From using facial recognition technology to gain access to an office, to receiving deliveries via autonomous droids, cutting-edge innovations will soon transform northeast Singapore into a town of the future.
By Janice Lin
Is Punggol ready for the future? Definitely!
The northeast region will be home to the Punggol Digital District(PDD), an upcoming hub of digital industries and technological learning. Innovations that enhance lives and help drive Singapore’s relevance and competitive edge in the digital economy will be tested here.
A master plan for this development was launched on 21 January 2018 by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at Punggol’s Waterway Point mall, together with an exhibition that showcased plans and innovations for the neighbourhood. As Singapore’s first Enterprise District, the development will mix different land uses to bring together a business park owned by JTC, a university, community facilities, new public spaces, as well as retail and dining options that tap on artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.
Construction of the 50-hectare district will begin this year, and the first buildings will open progressively from 2023. When completed, it will be a model town for the future – inclusive, smart and driven by technology and social innovation.
Besides aiming to transform the way we live, work, play and learn, the district will be “a key element in our plan in Singapore to build a smart nation”, said Mr Teo. “(It) will help prepare Singapore for the future, … create jobs of the future and help create here in Punggol a town of the future – eco-friendly, sustainable (and) digitally ready.”
Better, smarter living with new technologies
The district will serve as a test bed for new technologies in the digital economy.
Among the plans presented at the exhibition included a robot that uses a combination of Internet of Things technology, AI, machine learning and e-payments to serve coffee.
Facial recognition software is used to identify a repeat customer so the robot can greet him by name, while a chatbot feature enables the customer to converse with his robot barista.
Mr Keith Tan, founder of Crown Coffee, which has prototyped this robot, said the genesis of his business came from his difficulties in getting skilled baristas at his cafe on Lavender Street.
“We are digitising a very traditional business – coffee-making. Our vision is a future where robots co-exist with humans, working with us in a collaborative manner. Robots won't replace us completely, but they will assist us, especially in manual and repetitive work in the F&B and retail industries.”
Another feature on display was light-fidelity (Li-Fi) technology being used in an office setting. This is made possible via LEDs, which have the ability to provide not only light, but also internet connectivity, as data is sent to electronic devices via light waves. With its optimisation of the use of light energy, Li-Fi could offer a faster and more secure connection to the Internet.
Meanwhile, developers will explore setting up a centralised logistics hub, which will function as the first stop for goods delivered to the district. The hub will be served by autonomous droids developed by robotics solutions provider SIIX-AGT Medtech. These robots will drop off goods to the intended recipient, helping to reduce congestion on roads and improve productivity.
The district is a joint collaboration between JTC, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the Info-communications Media Development Authority and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), which will move its campus there in 2023.
Among the contributions that SIT will bring to the Punggol community is the setting up of a makerspace – a workshop that aims to spur community-led innovation by allowing the public to try their hand at designing and building objects.
Residents who drop by will be allowed to tinker with high-tech equipment like 3D printers and laser cutters, which were showcased at the exhibition, to create whatever their minds can conceive.
“The makerspace will serve to foster a tinkering spirit in residents, to encourage the community to partake in innovation and create meaningful projects that will hopefully have applicability in industries,” said Associate Professor Alfred Tan, Deputy Programme Director at SIT’s Engineering Cluster.
New amenities a draw to residents
Residents who visited the launch and exhibition welcomed the new amenities and facilities that the district promises to build.
Business development executive Desmond Foo, 32, is looking forward to the new dining and retail options that the new Market Village on the Punggol waterfront will bring. “All the good (recreational) places are quite far from Punggol now. We also have to travel far out to the city centre for work, and there is a limited number of schools here, so I think it’s good to build up the area.”
Agreeing, Mr Joe Chua, 32, an asset management officer, shared: “Punggol doesn’t have many facilities now, as it’s still a growing estate, so to have a university campus and a business hub built here is definitely good news. The area is also a little inaccessible, so to have more recreational options in the area will make us more self-sufficient so we won’t have to travel too far out.”
The plans for the district were also unveiled at an exhibition at the URA Centre in February.
(Editor: Check out our other story to find out more about the PDD.)
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