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NUS E-HIVE 2018

A Showcase of Engineering Talents, Innovations and Start-ups!

(17 April 2018)

Article contributed by Lim Teck Heng, student reporter

17 April 2018 saw the culmination of exploration and learning of students in the Institute for Engineering Leaderships (IEL) experiential modules. Students from TechLaunch, Frugal Innovation, Venture Funding and InnoVenture modules presented their findings and proposals to a host of external judges and vied for the awards of best project presentations.

Part of the evening of sharing and learning was E-HIVE BUZZ – a one-hour panel discussion with industry leaders on the future of engineering and how engineers should navigate a terrain of uncertainty.

Walter Lee, Evangelist and Government Relations Leader at NEC, was the first panellist to speak and he set the tone for the discussion by characterising our epoch as one where ‘SHIFT happens’. The evolution of the Internet from Web 1.0, which was about information, to Web 2.0, marked by interaction, and now to Web 3.0, defined by intelligence and insight, requires ‘crazy’ engineers to make it happen, he says. ‘Crazy’ in the sense that our engineering minds must be bold enough to toy with ideas that have never been thought of before.

The subsequent panellists touched on the importance of passion in sustaining your future in engineering. Chin Tahn Joo, Angel Investor to various tech companies, emphasised the importance of upholding a strong value system where you carry out your role as an engineer with pride. Rudy Schalk, Director of Rolls Royce at NTU Corporate Laboratory, talked about how the ‘future will unroll for you’ when you find something you are passionate about and work on it. Christopher Kung, Principal Engineer at Insignia Venture Partners, noted that it was about the lives he had touched that kept him going.

On how to adapt to a volatile environment, our panellists had several musings. Anne Lochoff, who is Strategic Advisor at WorldVision and a mentor for the Cherie Blair Foundation, introduced the term ‘combinatorial innovation’ as a possible coping mechanism. The successful people of today stay relevant by understanding how different disciplines interact and getting a good sense of the context you are situated in, she explained. She affirmed that the future of innovation lies in integrating disparate pieces of knowledge into a coherent whole.

The second part of the discussion was open to the floor as the audience posed questions to our panellists. The need to be a generalist instead of a specialist in today’s age of shifts was echoed by several panellists. As Walter put it, to survive you need to go for breadth instead of depth when you are acquiring new knowledge. Anne brought up the increasing relevance of tri-sector leaders who can cross boundaries and bring together the government, academia, and non-governmental organisations.

Members of the audience also highlighted the risk-averse culture in Singapore and asked our panellists what they made of it.  Our panellists agreed that failure should be viewed in a more positive light. Christopher called failure ‘the new way to learn that makes you a better person’. Walter went further and branded the use of the word ‘failure’ a problem because something is only a failure insofar as we perceive it as one. He pithily quipped that ‘life is about unmet expectations and how we manage the pain that comes with it’. He added on that we should not be afraid to ask for help when we are down and out, citing the story of how he had discovered the best in people by asking for their help when his career was in jeopardy.

On how to teach our students to be less risk-averse, our panellists had differing views. Rudy recognised that it is innate in us to fear failure, but that we have to realise that we are not in control of our destinies. He urged the audience to be like ‘small fish swimming in a chaotic ocean, figuring out how to catch the wave’. The big question we should ask, according to Rudy, is that after we fail, how can we move forward in a dignified manner? Anne chipped in with the notion of coping mechanisms – that we can develop coping mechanisms of our own to handle change and ambiguity. Walter rounded up the proceedings by calling for everyone to avoid overplaying the idea of risk.

It was indeed an enriching hour of inspiration and introspection with these industry leaders.

The evening ended with the awards presentation and a showcase featuring presentations from teams as well as booths of innovative companies keen to draw entrepreneurial students as interns. The packed outside E-Cubes was “a-buzz” with excitement!

See below for snapshots of the winning teams. Our congratulations to all!

The Winning Teams

Spotlight on Justerra: Aligning containers hassle-free

justerra

Justerra is the brainchild of three Year 2 Engineering students Jerome Lee, Jerome Wong, and Chua Chong Yu. While the two Jeromes had known each other before the project, they needed a third man to complete the team, so they roped in Chong Yu, who shared the module EG2301 (Case Studies in Engineering) with them.

