Enjoy some innovation highlights of Day One of the recent Emtech Asia conference.
Singapore’s drive to become a Smart Nation is aimed not just at improving the lives of its citizens by leveraging on technology but the breakthroughs pioneered here in partnership with research universities, start-ups, corporations and investors could help solve some critical real world problems.
This was the key message by Mr Steve Leonard, Executive Chairman of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore.
In his keynote address to some 800 delegates at the opening of the third EmTech Asia in Singapore, he outlined some of the major health threats facing the world today.
These include the increasing danger posed by mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and more recently the Zika outbreak, the rise of infections resistant to current antibiotics and the emergence of super bugs which could kill more than 10 million people by 2050.
“These are some tough global problems we face today and this is where Smart Nation was imagined. We don’t want to work on something that is important for tomorrow. We want to work on something which will be important for decades to come. Smart Nation gives us a chance as a country to reflect and create.”
Mr Leonard said that while Singapore has taken steps to develop a platform for innovation, turning these into commercial realities remains an uphill task. “Sometimes when things are moving along pretty well, there is a reluctance from people to adapt to changing technology. Our task that we continue to articulate is that there is no status quo; we are either moving forward or we are falling behind.”
Still, some local innovators have already left their mark on the global stage.
He cited the membrane and material advancements in water purification pioneered by Hyflux in Singapore, which is now being used in several other countries to produce clean drinking water, as one example of how a worldwide dilemma can be mitigated with home-grown technology.
Responding to questions on how Singapore, given its small size, urban landscape and a high population density would contribute to the development of new technologies like the advent of autonomous vehicles, Mr Leonard said these are already being tested in some parts of the country.
“Technology defines everything we do today. The big challenge is not so much in technology of autonomous vehicles itself as there are always ways it can be enhanced and improved. Rather the big challenge here lies in other parts of the ecosystem – the legislative environment, insurance and the comfort level of the people. So even in a small nation like Singapore, the way we see it here is that the MRT will be able to bring you to place X and then a small fleet of autonomous vehicles would bring you to your final destination.”
He said that while Singapore has done well in specialist research fields such as information technology and the art sciences, there is still room for experimenting in a cross disciplinary blend.
“We should always think of the intersection of art and science as the genesis of technology and not having technology defined solely within the engineering space. One reason why a lot of us would choose an Apple product, for example, is because we appreciate the elegance of its design.”
The two-day conference featured a host of speakers from various disciplines who discussed the impact of emerging technology in an evolving world.
Ms Joanna Batstone, the Chief Technology Officer of IBM Australia and New Zealand, shared how big data and analytics can be used to improve healthcare delivery.
“The healthcare industry is a $7 trillion industry and analysts will tell you that 30 per cent of this is wasted. We are treating people for some things they don’t need to be treated for, we schedule MRIs and other tests that are unnecessary.”
She said better analysis of the massive amounts of data currently available can help not only to drive better targeted treatment protocols for patients but can also help to promote better holistic wellness and disease prevention to stop people from becoming patients in the first place.
In another presentation Mr Mark Phong, director of Advanced Research Singapore for cosmetics giant L’Oreal revealed how much of the company’s R&D efforts are focused on human microbiomes, a collection of microbes inhabiting a person’s body which controls and regulates health.
One tract involves the development of transparent and flexible sensors and other wearables which can monitor skin health and hydration.
Day 2 of the Emtech Asia featured presentations and panel discussions on financial technology, entrepreneurship, intelligent transportation, smart ports, global population challenges and augmented and virtual realities.
Singapore’s “Innovators under 35”The EmTech Asia conference is also held in association with MIT Technology Review’s annual “Innovators under 35” tribute. The award gives recognition to the top 10 innovators from the region under the age of 35 for their contributions in transforming the nature of technology in industries such as biomedicine, computing, communications and transportation.
This year, eight Singapore-based researchers and inventors were selected, together with two from Australia. They include:
• Javier Gomez Fernandez, Assistant Professor and Founder Academic Member, Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), for the development of Shrilk, a bioinspired material based on the chemistry and molecular design of the insect cuticle with a strength equivalent to aluminum alloys at half the density.
• Darren Siau Chen Chian, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, National University of Singapore (NUS), for his research on soil dynamics, specifically how the sheer strength of partially liquefied soil can resist uplift and be applied to earthquake engineering.
• Grace Leslie, Postdoctoral Fellow, Singapore University of Technology and Design/MIT Media Lab, for her work developing music neurofeedback systems for creative and therapeutic applications.
• Yue Wan, GIS Fellow, Genome Institute of Singapore, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), for a novel technology that allows the shapes of RNA molecules to be mapped at high speed.
• Raye Chen-Hua Yeow, Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering National University of Singapore, for his work in soft wearable robotics, particularly for enhancing healthcare quality and productivity.
• Jia Hao Cheong, Scientist II, Institute of Microelectronics, A*STAR, for developing an inductively powered, implantable, blood flow sensor microsystem for vascular grafts.
• Joseph Fitzsimons, Assistant Professor, SUTD and Design & Research Assistant Professor, Centre for Quantum Technologies, NUS, for the use of quantum mechanics to enhance the security of networked computation.
• Pulkit Jaiswal, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Swarmx, for his work in the field of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.SwarmX aims to build fully autonomous drone systems.