Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

When it comes to hubs of innovation around the globe, what’s important to remember is that it’s not always about what’s happening right now. It’s about what could be just around the corner. One of the best examples of outstanding future potential is Singapore.

At the beginning of 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong allocated USD 19 billion towards developing science and innovation in Singapore over the next five years. Now we are over halfway through that period and the positive effects are only too clear. According to the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), there are over 42,000 startups in Singapore. One in ten working-age people are in the process of starting their own company. Furthermore, there is a definite lean towards technology, particularly automation and Internet of Things (IoT).

It’s not only a pivotal point for those based in Singapore either. Dyson, the British manufacturer of household appliances, has plans to open a factory in Singapore to expand into car manufacturing from 2020. The EDB’s ‘Home for Business’ welcoming strategy makes it an ideal place for many international businesses. This is largely due to their excellent intellectual property laws and the wealth of technology talent already in place.

At Springwise, we have been mapping the growth of innovations coming out of Singapore in recent times. We have collected together three innovations as key examples of where Singapore is thriving recently. The primary industries flourishing in this growing hub are automation and IoT.

We have also spotted a trend towards innovations for smart cities. In Singapore, as it is a city-state, 100 percent of the 5.6 million strong population are urban dwellers. This anti-noise device, for example, was developed by Singaporean researchers. By projecting anti-noise through a speaker attached to a window grill, the device reduces noise pollution in densely populated environments.

Another innovation targeted towards smart cities is this autonomous robot-drone duo. The unit’s advanced algorithms and various forms of surveillance technology makes it an intelligent mobile surveillance tool. The technology can provide valuable information to human security personnel in order to make cities a safer place at a lower cost.

Known for its innovative IoT environment, Singapore’s talent is also being used to promote social good through innovations such as this autonomous wheelchair. This technology could lead to far easier mobility for those with physical disabilities. Not only does this help the patient, it also aids healthcare professionals, as patients are able to move freely, unassisted by another human.

These are just a few examples of recent innovation in Singapore. What is most intriguing to consider is the future possibilities. There is still over two years left of the EDB’s investment plan and with the growth of technological innovation so far, we can only expect such development to continue. The previous investments have already established a groundwork of strong intellectual property protection. This is in direct competition to other Asian markets, such as China, where intellectual theft is comparatively common. Factors such as this are warning signs to international companies just like Dyson; founder James Dyson cited it as a key reason in choosing Singapore over China for his electric car company.

Another key development that marks Singapore out as an ideal place for future innovation is the nation’s quick adoption of technology. Since the 1990’s Singapore’s technological environment has stood out globally, quickly adopting the internet and other developments since. The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Technology Report placed Singapore as the most Tech-Ready Nation out of 139 countries. Since then, as technology grows, so too has Singapore’s diverse technological capabilities, as evidenced through their research into dynamic innovation in the examples above.

Ultimately, it is clear to see that the foundations for strong innovative and technological growth are already there in Singapore. Innovation is all about looking to the future, and Singapore’s infrastructure and facilities are ideal for doing just that. Springwise is keen to see where this will take Singapore in the future and what future innovations will follow.

The processing power required by consumers and businesses is rapidly growing. Eventually computers will need to develop new ways of storing data in order to keep up. In 1965, Gordon Moore proposed Moore’s Law, which stated the number of transistors on a microprocessor would double every 2 years (this was later changed to 18 months). At this rate, by the year 2030 the circuits on a microprocessor will need to be measured on an atomic scale. The next logical step is quantum computers, in which computers use atoms and molecules to store data. Such quantum computers have the potential to perform certain calculations significantly faster than any silicon-chip-based computer. So, what is a quantum computer and will they be available any time soon?

Most digital computers are based on an idea first developed by Alan Turing in the 1930s. Turing devised a way to divide information into a string of 1s and blank spaces (0s). A device reads the pattern of symbols and blanks, and this pattern makes up the instructions to the machine. Modern computers still use a similar system of ‘bits’ which can exist in one of two states – 0 or 1. Quantum computers, however, take advantage of the fact that subatomic particles like electrons, photons and ions can exist in more than one state at any time. Thus, a quantum bit, or ‘qubit’, which is made up of these particles can be a 0, a 1 or both 0 and 1 (and all points in between) at the same time. While a computer based on the Turing principle can only perform one calculation at a time, a quantum computer can, in theory, perform many calculations at once. Not only can quantum computers use and store far more information than Turing computers, but they can do it using less energy.

Although quantum computers could perform normal computing tasks, they could also be used for specialised functions that today’s standard computers cannot manage. Because quantum computers could operate so quickly, they would be especially well suited to solving very complex mathematical calculations. This may seem like an esoteric use of so much computing power, until you realise that most of the systems that keep our online information secure are based on mathematical problems that are very difficult to solve. So, quantum computers could potentially allow greater security, but at the same time make hacking secure systems much easier.