What’s your big idea?
Currently, the alignment of shipping containers at ports is a costly, tedious, and dangerous process. Justerra is a comprehensive system combining camera vision and algorithms to help operators more accurately align containers. Blinking lights function as signals that the container is close to alignment with the one below. Once containers are perfectly aligned, the blinking will cease.

How was your idea born?
Initially, before the 1st phase of the project, we had planned on using lasers for alignment. However, lasers had a technical shortcoming: their beams are not 100% straight in reality. There will be a loss in precision, especially in the case of container stacks that measure up to 7-stories high. If we had persisted with laser technology, we would exceed the 8 cm margin for error, which is more than PSA would allow.

So, we had to return to the drawing board. We chanced upon this open-source quad-core camera that was a project on Kickstarter. The strength of this camera lies in its small form factor and plug-and-play nature. This means that it is extremely portable and easy to setup. While it was originally intended for hobbyists, we saw its potential in the maritime context.

We employ various algorithms to help us detect edges and subsequently form lines from images, which are crucial for the accurate alignment of containers. With these modules loaded, our camera can then be put to use in ports.

What were the challenges that you faced?
Since the project was conducted during term time, our biggest challenge was in carving out time for this project while juggling other commitments outside.

What kind of mentorship has been provided?
Lim Hong Wee (from the DCP programme) provided his technical expertise while Randall Sie (from IEL) advised us on pitching and financial matters. We had biweekly meetings with our mentors to ensure that we were on the right track.

What does the future hold?
We are planning to expand beyond the maritime sector. We are looking into applying Justerra to settings like construction sites too.

What’s your most important takeaway from the project?
Start-ups are never easy to maintain. Building on existing works can help us save a lot of time.

Spotlight on Vanatium: Energy solutions for the future

vana

The Vanatium team comprises Mr Zhang Wenqing , Mr Hikmet Coskun , Dr Maninder Khura , Mr Zhao Peng, Ms Yamunna Ramakrishna Rao, Dr Hari Prakash Valuswamy, Mr Xris, and Mr Huang Songpeng. Vanatium offers to LTE base stations battery solutions that are long-lasting, safe, and environmentally friendly. We spoke to Hikmet, a representative from Vanatium, to understand their technology.

What’s your big idea?
Today’s world is characterised by uninterrupted connectivity. To achieve that goal, more base stations are needed, and these stations consume a lot of energy. Currently, battery solutions are either of the lead-acid type or the lithium-ion type, but they need to be replaced regularly; this incurs a lot of cost and trouble since base stations might be situated within harsh environments. Our batteries can last up to 20 years, which greatly reduces the effort and cost in maintenance.

Moreover, our battery is scalable – that means it can make an easy transition from 4G to 5G technology. This can be done by simply topping up the battery with more electrolytes.

Finally, since our battery is water-based, it is non-flammable and runs no risk of fire.

What were your challenges in productisation and how can they be overcome?
Our product is geared for the long term. The problem is that most user companies don’t have that long of a planning horizon.

Fortunately, after doing customer building with our prospective clients, three telecommunications giants have expressed interest.

Notably, the eco-friendliness of our product may be hard to evaluate but can attract companies who would like to be seen as doing their part for the environment.

Another problem with our batteries relates to their size: they are slightly bulkier than traditional batteries. However, since base stations are large in volume and hollow, the size of batteries poses a smaller problem as compared to traditional contexts.

What kind of help did you receive along the way?
Our lecturers, Professor Ignatius Rasiah and Lecturer Randall Sie (both from IEL) helped us with the business part, on how to evaluate the market.

What does the future hold?
Grid storage is the ultimate goal in energy storage. Using vanadium batteries for grid-storage is possible, as seen from the world’s largest vanadium flow battery being built in Dalian, China, to enhance grid stability. If we can scale up our battery with more funding, grid storage is something we can work towards.

What are some of your takeaways from the project?
I have understood how to learn about the needs of a market, and how to squeeze out the information I need by asking the right questions. I have also gained a more in-depth knowledge of market relations and business development.

