EXCLUSIVE! OpenGovLive! Virtual Insight: The Evolution Of DevOps – Is Platform Ops The Future? – OpenGov Asia

To create efficiency, flexibility, speed and feedback loops required for optimal workflows and innovation, the IT teams have been looking to leverage collaborative technologies and solutions.
While conventional software companies have long relied on traditional DevOps, many organisations are now exploring new practices and innovative ways to be better accommodate a distributed workforce in the new normal.
Such models pose numerous challenges for the IT team in an organisation, not least of which is a lack of clear and specific guidelines for assessing organisational progress. Monitoring, evaluating and learning apart, the collective challenges that organisations across the board face are:
The fact of the matter is, organisations need a dedicated team to deliver and operate a platform that can be used by multiple application product teams to scale DevOps practices efficiently. But in aiming for rapid digital transformation there are pitfalls.
One of the downsides of scaling fast is that it can lead to failing fast. The middle ground and the key solution is Platform Ops. It offers value to application teams and applies DevOps practices in implementation and can streamline processes involved in scaling DevOps practice. Crucially, it allows developers to focus on development and firms to focus on their customers – rather than spend time unnecessarily on processes.
This was the focal point of the OpenGovLive! Virtual Insight held on 9 September 2021. This session helped delegates understand the ways to fully grasp the true meaning of “agile infrastructure” or “agile operations” using DevOps and Platform Ops. It also provided information on how organisations can fully utilise DevOps and Platform Ops to meet customer demand quickly and seamlessly.
Finding Partners for Using Platform Ops
To kickstart the session, Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, OpenGov Asia delivered the opening address.
Mohit likened the modern digital landscape to a maze that has a start and an endpoint. However, in every corner, organisations find different technologies – some old, some new and some evolved – thanks to the ever-changing requirements of people, processes and the context. To accommodate these shifts, organisations need to constantly look for better solutions in terms of DevOps and Platform Ops.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation on an unprecedented scale. While the pandemic posed huge challenges, at the same time, it has transformed society digitally at a global level.
This silver lining brings great rethink, re-imagine and re-invent. The lens through which organisations focusing on problems will determine the solutions they ultimately opt for. Mohit exhorted delegates to explore more current solutions by being agile, maintaining security and creating scalability.
In closing, Mohit emphasised the importance of finding the right partners to create the best citizen experience. Having competent experts who can focus on Dev/Ops, allows organisations to focus on their main tasks and key deliverables.
Technology Insight
The forum next heard from Lilian Tydings, Head of Product Design & User Experience NGINX Product Group at F5 on the dynamics of DevOps and Platform Ops. Their experience shows that most companies or organisations are still in the process of understanding Platform Ops as it is fairly new.
Lilian defines Platform Ops as a way to assess how balanced the dynamics are between the development and operation teams. While the development team focuses on speed and efficiency, the operation team needs to ensure scalability and quality.
Hence, the key is to understand how the two worlds look like, anticipate the possible conflicts and find a way to balance all of those aspects. Technological answers and Platform Ops can be the solutions for the potential conflicts between the development and operation teams.
F5 is trying to understand what real-life scenarios look like so they can provide the relevant solutions. The company is open to interacting with a wide range of organisations to explore how they could work together.
International Case Study
Dr Leong Mun Kew, Director of Graduate Programmes, Chief Artificial Intelligence Practice, Chief Data Science Practice, Institute of Systems Science, at the National University of Singapore was the next speaker who explored the significance of DevOps for businesses.
Dr Mun Kew acknowledged that there was tension between people who were building things and people who were running things. From his experience, the Operation people are comfortable doing what they know best. Meanwhile, the development people have a traditional mindset to get things down in the same manner.
Nonetheless, as the world is changing, including the rapid shifts forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations need to try new ways to find solutions. When trying to adopt new solutions, the process can create added tension between the development and operation teams.
Whenever organisations want to develop new products, they also have to think about operations which are primarily about reliability, scalability, and security.
