HeartWare Singapore

Is Singapore forgetting startups in Smart Nation? 3 startups weigh in

Transportation, population density, population aging, healthcare—these are all problems in any developed country. Revealed earlier this year, the Smart Nation Programme (SNP) seeks to harness ICT, networks, and data to support better living, create more opportunities, and support stronger communities in Singapore.

Macro initiatives were carried out by the government, for example, the trials of Above Ground (AG) boxes, HetNet and the IoT@Home initiative, focusing on collaboration with mainly large tech companies. However, the tech startups seem to be missing out on the action. That is a shame as there are nuggets of value that can be extracted from the startup community.

I discovered startups that are running their own mini versions of data collection and analytics. If you combined some of these trials together with SNP, I am sure there would be added value creation and breakthroughs. I spoke with them about their solutions, their conducted trials, and how we could improve on the SNP initiative.

Smart living – Intraix

We use a fair amount of electricity but it is not necessarily efficiently used. Darrell Zhang, CEO of Intraix, notes that data in this field is underutilized and his team is committed to reducing energy consumption through the careful analysis of sensory environmental, energy, and physical data.

Intraix deploys a Home Energy Management Solution that is made up of two components, the first being an easy-to-install Smart Energy Meter (Klug Hub) that is capable of capturing energy consumption information, giving users insights in their energy consumption habits in a bid to reduce energy consumption through behavioral changes.

The second component is a smart Air-Conditioning Thermostat (Klug Air), which is capable of collecting data from the room itself and then runs diagnostics via Intraix backend engine on the cloud which will deduce in optimized controls for the air-conditioners. It regulates the air-conditioning settings while one is asleep and savings are achieved.


Applying the tech to Smart Nation

Zhang said:

“Imagine the data that is collected on the power consumption of homes, buildings, everything. It will be a windfall of information that will be vital to understanding the country’s power needs. It would also be useful to manufacturers of appliances who can understand the optimal efficiency and usage patterns. Who knows, we might just reduce our nation carbon footprint and also reduce energy consumption levels.”

Feedback on Smart Nation

Many such solutions require large critical mass before significant benefits are reaped. As such, there should be incentives provided to encourage early adopters of such systems. For example, the Echonet Lite Consortium was set up in Japan to provide subsidies of 50 percent to homeowners who are keen to adopt smart home solutions. In the area of data, Smart Nation solution companies should focus their efforts on what tangible values the system can do rather than get engrossed in the collection of data and trying to monetize them. There has to be actionable end objectives which can bring about tangible benefits, and I feel this is lacking a lot.

Smart transportation – Carmen Automotive

Carmen uses data analytics to emulate behavior of sensors. Data obtained from the Carmen dongle, which is plugged into the onboard diagnostics (OBD) port of a vehicle, is uploaded to the cloud and using data analytics to predict failure, all without the need of expensive sensors. With analytics technologies, they allow the average sedan to achieve the same optimal car maintenance regime as top marques and help save maintenance cost and better reliability. Data gets monitored 24/7 and events trigger car owners to avoid breakdowns.


Applying the tech to Smart Nation

Sem Chong, CEO of Carmen, explains the benefits:

“We are plagued by traffic congestion every day. Also, the average age of vehicles in Singapore is increasing due to the COE prices, with vehicle breakdowns likely to rise as a correlated trend. By using the Carmen dongle, we can predict that the vehicle will have a potential breakdown issue and rectifying it first will help to avoid vehicle breakdowns, which ultimately reduces traffic congestion. Think also of owners of vehicle fleets who can better manage the fleet maintenance. With better data, insurance companies can craft better effective car insurance premiums. The whole objective is to create a platform that is a win-win for the general consumer and service industry.”

Feedback on Smart Nation

Chong highlights:

“There needs to be a top-down approach from both the automotive industry and the government in order to move things at a macro level. However, we are still unaware of the channels available to access Smart Nation as it seems to be exclusive to the big tech firms. Having LTA’s involvement and access to test beds would be helpful.”

