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Transformative innovations to build a city of tomorrow

  Published: 29 July 2019
  Theme: Smart Planning
URA was recently part of the 5th Urban Sustainability R&D Congress, where the public and private sectors came together to share the latest in urban innovations, and explore how collaboration can keep our city moving forward. Here are some key highlights of the congress.


Research and development (R&D) has been a key pillar for Singapore’s growth in recent years. This is crucial for the sustainable planning and development of Singapore as it allows us to make informed decisions and strive for resource efficiency and enhanced liveability of the built environment.

Various R&D initiatives were recently on display at the 5th Urban Sustainability R&D Congress, which took place on 23rd and 24th July 2019 at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre. It was attended by close to 1,200 participants from industry, academia and the public sector. Led by the Ministry of National Development (MND) and co-organised by 16 partner agencies, the biannual Congress meant to provide a platform for the various sectors to come together to discuss R&D solutions to Singapore’s urban challenges and promote collaborations.

Urban Sustainability R&D Congress 2019
URA’s exhibition panels at the Urban Sustainability R&D Congress.

With the theme of “Transformative Innovations, Cities of Tomorrow”, this year’s Congress focused on the research and deployment of cutting edge and disruptive innovations to transform Singapore into a city of tomorrow. It also aimed to continue the conversation of the Cities of Tomorrow (CoT) programme announced in 2017 which charted out the R&D direction for Singapore. As such, this year’s event highlighted projects under the themes of Advanced Construction, Resilient Infrastructure, New Spaces, Greater Sustainability, and Science of Cities, which were the key verticals and horizontals of CoT. As part of his opening address, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance, Mr Lawrence Wong, announced that close to $70 million of investments in R&D will be made over the next two years under the CoT programme.

The first opening plenary speaker was Mr Alex Cheng, former Vice President of Baidu, who shared about the applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in China.

One can draw parallels between China’s AI-enabled homes and HDB’s Smart Urban Habitat, which won the Minister’s R&D Award this year. What was distilled from the opening session was the strong spirit of collaboration: Baidu’s Apollo autonomous driving system was developed from shared source codes, from the work of numerous developers and a result of global partnerships.

AI has the potential to be used in logistics transportation and unmanned excavation, and private companies are currently working with cities to pilot the technology. URA is also involved in research on Autonomous Vehicles (AVs), and how we can future-proof the design of our towns and provide adequate infrastructure. The collaborative spirit exemplified by Baidu and the developers, when applied to the study of AVs, will be very helpful in catalysing the deployment of AVs in the future.

Urban Sustainability R&D Congress 2019
Former Vice President of Baidu, Mr Alex Cheng, giving his opening plenary talk.

Another key focus of the R&D Congress was the realisation of research outcomes and deployment of new technologies. This was presented in the form of a multi-taction table at the exhibition space that described the various living lab sites in Singapore, and providing for companies and research institutions to test bed their ideas. There were examples of public-private partnerships in some of the projects exhibited, such as the URA-Grab collaboration to understand land use factors behind private hire vehicle demand.

Urban Sustainability R&D Congress 2019
The centrepiece of the exhibition was the multi-taction table, which features living lab sites and test-bedding projects situated islandwide. Participants were drawn to the interactive elements on the screens.

Urban Sustainability R&D Congress 2019
Agencies also featured their research projects in the Whole-of-Government integrated exhibition booths. One of the projects from URA was the study of seniors’ activity patterns which analysed the home, work and leisure locations of elderly.

Urban Sustainability R&D Congress 2019
Private sector companies were invited to set up booths to display their research projects and innovative products, such as this cleaning robot by LionsBot.

The exhibits at the R&D Congress were encouraging examples of how Singapore is proactively supporting R&D efforts, a sentiment echoed by closing plenary panellist Mr Paul Santos, managing partner of venture capital firm Wavemaker Southeast Asia.

Urban Sustainability R&D Congress 2019
The closing plenary session consisted of a panel discussion on the topic of how Singapore can encourage innovation and adoption of new technologies.

In our bid to become a city of tomorrow, it is key that Singapore continues to focus on nurturing talent, and engaging with international experts.


R&D Congress 2019 exhibition at URA

Selected exhibition panels from the Urban Sustainability R&D Congress will be on display at The URA Centre Level 1 Atrium from 5 August to 10 October 2019.