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Massey PhD student Chris Muller with his award winning Drone Ranger project.

Drone Ranger for monitoring yellow-eyed penguin nests wins Innovate 2018

28 January 2019

Massey PhD student Chris Muller has won the Innovate 2018 competition for drone-based technology that has the potential to revolutionise the monitoring of animals.  The win is further validation for Drone Ranger, a Massey ecentre incubator company.

Monitoring the population of yellowed-eyed penguins, or hoiho, on the subantartic Auckland Islands, 465 kilometres south of New Zealand, is a task that can now takes minutes rather than hours thanks to Massey University PhD student Chris Muller’s clever drone-based technology.

Previously the subantarctic census of the bird, unique to New Zealand and one of the world’s rarest penguin species, would require researchers to crawl around thick bush in the difficult isolated terrain for hours searching for nests.  Muller thought there was a better way and embarked on his award winning idea to use drone technology for monitoring wildlife. 


Muller won the Innovate 2018 business competition where entrepreneurs have the chance to pitch to potential investors to create a viable business for his Drone Ranger project.

(Above) Massey University PhD student Chris Muller takes out the grand prize at innovate 2018 ahead of 90 other entries from around the Manawatū region.

(Above) Massey University PhD student Chris Muller takes out the grand prize at innovate 2018 ahead of 90 other entries from around the Manawatū region.

While his academic supervisors - Professor Louise Chilvers and Associate Professor Phil Battley, have provided huge support to Mr Muller for his academic study, he has also received business development support from ecentre, the business incubator hosted at Massey University.

The Innovate 2018 contest has given Mr Muller access to business mentors. Jemma Brackebush of the Central Economic Development Agency and Stephen Parsons of House of Travel are mentoring Chris, alongside the Dave Craig and Nick Gain at the Factory. 

“The prizes and winning the competition are great, but that all comes second to the business advice and mentoring I’ve been getting via Massey ecentre and through the Innovate 2018 programme. It’s been really eye-opening and extremely valuable. As a researcher that’s not really your forte, so having someone to guide you on that path is amazing,” says Muller.

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Muhammad Rehan

Muhammad Rehan, an electronic engineer and roboticist, is studying towards a PhD degree in Mechatronics Engineering at Massey University. Rehan started his PhD in November 2018, intending to develop a tool for sampling gut microorganisms. These microorganisms can tell us a lot about nutrition and health and can even assist in the early diagnosis of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Now in August 2022, Rehan has submitted his PhD thesis and is starting on an entrepreneurial journey with his pill-sized robot that has the potential to change the traditional methods of gut sampling by offering a better diagnosis.

This technology has transformed current passive capsule endoscope technology into smart robotic capsules capable of collecting gut samples to provide accurate biomarkers for the early diagnosis of diseases. Commercial development of this world-leading capsule technology by an NZ-based team will yield significant economic and health benefits. The robotic capsule, developed at Microrobotics Lab (Massey University), has the potential to become a vital apparatus for clinicians to sample human and animal guts in the future.

Muhammad is a finalist in the Momentum Student Entrepreneur category that recognises a highly motivated New Zealand tertiary student who has made significant progress developing an idea that can change the world.

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