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 Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU) recently launched a ground-breaking Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Psychology that incorporates technology modules with psychology, in an emerging field known as cyberpsychology.
According to the Programme Leader, “Cyberpsychology is the study of human behaviour and mental processes in the context of human-technology interaction. The focus of this module is on the psychology of online behaviour, to uncover how the internet and digital technologies affect attitudes, emotions, and the societal impacts of living in a digital age, such as the exploration of the motives and psychological makeup that contribute to Cybercrime, she said.
While psychology professionals work in human domains, students in this field must now develop a strong grasp of technological aspects, especially when the line between cyberspace and the real world is becoming increasingly blurred.
Globally, the adoption rate of emerging technologies – including cloud computing, connected devices, mobile, robotics and blockchain, have grown at an exponential rate over the past 10 years. As of April 2022, there were five billion internet users worldwide, which is 63% of the global population. Of this total, 4.65 billion were social media users.
Further, the arrival of the Metaverse will even reinforce the blurring of the lines between the physical world and the virtual one, the physical world will eventually merge with the digital – in fully immersive virtual reality.
As technology reshapes the way people live, think, and behave, the transformation of psychology studies has introduced new ways to provide treatment or therapy. This has affected the dissemination of knowledge and how research is conducted.
Within the programme’s modules, students will also be exposed to Psychotechnology, to understand user experience (UX), cognitive workload and use these results to solve practical problems. These updated, relevant modules allow students to develop vital skills and knowledge, enabling them to work in various sectors, such as e-sports, advertising, and more that require further study to determine their psychological impacts.
To create a conducive learning and studying environment mirroring the professional setting that supports both counselling and clinical psychology needs, APU has invested significantly to set up the Centre for Psychology and Well-Being at its campus.
The Head of the School who oversees the setting up of the Centre, explained that as a tech-centric and industry-driven university, APU has blended technology elements into conventional psychology teaching and learning. The University’s Centre for Psychology and Well-Being is an innovative facility that houses advanced equipment embedded with state-of-the-art technology that supports psychology learning and research – which itself has set us apart from our competitors.
The Centre aims to develop a professional-like high-tech centre which attracts students towards experiential learning coupled with a comfortable learning environment.
According to the Programme Leader, by placing psychological tools infused with modern technology to better predict and understand human behaviour such as Electroencephalogram (EEG), Eye Tracker, and Computerised Psychological Assessments, students can learn to make data-driven decisions.
Together with Eye-Tracking Laboratory, the design of the Centre includes Psychobiological Laboratory; Psychoanalysis Therapy Suites for both individual and group therapy; Psychological Testing and Measurement Room; Psychology Group Observation Suite that is complimented with a one-way mirror and AV capture equipment; Activity and Discussion Rooms; and teaching classrooms that are tied to instructional learning and research activities.
Some highlights of the training using the advanced setting and facilities mentioned include:
- The DSI-24 Electroencephalogram (EEG) – a wireless dry electrode EEG headset in the Psychobiological Lab enables students to learn about cognitive processes like attention and memory by placing conductive electrodes on the scalp which measure the small electrical potentials that arise outside of the head due to neuronal action within the brain.
- In the Psychological Testing and Measurement Room, the latest state-of-the-art Tobii Pro Fusion Eye Tracker which focuses on information processing such as scene perception, and visual searching, provides students with a first-hand experience in using the equipment.
- The Psychoanalysis Therapy Suite features the famous Freud psychoanalytic couch. This help students learn role-play skills or to conduct any activity relating to counselling or psychotherapy.
- The Psychology Group Observation Suite is equipped with a one-way mirror (semi-transparent mirror), brightly lit from one side, allowing students to inconspicuously observe people’s behaviour on the other side while maintaining privacy.
- Individual (and Group) Therapy Rooms are designed to provide a quiet, comfortable, energizing, and soothing space ideal for conducting individual or group counselling. Registered counsellors and educators will use the rooms to provide their respective services like consultation, teaching, and intern-related training.
With proficiency in using advanced technology, especially digital assessments, APU’s psychology graduates become tech-savvy and well equipped for the competitive world of the psychology industry.
