A pregnant mother wanting to test for Down’s Syndrome in her unborn baby without invasive testing. A doctor trying to make a call on the optimal drug and dosage for a safer and more effective treatment. These are some of the people that the Singapore National Precision Medicine (SG-NPM) programme aims to help.
Established in 2017, the vision of this 10-year effort is to enable a healthcare strategy that is tailored to Singapore’s population diversity through precision medicine – a move that can revolutionise how healthcare is delivered.
Precision medicine takes individual variations in genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors into account, allowing doctors to more accurately predict which treatment and prevention strategies will work in different groups of people. Enabled by tools to analyse data on a large scale and with DNA sequencing becoming more affordable, precision medicine can improve healthcare by giving doctors a more detailed understanding of each patient.
Central to the effort is the Centre for Big data and Integrative Genomics (c-BIG), a collaboration between four A*STAR research institutes – the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), the Bioinformatics Institute (BII), the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC) and the Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R).
These efforts are coordinated under A*STAR’s Artificial Intelligence, Analytics And Informatics Horizontal Technology Programme Office (AI3 HTPO), which catalyses the development and application of A*STAR’s broad range data science, AI capabilities and technologies for a wide range of industry sectors.
“The first step was to build an IT infrastructure to securely store, analyse and share genomics data at scale to produce and distribute a reference catalogue that captures the genetic variation of 10,000 healthy Singaporeans,” said Dr Shyam Prabhakar, Associate Director, Spatial and Single Cell Systems at A*STAR’s GIS.
This first phase of the NPM has been completed, where the researchers have created the world’s largest genetic databank of Asian populations, which has three Asian populations: Chinese, Indian, and Malay represented. The time is now ripe for Phase 2, which will be to scale up the database.
“The next step is to extend the generation of genetic and phenotypic diversity data to 100,000 healthy Singaporeans in NPM Phase 2, drawing on the capabilities of A*STAR and our ecosystem partners,” said Prof Patrick Tan, Executive Director of GIS, and Executive Director of PRECISE (Precision Health Research Singapore).
“The richness of the data provided by the database, combined with our knowledge of Asian genetics accumulated over the years, means that the clinical applications of genomics are vast.”
This genetic databank is useful for analysis to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, and especially to identify millions of novel Asian-specific genetic variants. Understanding the actual genetic makeup of the Asian population allows the tailoring of products and medicines for this specific market.
For example, genomics can be found at the core of diagnostic tests, such as the use of non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) in pregnancy to identify children who may be born with debilitating or fatal genetic defects. Similarly, knowing the genetic variants that an individual carries can be used to estimate their likelihood of suffering from diseases such as diabetes or schizophrenia. Genomics can also be used to guide targeted treatments, such as administering the right drug in the right dose, relevant in pharmacogenomics (PGx), the study of how genes can influence responses to drugs.
The c-BIG initiative has contributed to delivering that vision through a variety of technologies and ecosystems. Leveraging the data storage and computing power capability from the National Supercomputing Centre, the team was able to deploy state-of-the-art genome analytics algorithms at an industrial scale to uncover the genetic variants of each individual.
A custom-built secured cloud-based big-data infrastructure has also been developed to enable and facilitate controlled programmatic and web-based graphical interface data access and analysis capabilities to Singapore’s biomedical research community. As the programme grows in the next phase, c-BIG will continue to scale by building on next-level data management, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI).
“The custom data sharing services built by c-BIG will enable secure mining of the resource, and thus pave the way for the discovery of new research insights and actionable clinical findings,” said Dr Nicolas Bertin, Chief Architect of the c-BIG’s NPM infrastructure.
As the team looks to tackle the new scalability challenges posed in NPM Phase 2, researchers are already working to source new types of data to enable richer integrative analyses, including methylation and single-cell expression signals.
The addition of new data types and scaling up of the databank will empower researchers and medical professionals to better understand the inherited diseases in Asian populations. This would pave the way to develop new treatments and ways to predict and diagnose diseases and enable more effective and efficient healthcare services for both Singapore and Asian populations.
Immersive virtual reality (VR) technology could help speech pathologists treat communication disorders, according to University of Queensland research.
Dr Atiyeh Vaezipour, from the RECOVER Injury Research Centre, said the results provided a foundation to inform the design, development and implementation of a VR system to be used in the rehabilitation of people with acquired communication disorders.