In the end, Dr Mun Kew emphasised that the tension between the development and the operation team is usually because of a mismatch of expectation and internal pressure. Hence, organisations must create a platform for scalability to deliver material in a faster and more agile way.
Interactive Discussion
After the informative presentations, delegates participated in interactive discussions facilitated by polling questions. This session is designed to provide live-audience interaction, promote engagement, hear real-life experiences and impart professional learning and development for the participants. It is an opportunity for delegates to gain insight from subject matter experts, share their stories and take back strategies that can be implemented in their organisations.
Delegates were first asked what technology problems they are most concerned with. Almost half (47%) were concerned about security while a little more than a quarter (27%) prioritised availability. While 13% were concerned about reliability, the remainder were equally divided (7%) between complexity and scalability.
In the accompanying discussion, a delegate who chose security said he do so as it encompasses availability, integrity and confidentiality. A representative from the IT division felt availability was the most important as the technology should be available all the time without interruption.
From his vantage as a consultant to many companies, Dr Mun Kew felt that security would be companies’ biggest concern as tech experts are comfortable with their tasks but they are afraid of what-if scenarios. While preparing for the worst-case scenario is needed, Dr Mun Kew encouraged everyone to focus on doing their day-to-day operations more efficiently.
The second inquired about the unmet needs of delegates’ organisations. Similar to the previous question, almost half (47%) said that their organisations lacked agility (adapting to changes, balance day-to-day with strategic / long-view)​. Close to a third (29%) chose innovation (onboarding new tech, team’s complacency)​ as something that their organisation’s shortcoming. Delegates were equally split (12%) between business continuity (secure work environment, sourcing and retaining talent)​ and infrastructure (delivery better at scale, budget constraints)​.
On being queried about the primary issues between Dev and Ops today, one-third (33%) chose collaboration. A little more than one-fourth chose agility as their main issue while a one-fifth (22%) thought their organisations need a platform approach. While 11% and chose automation, the balance 6% felt they need more information about Kubernetes or Container/Microservices​.
The final issue delegates were polled on was balancing speed and efficiency with scalability and quality. More than half (56%) said improving collaboration would bring the balance. Delegates were equally divided (17%) between developing new standards and processes​ and establishing a platform team​. 6% said that they are not balancing speed and efficiency with scalability and quality and another 6% said that they have established a platform team​.
Conclusion
The Virtual Insight concluded with remarks from Robert Whiteley, General Manager NGINX Product Group at F5. He was eager to clarify that he was not there to be biased about the technology that his company offers but to listen and understand delegates’ perspectives.
Robert was delighted with the interactive discussion with the delegates. He felt it would help his team and he better understand the dynamics in delegates’ organisations as well as identify key areas that F5 can help.
The delegates’ perspective on the importance of collaboration, communication, balance and security, he believed, would be significantly beneficial for F5 in the way they would work with companies going ahead.
Robert invited the delegates to reach out to his team to explore ways they could work together to assist them on their journey.
The Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) introduced the “Digital Infrastructure Monitoring System, a monitoring mechanism for tower construction designed to improve permit processing time and accelerate the deployment of connectivity infrastructure in the country.
“Through the Monitoring System, we endeavour to “future-proof” our Common Tower Initiative by ensuring that our streamlining efforts in the previous years will not go to waste and continue to contribute to building a more far-reaching and robust ICT infrastructure in the country, regardless of changes in national leadership. The case is when a new administration sits in, some projects of the previous admin are side-lined to give way to the projects of the current admin — we don’t want that to happen,” the DICT secretary said.
We hope to ease the regulatory burdens that impede the construction of necessary telecommunications infrastructure. We also hope to promote transparency and accountability — two important factors in ascertaining the speedy approval and issuance of tower permits.
– DICT Secretary
The Digital Infrastructure Monitoring System is intended to supplement the government’s efforts in tackling slow Internet speeds and a lack of Internet presence in isolated and disadvantaged areas due to a lack of towers, fibre backhaul, and fibre networks. The DICT also mentioned that it hopes to encourage more investments by creating a favourable and enabling policy environment. This would allow the government to accelerate the delivery of nationwide broadband access services.
