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     FrontPage Edition: Sat 9 February 2008

Singapore moves forward in interactive digital media R&D


Singapore on track to build a vibrant Interactive Digital Media Research and Development Eco-system

The multi-agency Interactive Digital Media Research and Development (IDM R&D) Programme Office hosted by the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) has put in place the foundation pieces to build an eco-system in the Interactive Digital Media (IDM) sector by strengthening the interlocking efforts of four key groups of stakeholders over the past year - individuals, industry, schools and research institutions.
In 2007, the IDM R&D Programme Office funded 94 projects started by the four groups. Collectively, they are expected to deliver some 100 new innovative patents and products and will help nurture about 900 researchers and engineers.
These research projects focus on three broad areas: Animation, Games & Effects; Intermediary services which refers to technical capabilities in the organisation, distribution and security of digital media; and On-the-Move Technologies which identify new ways of reaching and interacting with mobile-connected people who are always on the move.
Commenting on the progress made, Mr Chan Yeng Kit, Co-Chairman of the IDM R&D Programme Office EXCO and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry for Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) said: “We are pleased with the progress made. Although the research projects will take a few years to complete, we are already beginning to see some promising results. More importantly, interest in IDM is growing not just within industry, but also among budding young entrepreneurs and users. We expect to provide support to thousands of individuals to acquire hands-on experience in start-ups.”
To encourage individuals and young start-ups to experiment with innovative applications and services, IDM R&D Programme Office has formed a network of nine business mentors including NUS Enterprises, NTU Ventures, FrontEdge Capital, Expara and Thymos Capital to create support structures for the start-ups, such as regular pitching sessions and finding industry partners. Together, they will help nurture some 400 start-ups over the next few years.
For example, Thymos Capital has established a regular ‘meet the entrepreneurs’ session and has successfully matched its start-ups such as Versonic and Sharedcopy with angel investors and companies. Mr James Seng of Thymos Capital commented: "The i.JAM initiative has given Thymos Capital the opportunity to work with some of the finest young entrepreneurs in Singapore working on the exploitation of IDM technologies. We are most heartened to witness a surge of IDM start-ups.”
One of such start-ups is First Meta, a 6-month-old start-up focusing on financial services that spans between virtual and physical worlds mentored by Expara. Within a short time frame, First Meta was shortlisted for the Red Herring 200 Global 2007 awards that recognise the most promising private technology ventures in the world.
The IDM R&D Programme Office has also actively marshalled local flagship media and technology companies, small-medium enterprises and major international companies to engage in IDM R&D. MXR Corporation which specialises in MiXed Reality, a cutting-edge technology that merges physical and virtual worlds to allow users interact with 3-D objects has been awarded patents for their interface technology in both the US and Singapore.
Dr. Steven Zhou Zhi Ying, Director, MXR Corporation Pte Ltd said: “The IDM R&D Programme Office’s focus on creating synergies that generates from collaborations among the companies has benefited MXR Corporation. Not only do we receive funding to cover part of our R&D cost, we also have the chance to work with other parties closely such as the Singapore Science Centre and the BEST local schools.”
Some companies have also successfully tapped into the overseas market, with their IDM R&D initiatives. Ufinity Interactive Media, a joint venture between Singapore’s Ufinity Pte Ltd and Qianfan Interactive Media, a spin-off company from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) that develops next generation interactive online service to predict users' interests and serve up relevant and timely information has won an award from Suzhou Industrial Park as one of the 12 most promising enterprises for Innovations in Interactive Media.
Singapore has also attracted International companies such as EON Reality to set up media R&D activities. U.S.-based EON Reality, the world’s leading interactive 3D software provider, recently opened its regional headquarters with the launch of EONExperience Lab, a research and development center with a slew of most advanced 3-dimensional and holographic display environment. The state-of-the-art visualization facility will be housed in the Fusionopolis facility.
In addition, the IDM R&D Programme Office is making progress in building a global network of Institutes of Higher Learnings (IHLs) and research institutes by strengthening the local ones and attracting the best from around the world to establish Singapore as a centre for IDM research and innovation. Leading the way is the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT game lab established by MDA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Thirty-one Singapore students who interned at MIT during the summer in 2006 have developed six games with their MIT counterparts and these games have been gaining interest at international exhibitions such as Games Convention Asia.
One of the games, Backflow, is a finalist for Best Game and Innovation in Mobile Game Design at the upcoming Independent Games Festival Mobile Competition.
Zulkifi Bin Mohamed Salleh from Temasek Polytechnic, one of the students behind the game said: “The experience in GAMBIT game lab has broadened my insight of the global game industry, and gave me the opportunity to work with people from different culture.” Meanwhile, a Singapore-based GAMBIT game lab is targeted to be set up by the first quarter of 2008.
Adding boost to the network of research institutes is the Singapore-based, China-Singapore Institute of Digital Media – a collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Automation (CASIA) - which is expected to be operational by the first quarter of 2008. It will focus on language mediation technologies, positioning Singapore as a hub for large-scale immersive and interactive language learning, particularly in Mandarin. This is CASIA’ first overseas R&D institute.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) has also put forth an initiative to establish an IDM Institute with eight laboratories. “The IDM R&D Programme has provided excellent opportunities for academics and researchers in NUS to look into new and exciting IDM areas, particularly in bringing together research at the intersection of technology and other non-technical domains like art, architecture, medicine and others, as well as to attract top talent and nurture a new generation of multi-disciplinary R&D manpower,” said Prof Lawrence Wong Acting Director, Interactive & Digital Media Institute, NUS.
IDM too played a key role in enhancing learning and education. The Ministry of Education (MOE) has established a R&D programme to fund both research-based and development-based projects on IDM in education that serves to build the capacity of schools to harness IDM for teaching and learning.
Said Mrs Tan Ching Yee, Co-Chairman of the IDMPO Exco and Permanent Secretary of MOE: “The desired outcomes of the R&D programme on IDM in education are to experiment with and test-bed IDM-based teaching approaches, tools and media which can be widely adopted by schools. By learning with and through IDM, our young will be comfortable working in an IDM-pervasive environment. The FutureSchools@Singapore programme enables us to try out different approaches in the integration of IDM in education using a whole-school approach.”
On future directions, Mr Michael Yap, Executive Director of the IDM R&D Programme Office and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of MDA, said: “We will continue to develop the ecosystem and look at how to better interlock the various pieces to make R&D the bedrock and source of innovation for the IDM industry. We will work with other government agencies and stakeholders to build the IDM industry into a transformative force that enables new competitive advantages for the country.”

Source: News Release 23 Jan 2008

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