“Communication disorders can result in significant barriers to everyday life activities, and commonly require long-term rehabilitation,” Dr Vaezipour said. “Traditionally, speech pathologists deliver therapy in places such as hospitals and health centres, where there are limited opportunities for real-life interaction.”
It was noted that VR applications could simulate social communication situations that are difficult to create within the clinic in realistic, personally relevant and safe environments. VR could be used as a rehabilitation tool in communication environments that mimic the richness, complexity and dynamics of everyday situations.
Dr Vaezipour interviewed and surveyed speech pathologists following their use of an immersive VR kitchen environment. Participants in this study were positive about the usefulness of VR and its potential applications to the management of communication disorders within speech-language pathology, she said.
She also noted that speech pathologists considered VR to be a viable option for observation of communication performance in more life-like environments, bridging the gap between communication in the clinic and communication in external environments where distractions are present, such as background noise or visual complexity.
VR could provide valid contexts for people to practise their communication skills, build confidence interacting with others and generalise their communication skills to various environments. Dr Vaezipour said a human-centred design process was critical in developing VR tools for use in clinical practice. “Immersive VR applications will require customisation and adaptation capabilities that enable tailoring to the specific target goals, and physical, cognitive, and communication needs of the client,” she said.
Incorporating human factors from the early stages of design and development could enable the successful adoption of novel technologies in rehabilitation. More evidence-based research to support the use of immersive VR in the management of adult neurogenic communication disorders is critical to enhancing uptake and sustained use by speech pathologists.
The study is published in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation.
The potential of VR in the medical profession
According to another article, virtual reality technology is used in many areas of healthcare, in a variety of applications. These include medical training, for both doctors in training and students, patient treatment, medical marketing, and educating people about a disease or medical condition or process.
Current medical training has shifted from the rote memorisation of facts to imparting skills to use facts to arrive at a proper management strategy when faced with a given patient. This training includes problem-oriented learning, communication skills, and VR-based learning.
Any kind of medical situation can be simulated using VR, to allow the students to deal with it as in real life. This is followed by feedback and debriefing, to allow them to learn from their mistakes, if any. The cheapness of VR systems and the fact that faculty are not required to be present makes access more flexible and broad-based.
VR can be used to help medical professionals visualize the interior of the human body, thus unveiling otherwise inaccessible areas. For one, the dissection of cadavers, which was a norm for every new medical student, has given way to the study of human anatomy via VR.
Computer graphics have made it possible to recreate any part of the body in great detail, with extreme faithfulness to reality. Moreover, training can be offered using scenarios that closely mimic common surgical situations.
The high cost of such VR environments, including the cost of monitors, programming, and the other tools required for such training, may perhaps be offset by including a greater number of students in each program. However, the results are superior, with more accurate knowledge resulting from the use of VR.
Robots take the guesswork out of doctors’ handwriting at some of New Zealand’s medical clinics. These medical institutions believe that their usage of robotic process automation has been key in digitising mundane processes and better engaging customers—all without costing human jobs.
To put things into perspective, a doctor’s handwriting is a notoriously difficult read and has become something of a truism, but robotic process automation (RPA) can make short work of even the most indecipherable writing. That is the experience of 13 clinics, where the technology is achieving 98% accuracy rates when processing clinical referrals.
The medical practitioners say that it has often been difficult for their staff to transcribe clinician notes but giving the job to the robots resulted in fewer transcription errors and a process that has sped up remarkably. They said that the first robot, Matilda, was on-premises, but Matilda and their additional e-robot are now in the cloud, which has enabled more functionality, such as the use of optical character recognition technology to process referrals.
As robots can consume large amounts of data, they can scan all the clinic’s referrals and so it gives the AI all that data and it keeps learning and improving at a very rapid rate. So, when somebody writes an ‘I’ or an ‘E’ or an ‘R’, and the application has seen that several times, it is now well adept at recognising that that is the character that person has written down. It is the continuous learning loop and the ability to ingest huge amounts of data that makes it accurate, the medical practitioners say.
The Matilda robot now handles 98% of invoices automatically, and what previously took human workers eight to 10 hours, the robot completes it in two hours. This has allowed the medical institution to make invoices daily, instead of weekly, which has enhanced cash flow by NZ$200,000 per month.
However, the introduction of RPA originally caused some disquiet among staff, who were concerned that robots would replace them. The medical leaders say this is something all business leaders need to consider when introducing automation into the workflow. In the case of these clinics, there was a push to ensure people could be freed from mundane jobs to embark on more interesting high-value tasks. The tech adopters also said that they have not made anybody redundant, instead, they just repurposed and repackaged their team’s roles to make them evolve into a digital experienced team, that is focused on utilising technologies like RPA.