The government has issued a national cybersecurity strategy to respond to challenges and crimes in cyberspace. The strategy sets objectives for 2025 as well as has a vision for 2030. Under the strategy, one of the main targets is to maintain or increase Vietnam’s ranking on the global cybersecurity index (GCI).
In a press statement, the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) laid out the major tasks and solutions in the strategy, including strengthening the overall management of the State over cybersecurity, completing legal frameworks, and protecting national sovereignty in cyberspace.
The government will also safeguard digital infrastructure, platforms, data, and national cyberinfrastructure. It will protect the information systems of state agencies as well as crucial sectors that need to be prioritised to ensure information security.
Through the strategy, the country will foster digital trust and build an honest, civilized, and healthy network environment. It will prevent and combat law violations in cyberspace and enhance technological mastery and autonomy to actively cope with cyberspace challenges.
The government will train and develop human resources in cybersecurity, raise awareness about cybersecurity skills, and work to secure funding to implement cybersecurity initiatives. The strategy also aims to improve national prestige and foster international integration.
Meanwhile, incident response teams of 11 priority sectors for network information security will be formed. The key areas include transport, energy, natural resources and environment, information, health, finance, banking, defense, security, social order and safety, urban areas, and the government’s direction and administration.
According to a report released by the ITU in June 2021, Vietnam jumped 25 places after two years to rank 25th out of 194 countries and territories worldwide in the GCI in 2020. Vietnam ranked 7th in the Asia-Pacific region and 4th among ASEAN countries in the field.
According to Vietnam Information Security Association (VINSA), there were over 5,400 cyber-attacks on Vietnamese systems in the first five months of this year. Of these, approximately 68% were malicious attacks. However, May showed a decrease in the number of cyber incidents, due to socio-economic stability and the resumption of more economic activities initiated around the Party’s solutions and guidelines, according to the Information Security Department, MIC.
Further, after MIC issued a warning, incidents were down 9.37% in April as compared to March 2022. The government has been proactive in raising vigilance, strengthening cyber information security as well as security and social order. This has made it difficult for bad actors to attack networks, spread infecting malicious code, and run scams to steal and destroy information of users and organisations.
In June, MIC stated that to ensure information security for information systems and Vietnam’s cyberspace, it would continue to strengthen monitoring and proactive scanning; it would evaluate statistics and promote propaganda and issue warning in the mass media so that users know and avoid the risk of cyber-attacks.
MIC also said it would address the situation by strengthening mechanisms for monitoring and proactive scanning, raising public awareness, and providing advance warnings of expected cyberattacks. Simultaneously, the Ministry would continue to urge the review of vulnerabilities and communicate signs of cyberattacks.
In response to the need for indoor urban farming solutions, the National University of Singapore (NUS) officially opened the Research Centre on Sustainable Urban Farming (SUrF) to bring together the diverse expertise of principal investigators from across the University to develop new science and technology-based solutions for urban farming in the country.
“NUS is committed to making significant contributions towards Singapore’s food policy agenda, together with partners in the public sector and the industry. We aim to create a globally competitive research programme in sustainable urban farming that incorporates smart agriculture solutions for diverse stakeholders,” says Professor Tan Eng Chye, NUS President.
A core team from the domains of science, engineering, and computing makes up SUrF, a research organisation that focuses on sustainable urban farming. This exclusive group of researchers has experience in a variety of topics, including plant science, genomics and gene editing, microbiomes, food science, materials and polymer science, sensor technologies, data science, and artificial intelligence (AI) for indoor farming.
The team will start multidisciplinary programmes to build a cross-boundary, sustainable platform for improving plant performance both before and after harvest, including harvest yield, nutritional profile, and safety assurance.
A new facility for the Centre, with around 200 square metres of indoor plant growth area for research, is planned to be completed by early 2023.
There will be three growth rooms and an additional precision growth room where environmental parameters such as temperature and light spectrum can be changed to promote better plant growth with potentially improved phytonutrients.
PlantEye, a non-destructive phenotyping device for monitoring plant development and recording plant health, as well as many analytical tools for studying nutrient content, will be part of the research equipment.