“We noticed that even with the issuance of the Joint Memorandum Circular no. 01, s. 2021 on the guidelines for the issuance of the permit, licences, and certificates for the construction of Shared Passive Telecommunications Tower Infrastructure (PTTIs), there is a danger that without a transparency system, the regressive attitudes would still continue. Thus, to promote transparency and help our private sector accelerate the digital infrastructure build-up, the DICT has developed this monitoring system,” DICT undersecretary stated.
The Monitoring System will support applications submitted by common tower firms and telcos for the construction or installation of common towers, Fibre Optic Cables (FOCs), and In-building Solutions Installation (IBS).
According to the DICT, telcos will be able to self-report their applications through the system, including the date and time the requirements were submitted to the relevant local government unit (LGU) or National Government Agency (NGA). The system then records and conveys this information to the appropriate LGU or agency, where it can monitor pending applications and tag those that are delayed.
This would also allow oversight agencies to have access to the overall status of pending and completed applications, enabling them to monitor the compliance of the LGUs or offices and to ensure their cooperation with the prescribed processing times, the DICT said.
OpenGov Asia reported that the new Department Order No. 29, also known as the “DPWH Policy on Telecommunications and Internet Infrastructure Pursuant to Republic Act (RA) No. 11494,” relaxes previous right-of-way prohibitions, particularly on the construction of posts, by allowing excavations and restoration work for ICT infrastructure projects along with allowable right-of-way limits of national roads and highways. With the removal of such a major bottleneck, the company anticipates that site inspection and approval will be completed in a matter of days, rather than several weeks or even months in the past.
The order issued by the DPWH is in accordance with Bayanihan Acts 1 and 2, which streamline the requirements for obtaining permits from local government units and national government agencies for the installation of new cell towers.
“As the Monitoring System provides transparency, the private sector, and the public can make agencies and LGUs accountable in case they fail to comply with the common tower policy, the issuances on streamlined processing of permits, and most especially Republic Act 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018,” DICT undersecretary asserted.
The system serves as a safety net for the Philippine government, ensuring the continuity of the national ICT development agenda. The company hopes that by encouraging more telcos to construct more infrastructure, the country’s Internet speed and connectivity will improve in the long run.
Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) and its industry partner, a corporate group company, took another step forward in its pioneering pilot-first accelerator programme recently by announcing the first cohort of 10 selected tech ventures who will test and develop ‘PropTech’ innovation at the revitalised Central Market.
The “CCG Accel – Powered by HKSTP” accelerator provides the shortlisted tech ventures with the exclusive opportunity to develop pilot solutions in collaboration with the corporate group company to ensure they can deliver market-ready solutions prior to general adoption.
This pioneering “pilot-first” approach allows tech ventures to install and test solutions in a real market environment even at the concept stage. This is a huge advantage and accelerates the product development process while closing the critical gap between ideation and commercialisation which halts many early-stage ventures. The process allows tech ventures to collect valuable data and instant user feedback so that they can strengthen the opportunities for adoption.
Cohort 1 participants will focus on PropTech-related solutions that address property-based challenges at Central Market in the areas of visitor experience, environment and sustainability, as well as operation and facility management. Pilot testing will take place from September to December 2021, with a final demo day in January 2022 when all participating tech ventures will showcase their solutions. By collecting real-life data through trials at Central Market, the final winning innovations may be adopted within Central Market itself and help revitalise the 82-year-old building into a 21st-century marketplace blending old and new.
The Executive Director and CEO of the corporate group company stated that they are excited to be working with HKSTP to support high-potential tech ventures and their innovations that can make Hong Kong a better place to live, work and play for our future generations.
