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A crowdsourcing mobile application to enhance accessibility for specially-abled individuals has been launched in New Delhi. The app aims to augment built-up environments (steps, ramps, emergency exits), the transportation sector, and the information communication technologies (ICTs) ecosystem in India.

The Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Thaawarchand Gehlot, virtually launched the Sugamya Bharat application as well as a handbook called, “Access – The Photo Digest”, which have both been developed by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD).

According to a press release, the app provides five main features, four of which are directly related to enhancing accessibility. The fifth is meant for only COVID-19-related issues. Users can register complaints about public places, services, or utilities that are inaccessible. They will be able to upload photographs and geo-tag the location of the premises for authority intervention. Users will also receive departmental updates, guidelines, and circulars related to accessibility on the mobile application.

The Minister explained that the app, which is available in ten regional languages, aims to help spread awareness and make public spaces, transportation, and other services more accessible. The implementation of accessibility-related activities across the country is a step towards the vision of a universally-accessible and inclusive India, the release noted.

The app’s interface is user-friendly and features easy drop-down menus and tutorials in Hindi, English, and sign language that demonstrate how to register or upload complaints with photographs. The app offers font-size adjustments, color-contrasting options, text-to-speech, and an integrated screen reader in Hindi and English.

The app will be monitored through a project monitoring unit (PMU) under DEPwD. The PMU will forward the complaints received through the app to the appropriate authorities across India. These include district magistrates, collectors for state government-owned buildings, or executive heads of Urban Local Bodies (ULB) for other buildings, including private spaces that fall under their jurisdiction.

Accessibility complaints related to central government premises or services will be forwarded to the nodal officers nominated for this purpose by the concerned ministries and departments. If the complaint is not addressed, the matter will be taken to the next highest authority.

An accessible government building is one where citizens with disabilities have no barrier in entering it and using all the facilities therein. This covers built environments such as steps and ramps, corridors, entry gates, emergency exits, and parking as well as indoor and outdoor facilities like lighting, signages, alarm systems, and toilets. Identifying accessible buildings requires annual accessibility audits that determine if a building meets a certain standard.

Further, accessible transportation plays a critical role in the growth of the economy and an inaccessible transportation system restricts mobility and denies freedom of movement and active participation for much of the population who need accessible transportation.

Access – The Photo Digest handbook is a collection of photographs from across different states and union territories. It is a tool and guide to sensitise stakeholders about ten basic features of accessibility and associated good-bad practices in an easy-to-understand pictorial form. An electronic version of the handbook will also be available on the app and the Department website.

Due to the disruption caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the government of Singapore has adopted a new standard for protecting the verification of globally interoperable health documents based on tamper-proof distributed ledger blockchain technology.

The Singapore Government has published HealthCerts – a set of digital open standards for issuing digital COVID-19 test results and vaccination certificates, in line with international standards and the Singapore Government’s requirements.

Beginning on the 10th March, travelers undergoing a pre-departure COVID-19 test at authorised clinics in Singapore would also receive their results in a digital certificate loaded into HealthCerts.

The blockchain framework used to digitally attest HealthCerts is powered by OpenAttestation, which is an open-source document notarisation framework that uses cryptographic hashes for independent verification. Once documents are issued and stored on the blockchain, they can be verified by any auditor making it possible for outside parties to trust the submission source.

The use of digital identity and other assets is overseen by the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group, a part of the Prime Minister’s Office, which oversees the deployment of this new technology. The digital certificate stores identity details (name, national identity number, DOB, etc.) and test details (type, status, date, medical institution details). The QR Code will be sent via email or presented under the SingPass Mobile app.

According to the HealthCerts webpage, for added assurance, Digital Certificates may be digitally notarised by the Government through Notarise to ease downstream verification by ensuring:

  • Untampered content – Authenticate the veracity of the Digital Certificate against blockchain hash value
  • Trusted provenance – Verify the legitimacy of Digital Certificate according to Singapore’s travel policy requirements and checks that the laboratory (or clinic) is authorised to issue Digital Certificates
  • Rightful ownership – Strong identity assurance through SingPass to prevent impersonation

Verify provides an easy, reliable way to ensures digital certificates have not been tampered with and issued/ notarised by a recognised entity.

Supporting the opening of cross-border travel

To support the opening of cross-border travel, there is a need to verify travellers’ identities and their associated health status. Singapore has therefore designed HealthCerts with global interoperability in mind as an open standard. Entities can sign up to issue digital certificates compliant with the HealthCerts standard.