The Centre will also have access to NUS’s cutting-edge laboratories for molecular genetics research, including gene editing.
Furthermore, SUrF’s research focuses on three stages of food production: before, during, and after production. The goal of the Centre is to come up with solutions for growers and work with local businesses to meet their needs.
Post-harvest interventions can also help improve the nutritional value and microbial safety of food. According to preliminary findings, LED lighting not only removes organisms that cause spoiling but also increases the nutritional quality of green crops.
The team’s next steps will be to develop LED illumination technology specifically for green vegetables typically consumed in Singapore, as well as to test their technique in simulated retail circumstances.
In addition, there are 16 principal investigators in SUrF from the NUS Departments of Biological Science, Food Science and Technology, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Computer Science. They oversee about 10 research projects.
One of these projects is trying to make it easier to grow leafy greens in cities. Most crops grown on indoor farms aren’t good for controlled environments because they were grown in the field. This makes growing plants indoors ineffective and unsustainable, with a low yield.
Researchers are looking into new ways to breed plants, such as genomic selection and gene editing, to make leafy vegetable varieties with traits that work well in controlled environments. This is done to improve the quality and productivity of agriculture.
On the other hand, the team made bio-inoculants of bacteria that help plants grow. These can be used in different farming situations, such as when plants are grown in soil, peat, or coconut fibres, or when hydroponic systems are used.
This could help crops grow better and be more resilient in a way that isn’t harmful to the environment. It could also reduce the need for chemical fertilisers.
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has launched CovidInArea, a privacy-preserving mobile-friendly app which integrates and visualizes open data. It includes a list of buildings visited by cases who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 virus in the past 14 days (hereinafter referred to as “incident places”), from the Department of Health (DoH) of the HKSAR Government as an easily accessible heatmap, providing a free location-based tool for users to understand their risk due to proximity with the incident places.
Making use of big data mining and machine learning techniques, a team led by Prof. Gary CHAN Shueng-Han from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering has designed and developed the app, which consists of a real-time heatmap for browsing the locations of the incident places at a glance.
Unlike other existing platforms and apps which mostly require users to check the locations manually, CovidInArea runs the check automatically by providing real-time GPS support for mobile users. It is the first public COVID-19-related app available in both Google Play Store and Apple App Store developed by a university for city-wide use anywhere in Hong Kong.
The heatmap pinpoints incident places given by DoH, based on data updated continuously as per the government’s related daily information release. By zooming in and out on the heatmap, users can immediately gain a complete picture of the incident places, which are indicated by hues of different temperatures, hence able to make informed decisions in their daily routine, path planning and keep safe distancing.
User privacy is ensured in CovidInArea, which requires no user registration and collects no personal information beyond GPS location. All computations are carried out with results presented locally on the user’s phone, while the GPS location, once consumed, is immediately discarded without storage at any time.
In addition, with GPS on, users are enabled to easily visualise in a chart – over several days – the number of incidents placed in their proximity in real-time. Taking into consideration the distance, users’ dwell time, and number of places of incidence in proximity, the app also indicates the overall proximity risk using a colour radar chart:
- Red: Overall high sustained contact with incident places. Recommended to reduce high-risk places, manage health and take voluntary testing if needed.
- Yellow:Medium risk. Be cautious. Plan safe paths to reduce risk.
- Green:Low risk. Stay vigilant.
Prof. Gary Chan stated that because the number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong has remained high as of late, the app provides a timely and user-friendly reference on incident places to help citizens stay vigilant of their surroundings and take precautions if necessary to proactively reduce the infection risk while commuting.
He added that with CovidInArea, users can take appropriate actions to plan daily routes, manage their health, and keep a safe distance from the incident places. The professor also thanked the government for opening up the data for public use to fight against COVID-19 together.
Prof. Gary CHAN Shueng-Han is an expert in the development of novel and precise sensing and positioning technologies for smart applications. The government has worked alongside him to develop a geofencing technology applied in the StayHomeSafe app to enforce local home quarantine orders. He has also innovated a privacy-preserving mobile app that senses registered Bluetooth signals to efficiently search for missing dementia patients in the city. His indoor navigation technology has also been deployed in many malls and venues.
