SPOTLIGHT: PROFESSOR JOHAN POTGIETER

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Professor Johan Potgieter is at the centre of almost everything in the Engineering Faculty at Massey University’s Albany Campus. Referring to it as more of a ‘hatchery’ than a faculty, Johan has created a hub for some of the most outstanding innovation, robotics, IOT (Internet of Things) and 3D printing in the Southern hemisphere. You can find him guiding and advising students, directing projects, and sharing his knowledge with the aspiring innovators of the future.

Aside from his teaching work, Johan is also involved with over 70 companies throughout New Zealand which he has built and developed alongside students, bringing their ideas and projects to life. He then helps students to commercialise their innovative products into viable and fully operational businesses, an invaluable real world experience seldom offered by tertiary institutions.

Some of New Zealand’s largest companies such as:

  • Fonterra
  • Transpower and
  • Auckland Transport are using the high tech robotics, IOT and 3D printing creations of Johan’s students, to further connect their communities and streamline tedious processes. Many of the inventions coming out of Massey under Johan’s guidance and direction are proving pivotal to the acceleration and effectiveness of key roles within various industries.

One of the projects that Johan and his students are working on is robotics in agriculture spaces.  Partnering with C-DAX, the team are building a robot that drives into paddocks to measure the length of grass with the ability to act as a farm hand.

IMG_4980Another key robotics project is a machine developed for Transpower, inspired by the Pike River disaster that sits inside power substations with the ability to detect faults and errors and fix various problems.

“At times there may be a fault at a substation, it might happen in the middle of the night and be located in a remote location which would take a human engineer hours to get to and fix.

This robot will be able to sit inside the substation permanently and not only detect, but resolve common issues so that are fixed more quickly than manual labour” says Johan.

Under Johan’s direction Massey has purchased the largest range 3D printers in the country and often run consulting and professional development training on how they work.

Creating everything from fabric materials to customised guitars and drum sets, Johan is excited about the future of 3D printing and how it will contribute to all industries. “One of the most exciting projects we are working, is building a machine that will be able to print a cornea which can then be transplanted on to a human eye. We do this by electrospinning collagen on a microscopic level,” says Johan.

Finding solutions to social issues are also being found in the engineering school and recently a psychologist approached Johan’s team to develop a product to prevent bullying. Hoping to create a more comfortable environment for bullying victims, Johan is working on a bracelet, pendant or watch that young people can push to alert a teacher who can then subtly extract them from the situation without making a scene.

Potgieter is tuned in to the fact that the tech industry is consistently changing and says he will learn from his students just as much as they can learn from him, “I can’t be doing what I do now the same way for 25 years”.

Recently inducted into the world robotics hall of fame, Johan is being sought out by large companies that are looking to implement technology into their processes and framework, and the exciting hub of innovation in Auckland North is becoming known for more than just the University Campus. See Johan’s profile on the Massey website here: http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/expertise/profile.cfm?stref=914630

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