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Employing automation to help you clear immigration without a passport
PSC Scholarship (Engineering) recipient Quah Yan Hsien at the HTX Robotics, Automation and Unmanned Systems Centre of Expertise.
Mr Quah Yan Hsien is helping to enhance passport-free immigration clearance as an engineer at HTX’s Robotics, Automation and Unmanned Systems Centre of Expertise. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

Driven to help make lives easier, HTX scholar is aiming to synergise the Automated Passenger Clearance System with the MyICA app

Long queues at immigration checkpoints are the bane of many travellers, but Public Service Commission (PSC) scholar Quah Yan Hsien wants to change that.

Since joining the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) in November 2023, Mr Quah has been part of a project to improve an automated immigration clearance system for land checkpoints.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) started trialling the system – called the Automated Passenger Clearance System (APCS) – at the Woodlands Checkpoint in 2017 and upgraded it in 2022.

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In the latest version, after cars enter a kiosk, the driver scans the passports of everyone in the vehicle at a machine by the driver’s car window. Contactless biometric scanners outside each car window scan the faces and irises of travellers to confirm their identities before the system lets them through.

Although this contactless system has helped boost departure clearance during peak periods by 20 per cent, Mr Quah is helping to make the process faster and smoother.

As an engineer at HTX’s Robotics, Automation and Unmanned Systems Centre of Expertise, he is working to synergise APCS with the MyICA mobile application so that travellers can use the app to experience a more seamless and passport-free immigration clearance – even while they are in the queue.

“I’ve always been interested in technology, and automation, in particular, can make people’s lives easier,” says Mr Quah.

Mr Quah (far left) with his schoolmates at the University of Cambridge. PHOTO: QUAH YAN HSIEN

A passion for public service

This desire to help others stemmed from Mr Quah’s early years volunteering at Meet-The-People sessions in his neighbourhood.

“That was when I realised we need to look at things holistically. If we wanted to help the residents in the long term, we needed to look at not only the specific incidents they highlighted but also the context of their concerns,” he says. “The experience also showed me how public policy and public servants can have a real, sustainable impact on people’s lives.”

He also credits his passion for serving others to his family, who inspired him from a young age. “I witnessed their unwavering service to others, which ranged from the seemingly trivial act of watering the plants and collecting the mail for our neighbours whenever they were overseas, to looking out for the elderly residents in our community,” he shares. “Witnessing these throughout my growing years propelled me to volunteer and, subsequently, to dedicate myself to serving others in the public service.”

Growing up, Mr Quah watched his family go out of their way for neighbours and credits their example for his desire to serve the community. PHOTO: QUAH YAN HSIEN

“I wanted to join the public service and do meaningful work that makes a difference.”

Mr Quah Yan Hsien, recipient of the PSC Scholarship (Engineering)

To gain a wider perspective, Mr Quah acquired a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a second major in computer science from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and a master’s degree in engineering for sustainable development from the University of Cambridge. He applied for and accepted a PSC Scholarship (Engineering) to finance both degrees.

“The PSC Scholarship felt right because I wanted to join the public service and do meaningful work that makes a difference,” he says.

At university, Mr Quah was president of the NUS student chapter of Engineering Good, a non-profit organisation that works with Singapore’s social service agencies to tap on technology and engineering to help vulnerable communities. Through it, he partnered persons with disabilities to co-create inclusive solutions, such as a mobility aid that supports toddlers with Down syndrome in developing psychomotor skills.

“One of my priorities in public service is to create inclusive public sector technologies that can be used by people from all walks of life,” he shares.

Mr Quah presenting his final dissertation at the University of Cambridge. PHOTO: QUAH YAN HSIEN

In his dual role as a manager in HTX’s Plans and Strategy division, Mr Quah is part of a team evaluating public trust in new and developing technologies such as autonomous robotics platforms.

The 25-year-old requested both postings. He shares: “There are a lot of policy considerations when introducing new technologies. People may not trust the technology or may need help to use it. That is why I want to be involved in both the technical and policy sides.”

A caring work community

At HTX, he hopes to keep exploring how to advance and utilise technologies for the benefit of Singaporeans. He adds that he has received plenty of support from his colleagues and supervisors in his first few months with the agency.

When his grandmother was hospitalised less than a month after he joined HTX, his supervisors gave him the leeway to go to the hospital as needed, even in the middle of the day. He was given the flexibility to complete his work later in the day or back home at night.

His responsibilities in the Plans and Strategy division include coordinating high-level meetings between HTX and other statutory boards to discuss collaborations. His colleagues helped to answer his many questions about how to book venues, prepare agendas and reach out to external agencies, among other protocols and processes.

“They did their best to guide me even when they were busy with their own work,” he says. “My supervisors also remind me that their doors are open, and I can approach them at any time if the work is too overwhelming.”

For Mr Quah, HTX is the perfect place to launch his career.

“At HTX, I can grow as a technical leader by developing my skills and technical foundation,” he says. “By learning more about the nuances and considerations when it comes to designing policies, it will help me to become a better policymaker in the future too.”

Join the HTX team
HTX is looking for passionate individuals with scientific, engineering and digital backgrounds to join them in harnessing science and cutting-edge technology to safeguard Singapore from current and future threats. Outstanding students are invited to apply for the HTX Scholarship, a full-ride scholarship for STEM disciplines.

This article is brought to you by the Home Team Science and Technology Agency.

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