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Building a vibrant ecosystem for the maritime industry

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"With emerging technologies beginning to disrupt Singapore's oldest flagship industry, the corporates and startup community need to seize these opportunities to create innovation-driven growth," says Prof Wong.

AS PART of its efforts to help build a vibrant and innovative ecosystem for the maritime sector, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has an MOU with NUS Enterprise for the Maritime Technology Acceleration Programme (MTAP). The MOU aims to encourage Singapore's maritime industry to accelerate the adoption of innovation and venture into new growth areas through working with tech startups.

"With emerging technologies beginning to disrupt Singapore's oldest flagship industry, the corporates and startup community need to seize these opportunities to create innovation-driven growth," says Wong Poh Kam, senior director, NUS Entrepreneurship Centre, a division of NUS Enterprise.

"NUS Enterprise is lending its forte in catalysing and growing a vibrant innovation ecosystem through its experience in nurturing tech startups and its growing links to leading innovation hubs in the world," he adds.

NUS Enterprise has already begun to engage various maritime corporate partners through executive workshops to identify innovation opportunities for these organisations.

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"Our first key activity, the Smart Port Challenge will begin to call for participation in the second quarter. We expect more than a hundred proposals from startups and SMEs to tackle the challenges in port, shipping and other maritime services," says Prof Wong.

Subsequently, up to 12 of the best innovative ideas will be accepted into a 10-week market and business model validation programme. The validated innovation solutions will be provided with grants to continue their product or business development with industry partners.

"The key challenge we foresee is to convince the large corporates to truly embrace the open innovation approach, which involves sharing information and committing resources to work with external innovators, especially young tech startups, in mutually beneficial ways.

"Another challenge is to extend the reach of the programme globally, attracting over time an increasing number of innovative startups from around the world to respond to our innovation challenge call," Prof Wong adds.

A new Centre of Excellence in Modelling and Simulation for Next Generation Ports at the National University of Singapore (NUS) will also be helping the maritime sector to harness new technologies and innovations to its advantage. NUS and the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) will on April 23 hold a signing ceremony to establish a S$18 million research centre to enable Singapore's maritime and port industries to develop innovative capabilities and enhance their global competitiveness.

The new Centre of Excellence for Modelling and Simulation of Next Generation Ports (C4NGP) will be part of the NUS Faculty of Engineering and it will work with companies in Singapore's maritime and port sectors to improve their technical knowhow, efficiency and productivity, and prepare them for the next phase of global competition.

C4NGP, which is expected to be operational by the middle of this year, will also work closely with companies to ensure that the centre's research and development efforts are aligned with industry needs. When fully operational, the new centre is expected to have about 20 NUS researchers working on projects in these important areas.

"Technology advancements in areas such as robotics and automation help address the labour shortage, increasing labour productivity as they are well suited for routine and repetitive tasks," says Chew Ek Peng, director of the centre. "With the emergence of big data, deep learning, and AI, future technologies will even be able to handle complex tasks well. Future workforce will move up the value chain, enabling every man to do more and focus on higher level, more value-added activities such as supervision or making complex decisions."

Prof Chew says new technologies and innovations will enhance productivity and increase nimbleness. The adoption of automation reduces reliance on labour, increasing labour productivity. Automation technologies also enable consistent and predictable performance, thus maintaining a stable service level.

Advanced simulation and modelling technologies enable businesses in the maritime sector to evaluate and compare new and emerging technologies quantitatively and quickly with minimal costs, thus enabling the stakeholders to identify the best configurations and react to market changes quickly, keeping an edge over their competitors, he adds.

For building a vibrant and innovative maritime ecosystem in Singapore, says Prof Chew, "we need more platforms and avenues for industry players, large and small, and researchers in the various institutions of higher learning to interact, understand and collaborate with each other, bridging knowledge gaps between the industry and academia.

"To promote the adoption of new concepts and technologies, we need to stimulate and encourage more innovators and startups in this industry, so as to translate research outcomes into commercial products which are applicable within Singapore and beyond."

According to Toh Ah Cheong, executive director, Singapore Maritime Institute, technology advances have improved productivity at various levels, from individuals using mobile devices, apps and systems in their work to organisations using office and business management systems to expedite and automate their processes and simulation and automation systems to plan, optimise decision- making and automate their operations.

He feels that the maritime sector "could harness new technologies and innovations in the management of complex maritime services and systems, such as automating and optimising the planning and operation of the port to ensure consistently high service level, reliability and throughput".

With technologies and innovations, maritime operations and infrastructure would remain safe, secure and efficient and be resilient and ready to handle new data driven business models and future vessels, including larger megaships and autonomous vessels, and operational concepts.

Meanwhile, Trabble, a local startup has joined the innovation drive in the maritime industry. It provides a chat-based guest engagement platform for the travel industry, automated by AI ChatBot, to help BatamFast Ferry manage multiple channels, including Facebook, website, email, mobile app and others. With Trabble, BatamFast's travellers can have seamless experience in getting their questions answered, buy tickets and get services through chat on all its platforms.

"As an industry there is much overlap with the tourism and hospitality sector, especially the port of entries, which is where Trabble can most effectively serve. Given that our technology is applied for the automation of guest engagement, it can actually be industry agnostic, as well helping the businesses in better serving their customers," says Ian Low Jian Liang, Trabble's founder and chief executive officer.

The start-up was involved in MPA's Smart Port Challenge, introduced by TNB Ventures, as they felt that its solutions for the hospitality and travel industry could be highly transferable to the challenge providers, specifically for BatamFast Ferry.

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