Thanks to his mum, GovTech’s leading developer Lau Lee Hong had his first taste in creating a programme from scratch at a tender age.
While people of his age were struggling with school subjects at that time, he was already programming a robotic car.
According to Lee Hong, his first experience with tech was back in primary school when his mum signed him up for a robotics course during the holidays.
Through the course, he learnt how to program a robotic car to follow a black line using some block-based computer program.
His fascination with bringing objects to life led him to want to explore programming.
After completing his GCE ‘O’ levels, he went on to Singapore Polytechnic to major in Aerospace Electronics — this was when he was first introduced to micro-controller programming.
It was sort of like experiencing magic in front of your own eyes. My interest was piqued, and I decided to pursue further education to learn more about programming, in particular, the programming of physical devices.
The 27-year-old went on to study Electrical Engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Management Science & Engineering (under the NUS Overseas Colleges Scholarship) at Stanford University.
In university, Lee Hong scored a one-year internship at San Francisco’s Silicon Valley.
He honed his craft at PalleTech, a Cambridge-based Internet of Things (IoT) logistics company that develops advanced pallets for the manufacturing and transportation industries.
I was introduced to PalleTech by Ravi Belani who lectures at Stanford University, who is also the Managing Director at the Alchemist Accelerator.
We had known each other from the European Innovation Academy, where I participated in the Summer of 2015 to learn the ropes of entrepreneurship.
Alchemist Accelerator is a premier B2B startup accelerator and during that time, PalleTech was in their accelerator programme.
Lee Hong worked on embedded development for the PalleTech plank as well as Android development.
The most notable achievement for him was to turn a cheap Android phone into an IoT gateway, and forward the data from the planks to the Android phone and to the cloud.
That means when the smart pallets are in the back of the transportation truck, the truck driver simply needs to plug the cheap Android phone to his vehicle’s cigarette socket and it will automatically forward the data of goods he is transporting in real-time.
The Android app also gives a warning to the driver whenever a threshold is about to be exceeded so he could rectify the cargo before the food perishes (there is a time window before food is considered spoilt, such as by overheating).
He went on to earn more credentials under his belt with a three-month internship at Dyson Singapore in May 2017.
After his internship, he stayed on at Dyson to assume the role of Robotics Software Engineer. In this role, he worked on the application software of the Dyson 360 Heurist robot vacuum cleaner, which sees rivals from iRobot and the previous Dyson 360 Eye.
He was tasked to work on the behavioural software of the cleaner. It was no mean feat, and as the work had been ongoing for a few years, he had to get up to speed fast.
At Dyson, one of the key things he learnt is to always clarify any doubts. It has proven to be more detrimental to keep it to yourself and end up like a headless chicken running around, said Lau.
“If you are in doubt, ask!” he exclaimed.
Today, Lee Hong works at the Sensors and IoT Capability Centre in GovTech, helping to drive Singapore’s Smart Nation Initiative by tackling multi-scale societal problems using technology.
He also helps various government agencies come up with technologies solutions to issues they face.
In addition, Lee Hong is also one of the founding members of the Embedded Systems team, which has since grown into a team of six today.
Currently, he leads the software development of the MANUCA platform.
MANUCA is a software platform for use across multiple government IoT projects. This is to reduce the re-designing of software for every new government IoT project.
Think of it like a pizza dough. When you start a new government IoT project, you use the pizza dough, and add your own topping (customising to your specific use case).
The most recently deployed solution using the MANUCA platform is at Bukit Gombak Stadium.
Lee Hong and team developed a cluster of ‘smart’ lampposts that help with understanding crowd density at different times of the day. This data is then used to optimise the stadium’s ground operations.
The smart lighting system on the lamp post is designed to replace the use of stadium flood lights in the early hours of the morning.
With their solution, they helped to lower the operating cost with reduced power consumption, as well as minimise light pollution. Previously, residents living near the stadium had to contend with the stadium’s bright flood lights.
When Lee Hong is not busy working on the next project, he is sussing out the next adventure or learning a new recipe.
I think I’m a dare-devil. I’m never afraid of trying something new, even if it means breaking existing code or jumping into a Cenote in Mexico.
He also describes himself as a “foodie” — he loves trying out new eateries, and often cooks and experiments with new dishes.
Looking back at his journey as a developer, what sort of advice would he give his young self?
“Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. In fact, you should aim to get them dirty. That’s the best way to learn,” he quipped.
Featured Image Credit: Lau Lee Hong / GovTech