02 January 2020 Department of Computer Science , Department of Information Systems & Analytics , Student

2 January 2020 – NUS Computing students Ryan Sim Wei Jie (Information Systems, Year 4) and Yogusvi Tewari (Computer Science, Year 3) took home one of the top prizes at the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) Lifesavers’ Innovation Challenge 2019, held from 30 August to 18 October 2019.

Their team, Project Heartbeat, which includes NUS Material Science Engineering student Wen Qiao and NTU Computer Science student Chao Shan Te, won 4th place and a S$1,000 cash prize.

The theme of this year’s challenge was: ‘Imagining Emergency Response in a Smart City’. Twenty teams competed to develop solutions addressing existing challenges faced by the SCDF.

Project Heartbeat proposed the use of a chatbot named ‘Ask 995’ to manage one of the challenges—an increasing number of non-emergency phone calls made by the public to SCDF’s operations center.

“In 2018, the force received more than 10,000 non-emergency calls, which hampered their ability to quickly and efficiently respond to life-threatening emergencies,” said Ryan.

The main aim of the chatbot was to redirect non-emergency questions from the public, allowing 995 hotline operators to focus on more urgent cases.

The team built a prototype that used artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect keywords indicating non-emergency cases, and programmed it to respond accordingly once it detects those keywords.

The keywords ‘taught’ to the chatbot were taken from the examples given in SCDF’s Emergency Medical Services tiered response framework.

For example, if a user were to tell ‘Ask 995’ that they had a cold, the chatbot would recognise the keyword and direct the user to the nearest doctor.

The creation of the prototype was challenging for the team as it was hard to find time to prepare between the members’ busy and often-conflicting schedules.

Nonetheless, the team said that the competition was a great learning experience for them.

“It enabled us to apply the knowledge that we receive in university to solve an actual, real life problem,” said Ryan.

During the competition, they also had the opportunity to interact with key SCDF staff, and were especially grateful for the help they received from Captain Teo Jian Hui and Lieutenant-Colonel Ong Yu Leong.

“They took time off their busy schedules to meet us and clarify with us any doubts we had, while giving us unique insight about day-to-day operations in the force. The information allowed us to go about developing a solution that could work for the SCDF,” Ryan added.