At the moment, AOKpass, Accredify. Collinson and Trybe.ID provide issuance service to clinics and labs such as Quest Laboratories, Gleneagles Hospital and Parkway Shenton Medical Group in Singapore and overseas countries.

As Verify is open-sourced, private companies or governments can develop their own versions of Verify, with their own list of recognised COVID labs or foreign authorities.

Private sector offerings: Affinidi provides document verification services for attesting document authenticity and validation to airlines and airports.

IATA conducts verification against the rules engine of other countries to determine if the test certificate meets the destination country requirements.

The government has said it is keen to work with partners to further the work in this space, which includes further enhancing interoperability, privacy, and verifiability for such certificates.

Grab is a Singaporean multinational ride-hailing company headquartered in Singapore. It is most famously known for its transportation services, but the company offers so much more including food delivery and digital payments services via a mobile app.

Grab has just recently signed a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) with Singapore Government agencies – Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Digital Industry Singapore (DISG) to support the development of Singapore’s tech ecosystem, by developing tech talent and R&D capabilities in Singapore.

The Memorandum will see Grab working with Singapore’s government agencies to grow its core product and engineering teams’ capabilities through the support of talent development programmes such as the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA).

“To secure our digital future, Singapore must be the place where companies choose to build unique digital products that cater for global markets. This is the only way that Singapore can sustainably capture value and differentiate ourselves in the Digital Economy. We are pleased to partner Grab, to strengthen Singapore’s tech ecosystem in these two key areas – to build our local talent in product development, and grow Singapore as the base for high-end R&D in tech,” said Lew Chuen Hong, Chief Executive, IMDA.

These programmes seek to enhance the deep technical skills of experienced professionals, and provide hands-on training opportunities for individuals looking for roles in the tech sector.

Grab seeking to hire in the fields of AI, Cybersecurity, Data Science and Software Engineering

“Despite the challenges brought forth by COVID-19, the tech industry continues to hold promise for new and renewed opportunities for talent. Grab will work closely with IMDA and DISG to grow the talent pool in Singapore, as the country advances towards a future-ready digital economy,” said Tan Hooi-Ling, Co-founder, Grab.

“As a Singapore-based tech company, Grab fully supports the development of the tech ecosystem here. We are building products that positively impact millions across Southeast Asia, and we want to continue deepening our R&D capabilities and push the boundaries of innovation, right here at our strategic base. This is only possible with the support of Grabbers across different business functions, who are continually learning and adapting to new technologies and customers’ requirements.”

Grab expects to create around 350 new jobs in Singapore this year, to support its growth plans and as part of its regional hiring efforts.

These include the expansion of products and services to support the digitalisation of micro-SMEs, the delivery of digital financial services across Southeast Asia, as well as the development of the upcoming digibank which will be managed by a Grab-Singtel consortium.

Some of these hires will come from fields including AI, Cybersecurity, Data Science, Software Engineering, as well as Product Management and Design. They would be involved in projects to improve merchants’ abilities to offer better and tailored products to their customers; as well as to improve the user experience of the merchant app, which will be an all-in-one solution featuring modularised Grab services to select from.

Many of them would also be powering Grab’s innovation engine that uses deep tech to build and enhance services for its users meaningfully; as well as building stronger integrations with local partners. Besides tech roles, Grab will be offering new employment opportunities in areas such as finance, operations, legal, public affairs and business development.

“We are excited that industry leaders like Grab are stepping up to deepen their R&D activities here while providing more job and skills development opportunities for Singaporeans. Covid-19 is an unprecedented crisis that has impacted lives and livelihoods, but such partnerships position Singapore well to weather the storm and emerge stronger than before. Together, we will continue to build a vibrant and sustainable tech ecosystem to drive innovation and capture growth opportunities,” said Ang Chin Tah, Vice President and Head, DISG.

One thing that the pandemic has shown about payments is that speed, reliability and near-universal access have never been more important. For Singapore, the first wave of non-bank financial institutions (NFIs and Fintechs), are now connected to FAST, Singapore’s real-time payment rails.

Financial tech firms believe this move signifies the growth of the local fintech industry. By giving firms access to FAST, previously the exclusive domain of banks, regulators are enabling greater competition and innovation in the payments space. Aimed ultimately to the benefit of consumers, near-universal access has never been more important in a world powered by instantaneous digital interaction.

According to them, whether it is listening to music or taking an online class, consumers are benefitting from a better experience using tech — one that is becoming faster, cheaper, more convenient and most importantly, offers a variety of choice, no matter where you are.