The group’s expertise and a wide portfolio of commercial properties provide the ideal testing and development opportunities for innovation to thrive. It is believed that this can accelerate smart city development in Hong Kong and benefit people, prosperity and the planet. The CEO of HKSTP noted that this unique pioneering partnership with the corporate group company is a continued extension of the HKSTP I&T ecosystem to new locations in Hong Kong and will help innovators fast-track their ground-breaking ideas into fully-tested solutions ready for market adoption.
The Park is constantly seeking new ways to smooth tech ventures’ path to success and this programme will spur more successful innovation while also propelling Hong Kong’s smart city vision with smart property and retail solutions.
The existing Central Market building was an epoch-making piece of architecture when built 80 years ago. Its spirit of innovation lives on in the revitalised market through initiatives including support for high-potential local tech ventures through a pilot-to-mass adoption process and promotion of STEAM learning to nurture the creative thinking of the next generation.
Featuring a series of three themed cohorts, the “CCG Accel – Powered by HKSTP” accelerator will use designated corporate group company’s properties as a testing stage in each cohort as the innovators are tasked to solve property-based challenges. The company will also assign mentors to each programme participant and provide industry insight and knowledge to refine their solution with the participating tech ventures.
HKSTP will also facilitate a programme of training sessions during the pilot period to equip the selected tech ventures with diverse technology and business skills. The tech ventures will benefit from direct access to HKSTP’s extensive ecosystem and value-added services.
This new model of partnership helps visualise the effectiveness of the property-specific solutions more easily, while end-users can gain immediate benefits from the innovations. Successful innovations from the accelerator may also be selected for further adoption and investment by the corporate group company.
China unveiled a 3D-printed park with a total area of 5,523 square meters and a greening rate of 88%. Sculptures, benches, flower beds, retaining walls and kerbs in the park have all been completed using concrete construction technology of robotic 3D printing, with a self-developed software control platform, printing tool head and concrete printing materials.
The 3D printing technology has propelled intelligent construction to move from laboratory to the industry. Users can input the digitally designed model into the system, where the digital model will be automatically processed into control signals of the printing equipment. The concrete mixture then reaches the nozzle at the front end of the mechanical arm through the extrusion device and is finally printed under signal control.
According to a report from a market consultation firm based in Shenzhen, the scale of China’s 3D printing industry reached 20.3 billion yuan (3.14 billion U.S. dollars) in 2020, accounting for 24% of the global total and an increase of 31% compared with 2019. And it is estimated to reach 25.1 billion yuan in 2021, up 24% from last year.
As a form of intelligent construction, concrete construction technology of robotic 3D printing boasts great advantages. The technology saves time and human effort as the park was constructed in just two and a half months.
– Professor, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University
The technology is also environment-friendly. For example, machine-made sand, one of the recyclable construction materials used in the concrete mixture, is made from waste grains of sand. Compared with reinforced concrete, 3D printing is relatively cheap since the building simulation stage will solve technical problems in advance and come up with the optimum construction method.
The researchers have explored intelligent construction in other formats as well. They have attempted to print huts that can be opened and closed based on the weather in the suburbs of Zhangjiakou City, a landscape bridge in Shanghai that can accommodate at least four adults per square meter at the same time, and low-cost, sustainable and affordable housing in Africa.
Intelligent construction is still in its infancy, but the digitalisation of the construction industry has bright prospects, said an official with the construction bureau of Shenzhen’s Bao’an district. With the rising labour costs, manpower will be replaced with robots and intelligent systems, integration of digital design and construction has the potential to redefine the future of architecture. The research team is working on construction technology and production materials, aiming to achieve breakthroughs in high-performance concrete materials and printing high-rise buildings.
As reported by OpenGov Asia, China has been drafting a revision to the law on scientific and technological progress to advance the quality and efficiency of its innovation in science and technology. The draft was presented to the ongoing session of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for its first reading. The lawmakers would add three chapters to the existing law which are “basic research,” “regional scientific and technological innovation” and “international scientific and technological cooperation”.
To strengthen basic research and innovation capabilities, the draft proposes establishing an investment mechanism to provide stable support for basic research, and increasing the proportion of funds for basic research in the total sum of funds for research and development across society.
