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Technology and the infinite possibilities
Published on: Saturday, December 17, 2016

By Datuk Seri Madius Tangau
SIX years ago in 2010, the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) embarked on a series of studies that would provide us an insight into the big picture of the future we desire, based on our national economic imperatives, and proposed science, technology and innovative (STI) opportunities in these sectors.

This series of studies is known as the Mega Science Study, as part of the “Envisioning Malaysia In 2050” Foresight Initiative undertaken by ASM. The Prime Minister in his Budget 2017 speech announced a new vision called Transformasi Nasional 2050 or TN2050 where Malaysia is to attain a developed status of being among the top 20 nations of the world in terms of economic output, societal well being, and innovation and creativity.

The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) is formulating a niche to contribute to this national vision.

In Mega Science 1.0 carried out from 2010 to 2012, five sectors were explored – Water, Energy, Health, Agriculture and Biodiversity. Mega Science 2.0 was undertaken from 2013 to 2014, revolved around Housing, Infrastructure, Transportation, Electrical and Electronics, and the Environment.

Mega Science 3.0, began last year. The Mega Science 3.0 National Forum and Exhibition was held last month in November.

We looked at five industries, namely: i. Furniture, ii. Automotive, iii. Creative, iv. Tourism, v. Plastics and Composites.

Recommendations and roadmaps for the short, medium and long-term (2015-2050) in these five sectors were laid out.

They were selected on the basis that in 2014, they contributed a combined sum of RM148 billion or 15 per cent of the national GDP, and importantly projected to increase towards 2050.

Malaysia has always been known for its wood-based furniture, owing to its abundant wood resources.

The government has set an annual growth target of 6.5 per cent for wood-based furniture, estimated to reach RM 53 billion by 2020.

The Study recommended that the furniture industry invest in R&D on cutting tools, processing machineries and technology such as the application Computer Numerical Control Machine and 3D printing, to reduce labor cost and dependence on foreign labor. R&D on alternative materials through tissue culture for new breed of tress could find a solution to the inconsistent supply of planted wood and certified sustainable timber.

We also foresee a shift in the business model in the industry, from Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) to penetrate the global market.

By 2050, we would have moved beyond the “Internet of Things” to the advanced state of the “Internet of Everything”, where smart and connected furniture individualised by our lifestyles could become Malaysia’s furniture identity.

Our furniture would be “talking” to each other regarding our lifestyle needs and living habits.

Next was on the future of the automotive industry. As one of the fastest growing industries in Malaysia, it contributes 2.5 per cent or RM 40 billion to the national GDP annually and 5.84 per cent of employment.

Malaysia is one of the 194 countries that have committed themselves to the Paris Agreement where we need to limit the increase in global average temperature, by fostering climate resilience and low greenhouse development.

Therefore in our technology foresight for the automotive sector towards 2050, we are expecting vehicles with greater fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions.

In approximately 35 years time, we may fully migrate to autonomous vehicles starting with Hybrid Electric Vehicle taking off globally by 2020, Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle by 2025, and Battery Electric and Fuel Cell Vehicle by 2030.

In my previous column entitled “Green Growth for Our Cities”, I shared several examples of home grown green technologies. One is the cost-effective non-welding technique for battery assembly in electric vehicles.

Developed by Eclimo, it is reported by Frost & Sullivan to be 67 per cent superior to the ultrasonic welding technique used by industry giants such as Tesla. A hundred of electric scooters incorporating this battery production technology were exported to Cambodia for eco-friendly tourism such as in Angkor Wat area.

At the 71st Meeting of the Asean Committee on Science and Technology and, the 9th Informal Asean Ministerial Meeting on Science and Technology (IAMMST-9) in Cambodia last October, I had the opportunity to bring several Asean Ministers on a ride on this scooter.

We agreed that the mass production of electric vehicles would depend on the entire automotive ecosystem, and the government has to formulate new policy instruments for e-mobility.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), four areas – Media, Heritage, the Arts, and Functional Creations, underpin the Creative Industry.

Globally, the global cultural and creative industries employ 29.5 million people, generating USD 2,250 billion in revenues, representing 3 per cent of the world’s GDP. In Malaysia, the creative industry accounted for 2.5 per cent of the Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2013, 2.7 per cent in 2015 and projected to increase to 4.1 per cent in 2030.

In 2010, the four areas of the creative industry employed 146,250 people in 10,559 establishments.

We would soon do away with traditional TV and cinema screens, to be entertained through holographic wall screens, virtual reality, robots, and the content created by artificial intelligence.

In tourism, Malaysia is in an advantageous position, being declared one of the most megadiverse countries and among the most visited countries in the world. The total contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP was RM 152.8 billion in 2015 and is expected is forecasted to rise 5.1 per cent per annum to RM 267.7 billion by 2026.

Our travel experience has been revolutionised by digital technologies, such as our mobile phones, wearables, robots and real-time information. The Fourth Industrial Revolution would further impact future tourism.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) for example could be applied to promote tourism.

Astronautic Technology Sdn Bhd (ATSB), an agency under the purview of Mosti, has developed their very own VR and AR technologies. Together with Tourism Malaysia they captured the sights and sounds of Maliau Basin, to stimulate a user’s physical presence in this popular conservation area in Sabah. Potential visitors could have a virtual experience of the site of interest before deciding on a visit.

Malaysia’s plastics and composites industry is another major contributor to the national GDP.

The national outlook for this sector is RM 190 billion in revenue and RM 100 billion in export by 2050, while the global outlook is USD 3 trillion with Asia dominating 50 per cent of the market share.

Plastics and composites would be utilised as part of advanced materials, advanced manufacturing technology, product development and for sustainable development, from conductive polymers, smart packaging, light weight structures to plastics photovoltaic cells as an alternative to two billion people lacking access to electricity.

The focus on plastics is timely as the World Economic Forum launched the report “The New Plastics Economy – Rethinking the future of plastics” at its Annual Meeting last January. It is a three-year initiative to create an effective after-use plastics economy, aiming to reduce leakage of plastics into the natural environment and detach plastics from fossil feedstock.

In recent weeks I visited two factories manufacturing plastics in Johor – Dragonpak and Heng Hiap Industries.

They are recipients of Commercialisation of Research & Development Fund (CRDF) from Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC).

The former applies an Oxo biodegradable polymer additive technology in its monthly production of 500 tonnes of biodegradable plastic bags, of which 400 tonnes are exported to 20 countries. The latter produces high plastic resins from plastic scraps. Each of these companies achieved or is achieving an annual turnover of RM 100 million.

Green technology implemented in the plastics industry would have to couple with a green disposal system, of which we have to look into, for a sustainable plastics economy.

However these recommendations would only be possible with agile governance. We should not be trapped by ineffective bureaucracies and traditional thinking; we need to deliberate strategically about the effects of disruption and innovation.

Talents in these five Mega Science 3.0 sectors for example, have to be developed to meet new demands when at the same time the Fourth Industrial Revolution displaces some workers with technology. At a time where resources are scarce, the three series of Mega Science studies serve as a valuable reference in our national R&D prioritization.

The Mega Science 4.0 study would commence early next year, and would be aligned with the Malaysia Foresight Initiative 2050. Malaysia should also take pride in its upcoming role in spearheading the Asean Technology Foresight Initiative.

I quote Louis Pasteur, “Fortune favours the prepared mind.”

Mosti’s role has extended beyond planning and implementing STI policies; our newly formed Technology Foresight Division is timely to help us prepare for the new wave of technological advances, which would also reshape our economic, social, cultural and human values.

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