In contrast, they also believe that the financial services industry has largely not kept pace; while fintechs have gradually begun to fill this void by offering a variety of services that were traditionally the domain of the incumbent banks.

For the consumer, on the other hand, the benefits of this seemingly obscure change to the payments plumbing may not seem obvious. But direct participation in FAST helps non-banks level the playing field with traditional banks, increases competition and allows fintechs to offer a better, cheaper and faster service in a digital world. Beyond this, fintechs gain better control over the entire customer experience when connected directly to the national payment system, rather than having this access through a bank.

Fintechs said that this move will also curtail delays, inefficiency and high fees. A recent report from The World Bank’s Remittance Prices Worldwide showed that sending remittances costs an average of 6.75% of the amount sent — far higher than the United Nations’ goal to push this down to lower than 3%. More middlemen in the money movement process mean additional costs and delays resulting in a sub-optimal experience for the end consumer, especially for small businesses.

Financial tech firms are also looking forward to building more competitive products that make payments even faster and cheaper for citizens. They also added that for the fintech sector to thrive, policymakers need to manage risks while encouraging growth. Striking this balance between regulation and fintech innovation is not easy, especially with the rapid speed of technological change.

Accordingly, as reported by OpenGov Asia, The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) pushed the commencement of the Singapore Payment Services Act (PS Act). The new PS Act will enhance the regulatory framework for payment services in the country, strengthen consumer protection and promote confidence in the use of e-payments. The PS Act adopts an activity-based licencing framework in recognition of the different kinds of activities and new developments in payment services.

Just recently, as also reported by OpenGov Asia, Enterprise Singapore (ESG), Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the SG Digital Office (SDO) announced that 10,000 stallholders – more than half of Singapore’s stallholders – have adopted e-payments. 10,000 hawkers using e-payments, with transactions growing four times since June 2020. Transactions volume and value for January 2021 also crossed the 1.2 million and S$14 million mark respectively for the first time.

As one of the centres of innovation in the world, Singapore is well-placed to foster a more open and transparent payment ecosystem that benefits consumers. The country aims to lead the charge in encouraging constructive competition and closer collaboration in the sector.

A new International Research Laboratory (IRL) launched in the last week of February 2021 will focus on humans-autonomous agents teaming: an area of research at the interface of artificial intelligence, computer science, engineering, technology, human factors and psychology.

The French Australian Laboratory for Humans-Autonomous Agents Teaming, shortened to CROSSING, is a collaboration between the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the University of South Australia, University of Adelaide, Flinders University, French technological university IMT Atlantique, and Naval Group, the only industrial partner.

An IRL is a flagship international collaboration mechanism used by CNRS, France’s leading scientific research centre. The new IRL is called CROSSING because it represents the crossover of ideas that is at the heart of this important collaboration.

The Director of the lab stated that the CROSSING Lab will bring together leading French and Australian scientists from artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer science, engineering, psychology and human factors. They will work together to tackle important challenges in finding new ways for systems and humans to work together.

“The outcomes could provide significant advances in the way operators use control systems on ships, maintenance platforms in industry or services to assist within the home, and the way these systems are developed to assist and improve human performance to make work safer and more efficient,” he said.

The CROSSING Lab will join a network of more than 70 IRLs but will become one of only five international research laboratories with industry partners in the world. It will join the ranks of other labs in global innovation hubs, including Singapore, China, Japan and the United States of America.

Based in Adelaide, the CROSSING Lab will be a unique multidisciplinary facility in Australia that provides an opportunity for South Australia to be at the forefront of research into frontier technologies highly relevant to future industries.

“At the CROSSING lab we will develop new ways for humans to work with robots and autonomous systems,” said a professor from the University of Adelaide’s School of Psychology, who is Co-Director of the new lab.

She noted that human operators will cooperate with high-level automata, robots or adaptive information systems able to produce knowledge and to explore the physical or informational environment on their own.

Each partner brings complementary expertise to the research partnership:

  • The University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute of Machine Learning (AIML) brings expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning. In the field of interactive and virtual environments and human performance;
  • The University of South Australia has expertise in sleep and fatigue analysis;
  • IMT Atlantique has expertise and facilities in virtual and augmented reality and embedded and human-centric AI;
  • Flinders University has expertise in autonomous systems, human factors and industry 4.0 advanced manufacturing;
  • The Naval Group will share its world-class expertise from areas including embedded intelligence, optimised architectures, unmanned vehicles, the industry of the future and human performance measurement.

