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An innovative start up in China has deployed over 40 boats in the rivers of China in a bid to stop pollution at the source and to stop anymore waste from reaching the ocean.

Founded in 2017, ORCA-TECH uses urban and coastal waters as scenarios, supported by many scenario iterations and ultra-long surface driving data, to create a series of surface environmental service robots.

The company has extended its product functions and applications and has now formed three major businesses that focus on water surface cleaning, as well as water security and water data.

There are many ocean clean up projects going on in the world, but ORCA-TECH’s vision is to clean up the rivers and waterways at the source so that it never gets as far as the ocean, and so that the ocean will not be further polluted.

High Efficiency Robot for City Waterworks

The concept was first brought to life as a university project, designing a robot to be able to identify garbage autonomously, and that it could identify densely polluted water areas and differentiate types of rubbish without human supervision.

ORCA-TECH combines robotics and AI to launch robots that can automatically clean the water surface.

The boat can be controlled using remote control or the boat can also be used as a self-driving robot. It can identify what areas of the river are most polluted and how to collect waste most efficiently.

The boat also uses cameras and sensors. It can check the water environment and can be used to measure the distance between the boat and the rubbish to be collected.

Added features on the boat can monitor water quality or act as security on the waterways.

The boat is also using Machine Learning through the enormous amount of data and images it collects, to better identify the different types of garbage it collects.

The boat also separates the garbage by garbage type on board the boat, rubbish is dived into separate bins by material type.

Technology in the fight against river pollution worldwide

The next phase of their plan is to increase their presence in mainland China, focusing on increasing the client base and growing their fleet of boats. They are looking to place 100 boats in the rivers of China in the next coming year. With more investment they aim to upgrade the technology used on the boats in the future.

ORCA-TECH are mainly working with private sector companies in the environment and water treatment sectors, but they are aiming to garner interest internationally.

To date, they have mass produced the robots and successfully promoted them to more than 30 cities in China, Spain and UK.

They have partnered with international manufacturer IKEA for a campaign which saw them launch 3 branded boats on the Thames in London to help clean out the capital city’s river. They also supplied a boat for a major exhibition in Barcelona in Spain.

The ‘Data Brain of the Water’

It is believed that the robot is six times more efficient than manual cleaning with 50% less cost.

It was selected as the best intelligent sanitation equipment in China in 2019.

The company  collects information from various waterways to build ‘the data brain’ of the water environment through their robots.

In the future, they aim to upgrade the robots’ self-driving algorithm and launch water transportation, water logistics and other services, and make the water environment a major part of the smart city.

A research team from South Australia, Singapore, China and Taiwan has designed a 26-gram ornithopter (flapping-wing aircraft) which can hover, dart, glide, brake and dive just like a swift, making them more versatile, safer and quieter than the existing quadcopter drones.

Weighing the equivalent of two tablespoons of flour, the flapping wing drone has been optimised to fly in cluttered environments near humans, with the ability to glide, hover at very low power, and stop quickly from fast speeds, avoiding collisions – all things that quadcopters can’t do.

The team, which includes a UniSA aerospace engineer, has designed a flapping wing drone similar in size to a swift, or large moth, that can perform some aggressive bird flight manoeuvres.

Image Credits: The University of South Australia, Press Release

The Professor stated that copying the design of birds, like swifts, is just one strategy to improve the flight performance of flapping wing drones.

“There are existing ornithopters but, until now, they were too inefficient and slow to be agile. We have overcome these issues with our flapping-wing prototype, achieving the same thrust generated by a propeller,” he said.

“Flapping wings can lift like an aeroplane wing while thrusting a propeller and braking like a parachute. We have put this together to replicate the aggressive flight patterns of birds by simple tail control.”

A research scientist National University of Singapore, who led the project published recently in Science Robotics, stated that the biologically-inspired drones could be used successfully in a range of environments.

The surveillance applications are clear, but novel applications include pollination of indoor vertical farms without damaging dense vegetation, unlike the rotary-propelled quadcopters whose blades risk shredding crops.

As a result of their stability in strong winds, the ornithopter drone could also be used to chase birds away from airports, reducing the risk of them getting sucked into jet engines.

The optimised ornithopter acts as a kind of scarecrow, greatly saving on labour costs for pest control companies and airport operators.

