Southeast Asia’s start-up ecosystem has been booming recently, being earmarked as one of the most attractive destinations for investors. Thailand, in particular, is a nascent market for entrepreneurship. The Thai government has been working to build the country’s tech ecosystem in recent years.
The National Innovation Agency, a government agency aimed at encouraging innovation, overhauled its financial support programme for start-ups to help move progress along quicker and allowing them to access THB44 billion in funding.
The agency’s main goal is to build 3,000 innovation-based start-ups in the next decade, to nurture the start-up ecosystem and generate growth. It also works in partnership with True Digital Park (TDPK), the country’s first and Southeast Asia’s largest digital innovation hub.
Based in Bangkok, the global start-up destination is a playground of sorts for innovation, providing space for work and daily living in an integrated community. Initiatives like these really emphasise Thailand’s dedication to a digital transformation.
When talking about digital transformations, the first thing to come to mind for most people is simply shifting daily manual processes and activities into a digital framework. However, the process is far more complex than that.
A digital transformation in the business context involves fundamentally changing the way a firm operates and delivers value. It also encompasses cultural change that requires organisations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and get comfortable with failure.
Thailand’s TDPK is where such digital transformations can find their genesis. With the sheer amount of talent and investment that the park brings together, it provides crucial knowledge creation that is supportive of digital innovations. By positioning itself as a hub where innovation thrives and sprawls, TDPK empowers the region’s startup ecosystem and boosts its potential exponentially.
Bridging the Region Together
In September 2019, TDPK held a tech conference, Togetherness of Possibilities, which aimed to inspire and share knowledge and experiences among startups, businesses, and government agencies.
New technologies and innovation labs were exhibited by partners of the space, from public and private sectors, as well as top executives and entrepreneurs whose work is designed at driving more sustainable digital economic development in Thailand and the SEA region.
Innovation and digital technology are the driving forces behind digital transformation especially for enterprises and industries that need to change their business model and apply digital technology to create added value for products and services.
Digital technology also plays an important role in making communities, societies, healthcare, and the environment better. It reduces the income divide and helps to sustainably create prosperity for Thailand. True Digital Park has been developed to increase Thailand’s competence through innovation, creativity, and technology. All these factors combine to create sustainable economic growth in the long run.
The conference provided an excellent opportunity for budding entrepreneurs to meet with experts and highly-rated speakers from leading companies and start-ups from Thailand, as well as other countries.
Integration and Support from the Region
- It has been made apparent that there is a need in Southeast Asian tech ecosystems to integrate and support one another.
- Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand already have programmes to help ASEAN start-ups. Joining forces would enable data sharing and thereby encourage investments.
- Most venture capitals do not only think about investing in one country; they see it as investing in Southeast Asia as a whole. Hence, there is a need to collaborate and use existing programmes as landing and launching pads, and exchange programmes, to help start-ups.
- Congregations of tech players like TDPK’s Togetherness of Possibilities are essential in building networks and strengthening local startups in the region.
TDPK’s Role in Thailand’s Digital Transformation
TDPK reflects Thailand’s commitment to sustainable development in both the country and the region. It recognises the difficulties local start-ups face when it comes to accessing investors or the wider market, and how they lack deep technology and are actively creating opportunities and putting in measures that will help these start-ups gain a more global perspective. Despite being slow to start with, the Thai ecosystem is gaining speed and attracting attention from all around the world.
TDPK recently announced the completion of its start-up ecosystem, reinforcing how prepared it is to drive the regional digital economy forward.
TDPK’s focus on building a complete start-up ecosystem that encourages connectivity and knowledge-sharing has driven its mission to help start-ups and tech entrepreneurs reach their full potential forward. In order for this innovation hub to thrive, TDPK and other Thai agencies, both public and private, must seek out more collaborations and capital from other Southeast Asian hubs.
With COVID-19 still showing no signs of slowing down, the Philippine government continues to look for ways to improve its overall digital make-up for the benefit of its citizens and other governing agencies. One of which is opening areas in the country to allow movement of people to aid its economic recovery while also placing necessary measures to help contact-tracing protocols.
