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The urban innovation buzz


The urban innovation buzz

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Our cities are centres of innovation, where minds and machines work together to develop new, game-changing technologies. The challenge is how to create the right collaborative environment to encourage that creativity.

Lim Chuan Poh, Chairman of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research told euronews that collaboration is key: “We want to practice a way of doing research that allows the different communities of researchers coming from different disciplines to really work seamlessly together, because the most interesting space in research today is where disciplines intersect.”

Cities are also intersections – crossroads of cultures, and centres of exchange. In Singapore, that inherent diversity is increasingly exploited in the field of high-tech research and development.

Francois Luc is Vice President of Research and Development at the Asia wing of French defence, aerospace and security company Thales.

He said: “We’re no longer in a kind of research environment that would revolve around a specific skill like physics, we’re going into areas that require lots of different specialist skills to interact instead.”

Thales took a multi-disciplinary approach to producing its command and control centre system. Researchers in ergonomics, physiology, mathematics and information technology all worked on the project at the firm’s Singapore base.

That collaborative approach is essential in developing effective tools in the information age according to Francois Luc: “What’s clear is that we’re seeing an explosion in the volume of data that is being received, and so increasingly you have to work on making sure usable information comes out of this data, because it’s still human beings that are at the end of the line.”

For human beings, read diversity – a diversity of cultures, knowledge, skills and experiences.

Finding the right route to make the most of the talent and diversity in a major city is not always straightforward says Lim Chuan Poh: “We bring people from all around the world to work with the local community. We propound this whole concept of being very similar in the integration, with people having to collaborate. But we also have to be realistic that in the end humans are humans, there are behavioural aspects to human organisation that curb the issue. Getting people to see the benefits in collaborating and cooperating, that takes more time.”

The Fusionopolis research centre in the heart of Singapore was built to encourage that kind of collaboration and cooperation. The centre is home to media, science, engineering and IT companies.

Among them is HP Labs, which uses the city as a test bed for new applications in social media and cloud computing.

Francis Lee, Director of Research at the HP Labs in Singapore, explained: “Everything is going to be on the cloud, PCs and notebooks are going to be very thin and a lot of services are going to be on the back end side. I think where it makes a huge impact is on the type of business, small and medium business are going to go on the cloud. The impediment of cost to just start a business has dropped tremendously, and there’s more creativity that’s being generated out of that.”

In addition, cloud computing is one of the forces changing the face of innovation in the high-tech world, and how we work, says Lee: “Cloud computing is going to completely change the way people operate in cities and Singapore is an ideal location for showing that off. In HP Labs Singapore we practice ‘Well, you know, it’s up to you, whatever time’, we’re very flexible about timing, and the main thing is get your work done, and you can work remotely as well.”

While advances like cloud computing change the way we work, finding the right focus and selecting the right projects to develop, demands a clear vision according to Lim Chuan Poh of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research: “Research communities around the world are, by and large, working along the same trends. You can pick up almost any R&D masterplan or document in leading research hubs around the world and they’ll look and read very similar. But to find that niche position whereby you have natural advantages, that takes a lot of soul searching and that takes a lot of insight about your own capabilities.”

Flexible working, multi-disciplinary projects, and a diversity of cultures and skills is the recipe for innovation in the cities of tomorrow.

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