Grab and NUS launch $6-million AI lab which will use data to improve transport

A demand heatmap during a train fault in Singapore.
A demand heatmap during a train fault in Singapore.PHOTO: GRAB

SINGAPORE - Grab and the National University of Singapore (NUS) on Wednesday (July 18) launched an artificial intelligence (AI) lab with a joint initial investment of $6 million.

This marks Grab's first major AI lab, and NUS' first AI lab with a commercial partner, said both parties.

The Grab-NUS AI Lab will leverage data from Grab's platform, which has reportedly facilitated more than two billion rides since its 2012 founding. Grab today operates in 225 cities in eight South-east Asian countries.

According to Lye Kong Wei, head of data science at Grab and co-director of Grab-NUS AI Lab, Grab has since 2012 amassed three petabytes of data, which is equivalent to 40 years of HD-TV video.

Dr Lye told a media briefing on Wednesday: "Every data point represents a footprint on this earth. We want to leverage this data and see what we can get out of it for the common good."

The Business Times understands that the Grab-NUS AI Lab will also use data from NUS' other research units, including data from Singapore's Land Transport Authority and taxi giant ComfortDelGro. Ho Teck Hua, senior deputy president and provost of NUS, said that NUS' data will "complement" Grab's data.

For a start, the Grab-NUS AI Lab will focus on improving the efficiency and reliability of transportation on Grab's platform across South-east Asia. Next, the Lab will expand its focus to examine the larger transportation challenges facing cities in South-east Asia, such as congestion and liveability.

Researchers at the Grab-NUS AI Lab will create a "robust AI platform" for large-scale machine learning and visual analytics to process massive transportation data and create "novel applications", including assisting transport authorities in monitoring and optimising traffic flow.

As part of its AI efforts, Grab has found that by offering more shared transport solutions - such as GrabShuttle, GrabShare and GrabHitch - for riders to get from Newton to Tanjong Pagar, it can reduce the commute time of that route by 30 per cent to 28 minutes.

Grab has identified travel from Newton to Tanjong Pagar as the busiest route in Singapore during peak hours, which could take up to 40 minutes.

Grab chief Anthony Tan said at the launch of the Grab-NUS AI Lab on Wednesday: "Grab has got tremendous traction; it's now time to pay it forward… but we can't do this alone. We want to grow the AI community together - not just by giving money but by sharing data sets and problems."

At the launch, NUS president Tan Eng Chye added that the Lab is an "excellent example" of how the industry and academic institutions can work together to provide "realistic, contextualised learning opportunities" for students.

He said: "Students will be able to work off real-life data from Grab, and hone their data analytic skills."

Located in the innovation 4.0 building in NUS, the Lab will be home to 28 researchers working on various AI projects.