Accordingly, the country’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has adopted the Safe, Swift, and Smart Passage (S-PaSS) Travel Management System developed by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and will now be institutionalised as the one-stop-shop app for travellers. This is considering the approval by the IATF of the uniform travel protocols for all local government units (LGUs).
The StaySafe.ph app, meanwhile, will be utilised as the primary contact tracing system by the Government. Other existing contact tracing applications will also be integrated with the StaySafe.ph system. The S-PaSS, developed by DOST VI initially as a travel management system, was primarily intended to make a hassle-free journey for Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs), Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROFs), Emergency Travelers (ETS), and other travellers during this pandemic.
The S-PaSS is also meant to benefit not only the travellers but also the authorities to properly monitor the movement of people in different locations in the effort to prevent the spread of the virus. With the app, travellers can apply for Travel Authority (TA) online before visiting their local police station where the QR Code can be used to view one’s TA, as well as register at designated monitoring locations and track one’s travel history.
For the Philippine National Police (PNP), the tool can integrate the process of issuing a Travel Authority to quickly generate real-time reports. Likewise, in the case of other LGUs and monitoring agencies, the system will allow real-time monitoring of incoming travellers and provide convenient tracking of travellers by setting up designated monitoring locations and likewise quickly generate real-time reports. The system has a local mobility feature that replaces the use of pen-and-paper or logbooks. It can also be used to document and monitor border crossings in LGUs.
The travellers will be monitored by scanning their unique S-PaSS QR Code every time they visit an establishment and office. The system will then automatically record information on its ELogBook for recording and monitoring purposes.
Moreover, rapid adoption of digital technologies can help the Philippines overcome the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, recover from the crisis, and achieve its vision of becoming a middle-class society free of poverty, according to the report released by the World Bank and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).
The report stated that this pandemic has caused substantial disruptions in the domestic economy as community restrictions have limited the movement of people and reduced business operations nationwide. As we are now living with the new normal, the use of digital technology and digital transformation has become important for Filipinos in coping with the present crisis, moving towards economic recovery, and getting back on track towards the nation’s long-term aspirations.
Likewise, as reported by OpenGov Asia, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced several governments to re-examine the way they do things, how they interact with their citizens and how they keep their country functioning in these unprecedented times. Digital solutions in areas such as government services, education, the media, communication systems, and the economy have allowed some form of continuity in day-to-day life during a lockdown.
Although most Governments throughout South-East Asia are gradually moving towards complete digitalisation, they are all at very different stages of their digital transformation journey. It is also likely that Governments of the future will increase spending on digital infrastructure, adopt data-driven approaches in response to economic recovery, and leverage technology solutions to implement COVID-19 strategies.
A bioaerosols research project aimed at developing innovative and effective methods for detecting and disinfecting bacteria and viruses including SARS-CoV-2 in indoor environments led by City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has secured HK$ 6.15 million from the Research Impact Fund under the Research Grants Council. Bioaerosols are very small airborne particles containing living organisms and has been considered one of the possible routes of the spreading of Covid-19.
Professor Alvin Lai Chi-keung, Associate Head of the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering and Project Coordinator stated, “The Covid-19 pandemic has already resulted in over 110 million cases and 2.5 million deaths globally since 2020. Our bioaerosols study addresses an urgent need in Hong Kong and globally to rapidly detect and eliminate pathogens in indoor air, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The outcomes from this study will not only immediately contribute to the fight against Covid-19 but also significantly raise our preparedness for future pandemics.”
This four-year research project is titled “Rapid Detection and Synergetic Disinfection of Bioaerosols Using Far UVC and Negative Air Ions: Mechanistic and Field Studies”.
Current methods for sampling bioaerosols cannot detect rapidly and effectively microorganisms of all sizes, especially viruses that are submicron in diameter. In order to address these shortcomings, the research team will try to couple advanced aerosol technology with molecular biology techniques such as nucleic acid-based methods to enable fast and accurate detection of targeted microorganisms. Nucleic acid-based methods are now used for testing humans, but the team will use them to analyse air samples.
