Pandemic silver lining as HK digital progress rockets by a decade

Top News | Wallis Wang 25 Jan 2021

The pandemic has fast-forwarded the progress of digitization in Hong Kong by a decade, but long-term investment is needed to support innovation, experts say.

Peter Mok Wai-hin, head of Strategic Partnership at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp, said on radio yesterday that with the pandemic advancing digitization, Hong Kong would be able to seize the chance for information technology development.

"The pandemic is a problem that the whole world is facing, but it has pushed digitization forward eight to 10 years," Mok said.

"It raises an important question of whether we can seize such a big opportunity."

Hong Kong ranked 11th in a global innovation ranking last year, moving up two places from 2019. The city ranked third in the Asia-Pacific region after Singapore and South Korea.

There are now nine start-ups valued at more than US$1 billion (HK$7.8 billion) each in Hong Kong, Mok said.

One of the nine, Lalamove, which provides order delivery services by connecting users with delivery drivers, has seen its market capitalization surpass major airlines.

"The business model in Hong Kong has shifted from heavy-asset business with intensive manpower and capital to light-asset business equipped with technology and innovation," Mok said.

Commissioner for Innovation and Technology Rebecca Pun Ting-ting said the government hopes it can help people cope with the pandemic through new technologies.

Pun said the first innovation the commission created when the pandemic broke out last year was the electronic wristbands.

"There were more than 100 research projects used in the electronic wristbands and that's why we were able to launch the wristbands within such a short period," Pun said.

She also said the "CuMask" - a reusable face mask that the government distributed to Hongkongers for free - "was actually invented by the [Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel] in 2017, [but] we improved on it quickly to cope with the pandemic."

Pun said the two examples show that science and technology development requires long-term investment and that Hong Kong researchers are capable of making great inventions.

"Doing research is not like cooking instant noodles or simply pressing a button and getting the results. It requires years of hard work," she said.

Pun said the commission's recent project, the LeaveHomeSafe app, is very convenient and can protect the safety of Hongkongers.

Meanwhile, an Institute of Vocational Education graduate has developed a virtual reality game allowing elderly home residents to keep fit during the pandemic.

The "SilverMove" virtual reality system "makes the exercise process like a virtual reality game through real-time 3D virtual images and the internet of things technology and lets the elderly and patients have fun in the rehabilitation exercise," said Terence Tsang Chun-hung, head of Motive Force Technology.

Elderly home staff would only need to install a light sensor on existing sports facilities, like bicycle machines, rowing machines or treadmills, and connect a computer to them.

The sensors detect users' exercising speeds and update the game screen, letting users immerse themselves in the virtual world. Tsang said the VR system has become more popular.

"During the epidemic, more education, social welfare institutions and rehabilitation centers have contacted us, asking about the function and application of the VR system," Tsang said.

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