Fantastic innovations and where to find them: UON Singapore’s Young Sustainability Innovation Challenge 2018

Singaporeans are not strangers to the idea of sustainability. For many of us, it means taking reusable bags to the supermarket and using reusable straws to sip on our favourite drinks.

Do you know, however, that sustainability is more than just ‘going green’? It actually comprises of two other pillars: social and economic. So people, profit, and planet—for you to truly achieve a sustainable society, you must account for all three.

This was something I strongly felt during the inaugural Young Sustainability Innovators Challenge organized by the University of Newcastle in Singapore (UON Singapore), a wholly-owned entity of the University of Newcastle, Australia.

(Image credit: UON Singapore)
Fun Fact #1

UON Singapore has been around for longer than you might think! Established in 2006, the organization is made up of a young and dedicated team of academic staff and professionals working towards making UON Singapore an innovative, distinctive, and financially sustainable provider of academic services within Singapore and the broader region. UON degrees ranging from business, commerce, communication, construction management, engineering, environmental and occupational health and safety, and information technology are delivered through prolific partner institutions.

Digital Senior was invited to the finals held at the NUS University Cultural Centre, where we got to tour project exhibitions, hear exciting presentations, and witness innovation from talented young minds from ITE College East, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, read on!

Students readying their booths for judges and visitors. Their projects would be assessed by industry veterans such as Mr Tan Chee Wee (Vice President, Head of Sustainability Reporting at DBS Bank, Singapore), Dr. Lim Mong Hoo (Chief Specialist of Water Quality, Public Utilities Board) and Mr Ang Kian Seng (Group Director, Environmental Sustainability Group, Building and Construction Authority Singapore).

Why sustainability?

Speaking to UON Singapore’s Academic Director, Dr. Kavitha Palaniappan, I learn that the decision to focus on sustainability came very naturally.

“We sat down together to discuss about what event we’d like to hold,” she shared, “and as we discussed, we realized all proposed themes converged on sustainability”.

It doesn’t stop there, though.

According to Dr. Kavitha, “all the projects [UON Singapore’s] academic staff is working on also deal with sustainability in some way. Seeing this, we wanted to spread awareness and impact the next generation on this important issue”.

Remember how sustainability is also linked to business? This reporter spotted Mr Taliessin Reaburn, Trade Commissioner, Singapore gracing the event with his presence as well! The Australian Trade and Investment Commission has been a great supporter for UON events in Singapore.

So, how exactly did participants incorporate sustainability into their projects?

Fun Fact #2

For the Challenge, participating teams referred to 5 focus areas found in the “Sustainable Singapore Blueprint” and 8 out of 17 Sustainable Development Goals which were set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. These revolve around issues such as clean water and sanitation, zero-waste, as well as good health and well-being.

A flurry of compelling ideas

Touring the exhibition hall, one team caught my attention by eschewing physical print materials and putting their leaflet online—“sustainability mah!” their lecturer, Mr Lim Soo Hian, quipped.

Said QR codes, belonging to Team 5 from ITE College East.

The team (Benjamin Lau, Darren Tay, Bryan Teo), one of 4 teams from ITE College East, presented a project revolving around the disinfection of water using low-voltage UV light through a self-powered (by running water) portable device, the team designed it due to water being the next most important resource after air. They dream of making potable water accessible to everyone, especially those in undeveloped countries.

Wishing them well, I continued wandering until I spotted a bicycle set-up. Curious, I asked the team what their project was all about.

Team 18’s project, a Bicycle Sharing System for Clean Energy Harvesting and Direct Air Capture. The group is made up of members Victor Chong, Yau King Hang and Yeo Jun Rong.

The team’s project consists of 2 parts: a bicycle fitted with a detachable air purifier, powered entirely by clean energy produced from bike pedalling, as well as a bicycle rack fitted with a solar panel that fuels a Bio-LED. The remodelled bike also has the potential to charge the rider’s tech devices.