These new methods will be deployed to profile the bioaerosol composition in different indoor settings in Hong Kong. In addition, the team will combine Far UVC light (far ultraviolet C light) and negative air ions to harness the synergistic effects between the two to achieve over 99.9% removal of bacteria and viruses.
Recently Far UVC has been found to be more effective in the disinfection of microorganisms and most importantly safer than conventional UVC, a known disinfectant that inactivates viruses and bacteria. Negative air ions can also disinfect microorganisms.
After the novel disinfection process has been developed in the laboratory, field tests will be conducted in diverse buildings in Hong Kong to verify its effectiveness under real-life conditions. The team will investigate how the ambient transformation of bioaerosols can influence disinfection effectiveness through laboratory experiments that mimic typical indoor conditions.
The team’s target is to develop a rapid and accurate method for detecting bioaerosols and fabricate a prototype with a high disinfection efficacy against a wide range of pathogens in different indoor environments.
It is a challenge to design a practical device that can disinfect airborne pathogens within a short exposure time, particularly portable units. However, the team members’ background in aerosol science and technology and microbiology will overcome the difficulties, he added.
Other team members include Professor Chan Chak-keung, Dean and Chair Professor of the School of Energy and Environment (SEE), CityU; Dr Patrick Lee Kwan-hon, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of SEE; and scholars from the Kanazawa University, Japan and University of Hong Kong.
Professor Chan has over 30 years of research experience in air pollution and aerosol science and Dr Lee’s research interest lies in biologically-related environmental problems. They are both Co-Principal Investigators of the project.
A crowdsourcing mobile application to enhance accessibility for specially-abled individuals has been launched in New Delhi. The app aims to augment built-up environments (steps, ramps, emergency exits), the transportation sector, and the information communication technologies (ICTs) ecosystem in India.
The Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Thaawarchand Gehlot, virtually launched the Sugamya Bharat application as well as a handbook called, “Access – The Photo Digest”, which have both been developed by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD).
According to a press release, the app provides five main features, four of which are directly related to enhancing accessibility. The fifth is meant for only COVID-19-related issues. Users can register complaints about public places, services, or utilities that are inaccessible. They will be able to upload photographs and geo-tag the location of the premises for authority intervention. Users will also receive departmental updates, guidelines, and circulars related to accessibility on the mobile application.
The Minister explained that the app, which is available in ten regional languages, aims to help spread awareness and make public spaces, transportation, and other services more accessible. The implementation of accessibility-related activities across the country is a step towards the vision of a universally-accessible and inclusive India, the release noted.
The app’s interface is user-friendly and features easy drop-down menus and tutorials in Hindi, English, and sign language that demonstrate how to register or upload complaints with photographs. The app offers font-size adjustments, color-contrasting options, text-to-speech, and an integrated screen reader in Hindi and English.
The app will be monitored through a project monitoring unit (PMU) under DEPwD. The PMU will forward the complaints received through the app to the appropriate authorities across India. These include district magistrates, collectors for state government-owned buildings, or executive heads of Urban Local Bodies (ULB) for other buildings, including private spaces that fall under their jurisdiction.
Accessibility complaints related to central government premises or services will be forwarded to the nodal officers nominated for this purpose by the concerned ministries and departments. If the complaint is not addressed, the matter will be taken to the next highest authority.
An accessible government building is one where citizens with disabilities have no barrier in entering it and using all the facilities therein. This covers built environments such as steps and ramps, corridors, entry gates, emergency exits, and parking as well as indoor and outdoor facilities like lighting, signages, alarm systems, and toilets. Identifying accessible buildings requires annual accessibility audits that determine if a building meets a certain standard.
Further, accessible transportation plays a critical role in the growth of the economy and an inaccessible transportation system restricts mobility and denies freedom of movement and active participation for much of the population who need accessible transportation.
Access – The Photo Digest handbook is a collection of photographs from across different states and union territories. It is a tool and guide to sensitise stakeholders about ten basic features of accessibility and associated good-bad practices in an easy-to-understand pictorial form. An electronic version of the handbook will also be available on the app and the Department website.
