HDB, A*STAR to advance smart construction technologies in Singapore

Singapore’s Housing & Development Board (HDB) and Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) have inked two collaborations to develop and adopt 5G-enabled smart construction technologies, as well as to facilitate partnerships and commercialisation of the research outcomes developed by agencies under the Ministry of National Development (MND) for operational use. These collaborations were announced on Friday (26 Mar) at the Urban Sustainability R&D e-Symposia 2021 opening webinar.

The first collaboration, a Research Collaboration Agreement (RCA) between HDB and A*STAR’s Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R), aims to enable smarter construction by developing and adopting 5G-enabled robotic, drone and artificial intelligence technologies that can help raise productivity and improve safety at construction sites.

The second collaboration is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between HDB and A*STAR to bring together the research community, agencies and industry partners to facilitate partnerships in technology transfer and translate R&D outcomes into commercially ready products.

HDB’s CEO, Tan Meng Dui said, “As the master developer of public housing in Singapore, HDB constantly seeks to leverage innovative technologies and smart solutions that can help us deliver quality homes for Singaporeans. Through relentless research and innovation over the years, we have built up a wealth of knowledge in urban solutions for the built environment. We will continue to work closely with industry partners to accelerate technology transfer, so that the built environment sector can benefit from of our R&D outcomes.”

“A*STAR is increasing its support of the Urban Solutions and Sustainability (USS) domain under Research-Innovation-Enterprise (RIE) 2025,” said Frederick Chew, CEO of A*STAR. “We are collaborating closely with HDB on introducing innovative technologies into the built environment sector, and catalysing more public sector collaboration with industry. We also aim to work with HDB to translate public sector R&D into positive impact on our society and economy, through such collaborations.”

Smarter construction technologies

In their joint statement, HDB and A*STAR explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the supply of building materials and manpower within the construction industry. This has put unprecedented pressure on the construction timelines of building projects across both the public and private sectors. There is thus a strong impetus for the industry to accelerate the adoption of advanced technologies and digitalisation to help build faster, safer and more efficiently.

With the impending roll-out of 5G network in Singapore, there is an opportunity for greater use of automation and robotics in the construction sector, leveraging on 5G technology, to enhance productivity and reduce labour dependency.

The collaboration between HDB and A*STAR’s I2R seeks to research and develop a system which will capture videos, images and data through the use of sensors on robots (legged and wheeled) and drones. Examples of how such information can be used to improve productivity include:

  • Scanning and mapping of the construction environment to develop an up to date as-built model (i.e. exact rendering of the construction project as it is built) using light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology; and

  • Enhancing safety of the construction site through real-time video-streaming and surveillance of construction activities.

In addition, HDB will study the possibility of employing drone fleets and robotics systems equipped with LiDAR laser scanning technology, to automate the scanning of actual physical built environments into a 3D as-built site model. Currently, the development of as-built models in the construction industry, which typically takes place when construction is nearing completion, is manual and labour-intensive. By deploying a fleet of drones and robotics systems that can intelligently monitor various aspects of a construction site, the entire process can be automated to enable onsite scanning and mapping of the construction site into a 3D as-built model. This will bring about savings in manpower and time.

To allow the drones and robots to function smoothly, HDB will leverage 5G technology for its high data transmission rate and increased network capacity. A*STAR will develop a 5G modem prototype module with low latency and robust communication link, to enable onsite scanning and mapping of the site as the project is built, and real-time monitoring of activities at construction sites.

According to both partners, most construction sites nowadays employ static CCTV systems to assist with site monitoring; however, as construction sites cover a large area, there may be spots which are not covered by the scope of the CCTVs.

With that in mind, tapping on 5G technology, HDB will explore the deployment of cameras mounted on the drones and robotics systems, which would enable high-definition real-time videos of the site environment to be captured wirelessly. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies will be applied to the live video feeds, so that the system can automatically identify safety lapses and detect potentially unsafe behaviours and conditions at HDB construction sites in real time.

When such lapses are detected, alerts can be immediately sent to the relevant personnel so swift action can be taken to rectify the situation and resolve the issue. This acts as a mobile monitoring system to augment the manual supervision by safety officers on site.

To ascertain the performance of the system, trials will be conducted at a selected HDB construction site that has ready 5G coverage. The research study is expected to span 2.5 years. If the trials prove successful, HDB will consider extending the system to more construction sites.

Facilitating partnerships in technology transfer

Over the years, HDB has pioneered new and innovative solutions to provide residents with a quality living environment. To safeguard these solutions for continued use in HDB projects, HDB has filed over 30 patents for its in-house developed innovations, including the Prefabricated Extensive Green (PEG) roof tray system and the Floating Solar System (FSS).

The PEG roof tray system was developed to intensify HDB’s greening efforts on rooftops. Besides deploying the system in HDB’s housing projects, HDB tied up with local firms, Eng Seng Tech Pte Ltd and Plantwerkz Pte Ltd, to commercialise the product in countries and cities such as China, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

In its push to generate more clean energy and accelerate solar adoption in Singapore, HDB has also invented the FSS which supports solar panels on water bodies to harness solar energy. The FSS was adapted from a modular floating system known as the Floating Wetland System that was earlier patented by HDB for cultivating wetland plants. Following the successful test-bedding of the FSS in Tengeh Reservoir in Tuas, HDB collaborated with a local company, ISO Landscape Pte Ltd to deploy 5 MegaWatt-peak (MWp) FSS off the coast of Woodlands.

The MOU between HDB and A*STAR seeks to forge closer partnerships among the research community, government agencies and industry partners over the next three years, to facilitate technology transfer and translate R&D outcomes into impactful solutions for Singapore, and potentially for cities around the world.

With its prior experience in intellectual property (IP) management, HDB has been appointed as the lead agency for IP management and technology transfer, for the agencies under the Ministry of National Development. The MOU will tap on A*STAR’s expertise, connection with the industries and the local science and technology ecosystem, to facilitate collaborations to commercialise MND R&D outcomes and IPs.

Images © HDB/A*STAR