Tech drive for built environment industry

Firms can test ideas to improve HDB living while start-ups can get funds, mentorship

Companies can soon take part in a crowd-sourcing programme to test new ideas and improve Housing Board estates.

This is one of two new ways the Ministry of National Development is encouraging more technology for the built environment sector, its minister Lawrence Wong announced yesterday.

The other is an accelerator programme for start-ups and companies in the sector.

Noting the pressures of global warming, rising sea levels and land constraints, Mr Wong said the country must take full advantage of technology.

"Singapore version 2 must be greener and smarter, more beautiful, more inclusive and more resilient than the one we currently have," he said at the launch of a new $61 million research lab for urban solutions yesterday (see other story).

At the same time, he added, it is "timely to build up capabilities in the urban solution space, make this an exportable growth sector in its own right, serve the growing regional demand and become an infrastructure hub for Asia."

MAKING SINGAPORE BETTER

Singapore version 2 must be greener and smarter, more beautiful, more inclusive and more resilient than the one we currently have.

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT MINISTER LAWRENCE WONG

The crowd-sourcing programme widens the net for the Cool Ideas for Better HDB Living initiative, launched in 2011, from just members of the public to companies.

Currently, participants whose ideas have been shortlisted can apply for a $10,000 grant to further develop their project. Ideas shortlisted this year include a device to make the charging of plugged-in electronics safer and an app to help residents monitor the latest deals at their neighbourhood shops.

Mr Wong encouraged companies to work with the Housing Board to pilot "more substantial" innovations. "These efforts will not only bring good solutions to benefit our HDB residents, but also allow our enterprises to showcase their innovations in our HDB estates, and eventually export these solutions overseas," he said.

Another move is an accelerator programme for start-ups, to be helmed by the Building and Construction Authority.

The new programme aims to bring in innovative solutions by giving companies access to investor funding and mentorship, he added.

Earlier, Mr Wong also encouraged companies to play a more active role in shaping the country's research and development efforts .

"Government spending in R&D should catalyse, not crowd out, more private investments," he said.

Both ideas were well-received by observers. Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee said opening the HDB programme to companies may see some never-before-seen infrastructure solutions. "SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) may have gathered ideas over the years but never implemented them - perhaps because the suggestion was not well-received or an open call was never made," he said.

Mr Edwin Khew, the immediate past president of the Institution of Engineers, Singapore, said the start-up accelerator could encourage more firms to work on hardware products like robots, and in turn encourage young people to join the built environment industry.

"If you want to be a Smart Nation, we need engineers and good technicians," he said. "This is a start."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2018, with the headline 'Tech drive for built environment industry'. Print Edition | Subscribe