There are currently no commercialised ornithopters being used for surveillance, but this could change with the latest breakthrough, researchers claim.

By improving the design so ornithopters can now produce enough thrust to hover and to carry a camera and accompanying electronics, the flapping wing drone could be used for crowd and traffic monitoring, information gathering and surveying forests and wildlife.

The lightweight and slow beating wings of the ornithopter pose less danger to the public than quadcopter drones in the event of a crash and given sufficient thrust and power banks it could be modified to carry different payloads depending on what is required.

One area that requires more research is how birds will react to a mechanical flying object resembling them in size and shape. Small, domesticated birds are easily scared by drones but large flocks and much bigger birds have been known to attack ornithopters.

And while the bio-inspired breakthrough is impressive, the team is a long way from replicating biological flight, the team lead noted.

While ornithopters are the closest to biological flight with their flapping wing propulsion, birds and insects have multiple sets of muscles which enable them to fly incredibly fast, fold their wings, twist, open feather slots and save energy.

Their wing agility allows them to turn their body in mid-air while still flapping at different speeds and angles.

Common swifts can cruise at a maximum speed of 31 metres a second, equivalent to 112 kilometres per hour or 90 miles per hour.

“At most, I would say we are replicating 10 per cent of biological flight,” the professor said.

The project was a culmination of  PhD work done by Dr Yao-Wei Chin at Nanyang Technological University under the guidance of Associate Professor Gih-Keong Lau (now with National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan).

It also consisted of international collaboration comprising Professor Boo Cheong Khoo (National University of Singapore), Professor Javaan Chahl and Dr Jia Ming Kok (the University of South Australia and Defence Science and Technology Group, Australia), Dr Yong-Qiang Zhu (Qingdao University of Technology, China) and Dr Woei Leong Chan (National University of Singapore).

The first Singapore-China (Shenzhen) Smart City Initiative (SCI) Joint Implementation Committee (JIC) meeting was held today, helmed by the Ministry of Communications and Information’s Permanent Secretary, Yong Ying-I, and Shenzhen Mayor, Chen Rugui.

Eight Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) were also inked at the meeting which will enable both enterprises and individuals to have greater ease of access to market opportunities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA) and Southeast Asia (SEA).

The Smart City Initiative signifies the commitment by both sides towards digital connectivity which has become even more pertinent amid COVID-19. The SCI is centred around three pillars– Digital connectivity, Innovation and entrepreneurship, and Tech talent exchange and development – to better support businesses and individuals as technological advancements in today’s digital economy have transformed the way businesses operate and how individuals consume services.

Permanent Secretary of MCI, Yong Ying-I said, “The Singapore-China (Shenzhen) Initiative has produced substantial positive outcomes just months after its launch last year, in spite of the COVID-19 situation. Indeed, COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of digitalisation in our economies. Singapore will continue to work with like-minded partners like Shenzhen, to drive innovation and entrepreneurship in digital economies, and to enhance trade and connectivity to create exciting opportunities for businesses, communities and individuals.”

New Asian SME Hub

A new Asian SME Hub will be set up to facilitate access to a larger ecosystem of buyers, sellers, logistics service providers, financing, and digital solution providers. Operational by July 2020, it will facilitate trusted cross-border partnerships as businesses scale up and expand into new markets to help businesses innovate and tap on growth opportunities.

To begin with the 50 SMEs are already selling industrial hardware, chemicals, safety, medical and office supplies on, a B2B digital platform supported by IMDA and ESG under the Grow Digital initiative, will have access to a buyer base of 4 million SMEs in YiQiYe’s SME Ecosystem in China.

As more SME ecosystems are being developed in ASEAN, they will also be able to form partnerships for innovation and leverage business opportunities with SMEs in China through the new Asian SME Hub.

Through digital trade connectivity, businesses will enjoy greater efficiency with faster, digitalised insurance and financing processes with banks which are facilitated by expeditious validation of data.

Businesses can also benefit from seamless trade transactions with the streamlining of electronic documentations as both parties work towards the mutual recognition of these documents.

Co-operation for mutual benefits in Digitalisation

With increased international trade and business activities, businesses from both cities will soon be able to rely on an efficient and effective “mediation-arbitration” dispute resolution model offered by the Singapore International Mediation Centre in collaboration with the Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration to resolve cross-border disputes.