Smart behavioral analytics – ORT Solutions

ORT Solutions help physical businesses understand their customers by tying physical presence to digital behavior. “Using small portions of IoT, we make the insights and technology accessible by taking away the complex and heavy lifting of sensors, big data management and simplify it to the actionable impactful analysis that businesses need,” explains CEO Thomas Wong.


ORT recently completed a trial of capturing anonymous data from 450,000 smartphone signals in three shopping malls. The data gave a sense of how often these shoppers return, what they are interested in, what their demographics are, and where else they spend time outside their spaces. These simple points of data have helped clients quickly identify high-level strategy directions as well as on-ground operational tactics to drive their bottom line and also measure the success of their various initiatives and campaigns.

Applying the tech to Smart Nation

According to Wong:

“Imagine if ORT has its sensors installed in every AG box in the country, which is already picking up a lot of data in various forms, we can drive deep insights behavioural data. This information will be critical to population movements and how we could adjust policies or infrastructure to suit the changing patterns. That will truly be a Smart Nation, proactive addressing social issues before it becomes too big. Businesses can also benefit in making smart decisions, reducing cost of inefficiencies and raising productivity.”

Feedback on Smart Nation

“While there is a lot of expensive and complex enterprise and government level initiatives, there needs to be a bigger push to make that data and technology available to the small businesses or less technology-mature large businesses. While there are a few main pillars on where Smart Nation have been defined, the initiatives impact a much broader spectrum that collectively may overshadow the actual size of the four main pillars.

As anyone who is working with the kind of large data sets, many seemingly insignificant and unrelated pieces of data points can sometimes emerge to have a pivotal effect on the final insights, not just from tight correlations but in causality as well. Education I think is a huge component, for people not only to learn about data science, but how to utilize it to make data driven decisions, individuals, businesses and organisations.”

Smart mobile connectivity – Loco

Loco is a search engine mobile app for people on the move. It helps users find stores and places with the relevant product or service based on their search terms. To obtain data, Loco uses different sources from the internet, social media sites, and government APIs to curate a database of locations. The key behind Loco’s search engine is having real-time data. “We have to innovate methods to collect the data we need, such as scraping social media platforms to get real-time data,” explains CEO ZP Lee of 40 Tasks.

Applying the tech to Smart Nation

Lee said:

“Loco brings two major benefits, one to the user. Now, with the location proximity search, one will be able to discover relevant services. Convenience becomes a standard, helping to cut short simple daily decisions and making life easier. The other is for small-time businesses which cannot afford large-scale marketing. Loco brings new discovery and help these businesses gain awareness.”

Feedback on Smart Nation

Lee gives his frank take:

“Despite it being a national initiative, a clear and comprehensive plan has yet to be laid out. The Smart Nation Programme Office needs to come out with a clear definition of what Smart Nation entails and from which a roadmap of what needs to be achieved. Having that, there can be clear government tenders to meet these aims. There is a lack of clear channels for companies to give feedback on the Smart Nation initiative. Some of the companies are frustrated by the lack of progress in some areas, but have no avenue to communicate this to the relevant government agencies.

For example, the government has AG boxes set up across the country and are able to collect massive real-time data of location. But despite the recent launch of http://beta.data.gov.sg, real-time data is still unavailable to the public. The Smart Nation Programme Office needs to set up clear feedback channels and avenues to spur companies towards Smart Nation goals.”

As we end this article, Smart Nation is an initiative to involve everyone to join the government to co-create innovative solutions. As a startup community, let’s rally together and support this initiative. If you have a startup in relation to the SNP, please share in the comments, give your feedback, and inform me if you are keen to participate in feedback. All information will be shared with the relevant government agencies.

Disclosure: Loco is an investee of Tri5.

This is also the second article of the Heartware Singapore series, where the author shares on different topics to spur the Singapore startup ecosystem.

This article first appeared on Tech in Asia.