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S$19b R&D fund includes new value in 4 technology domains

Research Innovation Enterprise 2020 Plan to support and translate research into solutions to national challenges

(From left) Mr Ong Ye Kung, Mr Lawrence Wong, Mr Vivian Balakrishnan, DPM Teo Chee Hean, PM Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Heng Swee Keat and Dr Ng Eng Hen at the 10th Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC) meeting on Friday.


THE whopping S$19 billion that Singapore is pumping into its research and development (R&D) efforts over the next five years will include new value across four technology areas.

These are: advanced manufacturing and engineering; health and biomedical sciences; services and digital economy; and urban solutions and sustainability.

The Research Innovation Enterprise 2020 Plan (RIE2020) will support and translate research into solutions to address national challenges, build up innovation and technology adoption in companies and drive economic growth through value creation.

This was reaffirmed at the 10th Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC) meeting chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday.

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Set up in 2006, the council provides strategic direction for national R&D by advising the Cabinet on research and innovation policies to drive the transformation of Singapore into a knowledge-based society, with strong capabilities in R&D; and lead the national drive to promote research, innovation and enterprise by encouraging new initiatives in knowledge creation in science and technology, and to catalyse new areas of long- term economic growth.

The S$19 billion commitment is an 18 per cent jump from RIE2015's S$16.1 billion and represents R&D spending at about one per cent of GDP. The biggest budget to date, this amount is more than that of Britain but comparable to the United States'.

Speaking at the launch of RIE2020, Mr Lee said RIE "will contribute significantly to the economy and creates opportunities and jobs, supports national initiatives like Smart Nation, SkillsFuture, studies which we are doing under the Committee for the Future Economy, and it helps our workers to thrive amidst technological changes and globalisation".

"Our research and development base is maturing. We have nurtured more research scientists and engineers and raised the quality of R&D in universities and research institutes. I'm encouraged that companies are investing more in research, innovation and enterprise activities and some have set up corporate laboratories. The 10th RIE Council has given us guidance to consolidate our gains and sharpen our focus on the four growth areas. We still have more to do, but we have made good progress," he added.

Agreeing, newly appointed RIEC member John Rice said: "Partnerships are critical as we build a digital industrial ecosystem that will drive productivity and growth. With its pro-business environment, reliable and efficient infrastructure, digital focus, pool of technology talent, deep investment in innovation and R&D, Singapore should always remain a well-networked platform and partner for growth."

This meant being more targeted in its funding approach this time around, instead of broadly categorising funds into "Private R&D" and "Public R&D", as in RIE2015.

One area for such partnership to be created is in advanced manufacturing and engineering.

It will drive innovation, knowledge transfer and adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies, such as robotics, automation and additive manufacturing, and allow companies to co-develop, experience and deploy advanced manufacturing technologies while minimising disruptions to their operations.

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) will open two model factories - one at SimTech later this year and the other at the Advanced Re-manufacturing and Technology Centre next year.

One local family-run company already involved in the pilot trial is CKE Manufacturing, which provides precision machining and re-manufacturing services.

Its enterprise development manager Kwan Lifeng said that with the new technologies, "our engineers can analyse data coming in and make improvements on a daily or weekly basis. Previously it would take months. Now they are free to do their work and it improves our productivity".

Research is also being carried out on Singapore's energy needs by looking at Grid 2.0, a next-generation grid system. It will transform how energy is managed by combining gas, solar and thermal energy into a single intelligent network that is more efficient, sustainable and resilient.

Under Grid 2.0, the National Research Foundation (NRF), together with agencies such as the Energy Market Authority (EMA), the Building and Construction Authority, JTC Corporation and the Singapore Economic Development Board, will look into further investments in key component technologies, such as the solid-state transformer. New opportunities such as the cold energy sector, and thermal energy storage media will also be explored.

Director of urban solutions and sustainability at NRF Yeoh Lean Weng said: "By capitalising on our comparative advantage in the delivery of urban solutions and the management of its underlying infrastructure, we can quickly translate technologies through the testbeds in Singapore into smart solutions that can be exported as a validated, integrated solution to other cities globally."

And as the war against diabetes continues, funding to the tune of S$25 million is being channelled into research on the effect of diabetes on kidney diseases. The money, drawn from the health and biomedical sciences open fund, will go into developing novel therapies so that patients at risk can be identified and treated earlier.

The fourth domain is Singapore's efforts in the artificial intelligence (AI) and digital space. The S$150 million national AI programme, AI.SG, established in May, was set up to solve national challenges using AI and data analytics, such as reducing travel time and developing intelligent health and financial assistants.

A new AI.SG Makerspace will be set up at the National University of Singapore in January next year so that researchers and industry partners can work together on, interact with and adopt AI-powered tools generated by AI.SG.

NRF CEO Low Teck Seng said: "We want to ensure that the best competitive ideas in the areas of relevance and importance to us continue to be funded. We want to encourage collaboration and participation of multiple parties, bringing together different expertise to address big issues."

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