Dell's US$50m R&D centre in S'pore to drive innovation in edge computing

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing (right) at the launch of Dell Technologies' Global Innovation Hub at International Business Park on Feb 22, 2021. The hub will focus on making advances in digital transformation and experiences. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - American tech giant Dell Technologies officially launched a US$50 million (S$66 million) research and development centre here on Monday (Feb 22) that will drive innovation in computing near where data is located.

Called edge computing, this emerging technology will take advantage of the roll-out of 5G mobile networks here, said Dell.

Such technology can involve computers or devices like sensors analysing data they collect before uploading selected information or results to a network, called the cloud, to be accessed by users in another location.

Without edge computing, all the data collected may have to be uploaded and processed elsewhere, which can be more costly.

Mr Amit Midha, Dell Technologies' president for the Asia Pacific and Japan and Global Digital Cities, noted that in the next decade, edge computing is going to dwarf cloud computing, or the delivery of computer services and applications over networks.

When edge computing becomes more mainstream in the next three to five years, Dell's R&D in this space will be driven from Singapore.

"Next-generation innovation will be driven and built from Singapore for the world," he said.

Edge computing will become important in future, especially for smart cities, as it can, among other things, be cheaper to process reams of data where it is being collected and then upload the results.

This contrasts with uploading all the collected data to be analysed elsewhere, which can also be difficult if there is poor or limited network connection.

Dell's new R&D centre - dubbed a Global Innovation Hub and is one of several in the world - will also focus on making advances in digital transformation and experiences.

The firm's investment in the hub, located in International Business Park in Jurong East and Changi Business Park, will also create more than 160 jobs - mostly for Singaporeans - in emerging tech, including for designers, developers and strategists.

Over 75 per cent of the positions have been filled in the last one year, and the PC maker expects to hire the rest by the end of the year.

This complements Dell's announcement on Feb 10 that it launched initiatives to help train 3,000 students, fresh graduates and mid-career professionals here in practical digital skills in cloud computing, data protection and management, data science and data analytics over the next two years.

Besides edge computing, the hub's R&D areas include augmented reality (AR) to enhance customer experiences, cyber security to monitor threats and prevent security incidents, digital analytics, and enhancing user experiences.

Another area is cloud-native architecture, or software and systems designed specifically to be deployed over a network, which can be used to support building smart nations and to help modernise a workforce.

While Dell has other innovation hubs globally, the Singapore one is the first outside the United States to have an Experience Innovation Group that does R&D to improve user experiences, including conceptualising and developing futuristic concept products and solutions.

The Singapore team works closely with the US team on this, including developing a wellness tracker application built into a laptop. The app captures a person's sitting posture and delivers prompts and alerts to encourage the user to move or make adjustments, to address work-from-home issues like neck and lower back pain.

The teams are also developing an AR assistant that people can call up, by scanning a QR code located on all Dell servers, to help guide them on fixing and maintaining their enterprise hardware.

The US team was also behind such products as Dell's Concept Ori foldable dual-screen laptop prototype showcased at last year's Consumer Electronics Show. The device can act like a 13-inch tablet and then fold down the middle to be used like a laptop with a virtual keyboard on the bottom half.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, who launched the Singapore hub on Monday at International Business Park, said that the opening is timely, as it complements Singapore's efforts to emerge stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic.

He noted that as the pandemic disrupted supply chains globally, Dell's artificial intelligence and analytics team modelled historical demand data from past pandemic events and ramped up consumer hardware supply. This helped Dell to move stock quickly to fulfil orders for consumers.

The pandemic also accelerated many companies' plans to transform digitally and have flexible work arrangements for working remotely, areas that Dell's Global Innovation Hub here will look into.

"The Government will continue to support and invest in such capabilities, to ensure that Singapore is able to distinguish itself on the global stage even amidst the pandemic," said Mr Chan.

While Dell did not disclose if it received co-funding from the Government, it said the Singapore Global Innovation Hub is supported by Digital Industry Singapore, a joint office of the Economic Development Board, Enterprise Singapore and Infocomm Media Development Authority that engages with the tech sector.

The US$50 million investment that went into the hub was done over three years since 2019, of which US$23 million will be invested this year.

The hub also houses existing R&D facilities for the development of digital products and solutions, such as the Singapore Design Centre that designs Dells products like its monitors, keyboards and mice; a hardware prototyping lab dedicated to product design and innovation; and an AI Experience Zone.

On why Dell chose Singapore to open a Global Innovation Hub, Mr Midha noted that Dell has been committed to the Republic over the years - the company has been here for over two decades since 1996 and the country is the company's Asia-Pacific headquarters, which has close to 2,000 staff here.

He believes Singapore is becoming a global hub, such as for finance and tech, adding that the country has great rule of law, as well as university and banking infrastructure.

"There is a significant opportunity in...using Singapore to create global innovation," said Mr Midha of the new innovation hub here.

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