Realising The Potential of Deep Tech to Impact Lives
As the number of COVID-19 cases recorded globally inches towards 4 million, the world is getting a grim reminder of how catastrophic infectious diseases can get. In labs and institutions around the world, scientists are working at breakneck speed to produce a vaccine for the virus.
Companies in Singapore’s Deep Tech ecosystem are also actively cranking up innovative solutions to fight the virus, from rapid test kits and armband monitors to an Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform that can analyse thousands of CT scan at once.
Be it climate change, food shortages, or health pandemics, the purpose of science has always been about understanding our world better and solving global problems. As the world’s problems become more pressing, science is also advancing to create solutions. Deep Tech—technology based on “tangible engineering innovation or scientific advances and discoveries”—has a high potential to do good for humankind.
Impacting Real Lives
At the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, Deep Tech has enabled breakthroughs in the areas such as urban planning and cancer detection.
To better plan and design Australian cities, CSIRO constructed a virtual replica of Western Sydney. This digital model enables the visualisation of 3D and 4D data over time, including buildings, terrains, or utilities. Until now, urban planners have referred to property boundaries in 2D. With such rich data available and given the ease of sharing this with other related data, it is much easier to make plans for infrastructure development.
With more cities growing vertically, it is particularly beneficial to use 3D/4D data from satellite and drone technologies to see the bigger picture from above and below the ground over time. Infrastructure developers can now use the digital twin to identify the location of underground utilities before building works begin, or visualise the potential impact of planned future infrastructure.
In addition, digital twin technology improves smart city development in terms of structural health monitoring and natural hazard risk modelling. For instance, infrastructure developers can predict when public utilities will start to fall apart and prevent further damage.
In the healthcare sector, CSIRO scientists have developed a new blood test to diagnose bowel cancer better. A test that is commonly used today has low sensitivity and tends to yield false-positive results. Instead of relying on the occurrence of a particular antigen for cancer detection, CSIRO identified DNA associated with bowel cancer and used this innovation to develop a new blood test that was significantly more sensitive (66%) than the current test (31.9%).
The Challenge Ahead
Despite these breakthroughs, carrying out science for good is far more complex than it seems.
Dr Cathy Foley, CSIRO’s chief scientist, says: “Australia bats above its weight in research excellence, but our industries are lagging the world in taking up this knowledge and transforming it into economic benefit.”
One reason for this immense challenge of moving Deep Tech from the lab to the market is that it requires a large amount of capital and a lengthy R&D process for concepts to take a practical, scalable form. Only when Deep Tech is commercialised can people benefit from the breakthrough.
To realise Deep Tech’s potential for doing good, Dr Foley believes that businesses must integrate R&D into their processes. Those who succeed are the ones with deep expertise in their industry, coupled with an understanding of how new technologies will reshape their customers’ needs.
“We need to reach out to businesses to show them what is the next disruptor they will need to be successful and sustainable,” shares Dr Foley.
Apart from getting buy-in from businesses, greater collaboration with other stakeholders, such as the government and academia, must be fostered for the Deep Tech ecosystem to take shape.
Collaboration on Many Levels
In a country the size of Australia, Dr Foley says: “You have to collaborate if you’re going to compete on the world stage. Today we’re more connected to the rest of the world than ever before.”
Our state of global interconnectivity has never been more evident with the COVID-19 pandemic. As a virus that first surfaced in the city of Wuhan, China, last December, it has quickly spread to more than 200 countries and caused more than 250,000 fatalities.
Such grim statistics remind us of the need for collaboration on multiple fronts. When it comes to working together with partners, Dr Foley says: “You will always need to listen to each other, be open to different thinking, and focus on shared outcomes. It’s the same for science as it is in any other part of life.”
For instance, researchers and industry players are collaborating to build a more robust Deep Tech ecosystem. Venture capitalists are taking the lead with funds like the CSIRO Innovation Fund, managed by Main Sequence Ventures, with a $23 million portfolio of more than 20 Deep Tech startups, such as Lumachain, Coviu, and RapidAIM.
Building collaborative relationships with other nations remains a priority for CSIRO, too, as seen in Singapore and Australia’s Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Inked in 2015, this partnership aims to build stronger linkages in areas such as trade, economic, and defence through collaboration in innovation and science.
One Australia-Singapore initiative is the Innovative Foods for Precision Health programme, a $2.2 million project focused on improving the health and safety outcomes of innovative foods. CSIRO also contributed to a joint seed fund of $1.5 million with Nanyang Technology University for collaboration in additive manufacturing, health, and hydrogen.
Before individual players can realise their gains, the Deep Tech ecosystem must be collaborative. While partners like the government, industry, academia typically have different goals or timeframes, they each bring to the table strengths that can benefit the whole ecosystem. With continual collaboration, stakeholders can harness the vast potential of Deep Tech ecosystem to do good.
At SGInnovate, we too believe in collaborative efforts to grow our science and tech community. CISRO is one of our partners—we signed an MOU with CISRO and Austrade last year to accelerate Deep Tech innovation and adoption across industries.
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