This will help boost business confidence, allowing them to maintain relationships as there is assurance that settlement agreements can be mutually enforced.

In addition, both cities agreed to explore cooperation in talent exchange and work towards mutual recognition and interoperability of both parties’ digital identity platforms.

Mr Chen Rugui, Mayor of Shenzhen Municipality said: “This meeting has helped to elevate the Singapore-China (Shenzhen) Smart City Initiative to a new level. Shenzhen will follow the principles of “cooperation for mutual benefits, government-guided, enterprise led and a market-based approach”, to comprehensively deepen the SCI cooperation between Singapore and Shenzhen, accelerate the implementation of cooperation projects in areas such as digital trade, digital payment, cross-border data management, and mutual recognition of digital identities.

We will actively promote exchanges between enterprises, research institutions and institutes of higher learning from both sides, with an aim to jointly create a new benchmark for global smart city cooperation.”

Drones are now becoming essential tools in the fight against the new Coronavirus outbreak in China. People are using drones to carry out tasks like spraying disinfectant over villages, dispersing public gatherings and facilitating construction.

Drones could dramatically improve how China attempts to kill the virus in public areas. They can cover far more ground than traditional methods, while reducing risk to workers who would otherwise spend more time potentially exposed to both the virus and the disinfectant.

Monitoring Public Gatherings and Keep Public Informed

Local governments are mounting speakers on small drones to disperse public gatherings. They have also been used to warn people regarding quarantine curfews or if they are seen out in public without wearing a mask. Drones have also flew banners to educate people on how to take the necessary precautions.

Thermal cameras on drones were also used to monitor body temperatures so medical staff can identify new potential cases. In Shanghai, drones have been deployed on city roads for monitoring while officials check travellers’ temperatures.

To contain the spread of the virus, drones are also used to monitor activities such as traffic and waste disposal. In Zhongshan, drones are used to oversee the disposal of medical waste coming out of hospitals.

People across China are mounting disinfectant tools on their crop-spraying drones. Drones are being used in Chinese villages also to spray disinfectant throughout their villages to help fight the spread of the virus.

Facilitating Construction

Lighting drones were used in Wuhan when two large temporary hospitals had to be built in a matter of days as the city ran out of beds in the hospitals. Without the street lamps and construction lights at the site, six large lighting drones hovered above the ground so that the construction workers could work 24 hours a day to get it completed in record time.

Drone Delivery

Another use for drones is Drone delivery. The outbreak has kept millions of families in their homes to avoid contact with others. Contactless delivery would be a huge help to these households that have been quarantined. Organisations can send food, supplies and medicine to anyone in need. At the same time, avoiding face-to-face contact will cut the risk of infection.

This crisis has created an opportunity to discover new ways of using drones to curb the spread of Covid-19 not only in China but globally.

During the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2003, many educators in Hong Kong turned to the dissemination of online learning via a website created for each grade level. Subject teachers posted worksheets and projects for students to complete.

Now, in 2020, differences in schools’ commitment and capacity to implement and support high-quality online instruction become evident as schools close amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. Hong Kong schools will remain closed until at least 2 March 2020.

Several schools, especially international schools, are trying to have their students “attend” a regular school day. Some are providing students with an interactive classroom experience via different web-based video conferencing tools.

They are working to continue live interactions between teachers and students as online instruction is adopted, as well as more collaborative interactions among students with online instructional programmes. (However, some schools are still sending worksheets to students.)

How are these schools able to roll out home learning so successfully? Experience of bad weather, and coping with the disruption caused by recent protests in Hong Kong, have helped.

Educators have become accustomed to delivering home learning in a suspension for typhoons, which is typically one to two days.

During the protests, teachers started using more videos, and afterwards reviewed delivery of home learning across schools so that they could be better prepared for further suspensions, one educator noted.

Another school stated that it is currently using several different online platforms to deliver lectures and meet curriculum benchmarks. Teachers have the flexibility to decide how they choose to disseminate online learning.

One school is addressing the well-being of senior students. Its PE department uploads daily workouts for students that are designed to be done indoors using home furniture.

Student advisories take place daily at noon, which allows students to engage in a live chat with their tutor, enabling their well-being to be assessed.