Grab is a Singaporean multinational ride-hailing company headquartered in Singapore. It is most famously known for its transportation services, but the company offers so much more including food delivery and digital payments services via a mobile app.
Grab has just recently signed a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) with Singapore Government agencies – Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Digital Industry Singapore (DISG) to support the development of Singapore’s tech ecosystem, by developing tech talent and R&D capabilities in Singapore.
The Memorandum will see Grab working with Singapore’s government agencies to grow its core product and engineering teams’ capabilities through the support of talent development programmes such as the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA).
“To secure our digital future, Singapore must be the place where companies choose to build unique digital products that cater for global markets. This is the only way that Singapore can sustainably capture value and differentiate ourselves in the Digital Economy. We are pleased to partner Grab, to strengthen Singapore’s tech ecosystem in these two key areas – to build our local talent in product development, and grow Singapore as the base for high-end R&D in tech,” said Lew Chuen Hong, Chief Executive, IMDA.
These programmes seek to enhance the deep technical skills of experienced professionals, and provide hands-on training opportunities for individuals looking for roles in the tech sector.
Grab seeking to hire in the fields of AI, Cybersecurity, Data Science and Software Engineering
“Despite the challenges brought forth by COVID-19, the tech industry continues to hold promise for new and renewed opportunities for talent. Grab will work closely with IMDA and DISG to grow the talent pool in Singapore, as the country advances towards a future-ready digital economy,” said Tan Hooi-Ling, Co-founder, Grab.
“As a Singapore-based tech company, Grab fully supports the development of the tech ecosystem here. We are building products that positively impact millions across Southeast Asia, and we want to continue deepening our R&D capabilities and push the boundaries of innovation, right here at our strategic base. This is only possible with the support of Grabbers across different business functions, who are continually learning and adapting to new technologies and customers’ requirements.”
Grab expects to create around 350 new jobs in Singapore this year, to support its growth plans and as part of its regional hiring efforts.
These include the expansion of products and services to support the digitalisation of micro-SMEs, the delivery of digital financial services across Southeast Asia, as well as the development of the upcoming digibank which will be managed by a Grab-Singtel consortium.
Some of these hires will come from fields including AI, Cybersecurity, Data Science, Software Engineering, as well as Product Management and Design. They would be involved in projects to improve merchants’ abilities to offer better and tailored products to their customers; as well as to improve the user experience of the merchant app, which will be an all-in-one solution featuring modularised Grab services to select from.
Many of them would also be powering Grab’s innovation engine that uses deep tech to build and enhance services for its users meaningfully; as well as building stronger integrations with local partners. Besides tech roles, Grab will be offering new employment opportunities in areas such as finance, operations, legal, public affairs and business development.
“We are excited that industry leaders like Grab are stepping up to deepen their R&D activities here while providing more job and skills development opportunities for Singaporeans. Covid-19 is an unprecedented crisis that has impacted lives and livelihoods, but such partnerships position Singapore well to weather the storm and emerge stronger than before. Together, we will continue to build a vibrant and sustainable tech ecosystem to drive innovation and capture growth opportunities,” said Ang Chin Tah, Vice President and Head, DISG.
One thing that the pandemic has shown about payments is that speed, reliability and near-universal access have never been more important. For Singapore, the first wave of non-bank financial institutions (NFIs and Fintechs), are now connected to FAST, Singapore’s real-time payment rails.
Financial tech firms believe this move signifies the growth of the local fintech industry. By giving firms access to FAST, previously the exclusive domain of banks, regulators are enabling greater competition and innovation in the payments space. Aimed ultimately to the benefit of consumers, near-universal access has never been more important in a world powered by instantaneous digital interaction.
According to them, whether it is listening to music or taking an online class, consumers are benefitting from a better experience using tech — one that is becoming faster, cheaper, more convenient and most importantly, offers a variety of choice, no matter where you are.
