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Transforming ideas into innovations
AS TECHNOLOGY and innovation can be instruments for tackling the challenges facing society, Germany's leading applied research organisation, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, is on a mission to transform original ideas into innovations that benefit people as well as strengthen the economy.
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, which operates 74 institutes and research institutions with a workforce of 28,000 employees around the world, sees Singapore as an important partner in its efforts.
"Singapore holds global relevance as a bridge between Europe and Asia for technology exchange. Fraunhofer Singapore is the first Asian affiliate of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the world's leading applied research organisation. We seek the mastery of future challenges with technological breakthroughs," says Professor Dr Wolfgang Müller-Wittig, chief executive officer, Fraunhofer Singapore and executive director, Fraunhofer Centre for Interactive Digital Media.
Giving an example of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft's value creation for industry and society, he cites the mp3 coding system for music files, which reduces the data storage requirements to less than 10 per cent. The mp3 coding system, which has revolutionised the music industry, can be found in literally billions of media players. Another example is the white LED which has not only transformed display systems but also created a host of new applications for the lighting industry.
"The Fraunhofer model is unique as it earns a substantial part of its income through contracts with industry or publicly funded research projects, and receives base funding for the precompetitive research of technologies with critical relevance in the future," says Prof Müller-Wittig.
Fraunhofer was founded in 1949 by a small group of volunteers who had set themselves the goal of fundraising to build up a body of applied research in Germany with a focus on innovation.
Fraunhofer Singapore's mission is to transfer technologies, deliver visual solutions and skilled minds to boost industry and society working with the spirit of open scientific inquiry.
"We support Singapore's vision of a Smart City as a digitalisation enabler towards a digital economy in the Industry 4.0 era. Fraunhofer encourages interest in future technologies and conducts workshops for industry professionals," says Prof Müller-Wittig.
"Our highly motivated researchers develop applied-research solutions to the pressing issues of our times. For example, to support Covid-19 research and education, Fraunhofer Singapore launched Virtual SARS-CoV-2, an interactive digital 3D model of the novel coronavirus. This resource is freely accessible to scientists and the public.
"My vision is for Fraunhofer Singapore to become a cornerstone of the forward-looking technology ecosystem in Singapore. There is immense potential for cutting-edge developments in Singapore that could be exported overseas."
A key project is the virtual reality (VR) training simulator which can be used by all industries for training and business continuity during the pandemic. Using VR simulator training can be done anytime and anywhere with safe distancing. All it takes for the user is to have the software installed on his laptop with a VR head-mounted display and controller.
"Singapore's Mass Rapid Transport's training arm, SMRT Institute (SMRTi) is now implementing Fraunhofer Singapore's Virtual Reality Training Simulator for the Shunting of Trains (VR-TSST) for their on-the-job training programme. The VR-TSST provides hands-on training in a highly realistic immersive environment. In this VR simulator, the user moves as he would in real life, and can work with his supervisor despite being in a separate physical environment," says Prof Müller-Wittig.
The system was initially developed by Fraunhofer Singapore as a solution to the shortage of trains available for hands-on training at the SMRT-NTU Corporate Laboratory. With the Covid-19 pandemic situation, it has become critical to provide virtual reality training at SMRT to maintain safe distancing measures while allowing for operational continuity.
Says Prof Müller-Wittig: "There is a proverb that says 'What I experience, I understand'. Providing immersive scenarios, where users are faced with challenges, allows them to gain understanding by doing. VR training makes the kind of deep impression that classroom training does not."
Another area where human-centred visual solutions have been deployed is construction. Fraunhofer Singapore's innovative Smart Building Review or the 3D Interactive Building Walkthrough enhances collaboration by transforming complex data into effective visual communication. Savings of up to 10 per cent of the building cost is made possible by the avoidance of errors from unsynced changes made in the pre-construction phase.
"From the design professional to the construction worker, the intuitive 3D Interactive Building Walkthrough touchscreen makes for painless project briefings. This technology also has a Virtual Reality application, which future homeowners, for example, could use during apartment selection. This technology was supported by the Building Construction Authority (BCA) and involved collaboration with Great Earth Construction," says Prof Müller-Wittig.
Fraunhofer Singapore has also developed a VR simulator for maritime safety. Statistics show that most maritime accidents are due to human error such as the lack of situational awareness. Together with the Maritime Academy of Singapore Polytechnic, Fraunhofer Singapore developed an interdisciplinary Virtual Reality Marine Simulator paired with a proprietary emotion recognition algorithm that assesses seafarers' response to difficult scenarios, which indicates the seafarer's readiness to handle crises.
This Virtual Reality Marine Simulator was introduced at the International Safety @Sea 2018 Conference as a way of enhancing training to reduce human errors for safer outcomes.
Prof Müller-Wittig says that Fraunhofer Singapore's other key areas of research are in the development of transferable, robust, and trusted artificial intelligence solutions for computer vision and human cognition. This includes the development of AI-driven automatic optical inspection systems for high-precision quality control in manufacturing, as well as AI-based human-machine interfaces to study and to improve the performance of humans in industrial or office work settings.