Defence is a field in which we can innovate, says Minister

Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye Kung trying out gesture control technology on an unmanned ground vehicle, designed by four students from Victoria School and the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science, on display at the YSDP Congress e
Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye Kung trying out gesture control technology on an unmanned ground vehicle, designed by four students from Victoria School and the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science, on display at the YSDP Congress exhibition on Wednesday. PHOTO: DEFENCE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AGENCY

SINGAPORE - The lack of commercial pressure in the defence industry makes it an area of science where many new technologies emerge, Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye Kung said on Wednesday (March 30).

Speaking at the 10th anniversary of the annual Young Defence Scientists Programme (YDSP) Congress at Orchard Hotel, he raised the example of innovations such as the Internet and the Global Positioning System, which started in the military.

He added that "unimaginable" scientific inventions like invisibility, augmented reality and even an iron man suit are today no longer limited "to Hollywood's movie magic".

Addressing 450 students, engineers and scientists as guest of honour at the event, he said: "Our pioneer generation of leaders had the foresight to harness the potential of defence technology. It is a great time to learn about science and technology because the advancements are so rapid and opportunities are so vast... it is important to nurture young defence engineers."

Organised by the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and DSO National Laboratories, the programme introduced defence science to 400 local students aged 14 to 18 from 19 Integrated Programme schools this year. This is double the number of participants in 2006.

Students underwent research camps, laboratory sessions and lectures in defence science, working on projects such as programming and robotics, mentored by scientists and engineers from DSO and DSTA, as well as professors from three local universities.

Some 115 awards and scholarships in defence science were awarded to programme participants at the Congress.

This year's winning projects included a remote-controlled underwater robot and a robot navigated by light, ideas which, if used in defence, could save manpower and time.

Mr Sandheep Ransilu Piyasanka of Victoria School, 17, whose team developed an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) operated by hand gestures, said: "This programme has solidified my interest in defence science and it is interesting how gesture control technology can be used to enhance the army's performance... this could allow us to control drones and different UGVs for more operations without putting soldiers on the frontline."

The programme hopes to grow interest in technology and attract more students to enter the defence science industry.

Mr Benjamin Choi, 25, an alumnus of the programme and mentor of current participants, said: "We need good engineers because we are solving very difficult, unstructured problems, and it is harder to find people with the necessary skills. Programmes like this get people interested in defence work... it is precisely because these problems are challenging that they are interesting, and so bright students want to work on them."

chiaytr@sph.com.sg