In contrast, they also believe that the financial services industry has largely not kept pace; while fintechs have gradually begun to fill this void by offering a variety of services that were traditionally the domain of the incumbent banks.
For the consumer, on the other hand, the benefits of this seemingly obscure change to the payments plumbing may not seem obvious. But direct participation in FAST helps non-banks level the playing field with traditional banks, increases competition and allows fintechs to offer a better, cheaper and faster service in a digital world. Beyond this, fintechs gain better control over the entire customer experience when connected directly to the national payment system, rather than having this access through a bank.
Fintechs said that this move will also curtail delays, inefficiency and high fees. A recent report from The World Bank’s Remittance Prices Worldwide showed that sending remittances costs an average of 6.75% of the amount sent — far higher than the United Nations’ goal to push this down to lower than 3%. More middlemen in the money movement process mean additional costs and delays resulting in a sub-optimal experience for the end consumer, especially for small businesses.
Financial tech firms are also looking forward to building more competitive products that make payments even faster and cheaper for citizens. They also added that for the fintech sector to thrive, policymakers need to manage risks while encouraging growth. Striking this balance between regulation and fintech innovation is not easy, especially with the rapid speed of technological change.
Accordingly, as reported by OpenGov Asia, The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) pushed the commencement of the Singapore Payment Services Act (PS Act). The new PS Act will enhance the regulatory framework for payment services in the country, strengthen consumer protection and promote confidence in the use of e-payments. The PS Act adopts an activity-based licencing framework in recognition of the different kinds of activities and new developments in payment services.
Just recently, as also reported by OpenGov Asia, Enterprise Singapore (ESG), Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the SG Digital Office (SDO) announced that 10,000 stallholders – more than half of Singapore’s stallholders – have adopted e-payments. 10,000 hawkers using e-payments, with transactions growing four times since June 2020. Transactions volume and value for January 2021 also crossed the 1.2 million and S$14 million mark respectively for the first time.
As one of the centres of innovation in the world, Singapore is well-placed to foster a more open and transparent payment ecosystem that benefits consumers. The country aims to lead the charge in encouraging constructive competition and closer collaboration in the sector.
A new International Research Laboratory (IRL) launched in the last week of February 2021 will focus on humans-autonomous agents teaming: an area of research at the interface of artificial intelligence, computer science, engineering, technology, human factors and psychology.
The French Australian Laboratory for Humans-Autonomous Agents Teaming, shortened to CROSSING, is a collaboration between the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the University of South Australia, University of Adelaide, Flinders University, French technological university IMT Atlantique, and Naval Group, the only industrial partner.
An IRL is a flagship international collaboration mechanism used by CNRS, France’s leading scientific research centre. The new IRL is called CROSSING because it represents the crossover of ideas that is at the heart of this important collaboration.
The Director of the lab stated that the CROSSING Lab will bring together leading French and Australian scientists from artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer science, engineering, psychology and human factors. They will work together to tackle important challenges in finding new ways for systems and humans to work together.
“The outcomes could provide significant advances in the way operators use control systems on ships, maintenance platforms in industry or services to assist within the home, and the way these systems are developed to assist and improve human performance to make work safer and more efficient,” he said.
The CROSSING Lab will join a network of more than 70 IRLs but will become one of only five international research laboratories with industry partners in the world. It will join the ranks of other labs in global innovation hubs, including Singapore, China, Japan and the United States of America.
Based in Adelaide, the CROSSING Lab will be a unique multidisciplinary facility in Australia that provides an opportunity for South Australia to be at the forefront of research into frontier technologies highly relevant to future industries.
“At the CROSSING lab we will develop new ways for humans to work with robots and autonomous systems,” said a professor from the University of Adelaide’s School of Psychology, who is Co-Director of the new lab.
She noted that human operators will cooperate with high-level automata, robots or adaptive information systems able to produce knowledge and to explore the physical or informational environment on their own.
