Track diabetes online? More hi-tech solutions on the cards for health, transport, finance

The National Research Foundation will be holding a background media briefing following the 10th Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC) meeting.
The National Research Foundation will be holding a background media briefing following the 10th Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC) meeting.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - Over the next few years, Singaporeans will be able to assess and monitor their risk of diabetes online, as the war against diabetes goes more high-tech.

They will also be able to enjoy greener and more sustainable energy, and make use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools aimed at solving problems in transport, finance and healthcare.

These are some of the projects Singapore's research sector is embarking on, following a review of the progress made for the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan, a year and a half after it was unveiled in January 2016. The details were shared after the 10th RIE Council meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, concluded on Friday (July 21).

Singapore's research and development base is maturing, PM Lee said, and has nurtured more research scientists and engineers, and raised the quality of R&D in universities and research institutes.

"I am encouraged that companies are investing more in research, innovation and enterprise activities, and some have set up corporate laboratories," said PM Lee. "The 10th RIE Council has given us guidance to consolidate our gains, and sharpen our focus on four growth areas. We still have more to do, but we have made good progress."

The council, led by PM Lee, comprises cabinet ministers and distinguished local and foreign members from the business, science and technology communities.

The RIE2020 plan, which allocates a record $19 billion budget over five years, focuses on four key areas: health and biomedical sciences, urban solutions and sustainability, services and digital economy, and advanced manufacturing and engineering,

To raise awareness on diabetes, the Integrated Health Information Systems will update their HealthHub online health portal with a new diabetes risk assessment tool from September 2017. This will help Singaporeans assess their risk of undiagnosed diabetes and recommend them for screening, so as to let them take a proactive step in preventing diabetes.

Funding is also being channelled into research on the affect of diabetes on kidney diseases. Under a $25 million research grant drawn from the health and biomedical sciences open fund, clinicians and scientists will work together on diabetic renal diseases. It aims to determine the genes and development of kidney diseases caused by diabetes so that patients at risk can be identified and treated earlier.

Research is also being done on Singapore's energy requirements, by looking at how gas, solar and thermal energy can be consolidated into a single intelligent network.

The end goal is to make develop more efficient, sustainable and resilient energy networks by using high-tech solid state transformers, which allow power to flow more effectively from energy sources to users.

This new system, called Grid 2.0, is a joint effort between the Energy Market Authority (EMA), the Building and Construction Authority, JTC Corporation and the Singapore Economic Development Board.

Singapore's efforts in the AI and digital space were also reaffirmed at the meeting, such as through the $150 million national AI programme, AI.SG, which was established in May 2017. The initiative was set up to solve national challenges using AI and data analytics, such as reducing travel time and developing intelligent health and financial assistants.

A new AI.SG Makerspace will be set up in January 2018 at the National University of Singapore, where researchers and industry partners can collaborate on, interact with and adopt AI-powered tools generated by AI.SG.

Lastly, more public-private partnerships to drive innovation will be created under the advanced manufacturing and engineering.

For instance, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) will open two model factories, one at SimTech later this year and the other at the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre in early 2018.

These factories will let companies sample and test technology such as 3D-printing and advanced robotics so they can make a decision on whether to use them in their operations.