The new lab was launched on 22 February 2021 by the Premier of South Australia and was attended by the French Ambassador to Australia.

According to a recent article, the Australian job market will shrink by 11%, or 1.5 million workers over the next decade. But as some jobs are lost, others will be created (1.7 million by 2030), and many more will transform into the gig economy.

Workers unable or unwilling to accept the transition will depart the traditional workforce entirely. Accompanying these digital outcasts will be a wave of mission-based evacuees seeking a more values-aligned work life, taking advantage of Australia’s world-leading policy settings for social entrepreneurship.

According to forecasts by US-based a research and advisory company, the demand for technical skills will boost the ranks of digital elites by 33%. A shortage of skills to build new digital solutions will fuel massive growth in the digital elite cohort. Demand for tech specialists with skills in big data, process automation, human/machine interaction, robotics engineering, blockchain, and machine learning will offset the 8% of more traditional technology roles that can be fully automated by 2030.

The Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (TNeGA) has developed an artificial intelligence (AI)-based mobile application, ePaarwai, which can help screen a large number of people for cataracts. By addressing resource constraints in cataract detection, it aims to eradicate preventive blindness in the state.

India has about 4.7 million vision-impaired people, and about 66% of them lose their eyesight due to cataracts. Undiagnosed cataracts remain a huge problem especially in rural areas and among low-income settlements in urban areas, owing to the lack of trained professionals and other resources, a news report explained. The use of AI to fight cataracts is low when compared to other major age-related eye diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and glaucoma.

The app can be used for the preliminary screening of the eye by analysing a picture of the patient’s eye. It can also help identify what stage of cataract patients are in and whether or not they require surgery. ePaarwai is also designed to detect macular disintegration.

Diagnostic eye-care AI-based systems are trained with many pictures of the eye, following which the algorithms learn the difference between normal and abnormal images. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent or minimise vision loss or impairment. The results of ePaarwai from field trials were encouraging. The app has the potential to prevent millions of senior citizens in rural and urban low-income settlements from losing their eyesight.

Launched with the help of the Tamil Nadu State Blind Control Society (TNSBCS), and for the state health department, the app is being tested in a few districts. Currently, TNSBCS does not have enough manpower to help detect the stages of surgery and is looking to tap AI, Santosh Mishra, the Chief Executive Officer of TNeGA, told reporters. There are only about 20,000 ophthalmologists for the 1.3 billion people in India.

AI is expected to relieve the overburdened healthcare system, augment scarce personnel and lab facilities, and help overcome accessibility barriers. It can aid early detection, diagnosis, decision-making, and treatment. The healthcare sector in India remains multi-layered and complex and is ripe for disruption from emerging technologies at multiple levels. It is probably the most intuitive and obvious use case primed for intervention by AI-driven solutions, as evidenced by the increasing activity from large corporates and start-ups in developing AI-focused healthcare solutions.

The country’s think tank, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), in its 2018 report on AI, noted that the healthcare market globally driven by AI is expected to register an explosive CAGR of 40% through 2021 and reach US$6.6 billion this year. The advances in technology and interest from innovators provide an opportunity for India to solve some of its long-existing challenges in providing appropriate healthcare to a large section of its population. AI, robotics, and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) could potentially be the new nervous system for healthcare and present solutions to address healthcare problems.

In India’s budget for the fiscal year that begins 1 April and ends 31 March 2022, the Finance Minister proposed more than doubling India’s healthcare and wellbeing spending to IN₹2.2 trillion (US$30.1 billion). It includes a new federal scheme to develop the country’s capacity for primary, secondary, and tertiary care as well as to strengthen national institutions and create new ones to detect and cure diseases.

Since its establishment in October 2020, an interdisciplinary team led by Professor Tong Zhang, from the Environmental Microbiome Engineering and Biotechnology Laboratory of the Department of Civil Engineering of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), has collected more than 1,200 sewage samples for tests to help the government track potential virus carriers in the community.

The research project received support from the Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF) of the Food and Health Bureau (FHB), and is also technically backed by the Environment Bureau, with the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and the Drainage Services Department (DSD) providing strategic planning, comprehensive analysis of the drainage network, and optimization of sample collection.

The sewage monitoring system consists of several steps: sampling, inactivation, pre-concentration by centrifugation, nucleic acid extraction, gene testing, and data analysis. In the absence of a standardized and universal method for detecting new SARS-CoV-2 virus in sewage worldwide, the monitoring system was successfully developed by the HKU engineering-led team in December 2020 after various trials.

