What happens when Business and STEM students team up to tackle challenges in the maritime industry?

This August, 129 participants of the inaugural Maritime Singapore Connect (MSC) Maritime Digital Challenge tackled real-world maritime challenges through innovative digital solutions.

The result? More than 12 disruptive technological ideas that utilise data and technology such as virtual reality (VR) and gamification to break the boundaries of sustainability, digitalisation, and transformation within the maritime sector.

The participating students hail from Singapore’s universities and polytechnics not just in maritime disciplines, but across a diverse range of fields including game development, engineering, computing, and business.

The three winning teams are The Penta Crew and Chocolate Whales from Nanyang Polytechnic, and Team Klaver from Singapore Management University. We speak with them to learn more about their innovative prototypes and what working in diverse teams was like.

1. The first thing we noticed were your interesting group names. Could you share more about how your teams came about and more on your prototypes?

The Penta Crew: Our lecturers and course managers contacted us to participate in this challenge — either as part of our final year projects, or internships. Some of us were invited as the school thought we would be a good fit for this challenge. We were then introduced to our schoolmates from the School of Design that bring with them coding and designing skills. The rest is history!

Team Klaver: One of our team members first expressed interest in his freshman year and contacted the SMU Maritime Merchants Society. We had friends studying Information Systems and decided to form a group. The Information Systems students run the tech side of things while the rest of us handled the business aspects.

Chocolate Whales: We were selected and brought together by our lecturer to participate in this challenge as part of our final year project. Our group name is a combination of the food we were craving at the time and our favourite aquatic mammal! Although it was quite random, the name stuck.

Team Klaver from Singapore Management University delivering their presentation in front of the judges

2. Could you tell us more about your prototypes?

The Penta Crew: We’re big advocates of the notion that learning can be fun, so we wanted our prototype to prove that. Our application, Eventure, is a role-playing adventure game that incorporates digital learning into existing maritime staff training curriculum. It charts the progression of staff through the game-world in the form of a ship. Training modules appear as islands and staff must conquer the islands to obtain cargo boxes. These are rewards that can then be used to customise their virtual ships.

The Penta Crew’s mobile app, Eventure

Team Klaver: Our initial research uncovered a growing interest in sustainability within maritime. We decided to come up with a holistic solution that addresses scalability, fault tolerance, security, and maintainability issues. The Klaver app has an intuitive user interface that has a multitude of features, including the management of crew information as well asthe creation and sharing of digital administration forms.

Team Klaver’s mobile app, Klaver

Chocolate Whales: Our virtual reality (VR) training system, Maritime Extended Reality Training System (MERTS), allows seafarers to virtually conduct procedures on board LNG ships. It simulates hazardous events where players must complete their tasks in a safe and timely manner. Game models can be quickly made, reused, scaled, and customised according to the players’ skills. In addition to enabling cross-continental play through virtual rooms, this also removes the need for outdated machinery. The system is also particularly helpful at a time when it can be difficult to conduct physical training.

Chocolate Whales’ VR training system, Maritime Extended Reality Training System (MERTS)

3. How did you choose the challenge statement, and what about the maritime industry inspired you to join the challenge?

The Penta Crew: We’ve always found Singapore’s maritime journey to be very impressive. Our perfect geographic location enabled us to grow quickly, not just economically, but also talent-wise. We felt it was important that professionals within the industry remain up to date on skills that will take us even further into the future.

Team Klaver: Passing 13-page documents around the dock or on ships is going to get them wet! Since technology is a rising trend in the maritime industry, we wanted to come up with an app to ease information storage and data entry. We understand the older generation may be more resistant to change. That’s why we wanted to showcase the benefits and ideology of technology improving day-day processes – to highlight that the digitalisation of forms is a step in the right direction.

Chocolate Whales: Our background research revealed that seafarers only have training once every one to two years at overseas academies. This inspired us to come up with a scalable, adaptable and cost-effective solution that leveraged virtual reality.

4. Would you say your different backgrounds and knowledge was an advantage in coming up with such interesting and innovative solutions?