To further stimulate the vitality of scientific and technological innovation, the draft stresses the importance of creating a favourable environment for scientific and technological personnel. It also proposes improving relevant legal responsibilities and banning scientific and technological research, developments and applications that endanger national security or human health, harm public interests, or violate the integrity or ethics of scientific research.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in New Zealand, and primary drug treatments have failed to improve mortality rates over the last ten years. A funding organisation has awarded over NZ$1 million to researchers at the University of Auckland to develop an implantable medical device that activates nerves to treat heart disease, potentially transforming cardiovascular therapies and the treatment of a variety of conditions.
A principal investigator with the Auckland Bioengineering Institute’s (ABI) Implantable Devices Group is focused on developing new implantable devices to treat neurological conditions and heart disease. He has created a number of new technologies to enable novel disease treatments, such as wireless power transfer, stimulation, and blood pressure sensing systems. Another researcher, collaborating with the principal research, focuses on how the nervous system of the heart controls heart rhythm, with a particular interest in developing methods to modulate nervous system activity in order to treat cardiac arrhythmias in humans.
Our technology, can be implanted with relative ease in the neck and allows us to pinpoint stimulation to just the nerve fibres going to and from the heart, or another organ of our choice.
– Researcher, Auckland Bioengineering Institute
“After a chance meeting around the coffee machine, we realised we were working towards the same aim, and that we could develop a research project together,” says the principal investigator. The research is focused on the advancement of ‘electroceuticals,’ which are devices that stimulate or block neural activity and offer an appealing alternative to drug-based therapies for heart disease since they can be controlled more precisely and have fewer side effects.
The key challenge facing the development of electroceuticals, they say, is finding a way to limit their effects to the fibres within a nerve that have therapeutic benefits on the target organ. “The science challenge is limiting stimulation to the subset of fibres within the vagus that have therapeutic benefits on the heart, the very specific fibre bundles which are relatively small and vary between individuals,” he added. While implantable devices have been developed and used to stimulate nerve function in various organs and disorders, they typically require complex surgery and come with associated risks of side effects.
A report by OpenGov Asia revealed that St George’s Hospital in Christchurch has unveiled new high-tech facilities. The Governor-General officially opened the Cressy Wing, a four-storey unit with a fluorescent imaging system, on July 2, 2021. The fourth and final building to be built as part of St George’s eight-year redevelopment includes a new maternity centre, digital operating theatres, laundry, and a medical supply room.
Surgeons use advanced imaging technology to isolate small tumours and cancer cells that are invisible to the naked eye. It works by using fluorescent dye to illuminate a patient’s anatomy. St George’s is the South Island’s only private hospital that uses the system for cardiothoracic surgery. One of the first cardiothoracic surgeons in New Zealand to use the technology was a Christchurch surgeon.
Transformation is also fuelled by the fact that healthcare systems are encountering an increasing number of issues, and traditional methods are not yielding the desired results. According to the World Health Organisation, there is a worldwide shortage of approximately 4.3 million physicians, nurses, and allied health workers, and care is frequently unavailable where it is most needed.
This project, on the other hand, will build on decades of research done at the ABI and the Medtech Core, as well as with national and international collaborators, into implantable devices, computer modelling, and heart and nerve physiology. This research will also make a significant contribution to work within the new Healthy Hearts for Aotearoa New Zealand Core addressing heart health disparities among Mori and Pacific people.
The Advanced Science and Technology Institute, a research and development institute of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-ASTI), has signed a three-year partnership with one a business service company as part of its goal to improve business and government agency efficiencies using Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
The collaboration will implement the company’s various ICT offerings, starting with their policy-based key management solution, a machine vision and machine learning technology capable of analysing official receipts and documents such as Articles of Incorporation, Income Tax Returns (ITR) and other official documents.
The system is a flexible data encryption and key management solution for public, private, and hybrid cloud environments. It encrypts data using unique keys that are managed by enterprise security administrators. The keys are not accessible to data centre administrators or other cloud tenants, providing protection against tampering and data spillage. The platform can protect sensitive data within on-premises, cloud and multi-cloud machines using native operating system encryption features to provide encryption for volumes with pre-startup authorisation.