Quantum computers could also be used to rapidly model complicated chemical reactions. In fact, Google engineers have already used a simple quantum device to simulate a hydrogen molecule, and IBM has used similar computers to model the behaviour of more complex molecules. Quantum computers could eventually allow researchers to quickly design new molecules for use in medicine, or all new chemical processes.

So far, companies like Google and IBM have been racing to achieve ‘quantum supremacy’. This is the point at which quantum computers overtake the processing ability of conventional computers. Although IBM managed to construct a working 50-qubit quantum computer in 2017, the system could only hold its quantum microstate for 90 microseconds. This was a record, but it is still a far cry from creating a system that is ready for practical use. In February 2018, Intel announced that it had found a way of fabricating quantum chips from silicon, a step which could bring practical quantum computers closer.

A handful of start-ups are also working to crack practical quantum computing. At Springwise, we have highlighted examples of quantum algorithms, electron refrigerators to keep quantum computers cool and designs for the large-scale manufacture of quantum chips.

Howard Kaplan, a visualisation specialist at the University of South Florida, US, has created a tactile map to help people who are blind or have visual impairments navigate around different environments.

The three dimensional map allows users to navigate around various environments by tracing the raised features with their fingertips. Kaplan has developed a tactile code to accompany his 3D map, developing 3D symbols for walls, hallways, paths and more. He then tested these maps with visually impaired and blind people at the University of South Florida. Students tested the portable maps while carrying them around. Larger maps were placed on the wall outside a classroom to guide students entering the room.

When researching existing maps for the visually impaired, Kaplan found that they were simple and not durable. His own map design uses hard plastic. It is also mountable on walls or can be small enough to carry around. Kaplan hopes anyone can use his software to produce a tactile 3D map for any space by Spring 2019.

Country: www.twitter.com/USouthFlorida

People rarely stop to consider the energy usage of the Internet. However, being connected constantly requires more servers, more content, more memory and more energy. It is estimated that by 2025 the Internet will account for 20 percent of all the energy consumed on the planet. At Springwise, we have seen a number of ways to increase energy efficiency. These include a platform that reduces the carbon footprint of coding and a blockchain that rewards energy efficiency. Now, one online magazine is raising awareness of the issue with a low-tech website.

Low-Tech Magazine has redesigned its website to use a minimum amount of technology and energy. The site uses solar power and consists of static documents stored on a single, self-hosted server. The magazine’s founder, Kris deDecker, redesigned the website to use a server powered by a photovoltaic array on his Barcelona balcony. So if it is cloudy, the site goes offline.

The site contains no ads, videos or pop-ups and does not use cookies, track visitors, or profile users. To compress images Low-Tech Magazine employs an older form of compression called dithering so images are less power-intensive. A battery metre shows readers exactly how much energy they are using. Since the site is static, pages download around 10 times faster than on other sites. The low resource requirements and open design also keeps the site accessible for visitors with older computers or less reliable Internet connections. Additionally, low-cost equipment like a mini-computer provides running power, and requires no more processing power than that of a mobile phone.

Startup Thalmic Labs has recently changed its name to North and changed its approach, from smart armbands to smart glasses. The glasses, called Focals, use holographic display technology to overlay images onto the real world. One arm of the glasses contain a tiny projector. Images from the projector reflect off an element on the inside of the lens to focus the light back to the wearers’ eye. The results are holographic images that only the wearer can see. The images include information like the weather, calendar appointments and incoming messages. According to Stephen Lake, North’s CEO and co-founder, the glasses are “designed around the human experience”. A ring called the Loop controls the glasses and is worn on the index finger so the attached joystick can be controlled with the thumb.

The Focal smart glasses join a host of other smart glasses projects, such as caption glasses that sync with theatre shows and lightweight AR glasses designed for the mass market.

Every pair of Focals is custom-fitted to the wearers’ head. To achieve this, North is setting up retail stores in Brooklyn and Toronto. The glasses are also compatible with Alexa. Users can ask Alexa questions and see the answer pop up in front of them. North is also working on integrating Focals into apps such as Uber and Google Maps. The glasses can also be used as normal spectacles for prescription users.

Paula Lorence, a graduate from the Riga School of Design and Art in Latvia has created a collection of objects to assist sensory development in children with autism. The collection – called the Taktil – features a series of 12 objects which create different tactile sensations when touched.

Lorence had the idea for the collection after conducting research into the condition and hearing parents of children with autism express the need for more tailored products. The Taktil collection features three different levels. The first level of objects is targeted to children who are particularly sensitive. The second level is suitable for children who can manage experiencing a stronger tactile stimulation. The third level is to help soothe anxiety in children or manage panic attacks. To design the objects, Lorence used eight different materials. These were silicone, wood, aluminium, felt, bristle, cork, composite material silkstone and transparent plastic.

Tactile stimulation can help people with autism improve their concentration and alleviate stress. Lorence said: “Innovative and well-considered design has an immense significance for people with disabilities. For those people tactile stimulation is essential because it can affect the brain development and potentially bring positive changes into their lives”.

