Departments within the National University of Singapore have been rising up to solve the challenges that have been presented by COVID-19.
They have been continuously driving forward innovations to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic on a broad range of areas including treatment, testing and infection prevention.
Using AI to find optimal treatment for COVID-19
Investigators from NUS Biomedical Engineering at the NUS N.1 Institute for Health have been using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to rapidly process the various possible combinations and identify the best results.
Using a platform called IDentif.AI, initially developed to find better treatments for cancer, the multidisciplinary team has been able to take a shortlist of 12 promising drugs and process billions of possible combinations and dosages at a speed that would be impossible using traditional medical trials.
“The strength of IDentif.AI is that we can perform one experiment and come out with a list of drug combinations for treatment within days. And if patients do not respond well to the first combinations of drugs, we can derive new combinations within days to re-optimise their care.” – Professor Dean Ho, Head of NUS Biomedical Engineering, and Director of NUS N.1 Institute for Health
Making Testing more effective and efficient
Effective testing is a key part of curbing and containing the spread of the pandemic.
A team at NUS Institute for Health Innovation & Technology (iHealthtech) led by Professor Lim Chwee Teck of NUS Biomedical Engineering has developed a system for testing patients quickly, easily and on location. This avoids the need for samples to be sent to specialized lab testing facilities saving time, effort and cost.
The Epidax system is built around a specially designed chip and microfluidic technology that uses a smaller sample than standard diagnostic tests and returns results in around an hour. It was developed and tested in less than two months, despite the challenges researchers faced working under the restrictions imposed by Singapore’s Circuit Breaker.
“By enabling rapid, simplified yet highly accurate testing on site – such as at local clinics, care homes or airports – the Epidax system will enable us to identify infections and speed up action to prevent transmission,” – Professor Lim Chwee Teck, NUS Biomedical Engineering and Director, NUS Institute for Health Innovation & Technology
3D printing techniques and advanced materials
Using the latest 3D printing techniques and advanced materials, a team from NUS Mechanical Engineering attached to the NUS Centre for Additive Manufacturing (AM.NUS) is working to produce nasal swabs to solve the issues with demand.
They are also working on “masks that are comfortable to wear, safe and recyclable, another factor in making masks usable is for them to be as unobtrusive and patient-friendly as possible” using advanced printing machines available at NUS.
To reduce the chances of infection spreading, NUS Engineering researchers have been a key part of a collaborative effort with doctors and frontline caregivers to develop a portable and easy to clean shield.
Transparent, foldable and similar in appearance to a laboratory glove box, the DART, short for Droplet and Aerosol Reducing Tent, is placed around the patient’s head and is equipped with an air extractor and filter at the top to further reduce the chances of infected droplets leaking out.
Working in close collaboration, the DART team developed the shield in less than two months, with prototypes being tested in hospitals across Singapore.
The innovative solutions not only solve problems we face today during the pandemic but will be relevant for future outbreaks, will improve future diagnosis and provide frontline workers with the adequate protection they require to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.
The country’s central bank received three applications for mobile money services and has licenced all of them, namely, Vietnam Post and Telecommunications Corporation (VNPT), MobiFone, and state-run group Viettel. Pham Tien Dung, the Deputy Governor of the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV), noted that SBV granted Viettel the mobile money service rights after VNPT announced it would pilot this service in Vietnam.
According to a press release, last January, the government urged the pilot use of telecommunications accounts to pay for services of small value and pilot new payment service models as management regulations are lacking. To promote Vietnam’s economy, the Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Manh Hung made several recommendations, including piloting mobile money in the first quarter of 2020. He stated that if mobile money services are licensed to telecommunications operators, the coverage of e-payment services will quickly reach 100% of the population. This promotes e-commerce, agricultural commodity exchanges, especially in remote areas, promotes online public services, fintech companies, innovative start-ups, and economic growth. In all countries that allow mobile money, this service generates economic growth of up to 0.5%.
The CEO of Viettel Digital, Pham Trung Kien, noted that if the government allows mobile money to pay for services and goods of small value, the number of users of electronic payments will be large as the coverage of mobile networks is much wider than banks, even in remote areas where people do not have bank accounts. He explained that for small value goods, for example, a cup of iced tea, parking tickets, soap, or a pack of instant noodles, users will not use their bank accounts to pay but pay by phone. However, they will use electronic payments with bank accounts to buy motorbikes, houses, or goods of high value.
“Some studies estimate that in Vietnam, only about 30% of the adult population have a bank account, and when we create a habit of using electronic payments, the remaining 70% will be customers of banks. Thus, mobile money not only competes but also promotes the use of bank accounts when they are familiar with electronic payment methods,” said Kien. He added that the government’s policy of allowing pilot mobile money is the right trend. When implementing electronic payment services, people will see the practical value created by payment digitisation like saving time and costs.
