Hiwa Systems

Rethinking PPE and Technology


Zion-Elijah Davis

Zion-Elijah Davis


University of Otago

University of Otago


Joe Cooper

Joe Cooper

Global Goals

3. Good Health and Well-Being 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

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Hoani Matenga, Co-Founder and Director, was motivated by the oversight of health and safety concerns surrounding employee locations during the day and the financial impact of miscounted employee hours during the working week. Hiwa Systems’ focus is on integrating their GPS tracking hardware into PPE, specifically the earmuffs. The technology works by the employee physically wearing the technology-integrated PPE, and data is then sent through the internet (LTE) and tracked in an application while the employee is within the pre-determined geofence.


Sitemate, an Australian trade software and sister company to Hiwa Systems, previously used off-the-shelf hardware for employee tracking – however, the off-the-shelf hardware was not effective. The main error of the hardware was “inaccuracy, the battery life” and integration into PPE. The data was inaccurate because employees and supervisors often forgot to charge the hardware and since the hardware was removable from the PPE, employees would frequently put the hardware in their pocket and “they started to get like, just hammered in there with moisture, dust and then out of signal because they weren't in the proper range.”

Due to the inadequacies of the previous technology, Hiwa Systems sought to address these with their own technology – birthing the integration of tracking hardware within earmuff PPE. After months of research and development, capital acquisition and rounds of prototypes, Hiwa Systems developed an employee GPS tracking system that integrated into earmuffs, accurate to the meter with a battery that lasted three months. Hoani mentioned that seeing the first fully functioning prototype was the high point of the journey so far, because now Hiwa Systems can help save lives.

Workplace death is common in Aotearoa, New Zealand with more than two construction workers losing their lives every month and a similar statistic for forestry workers. In Aotearoa, it is a workplace requirement that all PPE must be worn to ensure safety for employees but sometimes the PPE can be the reason for death. Hoani spoke on this “When the employees [forestry workers] have their earmuffs on, they cannot hear the heavy machinery and it comes and causes fatalities.” The safety of the employee is the topmost reason why Hiwa Systems created its product.

Rethinking PPE and Technology


In 2015, Hoani owned a few companies but the one that stuck out was a recruitment agency. The recruitment agency was able to provide Hoani and his business partner insight into the oversight of health and safety within some industries and lifted the veil on what really goes on on these worksites. “My business partner was saying that there were so many health and safety sort of problems, you know, over the last 18 months, for example, there's 36 deaths and 547 injuries in construction. And also, there was a massive disparity between actual hours worked in manual timesheets.” “[I]f you tally up those hours of every worker in the whole industry works like 10s millions of dollars of taxpayers money,” money that Hoani says could be spent on hiring more employees, providing more opportunity to accelerate wealth generation and reduce inequalities.

Hiwa Systems is a 100% owned indigenous (Māori) business and centers its business around the Māori concept of manaakitanga. The shortest way to describe manaakitanga is the hospitality, of both people and the planet. Hoani believes that by operating under the Māori concept of manaakitanga, health and safety is an “ethical responsibility.” “And if there's technology out there, that can help mitigate that [hazards] then government, companies, corporations or whoever need to use it.” This quote best sums up Hoani’s passion for protecting people and inevitably, the planet.

Overall impact

Hiwa Systems' current product is not available to the market as of yet. They are still a young company as they were only established in 2020. There has only been prototype testing of their 5 operational devices between some of the major mining, forestry and construction companies in Aotearoa. However, Hoani talks about the future vision and aspirations of his Hiwa Systems, “with our data can sort of shape the future of construction and forestry and sort of prevent injuries before they happen. shape how projects are sort of managed and run. So we see that as a social benefit in the future for technology.” Trying to help these people work in harsh environments.” Innovating this technology has been beneficial to the business as it has seen partnerships with the likes of 3M to develop the technology on a larger scale and eventually bring it international.

In the short term, Hoani sees their technology saving lives in all dangerous industries. There was practice fire drilI in one scenario of prototype testing. The fire alarm was set off and when all employees had a rendezvous at the meeting point, the fire warden was able to instantly see all employees present and safe in the app. A headcount would have taken 30 or more seconds and in a dangerous situation, every second matters for split decision making. This is just one example of the technology being able to impact society at large.

At present, there are limitations to the effectiveness of the product as it is an LTE-enabled product and relies on internet service providers, like Aotearoa’s Spark and One NZ. Complementary services like One NZ’s mission to have 100% mobile coverage of Aotearoa is seen as a positive development for Hiwa Systems’ future coverage of all dangerous worksites - including those in remote locations.

Business benefit

Solution-based Focus:

Hiwa Systems is a prime example of a “fine, I’ll do it myself” business that has found success in doing so. From seeing the inadequacies of other products not protecting employees and employers correctly, Hiwa Systems provides the solution. HIWA Systems' journey exemplifies the power of identifying gaps in existing solutions and providing the remedy. By addressing the shortcomings of conventional employee tracking systems, HIWA Systems has positioned itself as a beacon of innovation and reliability. Their commitment to both safety and business success has attracted partnerships and recognition from industry leaders, demonstrating the business benefits of aligning innovation with social impact.

