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Taxpayers hit from NZTA partnership

Kiwi taxpayers have been stung by a partnership between the NZTA and US videogame maker Machine Zone. 
Posted on 13 August, 2019
Taxpayers hit from NZTA partnership

An NZTA partnership with US videogame maker Machine Zone has stung the New Zealand taxpayer, reports Radio New Zealand.

The data collected from Machine Zone's data-processing platform, Satori, was meant to make it easier to track devices all over New Zealand that would ultimately feed data about "every single bus, the health care system, power grid and so on".

Satori was even labelled a "revolution" by Simon Bridges, the transport minister at the time.

"New Zealand is one of the first countries in the world that is transforming into a smart country with Satori," a 2018 YouTube video about Satori said. "We're creating one data channel for the entire nation."

"We're not building bots to order pizzas, we're building bots to run countries," Machine Zone's founder Gabe Leydon said, describing how tracking devices all over New Zealand would ultimately feed data about every single bus, the health care system, power grid, the police and so on, into the Satori platform, which any developer, anywhere, could tap for free, to make apps.

According to Radio New Zealand, the agency said Satori was a "stateless computer" that didn't store data, so was super-fast.

However, the partnership faltered and failed after trials of just two transportation apps, Choice and RideMate, that were meant to make it easier to find buses, taxies and shuttles, says Radio New Zealand. 

A Queenstown user of Choice, who did not want to be named, told Radio New Zealand it clearly was not ready when it was launched in August 2017 so he gave up on it.

NZTA quietly dumps Satori

"All of the functionality of the Machine Zone platform - including the bot - was switched off at the conclusion of the trials in September 2018," the agency said in a statement to Radio New Zealand. The Queenstown app has been reported as costing $770,000.

The agency also told Radio New Zealand that the Satori concept was developed by Connected Journeys (CJS).

"The issues relating to the management, governance and activities of the CJS group have been clearly identified through the Deloitte review. The CJS Group has been dis-established and its functions are now being managed within the NZ Transport Agency's Operations Group, including work on the second stage of the Mobility Operating System (MobilityOS) programme," the NZTA said to Radio New Zealand in a statement. 

"You will be well aware that the agency's previous work in this area has been put under the microscope by the Deloitte review of CJS. That also means is that our plans for Stage 2 have been reviewed very thoroughly in light of the Deloitte review's recommendations.

"The current programme of work is being scrutinised very carefully, with strong oversight, strong management and strong governance.

"This will involve collecting data from a wide range of sources - including our network of CCTV cameras, sensors built into the roads (like those at traffic lights or in our Wellington Smart Motorway) and from commercial vehicle weigh stations, and we're also gathering trip data from passenger service providers like taxi companies and bus companies.

"This real-time data platform will be used to significantly improve the quality and the accuracy of the real-time travel-time information, which New Zealanders use every day.

"We're aiming to provide better, more accurate and more reliable travel information directly to the public through tools like our on-line journey planner, and also by making the information available to councils and to private companies to use in their own applications."

Click here to read Radio New Zealand's full article.