The heads of each prep school are recording a weekly assembly, focusing on hygiene and handwashing, among other topics.

Students preparing for exams and doing practical subjects have definitely been affected by the school’s closure. Reduced access to specialist machinery has prevented some students from design technology completing work and affected drama students’ ability to rehearse with others.

To help with this, teachers find themselves taking more risks; using online simulations in lieu of practicals.

In related news, a Hong Kong-based artificial intelligence SaaS company announced that it has launched a series of free online educational tools.

The firm offers complimentary videos for AI-focused online classes, an interactive platform for learning to program and practising AI theories, and courses for educators to learn how to teach the content.

The video classes focus on the fundamentals of AI, machine learning, and robotics. The content is available on several online learning platforms in China.

Meanwhile, teachers can use the firm’s instructor training materials, which include details on “AI development to applications and algorithms.”

The tech firm is also offering free live-streamed lessons that allow for real-time conversations, the company said.

During the first semester of the 2019-2020 school year which began in September, 140,000 students from cities including Shanghai, eastern China’s Qingdao, as well as Hong Kong and Macau used the company’s AI curriculum.

AI applications have made contributions to the prevention and control of the epidemic – in terms of screening, diagnosing and monitoring the disease through data analytics.

With the rapid adoption of AI technologies in various industries, rising demand for AI talents is expected across the world.

The firm is not the only company offering free online classes as a result of the outbreak.

A Chinese online teaching and the educational company pledged to offer free classes to children between the ages of four and 12.

Meanwhile, schools around China have been using platforms like Dingtalk and Wechat Work to conduct remote video classes so students don’t fall behind.

Many large tech companies are facing new challenges due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus in China. The virus is spreading from one country to another and is worrying not just for governments, but also for industries such as the tech sector.

Tech companies have closed stores and offices, restricted executives and workers from traveling to the country and warned about the potential effects on their supply chains.

The Chinese government has barred people from leaving Wuhan and Hubei, the provinces surrounding it, and severely restricted them from moving around in public — measures that have forced most industrial production to stop in the province.

Loss Of Revenue Predicted

Producers of smartphones and other consumer electronics could face loss of revenue and productivity due to workers told to stay home and factories shut by government order.

Major Tech Organisations Closing Business Operations and Restrict Business Travel

The iPhone maker has temporarily shut all of its stores in mainland China, one of its biggest and most important markets. Apple is also closing its corporate offices and contact centres in China until 9 February.

Google has temporarily closed all of its offices in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan due to the health threat. The tech giant has also placed restrictions on business travel to China and Hong Kong.

Microsoft has advised China-based employees to work from home and cancel all nonessential business travel until 9 February. It has also advised employees to avoid non-essential travel to China.

It has also said it will make a 1 million yuan ($144,000) donation to the Hubei Red Cross Foundation to help with relief efforts in Wuhan and surrounding areas.

Singapore Government Prepares to Support Industry Amid Outbreak

Governments around the world are also closely monitoring the situation as it evolves. Depending on how the virus situation progresses, the impact on economies could intensify.

In Singapore, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that the Government will provide targeted support to the sectors that have been more directly affected.

The Singapore Government is prepared to support Singapore firms and workers in the event of a broad-based slowdown in the coming months, including a package of measures to help viable companies stay afloat and help workers stay in their jobs.

Even as the Government helps firms and workers get through this challenging period, the government has pledged it will continue to work together with tripartite partners to restructure the economy, build new enterprise capabilities, and upskill workers.

Virus Will Affect the Global Technology Industry as it has Struck the Largest Manufacturing Hub in the World

Travel restrictions to China are a significant burden for the companies, given the country’s role as the largest manufacturing hub in the world and a place where employees travel frequently.

The governments of six Chinese provinces, including manufacturing hubs crucial for the global technology industry such as Shanghai, Jiangsu, Guangdong and Chongqing, declared that the return to work after the Lunar New Year be delayed by a week to February 10 for all but essential industries.

The AU$ 300,000 funding from the Government of Queensland has supported the establishment of a Queensland University of Technology (QUT)-led joint Queensland-China research centre using 3D printing technology to repair ageing body parts.