Around 85% of Vietnamese banking consumers are more likely to use online and digital banking services compared to 18 months ago, according to a recent report. Globally, nearly two-thirds (61%) of consumers have made greater use of digital banking services over the last 18 months. Two in five (41%) have started using digital banking services for the very first time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Vietnam, these numbers are higher, at 70% and 54%, respectively. Approximately 90% of respondents use online and digital banking services mostly to pay bills, transfer money, and check account balances. 87% of local banking customers agreed with the importance of online and digital banking services in a bank or financial institution.
The Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), Malaysia’s lead digital economy agency, is ramping up its efforts in enabling a digital learning landscape for youth through strategic collaborations with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Yayasan Peneraju Pendidikan Bumiputera.
With the aim to fortify digital talent amid the COVID-19 recovery, both collaborations were secured via MDEC #mydigitalmaker Movement, a joint public-private-academia partnership launched in August 2016. The initiative, which is part of the agency’s #SayaDigital agenda, has benefited more than 2.2 million children through the integration of computational thinking into the national school curriculum and co-curricular activities organised by MDEC and its ecosystem partners.
The Chief Digital Skills and Jobs Officer at MDEC stated that the fast-changing talent market brings many new opportunities for young people. Strong fundamental and transferable skills fostered from their early years will be key in nurturing them to become an agile and digitally competent workforce.
This strategic collaboration with UNICEF and Yayasan Peneraju marks MDEC’s continuous effort in ensuring that Malaysia continues to produce a pool of digitally innovative and creative talents in line with the goals of the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint (MyDIGITAL), she said.
Through the collaboration, MDEC and UNICEF aim to create opportunities and better career outcomes for marginalised young people by bringing them together with industry leaders and experts on the same platform for career guidance and mentorships.
The partnership entails on-the-job training and industrial experience opportunities for young people via apprenticeships as well as skill-building opportunities.
Strategic partnerships such as this will accelerate the delivery of inclusive opportunities in education, employment and entrepreneurship. It is in our interest to build the skills of young people so that no one is left behind, according to the UNICEF Representative to Malaysia and Special Representative to Brunei Darussalam.
Through the partnership, both parties will be focusing on joint and independent programmes that are academic and career-oriented developed by MDEC and UNICEF. The programmes include:
- #MyDigitalMaker Fair
- Premier Digital Tech Institutions
- Future Skills for All (FS4A) programme
- KitaConnect Skills-Building Workshops
- MDEC + UNICEF Youth Employability Readiness programme
Focusing on developing a forward-looking digital landscape for Bumiputera’s youth, MDEC has partnered with Yayasan Peneraju to provide a knowledge-enhancing programme, Yayasan Peneraju High Impact Programme – Competition (Technology), for school students nationwide via a virtual platform.
Fully funded by Yayasan Peneraju, the series of online sessions began in early 2021 and has been benefiting more than 1,000 young Bumiputera students, aged 13 to 17 years old, through learning and exploring digital technology skill sets via online competitions.
The strategic cooperation with MDEC is an important factor in responding to the challenge of nurturing human capital, especially the Bumiputera talent, to the highest potential in deepening technological expertise. As an agency under the Prime Minister’s Department, the organisation’s mandate is to increase the quality of professional Bumiputera talents in the high impact sectors.
“We must ensure that our beneficiaries are also equipped with skills and technological knowledge so that they can excel in their career and life,” said the CEO of Yayasan Peneraju.
U.S. President Joe Biden has been vocal about his goals to boost federal investment in electric vehicles and EV infrastructure since the start of his administration. His proposed American Jobs Plan includes $174 billion for promoting the domestic production of EVs and notably electrifying the entire federal fleet.
The American Jobs Plan will create incentives to continue to lower the cost of and support market demand for electric vehicles. These incentives are a proven policy to support the growing market for EVs, which then drives down the purchase price as the auto industry scales up production and creates incentives for domestic production.
The administration plans to grow the number of charging stations in the U.S. from 42,000 to 500,000 by 2030. Yet even then, perceived upfront costs may deter some state and local governments from purchasing EVs — even those who see EV adoption as an ideal solution to reducing the environmental impact of public fleets.
State and local government leaders interested in electrifying their fleets but put off by the upfront costs of purchasing EVs should take into account the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of these vehicles throughout their lifetime. Running a TCO calculation may reveal that an electric fleet can actually present greater long-term savings, thereby easing the path to adoption.