Spotlight on Team MedroNUS: Life-Saving Drones

VF winner

From Left to Right: Tan Eugene, Ng Bo Yan, Lim Yuen Chun, Lim Wei Yang, Huang Rui Zhi

The original members of Team MedroNUS are undergraduate students Eugene, Bo Yan, and Yuen Chun, who have conceptualised the idea of providing emergency care using drones 3 semesters before. They worked on their first prototype for about a year.

In January this year, the trio enrolled in MT5911, the Venture Funding module, where they met Rui Zhi and Wei Yang, who would later become their teammates. Rui Zhi and Wei Yang were attracted to the team because they believe that this project would be a game changer and have a profound influence on society. With their expertise as postgraduates, they guided the team through the process with their business knowledge acquired from other modules.

Over the course of MT5911, Team MedroNUS made use of the opportunity to have a taste of the market by letting the judges, consisting of venture capitalists and tech-launch professionals, validate their product and market.

What’s your big idea?
Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) has a targeted response time of 11 minutes to emergencies. However, that is way too slow to prevent casualties from lapsing into cardiac arrest, in which casualties will be brain dead within 6 minutes. We strive to reduce emergency response time to 5 minutes by using high-payload drones to deliver the necessary first aid equipment such as First Aid Kit and AED so that the first responder can give medical intervention as soon as possible, thereby increasing the survival rate of the casualty. In addition, our drones also come with a wearable communication device. The wearable communication device can provide medical guidance to the first responder via live video and audio streaming.

The placement of drones in all 54 SCDF stations, together with the adoption of Virtual Singapore 3D City Model’s open-source map in our flight route planning system to calculate the fastest route, will allow our drones to autonomously reach any spot in Singapore within 5 minutes. 

What were the challenges that you faced?
Eugene: As most of us are undergraduates from an engineering background, the main challenge for us is in coping with the new and foreign business knowledge of Venture Funding. The learning curve was steep: we had to figure out how to package our Medical Drone in an appealing way to the venture capital panellist so that we can get funding.

Bo Yan: It was a challenge to determine the market value of our product. Our market value and scalability are not so impressive compared to other products. At first, we were worried that this project, which is more focused on the social impact and not profits, would be unable to attract capital. However, after talking to several experienced people from the module, we were able to position ourselves as a social enterprise that is sustainable and profitable to scale up.

Yuen Chun: The greatest challenge would be changing our engineering mind to a business mind. It is really hard because none of us had business backgrounds.

Wei Yang: All of us are inexperienced to the entrepreneurial and venture world. We could only get a glimpse of the big picture and the investor’s point of view during our consults with Prof Tan Kim Seng. We often pivoted our project after the consultation.

Rui Zhi: In the early stage, we could not identify our business model because our market is small, and our idea is difficult to expand beyond Singapore. But after discussing with Prof Tan, we ascertained that we should become a social enterprise and cooperate with the government. That way, low revenue is not a key issue for us. 

What kind of mentorship has been provided?
Eugene: Adjunct Associate Professor Tan Kim Seng, the module’s instructor, has taught us things from curriculum to life values. He is willing to offer help and provide constructive feedback to whoever approaches him. He has also guided us through our business model, presentation slides, and pitching skills.

In addition, during the project, invited guest speakers consisting of Venture Capitalists from DBS and local entrepreneurs have provided mentorship and advice to everyone, such as the required mindset for an entrepreneur and the approach to take to get funding from investors and venture capitalists.

Bo Yan: Adjunct Associate Professor Tan has followed us since the beginning when we were choosing the project. He kept giving positive support and constructive comments to us throughout the module, and at the end, we were able to make it through.

Yuen Chun: He also helped us a lot in drafting out the business model and offered advice to us when we were doing presentation slides about how we should pitch to the investors.

Rui Zhi: In the early stage, he helped us to shape our product concept. Then, when we prepared our presentation, he offered many useful suggestions about the business model, developing direction, revenue trend and presentation skills. Without his help, we definitely would not have won the prize.

Wei Yang: It was an experiential course, as we tried to conceptualise our very own idea, aligned ourselves to the investor’s perspective and presented our product in front of the real dealer. This allowed us to learn faster and better than from any textbooks or lectures.

What does the future hold?
The original team of 3 will continue the project as a Final Year Project with the postgraduates providing their continuous support. Further improvements will be made to the current medical and communication device. And hopefully, if the outcome is good, we will spin the idea off as a real, actual product.

