Novel Way to Protect Aotearoa NZ Borders from Biosecurity Threats

Computer Science and Software Engineering students Aaron Smith, Manoj Paladugu, Joel Ridden and Michael Shannon from the University of Canterbury worked on this B3 research project with AgResearch scientist Mark McNeill and Scion scientist Sam Davidson, to develop smart technology capable of rapidly detecting external contamination on shipping containers while not impacting on port operations. 

On average, 12,000 full and 7,500 empty sea containers arrive at the Port of Tauranga with 1% and 12%, respectively, inspected for contamination by MPI or designated quarantine operators. Best efforts are made to ensure biosecurity risks are mitigated offshore, however there is an ever-present risk that hitchhiker pests or soil that contains weed seeds and/or pathogens could be present on containers and undetected when they are processed through our seaports. 

Their final year project created a successful proof of concept using an AI Imaging System to show the feasibility of container scanning and identification of biological contaminants, as well as developing an efficient information system able to manage millions of container data entries. 

This project is part of a collaboration with Port of Tauranga (#28: Biosecurity excellence in port communities) to develop better targeting of pathway interventions, surveillance and eradication practices in and around port environments. The students’ project is hoped to be developed further beyond 2020, with a new initiative involving B3 scientists and University of Canterbury.