The clinics using the AI tech now consider themselves as a “bionic organisation”, by getting the best of people and digital technology. The clinics also see plenty of applications of RPA for the public healthcare sector — including with the COVID-19 response in the country. They added that the medical profession needs to recognise the commonalities, and in doing so embrace areas where automation can be used to make efficiencies and focus on the care of people, at the end of the day.
Accordingly, New Zealand’s Ministry of Health has developed a Health Technology Innovation Framework to provide direction to health technology innovators and guide the use of emerging health technologies in supporting a strong and equitable public health and disability system. This is a key part of the Digital Health Strategic Framework and the role of the Ministry.
For the Ministry, identifying a problem that needs solving is often the first step in health innovation. Some problems will be investigated by New Zealand’s many research institutes and universities. This then may result in solutions that use new health technology or services, that could influence change within the country’s current health practices.
Scientists in New Zealand have designed a smart sleeve they say could help reduce the spread of COVID-19 at the country’s border – and now aim to test it in MIQ facilities. The smart garment, created by a University of Auckland spin-out, aims to tackle an important hygiene issue – face-touching. The developers realised that this was a gap in the public health measures, so well publicised by the government, right from the beginning of the pandemic.
While wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and sneezing or coughing into our sleeves were all vital steps to stop spread, the tech developer said that face-touching remained a difficult problem to address. That is because it is almost always an unconscious or involuntary act and it occurs 15 to 30 times per hour.
The day before last year’s nationwide lockdown, the team mocked up a prototype for a comfortable, washable, “mini sleeve” that is worn on one elbow and under clothes. Over the next few weeks, they filed for IP on their invention, secured funding from a donor and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) therefore forming the tech company.
The key to the design is a programmable sensor that detects elbow flexion and when the hand approaches the face. It uses the well-known principle of haptic feedback to give a vibration alert – like a smartphone or smartwatch – when the hand approaches the face. This makes the user aware that they are about to touch their faces. Thus, the unconscious act becomes conscious, said the developers.
As for the design itself, the team is currently building Bluetooth functionality. It is not necessary but will add real value by allowing remote collection of anonymous data, software updates, push messaging, and incentivisation through graphics to show reduced face touching, they added.
Trials carried out with hospital junior doctors and supermarket staff have proven promising, they said, with 80% of wearers feeling they touched their faces less. The results have both encouraged and allowed developers to further improve the product. They added that they are now at the point where they are ready to work with targeted groups to ensure that the product is optimised to various at-risk settings.
Further trials were planned in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities, an emergency department and at a large medical sales and distribution company. Beyond that, the team is seeking funding to conduct trials amongst the elderly, in rest homes, and with Maori/Pasifika people in their communities. The developers are also exploring the opportunities for airlines and airports and other public transport workers, such as bus drivers.
The team was concentrating initially on the New Zealand market, then aimed to enter the Australian markets when a travel bubble opened. They began discussions about the Asian market and have identified offshore manufacturing. They will also be working with NZ Trade and Enterprise to open these and other markets, such as Europe and the US.
For the developers, there is significant potential to develop the sleeve further with imaging, messaging, and fashion, including co-ordination with re-usable masks. Ultimately, the team hoped their smart sleeve might come to be an addition to personal protective equipment – as well as to counter other infectious diseases, or even some repetitive behaviour disorders.
However, they do not see it displacing any of the important public health measures, but rather they see it as a valuable adjunctive measure. They added that it is important that the government is doing all that it can to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, especially in MIQ facilities and the border.
The Philippine government, through the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), is taking complete control of the StaySafe contact tracing app developed by a local tech firm. This is after the government and the tech firm signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that will give the DILG complete responsibility and controllership over StaySafe.PH and all sensitive personal data that are collected with the use of the application.
The agency believes that instead of using other apps, local government units (LGUs) must use one app for a unified system that will allow seamless, fast, and efficient contact tracing efforts. The government recognises that they need to further intensify their contact tracing initiatives especially now that the country has a surge of COVID-19 cases. With the help of the app and the dedicated efforts of contact tracing teams nationwide, the agency believes that this can help in successfully tracking down the cases and their contacts and prevent the spread of the virus.
