NTUitive spinoff FytoSol one of first two companies selected to join Cool Ideas Enterprise

Date: 28 Nov 2018

SINGAPORE - Residents will soon have a mobile device application that allows them to make appointments with banks or clinics in Housing Board (HDB) estates or apply to use public spaces such as void decks.

It will even prompt them when shops nearby are having promotions.

While the beta version that will be released by the first quarter of next year contains only a digital directory of commercial shops, the app will have more features adapted to residents’ needs by the year’s end.

It is part of a tie-up by the HDB, telco StarHub and tech start-up Sentient, and is the first app in a planned “digital ecosystem” to use smart technologies and data analytics to create services that benefit residents.

Through data collected – such as residents’ interests and frequently asked questions about their neighbourhood – agencies can glean insights to help them better plan and manage community facilities in future.

For example, knowing which shops are frequently searched for by residents could give HDB planners an indication of the type of shops that are in demand, and help them adjust planning guidelines for commercial shops.

Over time, the platform will get more data sets as other public agencies and private companies come on board, such as the location and availability of carpark facilities.

On Wednesday (Nov 28), the HDB signed an initial agreement with Sentient, StarHub, IBM and the Infocomm Media Development Authority to develop these apps.

Said StarHub’s digital platforms director Nicole Cheah: “The end goal is for residents to be able to use the app to, say, find a neighbour to take care of their dog while they are travelling. We want to nudge people in a safe way to find moments to connect, so that it’s not just about saying hi in the lift.” 

At the same HDB inaugural Innovation Festival event held at the HDB Hub in Toa Payoh, where the mobile app was announced, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong launched a $5-million fund, spread over the next two years, to encourage businesses to come up with innovative solutions to make public housing estates better.

The Cool Ideas Enterprise scheme is an expansion of an existing programme, initially aimed at members of the public to come up with ideas to improve HDB estates.

While the response to that iteration has been lukewarm, the expanded scheme is now targeted at companies with products ready for implementation but which need funding or mentorship.

The first two companies to join the programme are Hocklim Engineering, which is working to install an earth-retaining system to stabilise steep slopes more cheaply, and FytoSol, which created a nanogel that can let different types of plants grow on HDB rooftops.

Hocklim chief executive Chua Yuan Shen said the system, developed by the Nanyang Technological University, would help to increase land capacity.

For example, the incline of a slope can be better managed so that instead of wasting the space, “elderly folks can do taiji there now”.

Nanyang Technological University material scientist Lam Yeng Ming, who oversees FytoSol, said the gel can cut water consumption for plants by at least half. 

It also allows water-guzzling plants, like Japanese roses, and food crops to be grown, which will “add some colour to our rooftops and improve food sustainability”. 

Noting that innovation is not without risks, Mr Wong said: “Sometimes we may get complaints because the ideas may sound good and look good, but you may get unexpected reactions that you had not anticipated. But that’s what innovation is all about.”

“We must never be deterred, we must continue to push ourselves beyond the status quo and always look for new and better ways of doing things,” he added. 

Source: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/housing/hdb-ties-up-with-data-analytics-and-telco-firms-for-resident-friendly-app-launches

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