Here at Springwise, we have featured many innovations aimed at helping people with autism. For example, a robot developed using artificial intelligence helps children with autism develop social skills. Another example is a project that is using virtual reality and brain scans to identify the parts of the brain that are sensitive to social cues.

Air pollution poses large environmental and health risks around the world. At Springwise we have featured many innovations that aim to tackle the issue of air pollution. One example is a smart tire that reduces urban air pollution by using moss and onboard electronics. Another innovation is an air filter for baby strollers. Now, Bioscarf is a new scarf that incorporates an air filter into its design. It offers a fashionable and comfortable alternative to existing air pollution and energy masks.

According to the company, Bioscarf can filter an average of 99.75 percent of all airborne particulates, protecting the wearer from a number of airborne contaminates that can harm health and trigger allergies.  These include pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis, strep, pollen and smoke. The scarf is around seven feet long and wearers can adjust and tighten it as needed. It is made from polyester and is available in white, black, green and a camouflage print.

Furthermore, the company has created a ‘Bioscarf Plus One Program’. This scheme means that for every scarf sold, the company will donate a scarf to people around the world who live in environments with poor air quality. Co-founder Hazel Solle, said: “It’s time to not only raise awareness about this issue, but to more importantly give many of the people at risk who don’t have the means to protect themselves something to help them combat air pollution on a daily basis.”

At Springwise, we have covered several innovations in 3D printing. These have included printing personalised ballet shoes, skin grafts and bike tyres. Now, a research team at City University of Hong Kong have developed the world’s first 4D ceramics printer. Unlike 3D printing, where printed objects cannot change shape, 4D printing involves objects that can re-shape or self-assemble themselves over time when implementing external forces, such as pressure, temperature or a magnetic field.

The CityU team developed a ‘ceramic ink’. This ink is a mixture of polymers and ceramic nanoparticles. Applying the ink to the 3D-print ceramic precursors which are flexible and stretchable enough allows the formation of complex shapes. The ceramic precursors also store elastic energy. When releasing the stretched ceramic precursors, they undergo self-reshaping. The precursors then become heat treated, which turns them into hard ceramics.

The finished ceramics are strong and have a high strength-to-density ratio. This means that they can be made in larger sizes than other printed ceramics without compromising strength. According to team leader Professor LU Jian, Vice-President (Research and Technology) and Chair Professor of Mechanical Engineering, “The whole process sounds simple, but it’s not … Like squeezing icing on a cake, there are a lot of factors that can affect the outcome, ranging from the type of cream and the size of the nozzle, to the speed and force of squeezing, and the temperature.”

It is an understatement to say that the digital world has grown rapidly in the last few years. Finding someone who doesn’t have some sort of digital identity, whether through email, social media, or online accounts, is a rarity. With so much personal data being entered into the online world, it can be hard to keep track of where your data is, and who has access to it. This is where London startup Nettoken comes in.

Nettoken provides a clear visual display of all a user’s various digital accounts. This makes it simple to identify which companies have access to which parts of user data. Such access to information on personal data allows users to have a better sense of their own digital identity.

Not only can this help protect personal data online, but Nettoken’s services can also help you store passwords securely. In combining increased knowledge of how and where consumer data is available online with increased digital security, this control panel puts the user back in control of their own personal information.

Nettoken is currently available in beta form on the Apple App Store and Google Play. Nettoken is one of the 200 startups presenting their technology at TechDay London on 26 October 2018.

Springwise has spotted other apps designed to improve users’ privacy, such as this blockchain app. This Polish startup also sought to create greater transparency in online news.

Discover more innovations helping users to get back control of their data in our latest Top 5 feature.

At Springwise, we have seen a number of advances in techniques for medical testing and monitoring. These have included a 3D body scanner for the home, and a wristband that monitors blood cell count. Now there is a way to use monthly period blood for diagnostics. Startup Qurasense has developed a ‘diagnostic menstrual pad’ called the Q Pad. The Q Pad looks, feels and performs like a regular menstrual pad, but has a strip embedded in it which collects blood samples. These can then be mailed in for diagnostic testing.

The pads come with an app to allow users to track their cycles, order tests and view their results. All data is stored securely and is not shared with any external partners. Qurasense uses inputted information such as age, health goals and current medical condition to recommend personalised blood panels, but users can also add and remove tests using the app to set up their own blood panel. Qurasense will also suggest follow up diagnostics if anything out of the ordinary is found.

Five clinical trials of the pad have been run successfully. These have so far validated blood screening tests and two tests for sexually transmitted diseases. They will operate on a monthly subscription model. The company hopes that the pads will eventually be able to detect biomarkers such as hormone, vitamin and minerals levels, as well as HR-HPV, cancer and other disease markers. Qurasense is also working with Stanford Medicine to become the “go-to platform” for cervical cancer screening, a disease with high survival rates if caught very early.