The National Privacy Commission (NPC) welcomed the signing of the agreement even as it stressed that privacy should be considered in government interventions that make use of personal data. When the government collects the personal data of citizenry, they owe these citizens a solemn covenant to protect their data and ensure that we will not use their data for other purposes, said NPC.
The NPC said gaining the trust of the citizens is crucial in the success of the government’s contact tracing efforts. They said that Filipinos need to be assured that data is handled securely; the data demanded of them is proportional to the purpose; they can understand how their data will be used; there is a specific purpose for the processing, and their data will be retained for no longer than is necessary.
Furthermore, the NPC also recognises the immense benefits of data-driven technologies. They said that they treat personal information controllers all the same, and they help those that try to comply with the Data Privacy Act and its principles.
These apps must allow users to opt-in and out of digital contact tracing. Use of the app must be voluntary, with data subjects allowed to withdraw consent at any time. Opting out must not lead to negative consequences for the user. When different purposes exist in the app, there must be a separate consent and the purpose must be explained beforehand to users (e.g., the use of anonymised data for pandemic and epidemiology research and development purposes).
Developers must also ensure that users can exercise their data privacy rights by providing user controls in the initial onboarding and during the use of the app. A user control can be in the form of a dedicated privacy control panel or dashboard. They must also make the contact tracing app’s system access explicit, especially when it tries to access sensitive capabilities of the user’s mobile device (e.g., storage or microphone). When making a permission request, the app must disclose what it is accessing.
They must also define and set where personal data are stored. Put in place strict policies and safeguards to restrict the location points of the digital personal data processed by the contact tracing app. To prevent the data from being retrieved or the data subjects re-identified, delete, and dispose of the personal data securely when the primary purpose for processing has already expired and there is no other legal basis (like law enforcement) to keep the case details for a period longer than the existence of the pandemic.
Lastly, before implementing the app, business, system and process owners, or developers should conduct a privacy impact assessment (PIA) to identify data privacy and security risks.
A digital health literacy initiative funded by the Australian Digital Health Agency last year is reaping significant rewards and helping bridge the digital divide that precludes many Australians from accessing improved health services.
Last year, 71 community organisations across Australia were selected by the Good Things Foundation to teach digital health literacy skills through the Health My Way program and improve digital inclusion.
The Foundation is a social change charity that supports people to improve their lives through the use of technology and builds understanding and skills to allow Australians to realise the benefits of the evolving digital health system.
The Foundation trained and resourced 232 digital health mentors from the funded community organisations to deliver the project. Eighty per cent of participants in the pilot said their digital health literacy skills and confidence had increased.
During the project, at least 3,000 people have been directly supported by the mentors to improve their skills. Another 3,000 have been reached through community events and the provision of resources on accessing reliable information online about COVID-19.
The CEO of the Australian Digital Health Agency stated that by supporting the Good Things Foundation and its national network of community organisations, the Agency was benefitting from their local relationships and existing roles supporting communities.
The Foundation has a network of 3,500 community organisations providing digital skills and online tools to support their communities. The organisations selected to receive funding included those supporting seniors, culturally and linguistically diverse people and people with disabilities.
Staff and volunteers of the selected community organisations attended the Foundation’s train-the-trainer sessions so they could teach people in their local area how to understand and use digital health literacy tools such as My Health Record or fitness and wellbeing apps and find reliable health information online.
One organisation participating in the program is the Burdekin Community Association in Queensland. They have been running the digital health literacy program throughout the pandemic.
Their Service Coordinator said, “We kept the centre open under COVID-safe conditions and were able to continue to provide advice both in person and over the phone when our community needed it most. This program is very beneficial and easy for learners to follow. It can be paced to suit each individual’s needs and offers a tailored approach to improve their digital skills.”
The National Director of the Foundation noted that the organisation welcomed the opportunity to work with the Australian Digital Health Agency to promote digital health literacy skills in Australia.
“Digital skills are essential for all Australians so they can benefit from the range of online tools available to improve their health and wellbeing,” she said. “Our network of organisations has supported people to learn these valuable skills in their community for free.”
“Together with our work with the Australian Library and Information Association who help people access their My Health Records, we are supporting Australians to make the most of the fantastic health tech innovations in this country – to help them lead happier, healthier lives.”
The Foundation had developed and released brand new online learning modules to support the work undertaken in the community to improve digital health literacy. Released for the first time late last year, these can be accessed by anyone, anytime.
