Battling COVID-19 and rebuilding a better world post-pandemic.

COVID-19 has plunged the world into an unprecedented crisis. Over a year after its emergence, the pandemic continues to challenge healthcare systems, global trade, local economies, and societies.

All over the world, crisis-response efforts have been set in motion to alleviate constraints and shortages. However, it is the countries that understand how to design against problems that are recovering more rapidly than others. A strong case in point is Singapore. From robotic social-distancing dogs to AI temperature screening, we’re constantly innovating to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

Poised for the unforeseeable battle
Since its inception, SUTD has been grooming design innovators to tackle real-world challenges. So when COVID-19 hit, our students, alumni, and professors were already well-placed to develop design-centric products and services to aid in the fight against the pandemic.

For instance, SUTD alumna and GovTech software engineer, Janice Tan, helped develop the TraceTogether system which Singapore has been globally recognised for. The community-driven app utilises Bluetooth technology to enable rapid contact tracing, and has proven instrumental in monitoring and controlling the spread of the virus.

SUTD alumna Janice Tan (left) helped develop the TraceTogether app.

Saving lives through hospital resource planning
When the crisis first broke, SUTD’s Head of Pillar for Engineering Systems and Design, Professor Peter Jackson, collaborated with a team at the Weill College of Medicine in New York City to create a hospital resource planning tool.

Bearing in mind user requirements, they created an easy-to-use Excel spreadsheet that uses epidemic estimates to derive resource demand numbers. This helped hospital planners, public health officials, and government decision-makers to accurately estimate the demand for critical resources, such as medical/surgical beds, ICU beds, ventilators, and splitters.

Professor Jackson shares about his collaboration with the team at the Weill College of Medicine in New York City.

The tool has been widely distributed and adopted by a number of hospital systems, such as Kaiser Permanente. Following its success, the team has since gone on to add more advanced features, as well as creating a web version of the tool.

Supporting frontliners and essential workers
Beyond SUTD’s faculty, our students and alumni have also made significant contributions. Masters graduate Kendrick Tay was inspired by his schoolmates, who were 3D printing “ear savers” for friends working in the healthcare sector. These plastic tension-release bands hold the elastic straps of surgical masks, taking the strain off the wearer’s ears, and make long-term mask-wearing more comfortable.

Ear savers were mass-produced by volunteers from the “SG Makers Against COVID-19” group.

Together with three other SUTD alumni, Kendrick started the “SG Makers Against COVID-19” group, gathering volunteers who own 3D printers to produce even more ear savers. They adapted a U.S. approved design to create a Singapore version that not only fits the Asian facial structure better, but also uses 15% less material. This made printing quicker and more resource-efficient. The community has since distributed over 20,000 ear savers to healthcare institutions and F&B operators.

Enabling community resource sharing
Resource sharing became more crucial than ever during the pandemic. Inspired by stories of hardship caused by COVID-19, our then-students Jerry Neo, Princeton Poh and Cheryl Low, designed Scratchbac, a platform for people to share resources with each other.

Scratchbac began as a Telegram chatbot, where users could send and receive messages requesting or offering help. For example, a user who needs to print a document but does not own a printer can send a request through Scratchbac. Users nearby can then respond to the request. The platform facilitated numerous acts of kindness, and connected elderly folk who needed help with errands with helpful neighbours. Scratchbac attracted over 1,000 users in the first two weeks, and the team later secured a $3,000 grant to transform it into a mobile application.

With Scratchbac, you don’t need to stay in a kampong to have the kampong spirit!

Building a more resilient world
As the global battle against COVID-19 continues, we also face the bigger challenge of rebuilding a better world post-pandemic. Panic-buying and food shortages worldwide exposed the inefficiencies and inadequacies of the global food-supply chain, highlighting the urgent need to re-evaluate global systems of food supply, manufacturing, and trade etc.

“The pandemic has exposed the fragility of our global food supply with many countries shutting their borders,” observes Andrew Lee, Studio Master at SUTD-ONG&ONG AiR Studio. “We still need to eat and we need to make our food supply chain ‘anti-fragile’ with shorter local supply chains.”

As countries turn to urban farms to mitigate supply disruptions and remain self-reliant during crises, global design innovators are already being shaped at SUTD Architecture and Sustainable Design’s Urban Farm Studio. Students are designing shorter, as well as additional, food supply chains – complete with cultivation, operation and delivery functions – beginning with a masterplan for a 176-hectare site in Bukit Timah. “The student projects feature a collection of innovative ideas that repurposes Turf City’s Grandstand buildings into an urban logistics farm; bringing the food supply chain closer to our homes,” explains Mr Lee.

The pandemic has accelerated the need for a more sustainable, equitable and resilient world, all of which are best achieved through design-centric innovations. Keen to make a real-world difference? Discover what it means to be a design innovator by pursuing an education at SUTD.

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