With the push toward public transport and the huge amount of shared bikes in Singapore alone, it’s an idea with tons of potential. Curious about the possibilities I got the group to share with me about the bigger picture; 1 such system could do the job of 8 trees at a low maintenance cost, at 177 kg of carbon dioxide annually. With 4000 racks and 50,000 such bikes, you could stand to clean up 357,000kg! In countries facing pollution challenges, this would be an appealing solution.

With so many interesting projects, the judges, comprising of distinguished individuals from relevant fields of sustainability, definitely didn’t have an easy time selecting finalists. But they manage, and the last round of judging began.

Judges making their booth visits. In the photo (second from right) are Ms Elizabeth Lee, Regional Technical Director of STATS Asia Pacific Pte Ltd, Singapore and Professor Jeff Obbard, Visiting Professor from Cranfield University, UK.
(Photo credit: UON Singapore)

Choices, choices

The shortlisted teams—5 in total—were allocated 10 minutes each to present their projects in front of all the audience, with judges asking them questions after. From role plays to onstage demonstrations, each presentation was earnestly delivered as they competed for the top prize of $3,000.

Team 17 from ITE College East presenting the 3S Mobility Aid. (Photo credit: UON Singapore)

Emerging as Champion, Team 17 from ITE College East (comprising of Tung Jia Xing and Lee Jia Yen) presented an innovative product/solution to meet the needs of the elderly and their caregivers—particularly those suffering from dementia.

Called the 3S Mobility Aid (Smart, Simple and Sustainable), it is a device consisting of an aider, tracker, and charger. The Mobility Aid can be attached to any walking stick/aid and possesses calling/geo-fencing/GPS functions. The elderly or the frail can contact their loved ones or provide their location should they need assistance, while caregivers will also be alerted should something occur: the device’s sensors will detect major impact (caused by the fall of the walking stick) and alert them accordingly.

Team 17 with Professor Lyons, Vice-Chancellor and CEO, UON Singapore (Photo credit: UON Singapore)

Catching them after the competition, I ask the pair about their thoughts on winning the Challenge.

“We’re definitely surprised,” Jia Yen shared with me, “because the rest of the teams did equally well, so it was a very close match. It was unexpected but we’re glad that we got first place”.

The pair intends to work with volunteering organizations and hopes to create a product that can be implemented in hospitals and carried in health and beauty stores like Guardian or Watsons. Their main goal, at present, is to make the innovation more workable and user-friendly, ‘something that people would want to purchase’.

“We’re still trying to make it even better.”

All in all 18 teams, 61 participants and distinguished guests/judges coming together for a commemorative shot. (Photo credit: UON Singapore)

What lies ahead, now?

With the Young Innovators Sustainability Challenge ending with a splendid finish, I chatted with Professor Kevin Lyons, Pro Vice-Chancellor and CEO of UON Singapore, who is greatly heartened by the results.

Fun Fact #3

Prior to this Challenge, UON Singapore held a Business Plan Competition in 2016, with the theme revolving around ‘Innovative Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century’. A total of 53 teams took part, vying for awards such as ‘Best CSR Activities’ and ‘Most Innovative Product/Service’!

“They’re outstanding projects, just amazing,” Professor Lyons shared, “They’ve definitely exceeded my expectations. You’ve got to remember, these are young people who’ve yet to start their further education. Imagine what they can do with a few more years of formal education! I’m really impressed!”

With a taste of what UON Singapore has to offer, I asked Professor Lyons for a hint of what UON Singapore will come up with next.

“I can’t answer that question yet, but one of the things I’d say is that we’d do more of these events: Innovation type of events, co-creative events where students can share their thinking, events that will leverage on UON Singapore’s strong partnerships and academic excellence. All I’ll say is, for next year, you watch this space!”

You bet we will.

For the more visual folks, here’s a video of what took place!


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