The Penta Crew: The cross-disciplinary learning was eye-opening. The Business students got to learn about the technicalities of design and visuals, while the Design students learnt about the business world. The practical experience gleaned while working on the app was a major plus point. Team Klaver: Definitely! We found common ground in technology and cultivated a great team dynamic which saw us exchange knowledge and different point-of-views throughout the challenge. We learned a lot from each other. This was very motivating and contributed a lot to our success.

Chocolate Whales: We were able to complement each other’s strengths as a cross-disciplinary team. Two of us from Game Development & Technology worked to program the VR, while those from Game Art & Design focused on creating the models. Our teammate from Business Management focused on the research aspect, which was extremely useful in filling our knowledge gaps to better develop the product.

5. Seeing as this challenge involves seeing your idea through from planning to execution, were there any new skills you had to pick up as a team?

The Penta Crew: As we’re all from different faculties, there was a lot of cross-learning to do as we went along the different stages of planning. We each took charge of our areas of expertise. Our app design is in an art style that was new to us, so that was something we had to learn, too.

Team Klaver: Brandon and Caleb both specialised in different areas of tech in polytechnic, so Brandon supported the application development while Caleb was confident in handling the launch of the app. But the challenge wasn’t just about the prototypes – we also had to present our idea well and impress the judges. Despite the rest of us not having a strong tech background, the business students’ research and presentation skills were second to none, and there was a lot the IT students could learn from them.

Chocolate Whales: Our mentors from NYP and the participating organisations were extremely helpful in advising us about the direction to take as there are many aspects of the maritime industry which we are unfamiliar with. We also picked up skills and knowledge on engineering. We are more confident about VR simulations now and hope to see more applications of similar technologies in the maritime industry in the near future!

The Penta Crew from Nanyang Polytechnic delivering their presentation in front of the judges

Chocolate Whales from Nanyang Polytechnic delivering their presentation in front of the judging panel

6. How has this project impacted your views and opinions on the maritime industry?

The Penta Crew: This challenge allowed us to realise the benefits of cross-disciple collaboration and how we can all learn from each other. It was enlightening to see how the different aspects of business and technology take shape in the maritime. In fact, Germaine, who is from Business Management, is seriously considering the maritime industry supply chain as a potential workplace.

Team Klaver: The maritime industry is not one we often associate with digitalisation. Its contribution to Singapore’s economy is often overlooked, so it was certainly inspiring to see how far maritime has come, and how far it has to go! Amongst us, Gabrielle, who is a Business Management student, is extremely keen on building a career in maritime. Her grandfather used to be a ship captain, and her father currently works in the industry. Coming from two generations of maritime professionals, she feels a calling to the sea, and cannot wait to join.

Chocolate Whales: We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the maritime industry has started to adopt technologies such as VR to improve efficiency. It’s heartening to now know that our skills can be applied even as non-maritime students and/or professionals – and are, in fact, very valued by the industry.

7. Lastly, what are some key takeaways from the challenge that you would like to share with the future potential MMDC participants?

The Penta Crew: Communication is important, not only within the team but also with the maritime company. It helped us realise that in our future jobs, , we will often be working in cross-functional teams to produce the best results.

Team Klaver: The maritime industry is very interconnected. A high level of collaboration and communication amongst various stakeholders is critical to ensure a smooth and safe voyage. It’s important to have a thorough understanding on the role that each stakeholder plays so that their needs are catered to.

Chocolate Whales: Having common goals and open communication will help a team tide through rough waters. We greatly enjoyed the opportunity to work with real clients and we’re glad that this helped us be equipped with future-ready skills as we enter the workforce. We also learnt that even though we didn’t know much about the industry to start with, as long as we had the right attitude, and we were willing to learn, we could achieve good results. We’re certain that those who venture into maritime won’t find themselves short of opportunities.

Singapore’s maritime industry has come a long way since settlers and traders breathed life into our little port almost 700 years ago. Today, as the second busiest port in the world, we continue to thrive and adapt to the tides of change by keeping technology and collaboration at the helm of our transformation voyage.

With the next generation of talent steering the way, there are still many new skills and technologies to learn and adopt. We are always on the lookout for fresh faces from all industries and fields of study to be part of our amazing growth journey.

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