Playground for the imagination

The innovation garages in NTU are simmering with creative inventions. Derek Rodriguez finds out what’s cooking

Projects like Lim Zhi Yu's "clothes-collecting copter" aim to improve hall life.

“If you want a Nobel Prize, play on.”

So said Sir Harold Kroto, whose teacher once complained he played too much.

He went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 and champions the importance of letting students follow their hearts and imagination. And this is what the innovation garages in NTU are all about.

In the last few years, the three innovation garages on campus have been churning out progressive inventions, like Singapore’s first 3D-printed car, which rolled out of the garage at the School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering.

Home improvement

Over at the interlinked Crescent and Pioneer Halls – NTU’s newest dorms – big ideas are brewing at their garage space.

Lim Zhi Yu, a final-year Aerospace Engineering student, noticed a common issue – clothes put out to dry would land on ledges below their windows, making them difficult to retrieve.

With help from PhD students Edwin Ang, Edgar Tan and Er Jie Kai, Zhi Yu and his team are working on their “clothes-collecting copter”, an ultra-manoeuvrable quadcopter that will be able to pick up clothes from hard-to-reach places.

Medical students Joel Lim, Adam Mohamed Naveeth and Sunil Ravinder Gill have joined forces with chemistry undergrad Natalie Tay for their “FloraWall” project. Together with their mentor, fellow hall resident Hong Kah Jun, a PhD engineering student, they are eager to use their knowledge to beautify the concrete façade of the hall, and to eventually take their “home project” outside the campus.

Though still in the birthing stage, they have lofty ambitions for their self-watering, self-maintaining vertical garden system. “Plans for a smaller prototype are in the pipeline,” says second-year medicine student Joel. “If this is successful, we will move on to do a 12-by-12 panel pocket garden on one of the hall’s walls.”

Sophisticated tools such as 3D printers are available for students to use.

Enter the entrepreneurs

Assoc Prof Andy Khong, the man driving the innovation garage in the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, says: “The garages encourage creativity in students. Many students think that hands-on innovation is only useful to those who want to start their own companies, but corporations value employees with such experience.”

Entrepreneurship is another attribute that is fostered in the garages. FOMO Digital (below) is a start-up that owes much of its early success to the innovation garage in the school.

Says founder Louis Liu: “We had a winning idea – a social media photo printer designed for events that allows anyone to print Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WeChat or WhatsApp photos instantly.”

“But we didn’t have somewhere to work on it. We used to gather in the TV lounges of Hall 3 or Hall 18, which wasn’t the most conducive, because people would be constantly walking in and out. With the innovation garage, we had a proper workspace.”

“Our professors, like Prof Yoon Soon Fatt, Assoc Prof Lim Meng Hiot and Assoc Prof Andy Khong, also helped by sharing their expertise and their business contacts with us,” adds Louis.


To clinch a coveted space in the innovation garages, students submit a proposal and present it to a panel of judges. If their idea is judged to have potential, they will get to use the resources in the garages, and also get funding for their projects.

NTU alumnus Sunny Sharma is convinced the innovation garages will become thriving hubs for ground-breaking innovation. One of the first to use the one at his school, he created a device for diabetic patients who are afraid of needles to monitor their blood glucose levels without pricking themselves.

“The garage will always have a soft spot in my heart,” he says. “The funding enabled me to develop a prototype for preclinical studies. Usually, it is extremely difficult to get funding, especially for something that involves hardware and medical technologies.” His device is now being prepped for clinical trials. Sunny hopes it will be able to hit the market soon, so it can benefit diabetic patients like his father.