Step by step

AFTER completing his studies at Hwa Chong Institution, Mr Lionell Loh applied for and was accepted into the law programme at a local university in May 2015. After completing his National Service in December 2016, and while waiting to matriculate, he decided to look into gaining some entrepreneurial experience on his own. Mr Loh, who has a keen interest in entrepreneurship, spent three months with Impact Hub, a co-working space for start-ups. “I was free to choose my projects. Initially, I had two projects — one was law-related while the other one was to design a digital system. “I found myself gravitating towards the system project. I designed an automated ticketing system that could register customer feedback and personnel issues, and calculate key metrics such as response time and customer satisfaction.” Calling the process of creating and debugging the system “tough but extremely satisfying”, Mr Loh says it was then that he came to fully appreciate the “immense potential of computer science”. Consequently, he became interested in the Technology Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) Scholarship offered by Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD). The bond-free scholarship provided subsidised tuition fees for the duration of the bachelor and master’s degree courses at SUTD for up to 10 terms. Study-related allowances for a year-long overseas stint in the United States and China, including airfare, accommodation, visa fees and travel insurance, are also given. The recipient must take up the Tuition Grant Scheme from the Singapore Government. “After my stint at Impact Hub, I saw the value of experiential learning,” he says. Mr Loh says his friends were surprised by his decision, but his family was supportive of his shift towards technology. “Ten years ago, the potential of information technology was not so evident. Today, with technology giants such as Google and Apple a part of our daily lives, my family came to see and appreciate the importance of technology.”

Well-rounded education

The first-year undergraduate jumped right into things and has accumulated an impressive body of experience. For instance, he was part of the team that designed Sentience, a modular plug-and-play antifatigue system that keeps drivers safe and alert by employing computer vision and machine learning technology. “We focused on identifying big problems that technology can solve. Having done our research, we zoomed in on the issue of ‘drowsy driving’, or drivers falling asleep at the wheel,” he says. In the United States, drowsy driving causes approximately 1,500 deaths and losses worth $16 billion a year. The three-month project, which was part of the Introduction to Design module, was one of five projects chosen for the Create4Good Challenge. Not only did the team clinch $10,000 in funding to build the prototype, it also won a special prize at Hack.Singapore, a business pitch competition organised by Mercedes-Benz. This will see the prototype being displayed at the Mobile World Congress, which will be held in Barcelona from Feb 26 to March 1. As part of SUTD’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP), Mr Loh recently completed a one-month overseas attachment at Chiba University in Japan. He equipped a robot with the visual ability to autonomously administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) through machine learning. This enables it to identify a person in distress and respond to such situations. In early 2020, Mr Loh will get a chance to go on an overseas entrepreneurship and innovation immersion programme in China and the United States. During the year-long programme, he will attend courses at Zhejiang University and University of California Berkeley, and experience the vibrant entrepreneurial and business ecosystems in these countries. With the STEP Scholarship, Mr Loh is well on his way to fulfilling his dream of improving lives through design. “Good design goes a long way in shaping our everyday lives. The best designs are often invisible yet seep into our sub-consciousness. Good design enables and empowers technology to make a real impact,” he says.