Speech by Minister Lawrence Wong at the Inaugural HDB Innovation Festival

Nov 28, 2018 14:30

I am very happy to join you at this inaugural HDB Innovation Festival.

Innovation has always been part of HDB’s DNA. In fact, HDB’s raison d’etre, its reason for existence, is to be innovative. Because when SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust), under the British, said it was not possible to build so many flats, HDB was set up precisely to prove them wrong. And when HDB went about in the 1960s to ramp up the building programme, it encountered many problems, many challenges. But HDB was never deterred and went about finding innovative solutions to tackle these problems one by one. 

For example, in the 1960s, there was not enough granite to meet the building programme. The quarry operators at that time were not prepared to expand the production of granite, because they believed that by limiting supply, they could get better profits. If they limited the supply, then they could control the market, and so they would be able to get more profits. So HDB set up its own quarry plant in 1968 and later expanded it to double the production of granite in Singapore. 

These examples illustrate the can-do spirit and never-say-die spirit of HDB. Never daunted by challenges, always finding new and innovative ways to overcome them. That was the case at the founding of the HDB and this innovative spirit continues to be alive and well in HDB today. 

HDB led the drive to mechanise building processes and introduced the use of precast components in the construction of flats. Today, up to 70 per cent of a typical HDB block’s concrete structure is constructed using the prefabrication method.

HDB continues to invest in game-changing technologies such as Prefabricated Bathroom Units (PBU), and the Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction (PPVC) method to push the boundaries further. 

Beyond construction, HDB has also innovated in other areas. For example, in growing Singapore’s solar capabilities. 

Ten years ago, there was not so much attention on renewable energy in Singapore and there were very few companies you could find in Singapore with such an expertise. 

HDB worked with electrical companies and business partners to test-bed solar panels, experimenting to find the most efficient way to deploy such panels in our estates, particularly on the rooftops of HDB buildings. 

With HDB’s adoption of solar energy, a whole industry has sprouted. There are now over 50 solar PV companies registered with BCA, and solar panels have been installed at over 1,000 HDB blocks across Singapore.

In two years’ time, by 2020, we will be able to install solar panels in more than half of all HDB blocks in Singapore, which is about 5,500 blocks. More than half of all HDB blocks will have a solar panel on the rooftop. You may not realise it because it is hard to see from the ground up, but if you take a satellite image of Singapore from the top, I think in two years’ time, you will see solar panels in more than one in two HDB blocks. And they will be used to power common services such as lighting, lifts and water pumps. 

All these efforts ultimately benefit Singaporeans in the long-run, by enabling us to build better homes faster with better workmanship, and at the same time, reduce our carbon footprint for a more sustainable environment. 

Today, we celebrate this spirit of experimentation and innovation. And if you look around at the innovations being exhibited at the atrium, you will notice that many partners and stakeholders are involved. It’s not just the efforts of HDB alone, because many of you are also involved in this innovation journey. Some of the ideas came from HDB officers themselves. But we also have many ideas from the community as well as industry partners. 

Regardless where these ideas originate, our aim is not just to have ideas, but to translate ideas into solutions that improve the quality of HDB living.  

HDB offers resources and seed funding to bring good ideas to fruition. Where the ideas are the first-of-its-kind, HDB also registers them for patents. 

In fact, we have started this process of engaging residents for ideas. We have a “Cool Ideas for Better HDB Living” initiative, which was incepted in 2011 and we found that many of our residents have great ideas to improve their living environment. The Cool Ideas initiatives have generated hundreds of ideas from participants of all ages and backgrounds. 

We hope that by involving residents in this problem-solving process, it will not only enable us to harness their creativity but also strengthen our residents’ sense of ownership and involvement in their community.

One example of a solution which has been implemented is Speedoc. The team that came up with this initiative recognised that there is a growing demand for house call doctor services, especially with Singapore’s ageing population. So they decided to develop an application where patients can request a doctor to see them at their homes 24/7. 

This idea has since been adopted by HDB’s partner, Microsoft, who will be helping Speedoc to further refine the technology for implementation and for scaling.  

We have been trying very hard to close this gap between ideas and implementation and we want to do even more to help innovators turn their prototypes into reality. 

This is why today we are launching the Cool Ideas Enterprise initiative. 

Cool Ideas Enterprise is an open innovation platform where innovators and enterprises can work closely with HDB to develop practical solutions that will benefit our residents. 

In particular, we are looking to support innovations in the key domains like building technology, energy efficiency and living environment improvements. 

HDB will provide mentorship and technical expertise, and give innovators and enterprises the opportunity to test-bed solutions at its Master Lab at the Centre of Building Research. 

To provide further support, HDB has also partnered Enterprise Singapore to set aside funding for eligible participants. 

This is an expansion of our “Cool Ideas” initiative. We started “Cool Ideas” amongst the residents, individuals living within the community to give us ideas. Now we are expanding “Cool Ideas” to companies, enterprises, start-ups, and entrepreneurs. We invite you to come up with your ideas and prototypes and we will provide support for the ideas in order to translate them into solutions. In this way, we hope to see more innovative solutions implemented in HDB estates in the coming years. 

Nurturing A Smart Community

One common trend across many of the ideas we have seen is IT and technology. And indeed technologies are an important enabler in developing innovative solutions for our public housing estates.   

And that is why I am very happy to announce that HDB will be collaborating with Sentient, StarHub, IBM and IMDA, to develop an ecosystem of apps and services.

This initiative will allow companies to develop new applications and services which residents find useful.

For example, the apps can help the community get to know their town, find their way around better, identify like-minded residents, and give suggestions to improve the design of public spaces. As residents make use of these apps, the data that is gathered will also enable companies to design more effective programmes and initiatives to further engage residents. In this way, the apps become a self-sustaining digital ecosystem of applications and services – by the community for the community. 

For a start, HDB, together with Sentient and StarHub, will develop the first community app on this platform. Some possible features on this app could include allowing residents to explore the shops and amenities in their town, stay up-to-date with the events happening near their homes, and connect with their neighbours.

In conclusion, we are celebrating this Innovation Festival here in HDB today. But innovation is not new. As I said, it has been around since the very start of HDB’s existence, but it is also a continuing journey. In fact, it is a never-ending journey. And we must continue to innovate and keep doing better. 

The road ahead can be bumpy because introducing new ideas requires us to take some risks. Sometimes, the ideas may not work so well. Sometimes, you will get complaints because the ideas may sound good and look good but you may get unexpected reactions that you had not anticipated. But that’s what innovation is all about. So we must never be deterred, we must continue to push ourselves beyond the status-quo and always look for new and better ways of doing things. As I said, HDB cannot do this alone. Many of you have joined us on this innovation journey and I thank you for being our partners.

We look forward to your continued support as we work together to push the boundaries and pilot more innovative solutions to make our towns even more liveable and sustainable and create better homes for all Singaporeans to enjoy. 

On this note, I thank you very much once again and wish you a very enjoyable time at this Innovation Festival.