Multinational brands are currently using the technology, in which establishments across the country issue an official receipt and customers who have opted-in can upload those receipts into the system for loyalty and redemption transactions. Brands can collect consumer purchasing habits and use the information to create bundling promotions or rewards that are relevant to their market.
The policy-based key management can be used to provide end-users or customers with actionable responses. Customers, for instance, can attach an official receipt to specific product purchases and send it to the tool via a messaging platform. The system will then read and digest the data on the official receipt, and if certain criteria are met, such as a minimum purchase, the user will be rewarded with prepaid credits and/or gift certificates.
OpenGov Asia reported that given the impact of COVID-19 on business operations and working arrangements, an increasing number of Philippine businesses are turning to cloud-based IT solutions to help them navigate the new conditions, with more than half (51%) reporting that they have adopted more cloud-based IT solutions. With cloud technologies viewed as an enabler of digital transformations, 16% of Philippine businesses said they are now more supportive of using cloud-based IT solutions to grow their businesses than they were prior to COVID-19, ranking among the highest of the markets polled.
With the partnership between DOST-ASTI and the Philippine business service company, the policy-based key management system will be the first anchor technology jointly released and offered to other government agencies. It is expected that both the company and DOST-ASTI will work hard to offer other advanced technology to help the country recover from the COVID pandemic.
“We are very excited to work in close collaboration with DOST-ASTI, and we would love to demonstrate the Cloudlink system to any other agency that may be interested to learn more about it,” said the president of the service company.
“True to ASTI’s commitment of bringing innovative ICT solutions to Filipinos, ASTI is partnering with the business company to deliver an application for more transparent and efficient governance. We are very excited to be a part of this initiative, as we believe that the technology that the system brings to the table will be of significant service to many government agencies in the long run. We hope that this joint effort will also demonstrate the importance of industry-government collaborations in developing better solutions for the society,” says DOST-ASTI Director.
NTU Singapore and a multinational automotive manufacturer have agreed to work collaboratively on a series of joint research projects centred on advanced solutions for the manufacturing of electric vehicles (EVs) and developing future mobility solutions in the country. Four pilot projects on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Additive Manufacturing will be explored in the initial stage which starts this month.
These projects seek to create solutions that will transform conventional car manufacturing facilities into cutting-edge Industry 4.0 factories. One such project will investigate the use of additive manufacturing in the production of electric vehicles. Researchers will investigate how AM machines can be used effectively in the customisation of automotive components, as well as how they can be integrated into a smart factory operation. This is intended to support the vision of smart manufacturing, in which customers can order and customise a car model to their preference.
This collaboration will build on NTU’s core strengths, in areas such as additive manufacturing, AI, autonomous and electric vehicles, and big data to bring about benefits to the automotive industry, Singapore, and the global society.
– NTU President
NTU President opined that the partnership with the multinational automotive manufacturer was an example of how close collaboration with the industry plays an important role in developing relevant solutions to address real-world issues. The partnership fell in line with the NTU 2025 strategic plan that aims to address some of the grand challenges facing humanity.
The university was declared the first academic research partner for multinational automotive manufacturer’s Innovation Centre in Singapore in October of last year. The centre, which will be completed by the end of next year, is an open research facility for the company’s future mobility research and development.
“The automotive manufacturer aims to build an ecosystem for the future mobility industry based on open innovation,” said President and Chief Innovation Offer at the automotive company. “We are going to strengthen collaboration with NTU and develop advanced solutions to revolutionise future mobility value chain going forward.” The latest agreement from the partners will focus on Industry 4.0 technologies, such as 3D printing and AI, to advance the manufacturing processes for EVs and improve future mobility offerings within the automotive industry.