Since the dawn of the 4th wave of COVID-19 outbreak last November, the HKU team has collaborated with the EPD and DSD in collecting and monitoring sewage samples in buildings near or in the area of housing estates with confirmed cases, so as to help the government assess and respond quickly to the outbreak (including issuing compulsory testing notices).

It was instrumental in identifying 10 Covid-19 cases from December 2020 to January 2021 at the Choi Wan (II) Estate – the first-time worldwide infection cases were confirmed in the community through a compulsory testing notice issued based on sewage test results.

Between 28 December 2020 and 9 February 2021, compulsory testing notices were issued in 26 areas where sewage test results were positive, including compulsory testing in ‘restricted areas’. More than 50 confirmed cases were found, cutting off hidden transmission chains in these communities.

The team had originally planned to process and analyse around 20 samples per week, but after increasing its manpower to 15 people, its detection capacity was increased sevenfold to about 170 samples per week to help fight the pandemic.

The Chief Executive of Hong Kong had a first-hand look at the University’s sewage monitoring system that helps track COVID-19 in building blocks on 15 February, where she was briefed by the Dean of the Li Ka-shing Faculty of Medicine at HKU, and Professor Tong Zhang on the sewage testing process.

The HKU team and the Environment Bureau are working towards doubling the sewage monitoring capability and transferring the technology to commercial laboratories. At the same time, in order to optimize the overall sewage monitoring system, the HKU team is working together with EPD, DSD, and the Food and Health Bureau to develop new sewage sampling schemes.

In the long run, sewage surveillance can provide public health-related information for the Government, institutions and the general public in their joint battle against the pandemic.

Hong Kong’s advanced technology and successful experience can also enrich the world’s experiences in protecting public health and tackling the challenges of other emerging major diseases through wastewater-based epidemiology.

Accidents happen anytime and anywhere but the road is among the most common places where they happen. The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) tags road accidents as one of the leading causes of death among children, overpowering other deadly diseases, including dengue. In fact, in Metro Manila alone, about two children die daily due to road accidents. Considering these facts, a local tech start-up has unveiled an app meant to improve the skills of drivers in the Philippines, particularly truck drivers, to help avoid future accidents.

The tech initiative is a collaboration of a logistics firm, the Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The app was formally launched in the country although some of its features are still a work in progress. Developers say that the app features monitoring tools to analyse the behaviour of drivers on the road. The data can then be analysed to recommend changes or suggestions for drivers or companies.

The tech developer also said that the app uses AI technology and data analytics intended to improve driving. Recommendations are given out the data analytics to indicate if a driver is fit to drive or not. In a nutshell, the tech collates data from the behaviour of a truck driver on the road. An Internet-of-things (IoT) device is installed inside a truck to obtain the data.

Moreover, they added that learning modules provided in the app are also available for licenced drivers. A mobile version of the app is already up and running where the learning modules can be accessed. Soon, the app will have “gamification” features, allowing for the simulation of driving and road conditions. IoT devices are also being currently designed for more vehicles, as the positioning of the device will be critical.

The company and the Government said that the app is essential and will help the country’s problems on the road, noting that fatalities on road accidents are mostly caused by trucks, and the country also suffers from a shortage of professional truck drivers. Only a few percent of truck drivers in the country are professionally trained and that there is a shortage of skills among these truck drivers.

DOST undersecretary for research said the project, which is under the auspices of the department through the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCCIERD), is a good way of using science and technology to solve the country’s problems, particularly during these challenging times where COVID-19 is still present.

PCCIERD Director also said that the TIP and DOST are now in talks with other government agencies, which earlier expressed interest in the driver monitoring app. The Government also made sure that the developers are being funded and supported by the DOST and PCCIERD. Funding for the app is reportedly a little over PHP4 million.

Accordingly, the Government has committed to give local start-ups the benefits and incentives provided under the recently signed Republic Act 11337 or the Innovative Start-up Act. The law aims to help start-ups and start-up enablers by providing incentives like travel grants, access to a Start-up Venture Fund, and assistance in getting visas and business permits.

Aside from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the DOST, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) are the host agencies to implement the Philippine Start-up Development Program, composed of programs, benefits, and incentives for the start-up community.

The Government added that this coronavirus pandemic has shown that with limited human interaction and cities in lockdown, many businesses ground to a halt.  Without sufficient technology and automation in place, high-touch human operations became paralysed. As the world recovers, it would require a reimagination of human and business processes to future-proof against the next crisis.

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