When it comes to improving the health of all Australians, the role of digital innovation and connection is a vital part of a modern, accessible healthcare system. Against the backdrop of COVID-19, digital health has seen exponential growth in relevance and importance, making it more pertinent than ever for all Australians and healthcare providers.
Under the National Programme on Digital Transformation, the government aims to develop and master a series of “Made in Vietnam” digital products. These technologies are expected to fundamentally change the management and delivery of education and healthcare.
The education and training sector will focus on digitalising management, teaching, learning, evaluating, and scientific research. Smart educational models are being developed based on the application of IT platforms.
According to a media report, there is a shared database between the education ministry, departments and offices of education and training, and educational institutions. The sector has digitalised and identified the data of more than 53,000 schools, one million teachers, and 23 million students, contributing effectively to the enrollment, statistics, and reports from the sector.
Authorities are mobilising teachers to contribute and share learning materials on the digital data storage of the sector, which has added early 5,000 quality e-learning lessons to the Vietnamese Knowledge System.
However, investments are needed in network infrastructure, IT equipment, transmission lines, and Internet services for schools, especially in isolated areas. Further, collecting digital data such as e-libraries, e-learning software, and simulation application software has not been implemented in a planned manner. This has made it difficult to control learning quality and content.
Regarding the healthcare sector, currently, 100% of medical documents have been electronically processed. All administrative procedures of the Ministry of Health have been carried out online at level 4 and are gradually being connected to the national public service portal.
The Ministry of Health is also promoting remote health examinations and treatment activities, including providing medical consultation, image diagnosis, surgical consultation, technical transfer training, and others. The health sector has made public the prices of 62,438 types of medicine (retail prices in pharmacies), 17,066 medical equipment and supplies, and 93,253 medical bidding results.
Additionally, a large number of hospitals have applied electronic medical records to replace outdated paper ones and used the picture archiving and communication system (PACS) without film printing. The Ministry of Health is ranked 4th on the overall IT application level among ministries and ministerial agencies.
However, for total, comprehensive, and safe digitalisation, legal frameworks and financial mechanisms must be revised as medical equipment with IT applications are not considered as medical equipment, which suffers from depreciation.
Other sectors of the economy
In the business sector, digital transformation has become indispensable in the fight against COVID-19. Since the pandemic hit, more than 13,000 digital tech enterprises have been established, up 28%. Vietnam’s digital tech business community currently has over 58,000 companies. As per the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), 38 made-in-Vietnam digital platforms were being used by organisations and enterprises by the end of 2020.
In the area of natural resources and the environment, digital transformation has contributed to building a comprehensive information system and large database to effectively manage the field. Including, the national land and geographic databases. Data on monitoring natural resources and the environment, biodiversity, waste sources, sea and islands, climate change, and meteorology.
IT experts say it is necessary to immediately deploy a number of solutions to be able to master digital infrastructure, digital platforms, and national cyberspace. This will aid the objective to develop a safe, healthy, and humane cyberspace as well as master the “Make in Vietnam” production technology. Further, digital technology and services must be universal with reasonable prices and easy to use and convenient for everyone.
Healthcare and transport are two vital government-managed functions that have been fundamentally impacted, in different, but substantial, ways, by the COVID-19 pandemic. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has eased the burden of healthcare by helping it pivot to a more digital-driven service delivery model while it has kept public transport running across the world.
OpenGov Asia spoke recently with Howie Sim, Vice President, Healthcare & Transport Client Service Unit for NCS. He is convinced that COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of AI in the healthcare space. Prior to the pandemic, the sector was predominantly service-oriented with a lot of people-to-people interaction. For better or for worse, COVID-19 disrupted that human to human interaction; and with fears over the infection, segregation and distancing became the norm.
The inflexion point for Singapore, Howie believes, came when the nation instituted their lockdown – which coincided with the government setting-up a Community Care Facility (CCF). As the infection rate began to soar to one thousand cases a day, the CCF quickly turned to AI for help in handling admissions. Public health care organisations, including the CCF, approached NCS to leverage their AI capabilities.
Deployment of AI was from the mundane to the complex. For example, AI allowed patients to take their temperature and upload the information to a platform, where the data would be analysed.
AI-powered virtual nurses/assistants offer help to overwhelmed medical staff with more routine work. Robots are even more versatile and are constantly being improved on. Robots, like real-life staff, need to travel between floors, but the existing physical infrastructure was not created to cater to such needs. So AI/ML is being used to train robots to take lifts (elevators) between floors.