Looking at the TCO equation alone, it may seem like the costs outweigh the returns. But there are aspects to operating EVs that are far more cost-effective than their internal combustion engine counterparts. For example, EVs require less maintenance because there is no need for oil changes or transmission repairs.
Whereas an ICE car has more than 2,000 different moving parts — many of which will need service or replacement at some point — an EV only has 20 moving parts. A study finds that annual maintenance costs for an EV are $330 less than that of an ICE car, and the Department of Energy finds that the average cost of driving an EV is about half the expense of an ICE vehicle.
Certainly, TCO calculations provide essential projections that can facilitate the first steps to adoption. But once purchased and deployed, how can state and local leaders, as well as government fleet managers, know if their electric fleets are truly providing savings over time? This is where vehicle telematics can be hugely beneficial.
Telematics solutions can capture and share detailed, real-time information about how each EV performs, in addition to its location and battery and charging status. These metrics provide valuable intelligence for fleet managers, helping to more accurately measure TCO, improve daily fleet management and even proactively detect issues to enable preventative maintenance. Notably, some of the metrics that managers would be monitoring for can be unique to an electric fleet, including:
- Historical driving distance data: Telematics solutions can track the exact mileage that a vehicle covered on a particular route or day. This data is also tracked in a traditional ICE fleet, but its purpose on an electric fleet is different.
- EV charging station maps: EV charging station maps on a telematics app can show drivers and managers where nearby charging stations are, as well as details about those stations. These maps can help inform route planning and decisions about when a driver should stop and charge. If plans to grow the nationwide charging infrastructure are successful, these decisions and the ability to locate stations will become easier in time.
- Vehicle charge status: Real-time state-of-charge reporting provides visibility into the battery status of each EV so managers can make smarter decisions about where and when to deploy a vehicle.
- Recharging: If recharging stations back at the lot or depot is limited, real-time, state-of-charge reports can help managers prioritize the order in which vehicles must be charged. They can decide whether to delay charging to take advantage of off-peak electric rates and which vehicles should be plugged into faster charging stations.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) recently launched the India-ITU Joint Cyberdrill 2021. The cyber drill is intended for Indian entities, especially critical network infrastructure operators. It is a four-day virtual event for several high-level speakers, panellists, and experts from ITU, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), INTERPOL, the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In).
ITU, an agency under the United Nations, annually conducts cyber drills worldwide where cyberattacks, phishing, and other information security breaches are simulated to test organisational capabilities to thwart or minimise the impact. According to a news report by The Economic Times, the drill aims to spread awareness among various public sector departments and agencies so that their strategies and procedures can be validated for response mechanisms, prevention recovery and business continuity.
During the first half of this year, more than 600,000 cyber-attacks were reported in India that included nearly 12,000 incidents in government organisations, as per data from CERT-In, which tracks and monitors cyber security incidents in the country. Last year, around 1.1 million cybersecurity incidents were reported.
Speaking at the inaugural event, the Special Secretary of DoT emphasised the need for safe and secure cyberspace given the large networks in India. Cybersecurity is a collective responsibility, and it calls upon all stakeholders – government, the cybersecurity community, and businesses – to participate in building a resilient cyber environment, she added. Panellists and experts from organisations, industries, and agencies made presentations on best practices and highlighted the policy initiatives of cybersecurity in India as well as across the globe. More than 400 participants attended from critical sectors, including power, insurance, finance, industry, academia, telecommunications and field units of DoT.
In October, the ASEAN-India Track 1.5 Dialogue on Cyber Issues was held to enhance cooperation on cybersecurity and narrow the digital gap. Speaking at the event, the Secretary of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Riva pointed out that ASEAN has been proactive in the region’s efforts to tackle cybersecurity challenges and has undertaken various cyber confidence-building measures.
OpenGov Asia reported that she affirmed ASEAN’s emphasis on cybersecurity and cyber connectivity following international laws that resonate deeply with India’s approach towards cyberspace. The country has been working domestically to address cybersecurity challenges by developing platforms to secure the country’s cyberspace as well as by adopting comprehensive policies like the New National Cyber Security Policy.
Cybercrime often has a transnational dimension and there is a crucial need for international cooperation to exchange experiences and share best practices for the protection of information infrastructures. Equitable access to cyberspace and its benefits is another important area that India-ASEAN engagement on cyber issues discussed. The government has stated that India is committed to bilateral and international cooperation on cybersecurity and is dedicated to an open, secure, free, accessible, and stable cyberspace environment. With technology initiatives such as IndiaStack, Aadhar, and the United Payments Interface (UPI), the country has successfully leveraged the tremendous potential of cyber technologies in implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda and improving governance.