Each partner brings complementary expertise to the research partnership:
- The University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute of Machine Learning (AIML) brings expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning. In the field of interactive and virtual environments and human performance;
- The University of South Australia has expertise in sleep and fatigue analysis;
- IMT Atlantique has expertise and facilities in virtual and augmented reality and embedded and human-centric AI;
- Flinders University has expertise in autonomous systems, human factors and industry 4.0 advanced manufacturing;
- The Naval Group will share its world-class expertise from areas including embedded intelligence, optimised architectures, unmanned vehicles, the industry of the future and human performance measurement.
The new lab was launched on 22 February 2021 by the Premier of South Australia and was attended by the French Ambassador to Australia.
According to a recent article, the Australian job market will shrink by 11%, or 1.5 million workers over the next decade. But as some jobs are lost, others will be created (1.7 million by 2030), and many more will transform into the gig economy.
Workers unable or unwilling to accept the transition will depart the traditional workforce entirely. Accompanying these digital outcasts will be a wave of mission-based evacuees seeking a more values-aligned work life, taking advantage of Australia’s world-leading policy settings for social entrepreneurship.
According to forecasts by US-based a research and advisory company, the demand for technical skills will boost the ranks of digital elites by 33%. A shortage of skills to build new digital solutions will fuel massive growth in the digital elite cohort. Demand for tech specialists with skills in big data, process automation, human/machine interaction, robotics engineering, blockchain, and machine learning will offset the 8% of more traditional technology roles that can be fully automated by 2030.
The Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (TNeGA) has developed an artificial intelligence (AI)-based mobile application, ePaarwai, which can help screen a large number of people for cataracts. By addressing resource constraints in cataract detection, it aims to eradicate preventive blindness in the state.
India has about 4.7 million vision-impaired people, and about 66% of them lose their eyesight due to cataracts. Undiagnosed cataracts remain a huge problem especially in rural areas and among low-income settlements in urban areas, owing to the lack of trained professionals and other resources, a news report explained. The use of AI to fight cataracts is low when compared to other major age-related eye diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and glaucoma.
The app can be used for the preliminary screening of the eye by analysing a picture of the patient’s eye. It can also help identify what stage of cataract patients are in and whether or not they require surgery. ePaarwai is also designed to detect macular disintegration.
Diagnostic eye-care AI-based systems are trained with many pictures of the eye, following which the algorithms learn the difference between normal and abnormal images. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent or minimise vision loss or impairment. The results of ePaarwai from field trials were encouraging. The app has the potential to prevent millions of senior citizens in rural and urban low-income settlements from losing their eyesight.
Launched with the help of the Tamil Nadu State Blind Control Society (TNSBCS), and for the state health department, the app is being tested in a few districts. Currently, TNSBCS does not have enough manpower to help detect the stages of surgery and is looking to tap AI, Santosh Mishra, the Chief Executive Officer of TNeGA, told reporters. There are only about 20,000 ophthalmologists for the 1.3 billion people in India.
AI is expected to relieve the overburdened healthcare system, augment scarce personnel and lab facilities, and help overcome accessibility barriers. It can aid early detection, diagnosis, decision-making, and treatment. The healthcare sector in India remains multi-layered and complex and is ripe for disruption from emerging technologies at multiple levels. It is probably the most intuitive and obvious use case primed for intervention by AI-driven solutions, as evidenced by the increasing activity from large corporates and start-ups in developing AI-focused healthcare solutions.
The country’s think tank, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), in its 2018 report on AI, noted that the healthcare market globally driven by AI is expected to register an explosive CAGR of 40% through 2021 and reach US$6.6 billion this year. The advances in technology and interest from innovators provide an opportunity for India to solve some of its long-existing challenges in providing appropriate healthcare to a large section of its population. AI, robotics, and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) could potentially be the new nervous system for healthcare and present solutions to address healthcare problems.
In India’s budget for the fiscal year that begins 1 April and ends 31 March 2022, the Finance Minister proposed more than doubling India’s healthcare and wellbeing spending to IN₹2.2 trillion (US$30.1 billion). It includes a new federal scheme to develop the country’s capacity for primary, secondary, and tertiary care as well as to strengthen national institutions and create new ones to detect and cure diseases.