The Singapore-ETH Centre was established in 2010 by ETH Zurich — a leading science and technology university in Zurich — and Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF). It is the institute’s only research center outside of Switzerland and aims to develop practical solutions to urban sustainability challenges in Singapore and its surrounding regions.
There are multiple ongoing projects at the Singapore-ETH Centre, which mostly involve urban research. Four SIT-DigiPen (Singapore) students, Hilal Fitri, Muhammad Salihin, Felix Foo, and Isaac Lu, had the opportunity to intern there and work on various projects earlier this year. Hilal is from the BS in Computer Science and Game Design program while Salihin, Felix, and Isaac are from the BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation program. During their internship, all four students worked on projects under the Singapore-ETH Centre’s Future Cities Laboratory (FCL). The FCL is the center’s first research program that aims to combine science and design for a more sustainable urban future.
“We engaged the DigiPen (Singapore) interns as we needed software engineers with good knowledge of real-time 3D systems to build our research data visualization tools,” explains Michael Joos, the interns’ supervisor and a project leader at FCL. Michael also had prior experience with DigiPen (Singapore) interns from his former workplace and was confident the students would be well prepared to handle the tasks they were given.
Each of the interns was assigned a different task. Hilal initially worked on a virtual reality (VR) project that involved a behavioral experience where participants had to navigate a virtual building. Hilal worked on improving all the necessary elements of the VR experiment, from user interaction and designing instructions to data collection. He worked mainly on virtual reality technology and crowd simulation. Besides just using the existing software, Hilal also improved it by developing an in-house application that allowed the team to directly import their working files into Unity. Being involved in the VR project also gave Hilal the chance to work with a wide array of VR technologies, such as the OMNI treadmill, FOVE, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive. The experience left such a big impression on Hilal that he eventually decided to get his own personal VR device.
Isaac and Felix worked in FCL’s visualization team called CIVAL. CIVAL functions as the in-house software development team that cuts across all areas of research. There, the students were tasked with experimenting and implementing various solutions to some of the technical problems faced by the team. Though both students mainly worked with Unity, they were challenged to explore new ways of using Unity for non-gaming applications, such as visualizing and simulating large amounts of research data.
As for Salihin, he worked on ur-scape, a visual and interactive planning support tool that integrates data to support the planning and designing of more sustainable and resilient cities and regions. Salihin used Unity and the C# programming language to implement new features and enhance the stability and performance of ur-scape. Pilot implementation of this project was conducted at a few Indonesian cities, and Salihin is glad to have been part of something that could positively impact the lives of people.
Though the students had to work outside of their comfort zones, they all rose to the challenge and managed to effectively apply their skills to perform their given tasks. “DigiPen (Singapore) focuses a lot on equipping students with solid foundations and understanding of the craft. The problem-solving skills and good coding practices that we were taught has helped greatly in enabling us to come up with efficient solutions to tackle any difficulties at work,” Isaac says.
Hilal credits the many modules that dealt with data manipulation throughout his years as a student for teaching him to read and write data efficiently. “During game project classes, we had to make game engines that could handle a myriad of data like positions, textures, components, and scripts. But at CIVAL, I have to deal with tens of thousands of objects and data sets while still ensuring that the visualizations run smoothly,” Hilal says. “Applying the same dos and don’ts of data manipulation has thus helped me greatly in my current work.”
Technical skills aside, Salihin adds that being part of a multidisciplinary team during game projects was also a good avenue to learn how to communicate better with those from a different background. “We had programmers, designers, and artists in a single team and learned to present our thoughts and ideas across in a succinct manner that everyone would be able to understand,” he says.
The tenacity and positive attitude of the students did not go unnoticed and are traits that their supervisors greatly appreciate. “The DigiPen (Singapore) interns were all quick learners with inquisitive minds. When faced with a problem, they will try to find multiple solutions and evaluate which one is best before implementing it,” Michael says. “They also generally have great foundational knowledge about their craft and are curious to learn new technologies even if they fall outside their experience domain. We would absolutely be keen to work with more DigiPen (Singapore) interns or graduates in the future.”
After their internships ended, Hilal and Salihin both graduated and converted to full-time staff at the Singapore-ETH Centre. Today, working as junior research assistants, they continue to work on their respective projects. Isaac, who also recently graduated and was working there part-time while completing his studies, is planning to convert to full-time this September. All three graduates cite the collaborative office culture, encouraging mentors, and interesting and meaningful work as key reasons for them to stay on.