Tech in the Tron
Chris Yu

Behind the scenes with Torutek’s CEO Chris Yu

Named on Deloitte’s 2023 Fast 50 index, Chris’s Hamilton-based tech company is making waves working on a range of major innovative projects that make a real difference to people’s lives. Here's what he has to say about doing it all from the Waikato.

Tell us about your company.

Torutek’s a one-stop shop software and hardware solutions company based out of Waikato Innovation Park, a business campus located 10 minutes from Hamilton’s central city. We’re mainly focussed on artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. 

Most of the products we create have some involvement with both hardware and software – that’s what makes us unique.  

The cool thing is that we’re building software and systems that tackle many challenges within our communities and actually make a positive difference to people’s lives.

What are some projects you’ve worked on?

We’ve recently finished a successful project for Auckland Transport called On-Bus Connectivity.  

The technology we developed for this does two things. First, it enables the ticketing system to update customer fares for HOP (bus) card users in near real time. Second, it enables voice and audio announcements on buses which helps visually impaired people who may not otherwise use public transport. 

The technology went live in July 2023 and we now have 1500 buses using it. And the exciting thing is it’s scalable.

Chris Yu at work with hardware

We’ve also partnered with Panasonic New Zealand and SolarZero to bring more solar systems to homes around the country.

Torutek provides the ‘smarts’ for making a battery solar system intelligent, which for an individual homeowner means clean, reliable energy and lower power bills. However, the real power of the technology is how it aggregates thousands of home batteries into a single ‘virtual power plant’ using low carbon energy to help stabilise the New Zealand grid as part of the national power demand response initiative and the instantaneous frequency reserves market. Traditionally, it can take hours for power generation and plants to come on stream, but with these batteries it’s only a matter of seconds. 

Over the last few years more than 12,000 houses have had the system installed, with another 100,000 planned within the next 8 to 10 years. 

This project, which included both our hardware and software, won the Innovation in Energy Award at the New Zealand Energy Excellence Awards 2023 for driving transformation in NZ’s energy sector with its innovative power system stability services from distributed batteries.

Chris Yu working from home

What advantages does Waikato offer the tech community?

There are so many.  

You’ll often hear about how balanced our economy is, providing stability across many industries. People are aware of Hamilton’s manufacturing, healthcare, education and logistics sectors, but our clients are always impressed when they find out how much tech and innovation happens here as well. 

Waikato Innovation Park has been the ideal place for us to establish and grow. Because it’s a hub for innovators that encourages collaboration, it was easy to get to know others in the industry, bounce ideas around and support each other. 

Everyone’s open, less guarded. I’ve never met anyone in Hamilton who hasn’t wanted to talk to me. We even have positive conversations with competitors.  I’ve found it’s easy to develop personal connections and I like the tight-knit community because it feels more inclusive.  

Being minutes away from the University of Waikato is certainly an advantage. We have a scholarship with them that helps us find talent and build up knowledge within the city. Their main campus is one block away from our offices so we can pop over, do a couple of hours of research, chat to people in-person and get things moving quickly.

Chris Yu working from home

How was your experience of moving to New Zealand?

When I first came to New Zealand from China after high school, English was so foreign to me that I could barely have a conversation. It took time to adjust, and I’ve had to work harder in some ways because of the language barrier, but I’ve found New Zealand to be quite an inclusive country.  

I’ve had many meetings with government agencies and companies including some of the biggest corporates in New Zealand, and I never felt uncomfortable. My experience is that people are always willing to give you their time to listen to what you say.  

In fact, in some cases I think you actually get more respect because you’re different, so people take the time to get to know you.

What kind of lifestyle can people expect living in the Waikato?

I live on a lifestyle block in Tamahere on the outskirts of Hamilton with my nearest neighbour being 200m away. So, it’s calm and quiet. I love the feeling of zen when I wake up and look out my window at the trees – it’s refreshing and an invigorating way to start the day.

The kids will sometimes bike to school, or we’ll bike as a family to our local cafe, Punnet, which is one of the best in Hamilton. There’s a swing bridge 500m from our house, so after dinner we might bike there together. The kids love the space they have to play, and that would be harder to get in some other places.

Chris Yu with family at the dinner table
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