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New York — Malaysia today became a founding partner in the Global STEM Alliance, a new high-tech multi-million dollar initiative dedicated to promoting young talent in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) around the world.

Led by the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak participated in the launch at UN Headquarters Monday Sept. 22.

With the goal of developing over 1,000,000 aspiring STEM leaders in more than 100 countries by 2020, the initiative will create a host of learning opportunities, including student connections and networking online with senior international mentors — the many NYAS member Nobel laureates among them.

The Alliance is a collaboration of over 70 governments, companies, NGOs, universities and schools with participants and organizations in over 50 countries. Founding nations and regions of the Global STEM Alliance are the USA, Malaysia, Rwanda, Benin, Bhutan, Barcelona and New York State.

Says the Prime Minister: “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are at the heart of modern life and provide the foundations for economic prosperity. The purpose of driving STEM education is not only to create economic opportunity for individuals; it’s to provide the fuel needed to power a science and technology driven economy.”

Other world leaders participating in the New York launch included President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Yayi Boni of Benin, United States Under-Secretary of State Catherine Novelli, and representatives from UNESCO and the UN’s International Telecommunication Union.

Climate change, food, water and energy shortages, epidemics and the explosive growth of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are among the demands that need to be met by an innovative, STEM-educated workforce.

Yet in emerging economy nations, where innovation is needed the most, there are far too few work-ready STEM professionals.

The Alliance will focus on three strategies: intergenerational mentoring, building foundational skills and building a global network of STEM innovators.

It will create:

  • a global resource for the best available STEM teaching and learning materials
  • enhanced, customized STEM education programs designed to foster youth interests
  • a global mentoring and networking medium for top scientists and STEM students,
  • a connection between STEM leaders worldwide and local STEM programs

The Alliance’s first major initiative: The Junior Academy, a virtual learning and research platform to inspire and prepare gifted students around the world. The platform will include novel talent identification mechanisms, course work and authentic virtual research experiences, access to mentors, and a virtual writing center—tools that are especially valuable in developing, rural or impoverished urban areas, where qualified STEM instructors can be scarce.

CISCO Systems is a partner in the Alliance, creating the online networking and communications platforms enabling online courses, participation in Academy conferences, workshops, seminars, and other activities via laptops or smartphones, providing access to the best STEM learning resources via any web-enabled device, and virtual partnerships leading to inter-generational global projects.

At the UN launch ceremony, Prime Minister Najib’s wife, HE Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansor, was recognized with a STEM Hero Award. Additional Malaysian participants in the program included Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan, Advisor, PERMATA Pintar Programme, Universiti Kebangsaan, as a global implementation expert.

Says Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to the Malaysian Prime Minister and co-chair of Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT): “Countries will either have creative, educated young citizens who can out-innovate global competitors such as China and India or they will lag far behind in the world economy. Our generation has to invest in and develop STEM education and talent to the limits of our ability, to find a way to get and keep kids interested — to make STEM fields as fun as football fields. I believe the Global STEM Alliance contributes a big piece in the solution to this puzzle.”

Among sectors of the world economy expected to add the greatest number of high-paying but STEM education pre-requisite jobs: advanced manufacturing, automotive, construction, financial services, geospatial technology, security, information technology, transportation, aerospace, biotechnology, energy, healthcare, hospitality and retail.

Original release:

Henry Sapiecha

Airwriting the screen shows the tracking of Christoph Amma's hand gestures, captured by the wristband image

Airwriting: the screen shows the tracking of Christoph Amma’s hand gestures, captured by the wristband. Photo: Markus Breig, KIT

The days of reaching for a notepad, phone or tablet in the middle of the night to scrawl down a note to yourself might soon be over thanks to a system that translates what you write in the air into editable text.

Called Airwriting, it was developed at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and puts sensors that ‘read’ handwriting gestures into a wearable wristband.

“We envision it being a perfect complement for speech and gesture recognition in future wearable computer systems,” said lead developer Christoph Amma, of KIT’s Cognitive Systems Lab.

It works using similar technology already in smartphones such as acceleration sensors and gyroscopes. They plot an accurate and changing picture of where your hand is in space and report back to a database that contains a vocabulary.

Previous approaches to arrive at editable text used single gesture recognition, but Airwriting stores a statistical model of the characteristic signal pattern for every letter of the alphabet. The system promises a person-independent word error rate of 11 per cent and a person-dependent rate (where it learns your particular writing style) of only 3 per cent.

Originally encased in a glove, Airwriting was the recipient of a Google Faculty Research Award worth US$81,000 in early 2013. The technology has since been reduced in size and now fits into a single wristband, positioning it comfortably into the burgeoning wearables sector.

Currently the system processes movements at approximately .83 seconds per character, but faster processing and smaller devices promise performance gains, the researchers said.

It’s conceivable Airwriting could be packed into a smart watch or ring, the vocabulary greatly expanded by accessing machine learning technologies that access and process language remotely, in the cloud.

If successful, Airwriting could be jumping on what’s shaping up to be a very lucrative gravy train in which global names have invested heavily.

Samsung took an early lead with its Gear line of smart watches which connect to an Android smartphone, while Google has had some success in working with developers to come up with applications for its wearable specs, Google Glass.

Apple is widely expected to be launching the so-called ‘iWatch’ – a wearable device many think will be the company’s first challenge to Gear, Google Glass and fitness bands like Jawbone and Fit.

Deloitte predicts 10 million wearable devices will be sold this year, while Juniper Research predicts the industry will be worth $19 billion by 2018.

A system to write in the air was suggested back in 2013, when a paper presented to an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference by the South China University of Technology proposed a system based on Microsoft’s gesture control camera system Kinect.

But Airwriting needs no external sensor, and Amma says the system also circumvents the problems that can affect speech input.

“It’s unaffected by environment noise and bystanders aren’t distracted – nor can they eavesdrop on what was said.”

Airwriting gained interest at CeBIT Germany 2014 and Amma said his team was talking with several companies from different sectors about further research and applications.

Henry Sapiecha