Ong Lay Teen, Senior Systems Engineer, Sensors & IoT, GovTech, Singapore

Women in GovTech Special Report 2019.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation. I have two key roles within GovTech’s Sensors & IoT (SIoT) Capability Centre. First, being a senior member of the Research & Development Division, I research and develop advanced technological solutions to improve citizens’ lives. This brings me to my second role, where I lead a team of engineers to develop assistive systems that enable people of physical limitations to do things more independently. We work closely with social service agencies or organisations, such as the National Council of Social Service and Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS), to find ways in which we can leverage new technologies to help their clients or care workers. What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2019? I was delighted to take on the lead role in driving and completing the eCanvas project. eCanvas is a voice-controlled assistive system that enables people with Cerebral Palsy to paint pieces of art independently. Users with severe motor deficiency in their limbs can use the system’s voice command function to control a painting canvas, moving it within their reachable painting zone, and to dispense colour material on a rotatable palette for painting. The eCanvas Project paved the way for many wonderful moments. Having been on the project from day zero, it was so heartwarming to finally see a young mouth painter at CPAS, Elaine, use the eCanvas system all on her own. After trying it out, she smiled and said, “Yeah, I can now paint without asking Aunty [her home helper] to move the canvas!” I also had the chance to train interns in the use of the eCanvas, and work with GovTechies in the eCanvas Volunteers Programme who genuinely wanted to make a difference. What is the best thing you have experienced in your career? In the earlier part of my career, I worked with commercial companies and research institutions in the engineering industry, both in Singapore and overseas. In start-ups or multi-national companies, a lot of consideration is placed on ROI, and products are designed to be fast-to-market. In research institutions, however, there is a greater emphasis on excellence in research and academic contributions. Now, as a part of GovTech’s SIoT capability centre, I find myself in the best of both worlds. At GovTech, we strive to adopt technology and develop solutions that can better the lives of Singaporeans. If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2019, what would it be? It is important to have an open mind, but at the same time, we must know when to step up and lead with passion. What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2020? In 2020, I would like to see Artificial Intelligence and machine learning techniques integrated with IoT and 5G technologies, and yet still applied in a cost-effective and efficient way. What are your priorities for 2020? I have a few priorities for the coming year. Firstly, I would like to work with more social service agencies and institutions, and bring the eCanvas system to more users in Singapore. Secondly, through internship engagements and mentoring programmes, I want to continue cultivating a love for engineering in our youths. Lastly, I would like to explore ways in which I can apply new technologies into practical solutions that can help the everyday lives of Singaporeans. What is one challenge you would like to take on in 2020? I would like to lead collaborative teams from research institutions, companies, and social service agencies to develop an assistive technology platform. What has been your fondest memory from the past year? When I needed a listening ear, I had friends who stood by my side and supported me, and I am very thankful for that!