By Jill Arul
After polishing off a bag of chips, it’s not uncommon for well-intentioned Singaporeans to mistakenly toss the packaging into a blue recycling bin. After all, between egg cartons, plastic food packaging and glass bottles, it can be hard to tell which waste is appropriate for recycling and which is not. However, this seemingly minor inconvenience has far-reaching consequences: when non-recyclables like soiled food packages and tissue paper end up in our blue bins, they can contaminate the recyclables and disrupt the recycling process.
To address improper recycling and other community concerns like irresponsible cat feeding and noise at odd hours, while sparking an innovative spirit in Singapore’s youth at the same time, IMDA and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have come together to launch an artificial intelligence (AI) bootcamp.
Notably, this is the first of such programmes that target secondary school and junior college students. Committed to promoting digital literacy and sparking a passion for tech at an early age, the programme is supported by the National Digital for Life that was launched to encourage Singaporeans to adopt digital solutions and embrace going digital and enrich their lives with technology.
The first set of workshops introduced students to the concepts of data science through an autonomous race car that learns to drive itself around a racetrack. The students who showed talent and passion could further pursue knowledge and skills in AI and data science through a subsequent Accelerator programme, where they learned the basics of AI programming and worked in groups to develop AI-based solutions to address community concerns.
The Accelerator programme, a collaborative effort between IMDA, AWS and Tampines Town Council, also welcomed students who did not go through the AI bootcamp.
Find out more about how the accelerator programme empowered one group of four students, Project Requartech, to develop an app that does the trash sorting for you.
Stepping on the accelerator
Creative ideas don’t always come from top professional talent in large firms—often, the most innovative digital solutions can come from passionate and inspired individuals at any level. In line with the ‘tech for life’ philosophy of the Digital for Life movement, the programme proves that with the right training and encouragement, anyone with an interest in tech and a knack for problem-solving can be empowered to create quality digital solutions.
Keenly aware of the power of passion and the potential of the cloud computing industry, AWS teamed up with Tampines Town Council and IMDA to launch the AWS Accelerator programme and provide students with a glimpse into what goes on behind developing great tech.
“The abundance of cloud computing related jobs and the critical digital skills gap were the inspiration behind this project. Our aim is to provide early exposure, access to mentorship and hands-on training to young learners and builders who possess the potential and passion to become future cloud computing professionals, so that when they decide on their future careers, cloud computing related jobs are a part of their consideration.”
Mr Emmanuel Pillai
Head of training & certification, ASEAN
Students across Singapore’s secondary schools were invited to take part in AWS’ bootcamp where they learned the basics of coding and programming. Of the 240 students that signed up and participated in the bootcamp, just 40 passionate students were selected to join the Accelerator programme.
“A lot of what we learned at the initial boot camp, I had previously learned in school so the activities were fun and even kind of easy,” shared Ryan Lam, an AWS Accelerator Programme participant. “But when it came to the accelerator workshop, things got really complicated after the first three lessons.”
Similarly, the rest of the Project Requartech team agreed that the Accelerator workshops greatly challenged them and offered practical insight into neural networks, machine learning and data science.
“The programme went quite deep into machine learning so I managed to gain quite a bit of new information from the lessons—including things like supervised and unsupervised machine learning as well as the convoluted neural network. While my secondary school provided me with a foundational understanding of machine learning, the programme really helped me realise the complexities of this branch of AI.”
The road to recycling right
Faced with a choice between several municipal concerns, the team agreed that recycling-induced confusion was a challenge they had all faced and furthermore has far-reaching consequences on our environment and climate. As such, the team got to work developing a smartphone app that would allow users to identify recyclables with just a tap.
With Project Requartech’s app, users take a photo of the item they intend to discard and are then directed to a page with information on the type of item it is and whether it can be recycled. “We thought the issue was very prevalent in Singapore, evident through our nation’s lower recycling rates,” said team member Jolynn Yeo. “The issue can be solved by raising awareness on the importance of recycling and through concrete measures to identify recyclables, like with our app.”
Through the AWS Accelerator sessions, the team learned more about how deep learning and neural networks worked—skills that were put to good use when designing their app. According to the team’s programmer, Bryan Lim, they employed an AWS service called Amazon Rekognition to detect the type of item in an image and categorise it for recycling. In addition to identifying if the item is recyclable or not, the app also offers upcycling ideas for users to make the most environmentally-friendly choice possible.
The team is already brainstorming ways to harness their new-found knowledge from the workshops in personal passion projects.
“I learned how AI works and how I can use programmes to create such tools. I feel like I can use this for future automation projects like hand gesture recognition.”
“We were impressed by the high quality of Team Requartech’s solution to determine what objects can be recycled, using AWS services like AWS Lambda and AWS Amplify, despite having no prior cloud computing background apart from going through the six-month AWS cloud computing and Python training,” said Mr Pillai. “The fact that Tampines Town Council is seriously considering bringing some of the eight projects from the programme to fruition is testament to the high quality of the submissions.”
By working together, IMDA, AWS and Tampines Town Council epitomise a true private-public-people partnership. The effort also underscores the impact of such partnerships in benefiting the community. Individuals in Singapore are inspired and empowered to embrace the vast tech possibilities of artificial intelligence available to them not only to enhance the way they work but also the way they live and play.
Do you have an idea for a project that can contribute to Singapore’s inclusive digital future? Click here to find out how Digital for Life can help bring it to life!’