A triumvirate of medals for the Auckland Bioengineering Institute

The Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) has been recognised with three Vice-Chancellor Awards 2020; Distinguished Professor Peter Hunter (Director of the ABI) and Professor Thor Besier have been awarded two of the three Commercialisation Medals, and Associate Professor Suranga Nanayakkara was awarded one of three Research Excellence Medals for individual researchers.

Distinguished Professor Peter Hunter
Professor Peter Hunter, Director of the ABI: “The success of ABI has been built upon young researchers ... All the good ideas and energy come from them.”

The Vice-Chancellor’s Commercialisation Medals recognise the work of researchers who have made significant real-world impact, to the economy and society.

Under Professor Peter Hunter’s leadership, the ABI has developed an international reputation as a centre of research excellence, as well as one of Australasia’s best examples of an entrepreneurial and innovative centre within a university.

In the past five years alone, the ABI has produced companies with a market capitalisation of almost $200m, with more than 150 new high-tech jobs and, in the past 10 years has created 25 spinout companies including Soul Machines, the Insides Company, Formus, StretchSense and PowerOn.

More recently ABI has established Cloud 9 on the ninth floor of ABI House, an incubator space for early-stage companies to find real-world applications for their research, and where they are encouraged to develop a “how many jobs can I create” mind-set.

Combining pure science with clinical and real-world clinical applications has been the sustained philosophy underlying ABI, along with the creation of jobs.

“Cloud 9 was conceived, a place where we can encourage young researchers and graduate PhD students to develop independent companies, while maintaining links with core research and researchers at the ABI, to create jobs for themselves and in the wider and rapidly growing medical technology sector in New Zealand,” says Professor Hunter.

“The success of ABI has been built upon young researchers, so it’s crucial that we create an environment that enables them to do that. All the good ideas and energy come from them.”

Serial entrepreneur and academic, Professor Thor Besier.

The ABI’s Professor Thor Besier was also awarded a Commercialisation Medal. Professor Besier is a serial entrepreneur and academic who has turned his research to combining medical imaging with computational modelling to understand mechanisms of musculoskeletal injury and disease.

Professor Besier’s research has led to two successful companies that are transforming sports medicine: IMeasureU, a wearable sensing technology that precisely quantifies body movement and workload metrics, and Formus Limited, the world’s first AI-automated 3D planner for joint replacement surgeries which empowers surgeons with unprecedented insight into the pre-op planning process, which in turn radically reduces recovery time for patients.

Research Excellence Medal winner, Associate Professor Suranga Nanayakkara, leads the Assistive Augmentations research program at the ABI, which focuses on the developing human-computer interfaces as intuitive extensions of our body, mind and behaviour.

He and his team, which moved to the ABI from Singapore in 2018, have created a number of novel assistive human-computer interfaces to support everyday tasks, particularly for people with disabilities. That includes the FingerReader, which allows visually-impaired users to simply point at things and ‘read’ on the go, and MussBits, a smart-watch like device that allows hearing-impaired users to ‘listen’ to music.

“Working at the ABI allows us all to develop technologies that have social impact, and get the great satisfaction and rewards of people with disabilities telling us that our technologies have changed their lives for the better,” says Associate Professor Nanayakkara.

“It is an honour for Thor and Suranga and I to have received these awards,” says Professor Hunter. “I’m proud of them, and all students and staff at the ABI, who are all doing extraordinary work, collectively applying their knowledge in the real world, advancing our understanding of human biology and behaviour, and benefitting the New Zealand economy.”

Associate Professor Suranga Nanayakkara, leads the Assistive Augmentations research programme at the ABI, developing technologies as intuitive extensions of our body, mind and behaviour.

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