The Singapore government has committed S$19 billion (US$14 billion) in deep tech commercialisation in its RIE2020 plan, and with friendly Smart Nation policies, Singapore is becoming a haven for the development of deep tech startups.
But what exactly is deep science or deep technology? Startup Business defines deep tech as a “set of cutting-edge and disruptive technologies based on scientific discoveries, engineering, mathematics, physics and medicine. New technological applications that can have a profound impact on people’s and society’s lives.”
So what exactly has Singapore startups been up to in the areas of deep tech? And how do these technologies affect Singapore and the rest of the world?
Below is a glossary of deep technologies that Singapore has focused on and the applications behind them. It is not exhaustive but still a good start to give readers a simple introduction.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
The Oxford definition of Artificial intelligence is that it is “the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”
AI has been used across many various industries, from finance trading, hospital imaging systems, media, education, HR and such.
AI Singapore is a national program to anchor deep national capabilities in AI, thereby creating social and economic impacts, grow local talent, build an AI ecosystem and put Singapore on the world map.
A list of 14 AI startups in Singapore have been highlighted and their impact in various industries.
Agricultural technology (Agritech)
Agricultural technology is the use of technology in that improves various processes in agriculture, horticulture, and aquacultue. Agritech can be products, services or applications derived from agriculture that improve various input/output processes.”
Some Singapore startups include Susentir Agriculture, which uses controlled environment agriculture that uses 95 per cent less water than traditional farming; and Packet Greens, which uses hydroponics with automation to make urban farming more efficient.
People tend to shy away when they hear blockchain. This is due to the association to cryptocurrencies, which blockchain is the underlying technology.
Merriam Webster defines Blockchain as “a digital database containing information (such as records of financial transactions) that can be simultaneously used and shared within a large decentralized, publicly accessible network.”
But Blockchain has its positive benefits when removing the cryptocurrency feature. According to a CIO report, Singapore companies have implemented blockchain technologies across the airline, food, government, education, real estate, healthcare, energy and supply chain industries.
The Singapore government has been open to the application of the technology. It has backed Tribe Accelerator, a blockchain accelerator (a unit of TRIVE), to promote further development and usage of blockchain technologies.
According to Cisco, Cybersecurity is “the practice of protecting systems, networks, and programs from digital attacks. These cyber attacks are usually aimed at accessing, changing, or destroying sensitive information; extorting money from users; or interrupting normal business processes.”
We can all recall Singapore’s worst cybersecurity attack in 2018, where 1.5 million Singapore patients health records were assessed by cyberhackers. Data is the new oil in the Internet age, and it becomes vital to have measures to protect data from falling into wrong hands.
The Singapore government has a cybersecurity agency known as the Cybersecurity Agency of Singapore. And The Singapore Cybersecurity Consortium has been set up to promote the engagement of cybersecurity ecosystem players.
Singapore cybersecurity startups include Horangi and Centurion Information Security.
According to Technopedia, Data science is “a broad field that refers to the collective processes, theories, concepts, tools and technologies that enable the review, analysis and extraction of valuable knowledge and information from raw data. It is geared toward helping individuals and organizations make better decisions from stored, consumed and managed data.”
In 2016, Singapore’s Circle Line Mass Rapid Transit was hit by a spate of unexplained breakdowns. But through the use of data science, 3 government data scientists discovered the cause: one faulty train that was sending errant signals which confused other trains.
Data science training is a key priority of the Singapore government, where it will send 20,000 officials to be trained in data science. A Singapore Data Science Consortium has also been set up to enable Singapore to fully harness the power of data science and technology.
In anticipation of the demand for data science skills, TRIVE has invested in Upcode Academy, a training school which trains Singaporeans to learn data science. A National Data Science competition is currently ongoing.
TRIVE also invested in NeuroTrend, a data science company that analyzes neuro-data to provide 10x the accuracy of marketing analysis of respondents. Companies like GoJek have set up a data science team in Singapore.
Energy efficiency tech is basically to improve on the efficiency of energy usage in products and services.
Energy usage in Singapore households have increased by 17 per cent in the last decade, due to the adoption of more household appliances. And while education is needed to change mindsets, the rising affluence of society will likely see further increases in consumption.
Beyond just household energy usage, there are many new innovative ways to improve energy efficiency. Shell IdeaRefinery, an accelerator focused on energy efficient, announced 10 startups participating in their first cohort in November 2018.
Energy tech startups are also helping to improve the environment by tackling pollution and reducing carbon emissions.
While Singapore may not have significant pollution and environment damages, it still wants to maintain its focus on energy security and lowering carbon emissions. As urbanization and population increases in Asia, there would be no doubt pollution and environmental damage comes along, and Singapore will be poised to solve these issues.
Business Times reported in 2016 that there are 50 homegrown firms that have developed expertise in renewable energy and pursuing overseas projects. One such company is WEnergy Global, that provides services on renewable energy solutions.
Singapore is known to be a foodie nation, with various bubble tea and famous food joints across the world descending onto crazy Singaporeans who willingly line up to try new varieties of cuisines and food products.
The great varieties of food, given the multi-cultural landscape the country has, has turned into an advantage for food science.
According to the Institute of Food Technologies, Food science is “an attempt to better understand food processes and ultimately improve food products for the general public…food scientists study the physical, microbiological, and chemical makeup of food. By applying their findings, they are responsible for developing the safe, nutritious foods and innovative packaging that line supermarket shelves everywhere.”
An example of food tech company is Hoow Foods which created low-calorie Callerys ice-cream. Their food science tech platform addresses the missing link between the novel food ingredient industry and the consumers. Using their deep understanding of food science, they brought down the calorie intake of ice cream from 250g to 59g for a serving of vanilla ice-cream.
Singapore throws out tonnes of garbage, around 7.7 million tonnes of it in 2017. While good pre-consumer materials are well recycled, much can be improved on the recycling rates of food, plastics, textiles, which hovers around 6-17 per cent.
It is a serious concern for Singapore, as the only landfill at Semakau will be filled up by 2035. And given the 676k tonnes of unrecycled food waste, it will not be long before Singapore drowns in garbage.
But fret not. Recycling technology startups are responding to the call of improving recycling rates.
Insectta is a food waste tech company that rears Black Soldier Fly larvae. These larvae feed on food wastes to convert them into compost for plants and animal feed.
GoodforFood is another tech startup that uses a proprietary smart detection device that collects real-time, granular data on food wastage. This helps commercial kitchens to reduce their food waste, cost and environment imprint.
Plastics is another major unrecycled waste, with 763,000 tonnes in 2017. Other than banning straws at food eateries, a team of NUS scientists have converted polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles into a highly insulating and absorbent material called aerogel. Aerogel uses include a lining for fire-retardant coats and better heat and insulation in buildings.
Though it will be another few years before commercialization, it gives hope that such techniques will solve the world’s problem of waste pollution.
Christopher Quek is Managing Partner of TRIVE, which consists of a MAS-licensed Venture Capital, a pay-it-forward incubator and a government-backed blockchain accelerator.
Disclaimer: Tribe Accelerator is a unit of TRIVE. Upcode Academy, NeuroTrend are investee portfolios.
This article first appeared on e27.