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Google dream a reality for Victoria student

17 Nov 2014 - 13:02 in Achievement

Victoria University of Wellington student Valerie Chan will learn from the top tech minds this summer as she interns at Google's Sydney headquarters.

After a long and rigorous application process Valerie, who has just completed her first-year at Victoria studying computer science and mathematics, was selected for the Google STEP (Summer Trainee Engineering Programme) which runs from 24 November to 13 February.

Google encouranges those who are often underrepresented in in the technology industry to apply for STEP internships. This includes women, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities.

For Valerie, the opportunity to work for Google is not just a great way to spend her summer, it’s the reason she chose to study computer science. While still in secondary school, Valerie attended a talk at Victoria by Google representatives who mentioned the STEP internships.

“I had never written a line of code before and I’d been considering studying law but the chance to work for Google made my mind up.”

Valerie sent in her application for the paid internship months ago and later she completed technical interviews over the phone before her application went before the hiring committee.

“An engineer from Google called me and tested my coding skills. The first time I had no idea what to expect but the second interview went really smoothly.”

Valerie prepared for her interviews by seeking advice from her Engineering lecturers who helped her get a jump start on work she would be completing later in the semester.

The preparation, interviews and waiting paid off for Valerie who will fly to Sydney at the end of this week to begin work on one of Google’s products.

“I’ve heard the first few weeks are a bit of a blur with so much to learn. It’s a bit scary but mostly exciting.”

The intership is paid and all expenses covered. Valerie and her fellow interns will stay together in apartments near Google’s Sydney headquarters at Darling Harbour. Valerie hasn’t been there before but says was impressed when she looked it up on Google Maps.

She is looking forward to learning from the best and says even getting into the programme has changed how she sees her abilities.

“Just being accepted has already been a real confidence boost--sitting in my end of year exams, I felt like I knew what I was doing.”

Wellington institutions look to enhance the region’s digital economy

03 Nov 2014 - 17:01 in Administrative

Three Wellington tertiary providers are working with industry to develop a joint Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Graduate School that addresses the specific needs of the region.

Earlier this year the Government announced it was investing $28.6 million over four years in ICT graduate schools in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Victoria University of Wellington, WelTec and Whitireia have joined forces with a number of Wellington businesses to develop a bid to establish the school.

“This is an excellent opportunity for Wellington based tertiary institutions to establish a school that will maximise the economic opportunities for our city and New Zealand,” says Professor Mike Wilson, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Science, Architecture and Design and Engineering at Victoria University.

“The Wellington region has the highest concentration of web and digital-based companies per capita in New Zealand and we want to ensure there are enough graduates with the skills and research capacity to help those companies thrive. Collectively we see great value in being able to leverage our existing networks, resources and education capabilities in the region to develop a school that will lead to a larger pool of ICT talent and collaborative research partnerships.”

WelTec Chief Executive Linda Sissons says the three tertiary institutions already have extensive collaborative relationships with each other, and the businesses and stakeholders that are necessary to make the School a success.

“We have been talking to a number of companies who are partnering with us to get a clear view of what the School needs to offer. We will be focused not only on skill development and innovative research initiatives, but also on blurring the traditional teaching boundaries by offering more educational delivery in real settings. This is an exciting direction for all of us.”

Whitireia Chief Executive Don Campbell agreed, noting the exciting possibilities that working together on this graduate school would bring. “The strength created by combining the longstanding vocational and applied research focus of polytechnic ICT programmes, including at Master’s level, to the postgraduate and research strengths of Victoria provides a compelling story.”

The consortium submitted its expression of interest on developing the Wellington Region ICT Graduate School to the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) and Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) today.

Two senior appointments for Science and Engineering

31 Oct 2014 - 12:08 in Achievement

Two new senior appointments have been announced for the Faculties of Science and Engineering.

Professor Dave Harper will take the role as Dean of Science for the Faculty of Science, and Professor Mengjie Zhang is the new Associate Dean (Research and Innovation) for the Faculty of Engineering.

Professor Mike Wilson, Pro Vice-Chancellor for the Faculties of Science, Engineering, Architecture and Design, says that he looks forward to working with Professor Harper and Professor Zhang in their new roles.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have two individuals of such high calibre supporting me in my role,” he says.

Professor Harper has taught at Victoria University in the School of Psychology for nearly 21 years and although he calls the Easterfield building ‘home’, is looking forward to taking up a new leadership role.

“It’s a time of change and I’m really excited to be part of things moving forward, both as a University and a Faculty,” he says.

Professor Zhang, a Computer Science Professor, has been Deputy Head of School and Chair of the Research Committee for the School of Engineering and Computer Science for the past three years.