University of Queensland researchers are collaborating with an extensive range of health professionals to re-design and improve strategies to prevent childhood obesity. Aware of the powerful role played by digital technologies, Dietitian and UQ Research Fellow Dr Oliver Canfell is part of a team developing an online tool kit that can be used to prevent obesity in the young.
He noted that obesity is a chronic condition that’s difficult to reverse, which is why prevention is important and most effective in the early years. There have been real-world impacts recently – people with obesity who contract COVID-19 often have worse outcomes than people with a healthy weight. It was also noted that children and families look to health professionals for support but are commonly not receiving care until it is too late. Clinicians need new ways of working so they can focus on prevention, and digital health can help enormously.
The first step towards achieving that goal is the Precision Support for Preventing Childhood Obesity (PRECISE) program, a partnership between UQ and Health and Wellbeing Queensland (HWQld). Almost 20 health professionals including GPs, child health nurses and dietitians have been recruited from across Queensland to design the digital solutions to focus on prevention in routine practice.
The tools designed in the PRECISE program will be available via Clinicians Hub, a central digital platform created by HWQld to help health professionals effectively prevent and manage childhood obesity. The Chief Executive of HWQld noted that obesity had many causes which made it a particularly complex problem to address.
It can be a challenging topic to raise with families, and research shows many doctors feel ill-equipped to manage this complex and sensitive health issue, the expert noted. Clinicians Hub offers a variety of clinical tools, resources and training to help health workers identify, prevent and talk about childhood obesity with confidence and impact.
One-in-four Queensland children and two-in-three adults live above a healthy weight range. These patterns are usually well established before five years of age – so there is a need to get in early.
The UQ Global Change Institute has established a Digital Health Research Network to support PRECISE and other digital health initiatives.
About the Global Change Institute
The Global Change Institute draws together research excellence and expertise from across UQ, industry, government and the community to address grand challenges which deliver impact to society, the economy, the environment, and culture.
Addressing global challenges requires strong transdisciplinary teams to deliver pathways to impact. With the help of the UQ research community, the Global Change Institute is developing multiple Collaborative Research Initiatives (CRIs) to address global challenges.
For example, The Healthy Kids and Families Collaborative Research Initiative (CRI) focuses on addressing the importance of community-based, co-designed interventions to address the needs of children, adolescents and their families in the health system and ensuring they have a healthy, productive and long life.
Examples of the challenges this CRI will address with stakeholders include:
- complexities experienced by families in navigating the health system and obtaining timely and appropriate health care, and ongoing support for children with complex needs
- specific and unmet needs of families of children with physical, neurodevelopmental and/or learning challenges
- promotion of healthy eating and physical activity behaviours established in families and day-care centres, pre-schools and schools, and
- systemic inequities between children to achieve optimal health outcomes, healthy behaviours and access to health services (e.g., socioeconomic differences).
Industry experts and financial-technology service providers called for the upgrade of homegrown financial-technology capabilities to further elevate the financial sector and boost the digitalisation of other industry sectors.
The insurance industry is likely to be a forerunner in terms of digital transformation. The operation efficiency and sophistication level of service in the insurance sector should be further enhanced despite initial progress in the realm, as digitalisation is becoming a prerequisite for all insurance service providers. There is also a basic demand to leverage financial-technology measures to counter potential cybersecurity risks, as large amounts of data are leveraged for daily operations and business decisions.
The digitalisation of financial services would help resolve financial imbalances and further serve underfinanced groups. The digitalisation of financial services offers tailor-made solutions for small and micro businesses and helps mitigate risks for commercial lenders.
Fintech solutions should focus more on small and micro businesses at the grassroots level. Fintech service players serve a positive role to help avoid the mismatch of financial resources, and they should stick to serving the grassroots financial and consumption market in the long run.
– Zhang Jun, dean of the Fudan University School of Economics
Technologies have already helped expand wealth management products’ customer base and enhanced its risk-control schemes. China’s asset management industry was valued at 12.1 trillion yuan (US$1.89 trillion) in 2020, but the sector still lags behind in terms of predictive algorithms to mitigate risks. Further efforts in smart data technologies are needed to meet risk control and regulatory compliance requirements.
Moreover, China plans to build pioneering fintech hubs nationwide, focusing on the research and development of blockchain technology and digital currency to boost investment in financial infrastructure. Beijing ranks top among eight cities around the world, thanks to its huge consumer market, advanced technology application and fast development of the fintech ecosystem. Other cities that China aims to develop as global fintech hubs are Shanghai, Shenzhen in Guangdong province, and Hangzhou in Zhejiang province.