Another prime example is video surveillance to detect situations where there are physical risks to a patient – falling in the ward or out of bed. While this can be a common occurrence among patients, many of whom may not have the strength to walk or get out of bed, staff may come through in time. AI-enabled surveillance monitored wards can alert workers immediately in case of such incidents.
NCS has been engaged in research and development work with robotics for healthcare facilities before the pandemic, but since COVID-19 struck, it has drawn a lot more attention. Before the pandemic, Howie recalls, people thought these things were ‘neat’ or a ‘great gimmick’, but with the pandemic, such solutions were seen in a whole new light.
Not only can robotic help free up nurses to attend to more critical services that require human-to-human interaction, but it will also minimise human error. This was, in fact, key learning during the community care facility exercise. Without AI, robotics or virtual assistance, staff were working 14 to 16 hours a day which resulted in a very laborious and labour-intensive experience. For example, if a patient has a certain allergy or needs special medication, that has to be recorded in the admission. If due to fatigue, being spread too thin or overwhelmed, nurses don’t get the right information, it becomes a potentially patient-safety issue. AI or automation at this stage – admission and registration – can drastically reduce risks and have better safer outcomes.
Moving forward, Howie knows the importance of many applications in the healthcare sector. And right on the horizon is immunisation. As the country prepares to take on its national vaccination exercise, it is, again, nurses who will be called to the frontlines to carry out the inoculation. NCS is planning to build on its experience with the Community Care Facility and adopt AI and robotics to automate and speed up the process while easing the burden on staff.
Is the Public Workforce ready for AI/robotics?
The introduction of AI has not come without any concerns from the healthcare community. A common fear is that automation and robots will replace humans. People are concerned about their relevance and need – in short, they fear losing their jobs.
Howie allayed these fears, saying that it’s a perspective issue. He feels that the workload of nurses increases, but resources are finite, so they need something to augment them. Thinking should be around how to manage staffing in such a manner that AI and/or automation become complementary to the existing workforce.
The question then is how to maintain a set of human resources, established around an AI/automation strategy, that can be augmented when necessary. Essentially this creates a more stable employee model – where staff can be ramped-up when needed and then scaled-down after the crises have passed.
AI has progressed to a point where it is complementary to both assessment and analytical work, opines Howie, “There’s no better time to democratise AI to the health care professionals.”
While healthcare has advanced, transport has been challenged
If COVID-19 has driven the healthcare industry to transform, it has forced the transport industry into a painful regression. Howie acknowledges that the public-transportation space has been very hard-hit.
The aviation industry has been grounded, the cruise industry has dried up, and even public transport has been hobbled by commuters who are steering clear of elbow-to-elbow daily transit.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity for AI, feels Howie; quite the contrary. Straight off the top, the movement of goods is still vibrant, and Singapore is a transhipment hub for this region and the world – making it ripe for AI and automation-driven transformation.
But far more importantly, people still have to travel, albeit in smaller geographical areas, less frequently and far more intentionally. In the context of the pandemic, this means certain protocols and norms need to be followed – which could be intentionally or unintentionally disobeyed. Here’s where AI and automation come to the rescue.
For example, there is video analytics, where algorithms can be used to measure if the distance between two people is one meter – or whatever the specified norm is. Face recognition technology can be applied to determine whether people are wearing the appropriate masks. And there’s what Howie calls sound analytics to ascertain whether people are talking too long.
These are applications that can be readily deployed in public transportation immediately. Granted, these technologies are used primarily for analytics, but, Howie points out, they can be integrated into solutions and platforms to keep people safe and informed. This would spark confidence among commuters to use public transport and enable governments to rethink WFH norms, movement control and lockdowns.
Before the pandemic Singapore’s goal was to move to a car-lite society, investing more in public transport to ease congestion, and reduce the country’s carbon footprint. Howie is convinced that AI and digital technology can be leveraged in democratising the transport space but more on the operator side. It can be used to ease the resource and cost pressures of a workforce that has to maintain safety in the new normal.
NCS has been meeting with public transport officials to explore how to overcome the plethora of constraints in the transport sector. “Transport is so important to cities and countries because it keeps people moving, and economic activity going,” Howie states firmly.
In the end, both healthcare and transport are the life-blood of a nation, literally and metaphorically. In an increasingly VUCA environment, it behoves governments and organisations to exploit the potential that AI, automation and robotics have to offer. They can help better-manage the present and create a safer, sustainable future.