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A high-tech search for answers

last updated 13 March 2017

EmTech Asia 2017 presented many insights into the latest breakthroughs in science and technology.

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Dr Julia Greer from the California Institute of Technology, who shared about the future of material use in structures, was part of EmTech Asia's lineup of distinguished speakers this year.

By Jo-Ann Huang

From smart urban solutions to advanced building materials, a range of technological and scientific solutions to the world's problems were discussed over two days at a high-profile gathering of over 600 venture capitalists, scientists, tech startup and tech industry players in Singapore.

Held from 14 to 15 Feb, this year’s line-up of speakers at EmTech Asia included some of the leading minds in the fields of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, smart cities, space exploration and materials science, among others.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) played host to the event, which is already in its fourth year running.

Singapore is an ideal location for such an event, as the abundance of venture capital, corporate backing and government support make the Republic a conducive place for new ideas to materialise, said Steve Leonard, founder of SGInnovate and one of the speakers at EmTech Asia.

"(EmTech Asia) gives many people a chance to get together and talk about new things they might be able to collaborate on, discover and, most importantly, how they can contribute to positive things for all of humanity," said Mr Leonard.

IMpact picked out a few highlights from the event.

Materials of the future

Imagine a material that is extremely light, ultra strong and cheap to make. Striving to create that holy grail of materials science is Dr Julia Greer from the California Institute of Technology.

One of the event's distinguished speakers, Dr Greer discussed her work fabricating structures in a variety of materials such as glass, ceramics and metals, to show that a new lightweight and strong material can be produced affordably in the future. These have potential applications in areas like healthcare and space exploration. For instance, a 3D-nanolattice bone implant's structure is similar to bone, and encourages faster and safer regrowth of bone structures compared to current-gen titanium alloys.

Smart cities to solve problems

20170313 emtech pic 3Singapore's drive to become a Smart Nation looks to tackle head-on some major city issues in the world today, such as increasing urban density and an ageing population. Several examples of urban solutions that employ robotics and other technologies were showcased at EmTech Asia.

“How do we continue to grow as a nation, exponentially, in economic and social terms, while at the same time, consuming the limited resources that we have,” said Khoong Hock Yun (left), Assistant Chief Executive (Development) of the IMDA.

For example, delivery trucks rushing to unload their goods before the shopping malls open cause congestion on roads and at the malls’ dropoff points. IMDA is currently exploring ways such as using a shared offsite distribution centre as well as consolidated delivery to reduce the number of delivery trucks needed.

India-based GreyOrange, meanwhile, hopes to make logistics more efficient through an automated system it has created called Butler. The system utilises robots to rearrange goods according to their priority, instead of relying on manpower to run around the warehouse.

However, the adoption of such smart solutions in urban centres will increase the risk of cyber attacks. Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is one possible solution that was showcased at EmTech Asia that could deal with increasingly sophisticated threats. QKD is a new technology that makes data virtually unhackable, said Assistant Dr Alexander Ling, principal investigator of Quantum Optics, at the Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore.

Robotics in healthcare

The use of robotics in healthcare was another key theme this year, In the lead-up to EmTech Asia, SGInnovate hosted this year's MIT Hacking Medicine Robotics hackathon. The event focused on creating solutions tending to the rapidly aging population, using software from the Segway robot Loomo. Over 80 teams made up of clinicians and software developers had the weekend prior to EmTech Asia to work on their creation before showcasing it at the event.

The winners took to the stage to discuss their hackathon experiences and the potential for robotics to provide long-term solutions in elderly care here. The winner of the top prize was Botler, a team of Singaporean engineers, who turned Loomo into an autonomous wheelchair, complete with wheelchair attachments. Healthcare workers can also track and talk to elderly patients with cognitive disabilities by using an app.

Finding answers in space

20170313 emtech pic 2Featuring speakers such as Dava Newman, Former Deputy Director of NASA; and David Oh (right), a Former Lead Flight at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, space exploration also took the spotlight at the event.  Apart from sharing insights about his ground-breaking work landing the exploration robotic Curiosity Rover on Mars, Mr Oh also shed light on a current ambitious mission to send a spacecraft to study the asteroid Psyche, a peculiar space object made entirely of nickel-iron the size of the U.S. state of Massachusetts, which would reveal new insights about Earth’s planetary core. “It is a world unlike any other we have explored. We have never seen up close a world made of metal.” he said.

A Passionate Affair

For Ron Cellini of incubator Analog Garage, the main takeaway from the event was not just the ideas presented but also the enthusiasm behind them. He told EmTech Asia that "it is great to see the speakers go up the stage and feel the passion for what they are doing. What’s different at EmTech Asia compared to other conferences is the quality. You’re going to hear things that are new and that challenge you."

For more pictures of the event, check out IMDA’s Facebook photo album here

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