The genetic programming specialist says that there are real opportunities to make Engineering at Victoria thrive in New Zealand.

“I’m looking forward to working with others across the Faculty and University to make our Engineering research programs innovative and unique.”

Both roles take effect on Monday 3 November 2014.

Idiot-proof computer programming

24 Oct 2014 - 15:34 in Achievement

A computer scientist at Victoria University of Wellington is part of an international team that has designed a way to overcome problems that occur when using multiple programming languages to write webpages.

Dr Alex Potanin, a senior lecturer at Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, has helped design Wyvern, a piece of software that allows many different programming languages to be used at the same time.

Dr Potanin helped develop Wyvern while on sabbatical in 2013 at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

He and the rest of the research group set out to design a system which makes it possible to use a variety of targeted, domain-specific programming languages—such as HTML or SQL—within a single programme.

“When you programme for the web at the moment you use many different languages—it’s a bit of a mish-mash,” says Dr Potanin.

Wyvern can simplify the process by establishing which language is being used within the programme based on the type of data the programmer is using.

“Currently these different languages are designed without taking into account that the others exist, so you write a programme and you only find out there’s an error when you try to run it and it doesn’t work. We’re bridging this gap by combining this mish-mash into a single underlying language that is easy to use. Our design means on one hand you are writing in a language that is comfortable to you but underneath it translates to the core single language that is checked for errors.”

Dr Potanin says Wyvern also helps avoid major security threats that can arise when using a range of programming languages.

“A code injection is a common security bug which is caused by processing invalid data. In can be exploited by an attacker to inject code, with potentially disastrous results,” he says. “The only way you can avoid it is to manually inspect the code. But Wyvern will not allow you to mix the wrong things—it’s idiot proof.

“Also, because this is a language that’s designed from scratch, we can build security into it from a fundamental level. With other programming languages it’s usually an afterthought and designers try to fit security policies retrospectively.”

The team’s work was recognised at an international conference recently – the research team won a distinguished paper award at the European Conference on Object-Oriented Programming in Sweden for their article ‘Safely Composable Type-Specific Languages’.

CMU is the top-ranked university in the United States for Computer Science, which Dr Potanin says makes for exciting collaboration prospects for Victoria students.

“We’re looking for students here to work on Wyvern—this is a great opportunity to join forces with such an internationally-renowned institution.”

To find out more about Wyvern, go to

Fighting cyber-crime one app at a time

21 Oct 2014 - 22:25 in Research

This summer Victoria University of Wellington will be home to four Singaporean students researching cyber threats.

The students have been working with Dr Ian Welch, a lecturer in Victoria’s school of Engineering and Computer Science, as part of a partnership between Victoria and Singapore Polytechnic.

In their final year of the diploma in information security, the students have been working in groups to develop software to protect online programmes from malicious software or malware such as viruses or spyware.

Singapore Polytechnic students show Open Bouncer to Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Open Bouncer is the students' Final Year Project that detects malware in Android applications. PHOTO: Mabel Yap (Credit: Home Team News Singapore)

One of the group projects is a malware detection site called Open Bouncer which is used to test Android apps to see if they are secure and reliable.

This open source platform offers two levels of information. The first shows clearly if the application is safe or not and for more tech savvy users there is the option to expand on the results to show more detail and even add to the software themselves.

Open Bouncer has gone further than the classroom, with the group receiving the opportunity to show off their website at a high profile event in Singapore called GovermentWare, where they explained the software to a government minister.

Dr Welch has been remotely mentoring the students over the past few months through weekly Skype calls. He says he is looking forward to finally meeting them in person.

“They have been working on practical software projects, and this visit will help them get research backing for the work they are doing.”

As well as providing advice, Dr Welch helped the students to test their programmes to see if they would stack up against real cyber threats. Dr Welch says when it came to testing how effective their software was at fighting cyber criminals they used similar methods to the ones police use to catch regular criminals.

“The police will set up a ‘honey pot’ where a car is left unlocked in a rough end of town waiting for thieves to steal it. We did something similar by leaving a piece of software unprotected and waited for the malware to attack. When it did the students were able to test their programmes against a real threat.”

The testing paid off and Open Bouncer will soon be available for public use. A video demostration of the Open Bouncer system is now available at:

For more information, contact Dr Ian Welch, phone 04 463 5664 or email

Music and the Machine

16 Oct 2014 - 10:30 in Event

Musical machines and robots will take over Victoria University of Wellington’s Hub this Friday.


Following the success of last year’s event, the Sonic Arts and Engineering Showcase brings together 20 collaborative installations designed by students from Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music (NZSM) Sonic Arts programme and Victoria’s Faculty of Engineering Electronics courses.