Promoting digital transactions
Traders at Ha Long 1 and Ha Long 2 markets in the Quang Ninh province are now able to go cashless using digital payment services under a 4.0 market model. State-run enterprise Viettel Quang Ninh is the supplier of non-cash payment services in the two markets.
All small traders in the markets will make digital payments through Viettel Money, a digital payment platform. Payments can be made via phone numbers, QR codes, or bank transfers. Fees for electricity, water, and environmental sanitation can also be paid with a Viettel Money account.
According to an official, to achieve the government’s target to have electronic payment rates reach 50% by 2025, digital payments must become part of daily life in both urban and rural areas. Viettel Quang Ninh has readied technology and human resources to coordinate with Hạ Long city’s authorities to deploy cashless applications.
In April this year, Ha Long city issued a plan to develop non-cash payment methods for the 2022-2025 period, under which the city aims to have 90% of citizens 15 years and older own transaction accounts and have non-cash payments in e-commerce reach 50%. The average growth in the volume and value of non-cash payment transactions is expected to expand by 20-25% per year, while 100% of the tuition fees of educational institutions and schools in Ha Long should be paid through cashless methods.
Ha Long city’s public administration centre has guided and supported citizens in making payment transactions on the National Public Service Portal. By July, over 1,400 citizens had paid taxes and other fees through the system, with a total amount of over US$ 727,400, accounting for 84% of total transactions.
Quang Ninh authorities are promoting comprehensive digital transformation, especially in administrative reform, hoping to attract investment into the locality. Since June, digitisation and data extraction platforms have been piloted at the provincial public administration service centre and in the sectors of justice; labour, invalids, and society; education and training; health care; and information and communication.
Over 9,300 enterprises in the region have registered to use e-invoices. Quang Ninh has so far provided 1,712 Level-4 online public services out of the 1,832 administrative procedures. The rate of administrative procedure documents received and processed online via the online public service portal reached 62%. Up to 1,180 online public services at levels 3-4 of the locality have been synchronised on the national public service portal.
Local authorities are developing modern and synchronous infrastructure facilities and enhancing regional linkages to promote economic growth. As of early June 2022, the province’s non-budget investment attraction reached over US $1.6 billion. Last year, Quang Ninh topped Vietnam’s Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI) and the Satisfaction Index of Public Administration Services (SIPAS). It also ranked second in the public administration reform (PAR) Index. The locality posted an estimated growth rate of 10.66% in the gross regional domestic product (GRDP) in the first six months of this year, which is 2.64 percentage points higher than the rate in the same period of 2021. Quang Ninh collected over US $1.17 billion for the state budget, an increase of 18% year-on-year.
Cloud adoption, software modernisation, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity, according to Lily Zeleke, Acting Deputy Chief Information Officer for Information Enterprise, Department of Défense, are crucial to all Defence Department missions.
“Our ability to deliver information at resilience and speed, as well as [delivering] secure information to our people, is paramount to staying ahead of adversaries,” says Lily.
The funding of these technologies within the allocated budget, she continued, is a compromise between cost-effectiveness and mission effectiveness. “Zero trust is a key aspect in the success of the transition to the cloud.”
The DOD has a vast amount of data, and zero trust is about protecting it at all levels and granting the right people access to the data they need for mission success at the correct security levels.
As outlined in the DOD’s 2022 Software Modernisation Strategy, all the services and the department are currently trying to consolidate, streamline, and deploy information enterprise modernization.
Meanwhile, 50 states have joined an anti-robocall litigation task force to investigate the telecommunications firms who are mostly held accountable for introducing foreign robocalls into the US, according to Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.
The sole objective of this cross-partisan, national Task Force is to reduce illegal robocalls as 16 states, including Connecticut, make up the Executive Committee overseeing this task force.
Although gateway providers have a duty to verify that foreign traffic entering the American phone network is lawful, they are not doing enough to prevent robocall traffic.
The Task Force will concentrate on the telecom sector to lessen the number of robocalls that Connecticut residents receive and to aid the businesses that are operating within the law.