The Business Model:

Partnering with Sitemate and 3M has allowed Hiwa Systems the capital to fund the business venture and to innovate the employee tracking industry. By partnering with these companies, Hiwa Systems is able to offer a completely vertically integrated service that in the future will help offer health and safety solutions that go beyond the offerings of current competitors. As of today, Hiwa Systems leases its product and service to recruitment agencies to aid in developing competitive advantages for these recruitment companies - this works as an add-on business model. However, looking ahead, Hoani believes that technology solutions like theirs will become industry standard as policies in the “wild west of construction” become tighter to protect the employee and employer; Hiwa Systems will look to lease their system to larger companies that have a global presence.

Competitive Advantage:

“Technology and PPE is an emerging market,” though PPE has been around for decades, there has been little movement between the connection of PPE and technology. Seeing this as an opportunity for growth, Hiwa Systems is an early mover in the PPE/technology market. Hoani spoke on other early movers and their approach to the GPS tracking solution, “Other companies use mesh networks to monitor employee location, but you need sort of hundreds and thousands of workers, it kind of only works in Dubai, because they have literally thousands of workers on a construction site at any given time.” What separates Hiwa Systems’ solution from the competition is its ability for accuracy in remote locations where most workplace deaths occur.

Social and environmental benefit

HIWA Systems' innovation has far-reaching social implications, potentially revolutionizing workplace safety across industries. By enabling real-time tracking, the technology has the potential to prevent accidents and save lives. Furthermore, HIWA Systems' approach aligns with Māori concepts of hospitality and ethical responsibility, emphasizing both the well-being of individuals and the planet.

Enhancing Workplace Safety:

HIWA Systems' innovation directly impacts the safety and well-being of employees working in hazardous environments. Industries such as construction, forestry, and mining often bear the brunt of workplace accidents and fatalities. The integration of accurate GPS tracking within earmuffs empowers employers to ensure that their workforce is accounted for and safe in real-time. For instance, in emergencies such as a fire drill, the ability to instantly track employee locations and headcounts enhances decision-making and facilitates swift evacuation procedures. This not only reduces the risk of injuries and fatalities but also instills a sense of security and trust among employees, fostering a safer work environment.

Preventing Accidents and Saving Lives:

In high-risk sectors, even minor lapses in communication and tracking can have dire consequences. HIWA Systems' technology eliminates the potential for miscounted hours, ensuring that employees' presence is accurately recorded. In scenarios where heavy machinery poses a risk to workers wearing earmuffs, this innovation becomes a literal lifesaver. By addressing challenges such as communication barriers caused by protective gear, HIWA Systems contributes to preventing accidents that could otherwise be catastrophic. This technology aligns with the overarching goal of reducing workplace fatalities and injuries, a pressing issue that weighs heavily on industries and communities. To better their product, Hiwa Systems will have noise alerts within each device that will be able to detect and communicate with other devices in their version 2 model. This development will aid in further preventing workplace accidents and death.

Empowering Remote and Vulnerable Workers:

Industries such as forestry often involve remote work in challenging terrains where traditional communication and tracking methods may fail. HIWA Systems' technology has the potential to extend its impact to these remote locations, ensuring that workers in isolated areas are accounted for and safe. This has the dual benefit of improving workplace safety for vulnerable workers while minimizing the environmental impact of accidents that might otherwise occur in difficult-to-reach locations. Hoani speaks on potentially moving into the Taiwanese market where "there were more than 8,500 deaths in the first half of 2022 in Greater China and Taiwan in construction. We could potentially help mitigate that." Providing a service that protects those vulnerable workers is the ethical crux that Hiwa Systems is trying to solve.

Environmental Stewardship:

HIWA Systems' commitment to societal well-being extends to the planet itself. By creating a solution that integrates seamlessly into earmuffs, the company minimizes waste and resource consumption that would otherwise be associated with standalone tracking devices. This eco-conscious approach reflects a responsible attitude toward environmental stewardship, aligning with the Māori concept of "manaakitanga," which emphasizes the importance of hospitality to both people and the planet. By reducing the environmental footprint of their innovation, HIWA Systems showcases the potential that technology can contribute positively to both human society and the natural world.


Hoani Matenga, Co-Founder and Director

Photo of interviewee

Business information

Hiwa Systems

Hiwa Systems

Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, Worldwide
Business Website: https://www.hiwasystems.com/
Year Founded: 2020
Number of Employees: 11 to 50

HIWA Systems specializes in the designing and production of LTE-M1 and NB-IoT GPS trackers. Their cutting-edge GPS technology in personal protective equipment (PPE) seeks to bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds. This is aimed at addressing the concerns of the health and safety of employees, and productivity within challenging work environments. The company began in Christchurch, New Zealand but has since moved to the North Island to have better access to resources. The company has quickly grown in its 2 years of operation, employing 14 full-time employees with varying backgrounds that all contribute to the success of Hiwa Systems.