According to a recent press release, the Joint Research Centre for the Development of Functional Biomaterials in Advanced Manufacturing of Human Tissues and Organs will boost collaboration between leading scientists and industries in Queensland and Shanghai in tissue and human organ engineering.

Background of the initiative

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad explained that the new centre was developed to address the common challenges faced by the ageing populations of both countries.

She shared that the older population of Queensland is expected to grow by 68% over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, about a third of China’s population will be over 60 by 2050.

With the increasing numbers of older people in need of care, the health systems will be put under enormous pressure.

Accelerating research in this important field will improve the quality of life for everyone as they get older, thereby reducing the burden off the health care systems.

Joint Research Centre

The Centre will focus on living tissue replacements to restore the functions of damaged tissues and organs in the treatment of bone and joint disorders.

This will include osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, fractures and soft tissue trauma, including wounds.

The market for the printing of biomaterials to either repair damaged tissues and organs or even replace them is expected grow substantially over the next few years.

A biomaterial is a biological or synthetic substance which can be introduced into body tissue as part of an implanted medical device or used to replace an organ.

The world market for biomaterials is expected to almost double by 2024 to US$ 207 billion.

Collaboration plans

The University’s Vice-Chancellor and President credits the establishment of the joint research centre to the result of six years of successful research collaboration between researchers from both the University and Shanghai, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Research progress has reached the stage where they are poised to up the ante with the aim of developing and manufacturing the next generation of biomaterials for bone and cartilage repair, skin regeneration and joint reconstruction.

The Queensland and Chinese researchers are looking to develop a ‘bioink’ that they can use to engineer scaffolds that can replicate the characteristics of tissues and even organs.

This is brilliant science. It will hold up hope for millions of people suffering from arthritic pain and age-related injuries.

In addition, there is also the economic benefit with growing demand globally for biomaterials.

At the sixth India-China Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED), the two countries agreed to cooperate in R&D to develop new technology for the manufacturing of solar cells from alternate material.

According to a press statement by India’s planning commission, NITI Aayog, the Dialogue comprised of round table meetings of six joint working groups.

Under a working group on energy, the countries will collaborate on renewable energy, the clean coal technology and e-mobility sectors, smart grids, and smart meters.

The two sides have also agreed on cooperation in the fields of e-mobility and energy storage.

Through “pragmatic” and “outcome-oriented deliberations”, the working groups arrived at mutual agreements. Some of which include:

Policy coordination

The countries reviewed trade and investment climates to identify potential areas of collaboration, notably innovation and investment focusing on fintech and related technologies.

A working group on high-tech

The sides exchanged views on regulatory procedures like developing artificial intelligence, high-tech manufacturing, and next-generation mobile communications. They discussed technological innovation, the current industrial situation, and mechanisms to further strengthen digital partnerships, data governance, and related industry policy.

A working group on resource conservation and environmental protection

On the role of innovation in resource conservation, the countries deliberated on effective utilisation of low-cost construction technology, methods of flood and erosion control, and air pollution, etc. They agreed to exchange relevant information more frequently.

The release noted that the two sides will use the SED mechanism as an over-arching and permanent instrument to address outstanding issues and identify potential areas of collaboration to augment bilateral economic and commercial ties.

NITI Aayog (India) and the National Development and Reforms Commission (China) lead the SED wherein an annual Dialogue is held alternately at the capital cities of the two countries. At the 2nd SED, which was held on November 2012, it was decided to constitute five standing joint working groups on policy coordination, infrastructure, environment, energy, and high technology under the SED to strengthen cooperation in these fields. A 6th group on Pharmaceuticals has been constituted after the 5th SED.

Over the last few years, India has fostered strategic partnerships with countries in fields of cybersecurity, AI, machine learning, etc.

Last month, OpenGov reported that India and France finalised an agreement, which will enable the countries to work more closely in the areas of digital and cyber security.

France and India intend to make digital technology a transformative factor in their societies, to foster economic growth, sustainable development, and secure enhanced internet access which is essential to bridge the digital divide.

They intend to share information on the legal and regulatory framework and best practices, including the protection of the Economic Information Infrastructure. Also, on the testing and certification of digital products.

They will work together on the risks associated with the deployment of 5G technologies and the technical solutions adopted to deal with them.

Through the agreement, the two countries will work to promote an inclusive, transparent, and open digital environment.

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