Aiding the less mobile with AI-enhanced traffic crossings
Huawei’s second annual Tech4City Competition received 89 proposals from 144 teams, with more than 370 participants, to address the themes of Well-being, Learning, Energy, Mobility and Finance.
The second annual Tech4City Competition saw eight finalist teams propose innovative technology solutions and vie for a top prize of $15,000. Image: Huawei
Traffic light systems that are safe for everyone, including persons with mobility issues.
The winning team for the annual Huawei Tech4City competition, which was inaugurated in 2022, aims to enhance current traffic light systems to be more inclusive and intelligent, to the point where they can detect persons with mobility aids and extend crossing times accordingly.
Team Mobility, consisting of three Year 2 students from the Institute of Education (ITE) College East, was one of 144 teams – each with two to four members between the ages of 18 and 35 – to have submitted proposals of innovative solutions to solve real-world problems.
The participants, who signed up for the competition between March and July this year, comprised 372 working adults and students from local institutes of higher learning, including universities, polytechnics and ITE colleges.
Team Mobility’s members, Zamien Ng, Cleophas Ow and Praveen Nagatheran, presented their “Mobility Traffic Crossing System” proposal to a panel of judges at the finals of Tech4City 2023, and walked away with the grand prize of S$15,000.
The trio of 18-year-olds also garnered an additional cash prize of S$3,000 for the best innovation in mobility, sponsored by SBS Transit, and impressed judges with their strong solution and a clear and compassionate vision.
Fresh ideas to tackle the issues of the day
The Tech4City finals, which saw eight teams present their projects for final judging, was held on 13 September at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Kicking off the day’s programme and addressing the teams who had come this far, Foo Fang Yong, the Chief Executive Officer of Huawei International, lauded participants for sharing their “passion and determination” to contribute to and build a more inclusive, sustainable and liveable Singapore.
“While most of us have enjoyed the fruits of digitalisation, there are some who have fallen through the cracks,” he said, adding that climate change and growing awareness of sustainability “has pushed us to think how we, as a tech company, can make meaningful contributions to better support and help to solve these pressing issues.”
This year’s competition, which echoes Singapore’s Digital for Life movement, sought innovative solutions from teams to address societal issues along five themes: “learning”, “finance”, “energy”, “well-being” and “mobility”.
Low Yen Ling, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, and Minister of State for Trade and Industry, gracing the event for the second time as the guest of honour, highlighted the importance of the competition.
“Today, we live in a highly connected and interdependent world, and along with that emerges complex issues and challenges, such as climate change and super-ageing populations.”
According to the United Nations, a country is classified as “ageing” if the proportion of its population aged 65 and above crosses 7 per cent, “aged” if the proportion exceeds 14 per cent, and “super aged” when it reaches 21 per cent.
In 2017, Singapore became an aged society and is expected to attain “super-aged” status in 2026. By 2030, one in four of its citizens will be aged 65 and above.
In addressing issues of the day like these, Low mentioned that for policymakers, “blind spots” can develop at times. As such, it was good to hear the new ideas that emerge from youthful innovators, with their fresh eyes and approaches towards seeking solutions.
A more inclusive traffic crossing system
The fresh idea that most impressed the judges at this year’s competition arose out of witnessing people struggle with mobility issues.
“Seeing those in wheelchairs and with walking aids, I would feel bad seeing them unable to cross the road in the time given,” said Team Mobility’s Nagatheran.
His teammate Ng said the group’s driving force for the project was simply to create a more inclusive society, by developing a solution that could enhance Singapore’s urban traffic control system to be more commuter-centric.
“Drivers can use colourful language on the roads! So, if we could [foster] compassion among Singaporeans, maybe raise awareness about these issues, that’s the best [outcome].”
In their presentation, Team Mobility also noted that the number of elderly with mobility issues in Singapore had increased by 96 per cent between the years 2000 and 2020 – from around 25,500 to 50,000 – according to a Ministry of Health report citing the Singapore Census of Population.
As the winning team, the trio have also been inducted into Huawei’s Seeds for the Future programme and joined a tour of Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters, as well as attended a talent summit in Shanghai this month.
Among the other finalists, there were proposed solutions to aid the visually impaired in making digital and contactless payments, as well as to help households consolidate and monitor their energy usage via a dedicated platform, so as to reduce energy consumption.
Leveraging AI to find a solution
At present, traffic light systems in Singapore allocate a fixed time for pedestrians to cross a road; the time depends on the distance that pedestrians need to cover.
There is also a “Green Man+” system implemented at more than 1,000 pedestrian crossings that allow those above 60 and Persons with Disabilities (PWD) to extend crossing times by tapping their contactless concession cards at a traffic pole sensor before crossing.
Team Mobility designed their “Mobility Traffic Crossing System” project to enhance current traffic light systems by using AI-aided technology to detect the use of multiple mobility aids by pedestrians – wheelchairs, walking aids and blind aids – to assess crossing scenarios and allocate more time if needed, even if time had been extended prior.
In the case of detecting a visually impaired pedestrian, the system would also activate audio signals.
The team acknowledged that their proposed solution would still need to adhere to requirements of the current traffic light parameters. As such, crossing time extensions cannot extend indefinitely, in order to maintain traffic flow integrity.
By utilising Huawei Cloud and its ModelArts AI development platform for machine learning, the team trained the solution – using the company’s smart cameras and about 200 images per mobility aid type – to more accurately detect commonly used mobility aids. Huawei’s Elastic Cloud Server would also be activated during crossing events to record each instance and derive analytics.
Following the Tech4City Competition, Team Mobility hopes to work with the Land Transport Authority to explore a pilot programme, to gather more data and improve the system. According to organisers, SBS Transit has also expressed interest in piloting the solution.
Asked when they hoped to see their solution being implemented in real-world trials, Ng, Ow and Nagatheran told GovInsider in unison, “Hopefully by the time we graduate [in 2024]!”
Go forward to the world stage
Ng said that the competition helped his team focus on improving the system further, such as achieving real-time detection with minimal lag, so that it could act in a timely fashion.
“Now, we’re looking at implementing this solution in other areas as well, such as using it with lift door systems or transit door systems. A CCTV system could detect people with mobility aids having trouble boarding an MRT train,” so that assistance could be rendered, said Ng, who added that the team would also explore commercialising the solution’s data insights.
Edison Xie, Huawei Technologies’ Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications Department, and President of International Media Affairs, lauded the competition participants.
“I think the youth today, they are more accustomed to new technologies, they’re passionate to learn, to immerse in them and innovate. With Singapore’s strategic location, we think that it’s important to make it a better place for people to live in, to visit and to invest in.
“We’ve created an avenue to bring them on board, to support them, so that they can innovate, not only with class or teammates, but also with their peers from other universities and schools, and also with industry experts as mentors, to build up their confidence to apply what they have learned, to bring their innovations into reality and even bring them to market.”
One of the judges present at the finals, Calvin Chu, a Partner at Eden Strategy Institute, urged all teams to think expansively about ways to commercialise their ideas and solutions through various business models.
“At this stage, the participants spend a lot of time thinking about a product, can it work? I think the next step is proving efficacy of the product, and then it’s the proof of value and making the business case. This is the difficult part.”
Minister of State Low offered encouragement to all the finalists hoping to realise their dreams.
“As you evolve your products and business plans, go forward with a lot of confidence, by finding partners, not just in Singapore, to pilot your product and take it to the world stage,” she said.