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SMART CEO Daniel Hastings discusses advancements in Future Urban Mobility & Singapore as a Hub for Research

Since 2007, Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) has led ground breaking research and technological achievements in Singapore, such as the driverless vehicle SCOT and underwater autonomous robots.  

As a partnership created out of the National Research Foundation CREATE fund, SMART has enabled collaboration between one of the top US universities and Singaporean academic institutions.

SMART focuses on 5 Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs):

The BioSystems and Micromechanics (BioSyM) IRG aims to establish Singapore as the center of innovation for healthcare technologies of the future by merging diverse engineering and bioscience disciplines.

The Center for Environmental Sensing and Modeling (CENSAM) IRG aims to develop a model of the natural and built environment of Singapore. The “virtual Singapore” model will be an invaluable tool in areas such as urban planning, environmental forecasting and environment impact assessment.

The Infectious Diseases (ID) IRG aims to develop an integrated research programme to study pathogen-host interactions of infectious diseases such as respiratory syncytial virus, influenza, tuberculosis, malaria and dengue.

The Future Urban Mobility (FM) IRG aims to develop, in and beyond Singapore, a new paradigm for the planning, design, and operation of future urban passenger and freight transportation systems that enhance sustainability and societal well-being.

The Low Energy Electronic Systems (LEES) IRG aims to identify new integrated circuit technologies that become the new added value for reduced energy per function, lower power consumption and higher performance in our electronics infrastructure.

This past week, OpenGov had the chance to speak to Mr. Daniel Hastings, CEO, SMART, about each of the IRGs, some key research motivations, and why Singapore is such a perfect test bed to host this research.

A Driverless Future? Maybe more of a Hybrid Environment.

How can our commute be a little shorter, a little smoother, or a little safer? These are just some of the questions that are being asked and answered by the Future Urban Mobility (FM) IRG.

When we brought the topic up, Mr. Hastings told us that he often asks,“How do you optimise the mix of traffic flows?”

As autonomous vehicle technology is rapidly increasing in popularity and scope, FM is working to modify different modes of transport which could very well be our future modes of transportation. This will change the way that traffic moves, cars operate, and people behave behind the wheel.

After visiting the One-North test bed for the SCOT vehicle, we were curious to find out more about how this research project contributes to the Smart Nation vision. Although it is hard to imagine that each and every vehicle on the road will be driverless, this is why these vehicles must be intelligent and adaptable.

 “In principle, if you had all of these vehicles which talked to each other- then, why do you need a traffic light?” stated Mr. Hastings, “Having human beings in the mix, because they do not obey the rules, we need that to remain in place.”

He proposed that the future of urban mobility will be a mix of both driverless and manned vehicles. This would create somewhat of a hybrid environment, requiring unmanned vehicles to have the intelligence to sense bad road behaviour and assimilate to traditional traffic guidelines.

If the group can understand the operation of an autonomous vehicle in a mixed hybrid environment by the end of the year, that would be successful,” said Mr. Hastings, “Getting to that level of understanding, making sure the algorithms all work the way you think they ought to work, would be a great milestone.”

Next week, the Future Urban Mobility group will be unveiling their new autonomous vehicles at EmTech Asia in Singapore.

Enabling Low Energy Circuits to Power our World

LEES is working on developing circuit technologies, running on very low power, enabling it to do much more. The IRG is tasked with creating smarter cars, lights, and sensors that will have much more battery life.

“This will allow for more efficient communication,” said Mr. Hastings, “They are working with some new materials and getting with big foundries. This level of integration, with these very low energy circuits, could enable completely new functions on your smartphone!”

When we use our phone for GPS, such as Google Maps, our phone runs out of power within a certain amount of time. These power intensive applications lead to rapid battery drain. But with low energy circuits, you can use your mobile devices for long periods of time.

This IRG will contribute findings that will power the world of tomorrow. This will make us more mobile, more connected, and more powerful.

Environmental Monitoring Robots and Sensors

When the COP21 agreements in Paris were recently solidified, world leaders agreed that there must be action taken to combat climate change. This is prompting institutions of non-profit research, private research, and academics to investigate novel ways to protect and monitor the environment.

SMART’s Center for Environmental Sensing and Modeling (CENSAM) is dedicated to the research and monitoring of the local environment and issues relating to climate change.

“This group is sensing the local marine environment, researching more efficient landfill utilisation, and collecting lots of data on regional climate change,” stated Mr. Hastings.

One of the research groups from CENSAM developed a 3D printed robotic stingray, loaded with sensors, to monitor marine life and conditions. The robot moves under water as a real-life stingray would and collects data along the way.

“You could think of it as underwater UAVs,” exclaimed Mr. Hastings.

Looking at the robot in person, you would have expected it to be much heavier. In fact, previous versions of the robot were larger and substantially heavier.

But the group has been able to create a robot which is similar in size to that of a tennis racket. It is large enough to handle the necessary technology, small enough to move underwater efficiently.

Mr. Hastings told us that some of the other groups from the CREATE fund are looking at this research area as well, asking, “As a city gets remade and redone, how do you make it cooler?”

In contemplating how to redesign a city to lessen the impact of global warming, that got us to thinking how some cities in the region feel hotter than others although their temperate is virtually equal. If technology in design can cool a city, what impact will it have on the environment?

Biomedical Research and Technology for Precision Medicine

The Biosystems and Micromechanics IRG works to research methods, devices, and techniques to measure biological systems. The lab has created several new methods to diagnose and treat some illnesses which are prominent in today’s world.  

For example, the group has built a technique to build a 3 dimensional scaffold of cells. This allows for personalised medicine catered to the patient’s needs.

This goes against traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ prescription applied to hospitalised patients. It could especially help cancer patients who would normally go through chemotherapy, which is a long and difficult process.

Other findings and technologies in this IRG, aims to shape better decision making in our hospitals and health care facilities.

Singapore is a Prime Test Bed for these Interdisciplinary Research Groups

Singapore wants to get to the position so that it can secure its water resources, drive future mobility, and tackle climate change.

In funding these projects through the National Research Foundation, the Singapore Government is readily embracing opportunities in technology research to produce solutions to tomorrow’s problems.

“We are funded to do research by NRF, but since we want the research to have a real impact then we will engage with the government agencies to ask permission, suggest ideas, and learn what the actual issues are,” said Mr. Hastings, “For example, the CENSAM group works extensively with the National Environment Agency, to understand what the matters at hand.”

As the research environment in Singapore continues to improve, the quality of the research from local universities is increasing exponentially. The ecosystem supports entrepreneurism which is attractive to young innovating start-ups.

“Singapore is a place to recruit smart people, good place to live, and a dynamic environment- so why not?” stated Mr. Hastings.

Preparing for the future requires new developments in mobility on demand, environmental monitoring devices, and biotechnology. Only then, can Singapore thrive as a smarter, safer, and healthier nation. 

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