These projects include musical robots and machines which respond to changes in their environment, resulting in a range of mechanical and sonic responses.

Another project involves the use of ultrasonic sensors so that as observers move, the soundscape they experience changes dynamically.

A particular highlight of the showcase will be ‘Striker', a three-armed mechanical drum-playing instrument, that is able to predict where and how loud to play the drums in response to incoming musical events.

There has recently been an increasing overlap and growing potential for collaboration between NZSM and Electronics courses at Victoria, with a particular focus on interactivity and audience accessibility.

Check it out on Radio NZ:

Sonic Arts and Engineering Showcase 2014

When: Friday 17 October, 12–4.30pm

Where: Level 2, The Hub, Victoria University, Gate 3, Kelburn Parade, Kelburn, Wellington

New Zealand’s energy landscape in 2050

30 Sep 2014 - 10:33 in Research


A group of Victoria University of Wellington students will spend the summer developing an interactive website that will allow the public and government organisations to see how the energy choices we make today will impact New Zealand in 2050.

The venture is a partnership between Victoria and the National Energy Research Institute (NERI), with support from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, youth-led climate change organisation Generation Zero, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), the British High Commission, and the Department of Energy and Climate Change in the United Kingdom.

The project will see students adapt the United Kingdom’s 2050 Pathways Calculator website ( and user-friendly simulation tool (, to the New Zealand context, with advice from industry experts and policy makers.

The goal of the project is to identify a range of realistic energy futures for New Zealand and communicate them to the public in a way that encourages open and transparent debate on the topic.

Dr Rebecca Ford, from Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, says the result will be a powerful tool anyone can access to explore the options we have for energy supply and demand, and the implications of the choices we might make.

“We’re so excited about this project, as it provides a real chance to engage New Zealanders, from school children right through to policy makers, in thinking and talking about our energy future,” she says.

Paul Atkins, Chief Executive of NERI, adds that the tool that will empower people to contribute to an informed dialogue about New Zealand's energy choices. “Taking the pop-up shop concept and forming what may be New Zealand's first pop-up lab at Victoria for a three-month period over the summer, we are providing opportunity through the process of building the model, as well as through the end product itself,” he says.

“Our lives and our economy revolve around energy,” says Paul Young, from Generation Zero. “With climate change and other challenges to our current energy systems, New Zealand has some important choices to make.”

There are 10 summer scholarships available for students interested in working on the project between November 2014 and February 2015. For more information visit and search ‘2050 ecs scholarship’. Applications close on 1 October 2014.

For more information contact Dr Rebecca Ford on 04-463 5233 extn 7288 or email

New Zealanders warming to solar power

29 Sep 2014 - 14:21 in Research


A report released this week shows more and more New Zealanders, unhappy with their power providers, are turning to solar energy.

Dr Rebecca Ford, a lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, is the lead researcher on the report which looks into the uptake of Photovoltaic (PV) to generate electricity in New Zealand.

Dr Ford says the report showed that of the participants surveyed only 30 percent were happy with getting electricity from their power company, and almost 60 percent would like to generate some or all of their own electricity and be willing to purchase PV in the future.

It also identifies that greater numbers of Kiwi’s are already putting their money where their mouth is and investing in PV, with the number of grid-connected small-scale systems having grown by 330 percent in the last two years.

Dr Ford says while the numbers are still relatively low compared to other countries, the growth trend has potential to have a substantial impact in the future.

The report is part of the GREEN Grid project, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment which Dr Ford is working on along with researchers from Otago, Canterbury and Auckland universities.

The project is a wide-ranging investigation into how New Zealanders use power, how the demand can best be met using renewable sources, and how the national grid can be made smarter and more efficient.

The report also investigates what is stopping more New Zealanders getting on board with solar power in their homes and businesses.

“The biggest barrier for people,” Dr Ford says, “seems to be the upfront cost. While there are substantial benefits to installing a Photovoltaic system in your home it’s the high start-up costs and the lack of current financial incentives that put people off.”

Currently there is no support from the Government to encourage a greater uptake but, the report says, there are new types of business models being trialled by companies such as Vector.

Vector’s model allows customers to lease a PV system, making it possible for people to choose solar energy generation even if they don’t have the money to invest in a system or do not own their own home.

“It’s early days,” says Dr Ford, “but the results of our surveys were very promising. It showed us that New Zealanders do want to take personal responsibility for producing clean energy—we just need to find achievable ways to help make that happen.”