The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), China’s central bank, published a three-year fintech development plan. So far, some results have been achieved and major projects are proceeding as scheduled. Issuing the central bank digital currency was included in that blueprint, which also involves developing fintech services based on blockchain, big data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and financial security technology. The three-year plan aims to promote China’s fintech industry to an international leading level.
The basic technology framework of the digital currency designed by the central bank has almost been completed, with sophisticated top-level design, and trials are ongoing in some application scenarios. The fast progress will give the PBOC a leading position among its global peers in officially launching a digital currency. Regulations on fintech technology development will focus on protecting personal privacy, expanding fintech services to benefit more individuals, and streamlining regulations.
As reported by OpenGov Asia, China has urged a digital transformation in the financial industry in response to the increasing uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic. The volatility has also created unprecedented opportunities for digitalisation across the world, and the financial industry continues to explore openings to embrace technology and uncover new areas of growth.
Chinese fintech strategies combined with current digital transformation trends will likely produce the following footprints:
- Fintech industries will be more online, open, and intelligent: Industries will convert more traditional services from offline to online and build an omnichannel strategy by tapping into emerging channels. They will apply artificial intelligence (AI) applications to online businesses with matching needs from both retail and corporate customers. They will create more data streams and use cases to strengthen client relations.
- New technologies and applications will be introduced to improve operational efficiency with emphasis on data factors: Industries will focus on the introduction of smart operations, smart risk management, and smart customer relationship management (CRM) with the integration of low-code SaaS applications. They deploy blockchain applications to build and expand a trusted financial service environment, piloting applications such as traceability, authentic right, trusted execution environment, and multi-stakeholder transactions.
The Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) stated that Taiwan will engage in cooperation and exchanges with the Baltic states in the areas of quantum technology and biotechnology. The two countries are expected to lead to future bilateral academic and research exchanges. Both countries will discuss technology development, biomedicine, semiconductors and technology parks.
The natios have concluded that the plans for future cooperation between Taiwan and the Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – will focus on academic and research exchanges in the quantum technology and biotech areas.
This direction was chosen after considering the Baltic states’ position as members of the European Union, with varying levels of technological development and expertise, and Taiwan’s current policy on science and technology research. The ministry added the delegation, which includes the parliamentary representatives Matas Maldeikis of Lithuania, Janis Vucans of Latvia and Juri Jaanson of Estonia showed positive interest in supporting bilateral cooperation and exchanges in the field of technology.
Taiwan believes that quantum technology is coming and the country is investing to become a leader. Taiwan will invest NT$ 8 billion – about US$ 282 million – in the development of quantum technology in the coming five years with a view to becoming a tech hub that boasts more than semiconductor manufacturing prowess.
The initiative is much broader than just building a quantum computer, according to the story. The country will invest in quantum devices, quantum computers, quantum algorithms and quantum communication technologies. The new technologies will be employed to develop applications for areas spanning cybersecurity, finance, national defence and more. Taiwan must invest in quantum research before it can secure a place in the competitive world of advanced technologies.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s biomedical industry has grown from strength to strength in recent years as a result of farsighted government policymaking, spotlighting her administration’s commitment to developing high-growth sectors of the economy.
Biomedical technology has been a top priority in Taiwan’s national development strategy. Over the past few years, the country has conducted over 300 clinical trials, 80% of which involved multinational firms, while local biomedical industry revenues grew 8.7% in 2019, with total investment exceeding NT$55.1 billion (US$1.84 billion).
Taiwan’s biomedical industry includes three major sectors: applied biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices. Research institutes have played an important role in the development of Taiwan’s economy, and today no less than nine institutes are involved in the development of Biomedical Innovations in the country’s biomedical industry.
As reported by OpenGov Asia, MOST announced that 20 tech startup companies would showcase Taiwan’s Biotech capabilities to the world connect with the global ecosystem, resources and industries in the forum organised by Taiwan Tech Arena (TTA). There are 20 TTA startup teams are selected by industrial experts and focused on global bio-industrial market potential startups.
Taiwan has demonstrated how to democratically tackle the COVID-19 threatening and how to be a truly global partner by utilising technologies. Taiwan’s efforts and commitments have drawn international attention and the relationship between Taiwan and the U.S. has become stronger than ever before in the past year. The U.S. is leading the trends of advanced science and technology development and has a vivid startup ecosystem, while Taiwan has renowned semiconductor and ICT industries and long supported technology startups.
By working together, Taiwan can speed up the transition from scientific findings into practical technology applications and create a win-win situation and achieve future possible collaborations in the US. The companies presented disruptive biotech innovations such as vocal implant systems, AI Video-based telemedicine solutions and detection of respiratory function with ultrasound technology.