Subsequently, the project intends to transform traditional car manufacturing facilities into cutting-edge ‘smart’ factories of the future, outfitted with advanced production technologies. Beginning this month, the partners will conduct four pilot projects to investigate how 3D printing and artificial intelligence can be integrated into EV manufacturing.
Apart from R&D projects, the latest agreement aims to pave the way for future collaborations aimed at developing talent in the automotive industry. For example, the partners will grasp AM competitions focusing on innovative applications of the technology in automotive engineering. The goal is to pique undergraduates’ interest in EV manufacturing and encourage them to imagine what future mobility might look like. At the same time, the competition will provide an opportunity for people to learn about the advantages of AM technology in EVs.
Joint educational seminars will also serve as a platform for industry experts from the automotive company and NTU academics to exchange ideas and skills. OpenGov Asia reported on the efforts to expand Singapore’s electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure where all Housing and Development Board (HDB) car parks in at least eight towns will be fitted with EV chargers by 2025. The aim is to make every HDB town an “EV-ready” town by the 2030s. The eight towns – Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Choa Chu Kang, Jurong West, Punggol, Queenstown, Sembawang, and the upcoming Tengah town – are part of a “town-centric” approach being taken for the installation of charging points.
Equipped with a colour 3D camera, an inertial measurement sensor, and its own onboard computer, a newly improved robotic cane could offer blind and visually impaired users a new way to navigate indoors. When paired with a building’s architectural drawing, the device can accurately guide a user to the desired location with sensory and auditory cues, while simultaneously helping the user avoid obstacles like boxes, furniture, and overhangs. The development of the device was co-funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Eye Institute (NEI) and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB).
“Many people in the visually impaired community consider the white cane to be their best and most functional navigational tool, despite it being century-old technology. For sighted people, technologies like GPS-based applications have revolutionised navigation. We’re interested in creating a device that closes many of the gaps in functionality for white cane users.”
– Lead author of the study
While there are cell phone-based applications that can provide navigation assistance—helping blind users stay within crosswalks, for example—large spaces inside buildings are a major challenge, especially when those spaces are unfamiliar.
Earlier versions of the robotic cane began tackling this problem by incorporating building floorplans; the user could tell the cane whether he or she wished to go, and the cane—by a combination of auditory cues and a robotic rolling tip—could guide the user to their destination. But when used over long distances, the inaccuracies in the user’s location could build up, eventually leaving the user at an incorrect location.
To help correct this issue, the researchers have added a colour depth camera to the system. Using infrared light, much like a mobile phone’s front-facing camera, the system can determine the distance between the cane and other physical objects, including the floor, features like doorways and walls, as well as furniture and other obstacles.
Using this information, along with data from an inertial sensor, the cane’s onboard computer can map the user’s precise location to the existing architectural drawing or floorplan, while also alerting the user to obstacles in their path.
While some cell phone apps can give people auditory navigation instructions, when going around a corner for example, but people do not know how to turn just the right amount. The rolling tip on the robotic cane can guide people to turn at just the right point and exactly the right number of degrees, whether it’s 15 degrees or 90. This version can also alert them to overhanging obstacles, which a standard white cane cannot.
There are still a few things to be worked out before the system will be market-ready—it is still too heavy for regular use, for example, and the team is looking for a way to slim down the device. Nevertheless, with the ability to easily switch between its automated mode and a simpler, non-robotic “white cane mode,” This device could provide a key independence tool for the blind and visually impaired, without losing the characteristics of the white cane that have stood the test of time.
U.S. researchers have been developing robotic technologies to help people with disabilities. As reported by OpenGov Asia, U.S. Researchers have now developed an alternative approach that they believe could offer much more precise control of prosthetic limbs. After inserting small magnetic beads into muscle tissue within the amputated residuum, they can precisely measure the length of a muscle as it contracts, and this feedback can be relayed to a bionic prosthesis within milliseconds.
In a new study appearing today in Science Robotics, the researchers tested their new strategy, called magnetomicrometry (MM), and showed that it can provide fast and accurate muscle measurements in animals. They hope to test the approach in people with amputation within the next few years.

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