The report is available online at

For further information, contact Dr Rebecca Ford on 04-463 5233 extn 7288 or

Victoria students help public keep an eye on our water

25 Sep 2014 - 09:49 in Research

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Engineering students Jarrod Bakker and Cristina Vina – both working on the quadcopter side of the project

Victoria University of Wellington’s engineering students are continuing to push the frontiers of pollution monitoring in New Zealand’s waterways through an innovative collaboration known as RiverWatch.

The next phase of the RiverWatch venture, which involves Victoria University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science and the Water Action Initiative New Zealand (WaiNZ), will be launched next week.

It challenges third-year engineering students at Victoria to develop an integrated data collection system made up of phone apps, water quality testing devices, unmanned aerial vehicles and a website for reporting.

The goal is to empower public to take direct action, using the phone apps, when they suspect pollution in their water.

This is the third year that Victoria students have worked on the RiverWatch project as part of their course work and Lawrence Collingbourne, a Teaching Fellow at Victoria and the business owner on behalf of the University, says this year, things are taking off.

“Each team of students that works on this project is pushing the frontiers even further,” Mr Collingbourne says, “This year we have teams developing water testing devices, using quadcopters to gather information in real time and launching apps to cover a wider range of smartphone platforms including Windows phones.”

The project enables information to be crowdsourced as people to use the app on their phone to photograph water pollution—the photo, and the GPS coordinates are then uploaded and once verified, will appear on the RiverWatch website. If the photo shows something of concern, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) may be sent out to the location to gather further evidence.

The introduction of quadcopters to work alongside the existing small aeroplanes means the footage can be seen and captured in real time while the introduction of a water quality testing device allows more conclusive evidence of pollution to be gathered.

Engineering students Daniel Yeoh and Hamish Colenso and their teams have been working on two different water testing prototypes that do not require any specialist knowledge or skills to operate.

Both devices measure the temperature and conductivity of the water—which increase when there is pollution—and have a bluetooth sensor to communicate directly with the RiverWatch app to report any issues that are identified.

Hamish’s prototype is built for durability and could be left in the water to monitor pollution levels over time or, with minor modifications, be taken out by a UAV and dunked in the water for an immediate test. Daniel’s prototype runs off AA batteries, rather than a lithium ion battery, making it an affordable option for the general public.

Hamish says creating the devices has been hard work and stressful at times but working with a real client has also been an excellent learning opportunity.

To date, over 70 photographs of water pollution have been published on the WaiNZ website and Mr Collingbourne hopes this number will continue to grow with the project.

“More than half of New Zealanders now have smartphones. By extending the platforms the app covers, we hope to empower more New Zealanders to participate and become kaitiaki for their local rivers and streams.”

The RiverWatch update event takes place on Monday 29 September, 4:30-7:00pm, room 103 Alan MacDiarmid Building, Kelburn Campus, Victoria University of Wellington.

Victoria team defend title

22 Sep 2014 - 11:33 in Achievement

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A team of Victoria University of Wellington students is heading to Sydney this week to defend the title won by the University in the 2013 at the Australasian National Instruments Autonomous Robotics Competition (NI ARC) in Melbourne.

A team from Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, led by Robby Lopez, beat 15 other teams from Australian and New Zealand universities to take top honours in the 2013 competition with its autonomous mining robot, Michelangelo.

This year they’re back with a few new team members and, says Robby, the group won’t be resting on its laurels.

“This year the challenge is quite different. With our entry Bolt!, we’re really going for top speed and have made major redesigns to the chassis. We’ve also changed our software.”

Robby and team members Michael Pearson, Alex Campbell, Mayur Panchal, Henry Williams, Ryan Wolstenholme been working on their robot for several months. They have had to achieve five milestones during the year, which tested different aspects of the robot’s capability.

Robby says while having the experience from last year has certainly helped, the team has had a couple of major challenges along the way.

“We wanted to have a really fast robot so we chose very high power motors but they proved to be more difficult to control electronically than we had anticipated. Solving the problems created by the more complex design was a nightmare but after seeing the test results we're happy that we went the extra mile.”

Their hard work has served them well—the team finished all major work on Bolt! with weeks to spare before the final, giving them time to fine tune.

“We're really happy about this as last year we were still working on the robot in the hotel room on the eve of the competition.”

Based on Bolt!’s performance and after checking out their competition on You Tube, the team is cautiously optimistic about its chances of bringing home the NI ARC title again this year.

“We feel like we're in a good position and it would be great to win a second time but from past years’ events it’s impossible to judge what will happen on the day.”

The theme for this year’s competition is agriculture with the robots competing in farming inspired challenges including collecting seeds and depositing them in the planting area and navigating through faming obstacles.

The competition final will be held on Thursday 25 September at Macquarie University.