Grab and NUS dish out SG$6m for joint AI lab in Singapore

Grab and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have tied up to launch an artificial intelligence (AI) laboratory, jointly investing SG$6 million. Anchored at the NUS Institute of Data Science, the Grab-NUS AI Lab will leverage data from the Grab platform to solve complex, real-world challenges in Southeast Asia.

It will map out traffic patterns and identify ways to directly impact mobility and liveability of cities across Southeast Asia. This is in a bid to transform urban transportation and pave the way for smarter cities in the region.

The new lab combines Grab's data with NUS' research expertise in the field of AI, and will be operated under the supervision of senior Grab research scientists and NUS faculty members. It will be home to 28 researchers working on various AI projects. They will create an AI platform for large-scale machine learning and visual analytics that can develop "novel applications" from Grab's broad data set.

The four areas that the Grab-NUS AI Lab will focus on are:

  • Passenger AI: The lab will gather insights to identify passengers' needs, intentions and preferences to better serve them with more personalised services;
  • Driver AI: Drivers will be matched to the jobs they prefer. The AI can also help improve driving safety and proficiency through better understanding of the driver's behaviour;
  • Traffic AI: The lab will be able to detect traffic events and anomalies in real-time and improve urban traffic flow;
  • Location AI: The precision and accuracy in mapping pick-up points and localising moving vehicles on the Grab app will be improved. This is to help passengers and drivers get from one destination to another with greater ease and efficiency.

The Grab-NUS AI Lab will initially focus on improving the efficiency and reliability of transportation on the Grab platform in Southeast Asian cities, but will expand to research on the larger challenges facing cities in the region. This includes congestion and liveability of cities.

During the media briefing, Ho Teck Hua, senior deputy president and provost of NUS, told Marketing that the ultimate benefit of the Grab-NUS AI Lab, is that passengers' needs will be satisfied. As such, this might strengthen loyalty for the Grab app and eventually lead to passengers using it more often.

"The brand has many benefits and one of it is making your life easier. That itself will [lead to] loyalty towards the company. That's the most powerful marketing a brand can have," Ho said.

Meanwhile in a statement to Marketing, Grab's spokesperson said the lab's insights and solutions will not be used in the marketing for Grab, as the goal of the lab is to develop smart solutions to transform urban transportation.

In April this year, Grab Malaysia partnered with the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) for the development of the Malaysia City Brain initiative in Kuala Lumpur, which will feature an MDEC-led smart city traffic management system. The system will leverage big data, AI and cloud computing to help the city better manage its urban transportation needs. When asked if the Grab-NUS AI Lab will be collaborating with MDEC, Grab's spokesperson said the company is always open to new possibilities.

Besides transforming urban transportation, the Grab-NUS AI Lab will also contribute to local AI talent development through the training of PhD students that will be enrolled at the university. Supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board, the PhD training programme will allow students to build the relevant skills, and apply them to real world challenges through the Grab platform.

Grab co-founder and group CEO Anthony Tan said data from the Grab platform can map out the traffic patterns and evolution in mobility in cities across Southeast Asia.

"For example, our data shows that travel time from Newton to Tanjong Pagar can be drastically improved today," Tan said. He added that if the route was better served by more shared transport solutions, such as buses, trains, GrabShuttle or GrabHitch, the travel time during peak hour can be reduced from 40 to 28 minutes.

NUS president professor Tan Eng Chye said the lab is a "great opportunity" for researchers and students to make a real-world impact through the university's research in data science and AI.

"Over time, we hope to build a healthy pipeline of well-trained and experienced data scientists and AI researchers for Singapore and beyond," Tan said.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)