Diving into Deeptech | Campus

by Bhawna Sharma and Cheong Wen Xuan

Words like artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, and analytics have all become hot buzzwords among undergraduate students trying to find their niche in an increasingly competitive job market. Deeptech, on the other hand, is a lesser known field that’s quietly disrupting the tech landscape from bottom up.

What is Deeptech?

Unlike Grab and Uber, which simply use existing technology to create sharing platforms, companies specialising in deeptech focus more on high-level programming based on tangible scientific discovery or engineering innovation to solve different issues, such as building a medical device to fight cancer or creating time-saving tools for organisations. Deeptech companies aim to make transformative changes in technology and in doing so, are often ground zero for innovation.

Continuing the Uber reference, for example, deeptech in the transport industry would include inventions like autonomous vehicles and flying cars because beyond just challenging the traditional taxi business model, they have far-reaching implications for the entire industry itself. In other words, it’s deeptech companies that are working behind the scenes to create groundbreaking technological breakthroughs that could change the course of humanity.

As markets are becoming increasingly saturated with tech companies geared towards consumer services, investors are also turning towards deeptech as the next big thing.  A report by CBInsights shows that the new capital invested into deep (or “frontier”) tech rose from US$144 million in Q3 2014 to US$671 million the following quarter, before climbing to an even higher US$1.3 billion the next quarter.

As Singapore embraces the Smart City approach, deeptech will be even more indispensable in revolutionising the way we humans use technology, and will have profound effects for society right here in Singapore. In fact, it’s already starting to make waves in the region. Founded in Southeast Asia, self-driving start-up nuTonomy envisions thousands of driverless electric cars in Singapore which can dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the frequency of crashes.

Can you code? Then be part of deeptech

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat at SGInnovate’s second anniversary ceremony held last month (Nov 22) Courtesy ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

As emphasised by Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat last month, one of the challenges deeptech faces is finding suitable talent.

In light of the growing importance of deeptech, SGInnovate launched its first Apprenticeship program last year to connect promising deeptech startups with students from both tech and non-tech backgrounds currently studying in universities. Successful candidates can choose specific projects based on their skills and produce something they could call their own.

This year saw SGInnovate partner with multiple deeptech startups across healthcare, visual telecommunications, television broadcasting, and e-commerce. 

Working for the AI-driven firm Taiger, which seeks to simplify complex tasks, SUTD Apprentice Gabriel Wong was tasked with creating a tool that would convert images into text and an engine that could seamlessly extract specific text from complicated documents. “The apprenticeship was an enriching experience that provided me with a hands-on approach to learning,” said Gabriel, adding that the programme has the advantage of not requiring a Master’s degree unlike deeptech projects for larger companies.

We also got in touch with NUS Apprentice Jinna Qian, who interned at V-Key. Even though the male demographic far outweighed that of the females there, Jinna stressed that, based on her experience, deep tech startups “are gender neutral in terms of working”. She asserted that it was “important to stop discouraging women from joining the tech sector”.