We will also participate in more competitions and hackathons like ActInSpace to push our practical skills and at the same time gain access to a bigger network of entrepreneurs, incubators, and investors.

What’s your most important takeaway from the project?
Eugene: The most valuable takeaway from the project is the knowledge, connection, and teamwork gained. This knowledge of the working society and the current business market allows me to be better prepared as an aspiring entrepreneur after graduating. In addition, the connections and friends made are also valuable as it is difficult to find like-minded people in the society nowadays.

Bo Yan: The teamwork and the synergy of the team. With the knowledge from different teammates, we were able to work together so perfectly, and we have learnt from one another during this fundraising journey.

Yuen Chun: I have learnt a lot of knowledge regarding venture funding and hope it can prepare me to become an entrepreneur.

Wei Yang: Entrepreneurs, besides focusing on customer proposition, also need to spend some time to climb the ladder of abstraction to think about the big picture and the investor’s point of view, in order to gain funding and take off their ideas. Many great ideas could not make it due to the lack of funding.

Rui Zhi: I learned how to transfer an idea to feasible business via synergistic teamwork.

Spotlight on Clearwaters: Managing Aquawaste through Symbiosis

clearwater

Clearwaters is a consultancy company specialising in sustainable solutions to reduce water pollution and control shrimp diseases in rural farms. Malo, a Master’s student in Management of Technology, is the CEO and Glenn is his right-hand man. For their foray into the Indonesian market, they needed someone who could speak Bahasa Indonesia, and they recruited Andhini because she fitted the bill.

What’s your big idea?
Shrimp growth is hindered by the presence of sludge, diseases, and nitrogen in the waters that they are reared in. We aim to provide a cost-effective solution, priced at around $20,000 per crop, to reduce water pollution without reducing shrimp farmers’ produce. Our solution is a polyculture with both tilapias and shrimps to create a complementary ecosystem. The symbiotic relationship between the two species is such that they occupy different ecological niches and feed on different food. Tilapia can reduce phytoplankton, a source of nitrogen, and also clean the waters of sludge, thus improving water quality. In the capacity of consultants, we will offer our technical expertise to farmers in controlling environmental parameters like pH levels to successfully implement the polyculture solution.

How was your idea born?
The idea of a polyculture may not strike one as being technologically advanced, but simple is what we intend the solution to be. Since the farmers are not adept at dealing with technology, we strived for a quick fix to a serious problem that was uncomplicated to implement. Polyculturing had once been done with Milkfish but it was ineffective so we went with the proven Tilapia instead.

What were the challenges that you faced?
On seeking buy-in from the stakeholders, it was a lengthy process to communicate with NGOs, the United Nations, and farmers to find out what they are looking for in a solution. The difficulty of the process was compounded by the fact that farmers did not know what they wanted. One moment they may be on board, but the next they may change their mind once they hear about the trade-offs that they would have to bear from using the solution. This constant vacillation was a source of frustration for us. To make a convincing argument for the adoption of their idea, it was necessary for us to enunciate the benefits of the solution in reducing uncertainty in farmers’ yields, as well as highlight its efficiency in controlling diseases. The idea of a polyculture was not a new one; it was just a matter of presenting it in an appealing way to the farmers. 

What kind of help did you receive along the way?
We held regular meetings with professors and other personnel linked to the projects to receive timely feedback. In particular, we have a point of contact and partner in Indonesia called Azmi. Azmi was an NUS alumni who returned to Indonesia to run his shrimp business after graduation. He understands the sentiment on the ground better and also knows English, which allows him to act as a bridge between the farmers and us.

What does the future hold?
Currently, we are trying to better understand how the different environmental parameters interact with one another. We plan to bring their project to other regions within Indonesia soon.

What are some of your takeaways from the project?
If you want to invest in something you don’t know, you need to talk with many people involved in that area. You come to realise that people are always willing to share their knowledge and experiences.

Engineering as it is now lacks in the human touch. Interviews help you understand the ground and figure out if your product is really what people want.

We have learnt to abandon our preconceived ideas. Instead, we learned to reverse engineer – to see what has gone right for existing projects and extract those successful elements for application in our own projects.