracking and positioning of indoor assets to allow for automation, analysis and streamlining of operations to boost efficiency and workforce productivity.


Intellihub’s smart meters help enable innovative Energy solutions. Their meters transmit timely and informative data, which can be used by customers to manage their energy usage plus energy retailers and distribution companies to improve the services delivered, which includes creative customer offers and managing energy generation more effectively to reflect increased usage of electric vehicle charging and solar panels in homes around New Zealand.

Emerging technology

Novii have helped create innovative and intelligent lighting that will sense and monitor the natural light levels outside the building and replicate it inside. The smart lighting senses when people move around the studio enabling energy-saving efficiencies by only lighting areas when needed.

Toyota New Zealand has harnessed 5G and Edge Computing to create an immersive experience for their buying journey. With so many Toyota models, variants and colours, they can now demonstrate a full range when a specific demonstrator vehicle is not available at a customer’s local Toyota Store.

Ericsson showcases the potential of Industry 4.0 – a vision for how businesses could benefit from the convergence of augmented reality, IoT and 5G. The augmented reality demonstration shows how blending technologies – using real-time data from IoT devices and connectivity to mobile networks embedded in key business assets – can make autonomous business operations possible, from a drone managed flower farm to an autonomous factory.

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Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin has been a journalist for over 20 years, covering the latest trends in technology and science for leading NZ media. He has also founded Science Media Centre and established Australasia's largest science blogging platform,

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Microsoft is a technology company whose mission is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. We strive to create local opportunity, growth, and impact in every country around the world.

The definition of the Internet of things has evolved due to the convergence of multiple technologies, real-time analytics, machine learning, commodity sensors, and embedded systems. Traditional fields of embedded systems, wireless sensor networks, control systems, automation (including home and building automation), and others all contribute to enabling the Internet of things. In the consumer market, IoT technology is most synonymous with products pertaining to the concept of the "smart home", covering devices and appliances (such as lighting fixtures, thermostats, home security systems and cameras, and other home appliances) that support one or more common ecosystems, and can be controlled via devices associated with that ecosystem, such as smartphones and smart speakers.

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From mussel buoys to rubbish bins - Spark’s ambitions for its IoT network

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