Over 33 million scam robocalls are placed on Americans every day, according to the National Consumer Law Centre and Electronic Privacy Information Centre. Among the various frauds targeting customers, especially some of the most vulnerable populations, are Social Security Administration fraud against the elderly.
The Task Force’s main goal is to close the companies that make money off this illegal scam traffic and won’t take any other action to reduce the number of scam calls. Attorney General Tong provides the following advice for avoiding con artists and telemarketers:
The first is to be cautious of callers who expressly request that you make a gift card, wire transfer, or cryptocurrency payment. The second is to be wary of telephone calls that have already been recorded from phoney government entities. In most cases, the Social Security Administration doesn’t call people.
Similarly, do not supply any personal information and quickly end the call if you suspect fraud; and support Connecticut’s investigations by filing a complaint about robocalls.
Furthermore, according to the Attorney General, to avoid receiving spam messages, customers should report fraudulent texts to their wireless service providers and refrain from replying to texts that seem shady or are sent from an unknown number.
In addition, he cautioned against providing sensitive personal or financial information and against clicking links in dubious texts.
In addition, he advised calling a company that sends a text message to confirm the connection using a legitimate number, stressing that con artists may use their fake numbers to appear in a search engine. It was suggested to utilise something other than a search engine to authenticate the phone number.
In a significant win for global research training, Australian and French academic ties are set grow stronger following the announcement of the Australia France Network of Doctoral Excellence (AUFRANDE). The € 15.7 million (AU$ 22.8 million) network will be led by RMIT’s European hub in Barcelona and involve thirty-seven universities across France and Australia.
Co-funded by the European Commission, in collaboration with RMIT and partners, the five-year project will employ sixty-four early career doctoral researchers, with a focus on generating industry-relevant research. The researchers will be mentored by experienced supervisors from academia and industry and receive training and support including annual workshops and group events.
In a speech at the Australian Embassy in Paris, the RMIT Vice-Chancellor and President stated that AUFRANDE was set to spark a new generation of high performing early-stage researchers. Australian and French research ecosystems are being connected at scale in a way never done before.
This is only possible because of the unique positioning of RMIT’s European hub, able to serve as a bridge between the two countries through its detailed knowledge of how research funding works in both regions.
Australia’s Ambassador to France stated that establishing the network marked a significant collaboration between the two nations.
An AUFRANDE partner, the Director of Research at École Centrale de Lyon welcomed this opportunity to intensify and diversify research collaborations, with an expected significant impact on several acute scientific and technological issues. He noted that from photonics and nanotechnology to acoustics and energetics, young researchers will find exciting AUFRANDE PhD positions in Centrale Lyon laboratories.
The award of AUFRANDE unites RMIT Europe’s expertise in leading large scale multi-partner international PhD programs, following the award of REDI last year, which links RMIT with twenty-four partners in ten countries. The new network will also establish a significant number of co-supervision agreements between French and Australian partners, laying the groundwork for continued high levels of collaboration well beyond the project’s end.
Researchers will be employed at French academic institutions and spend up to one year on secondment at an Australian university. They will receive both French and Australian doctoral degrees upon successful completion of their research.
Other Australian partners include UNSW Sydney, The University of Tasmania, Macquarie University and The University of Sydney. The first group of PhD candidates will be recruited from a worldwide hiring campaign expected to begin in early 2023.
Relations between Australia and France are positive and friendly with the bilateral relationship being underpinned by strong and enduring historical links. There has been consular and diplomatic engagement since 1842, and cooperation in both the First World War and the Second World War.
The Joint Statement of Enhanced Strategic Partnership between Australia and France, signed on 3 March 2017, was developed to enable both countries to strengthen engagement in the Indo-Pacific region. The statement promotes two-way visits and cooperation in the following priority areas: political; defence; security and intelligence; economic; energy and resources; transport and infrastructure; education, science, technology, and culture; innovation; shared memory of the First World War; environmental and climate issues; international development; and consular and crisis management. Regular communication between Australian and French ministers and senior officials recently has helped advance the implementation of partnership objectives.