reflections on computer vision and applications for COVID-19: Dr. Jing Xuan

Between juggling his duties at Computer Vision in Corplab NCS and facing sudden upheaval in the world due to the pandemic, it has been a busy year for Dr. Jing Xuan. When he took over the helm as research and development lead in Computer Vision in Corplab NCS, he assumed responsibility for strategy and execution of research projects in Singtel Cognitive, and the Artificial Intelligence Lab for Enterprises (SCALE) at NTU.

For Dr. Jing Xuan, there has been an incredible impetus to fighting the pandemic and in leading the team, he offers technical advice, research guidance, and innovation toward the development of computer vision capabilities - to meet research and product roadmap objectives. The impact caused by current events is not to be underestimated, with every objective under scrutiny - magnified by a fear of sudden viral outbreaks - of which his research is directly attempting to curb.

An experienced researcher in areas of computer vision and machine learning, he holds a Ph.D. in Image and Video Processing from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and an MSc in Business Analytics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). Before joining NCS, he was a Data Scientist and Co-PI in Health Services Research Centre, SingHealth, and Research Scientist at Institute for Infocomm Research, A*STAR. 

In the interview with Dr. Jing Xuan, he states that using science and technology to combat global threats like pandemics is just the beginning, with various applications currently being researched and evaluated.

Has the global pandemic changed any facet of your role at work?

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an urgent call to contribute to the fight against an invisible opponent and an immense threat to the human population. In response, all computer vision researchers have concentrated their efforts and knowledge to devise innovative methods in countering the threat. I am very cognisant of the fact that we are under pressure to not sit on our laurels, and persist in forming new judgments and theories on the research we perform - so we curb not only the spread but create new methods to stem further crises.

Tell us the basics of the research you perform.

There is increasing availability of images and videos, which provide swift and useful insights. The efficient automation of this specific analysis is a critical factor in our research, and herein lies the essential nature of computer vision and image/video processing. Certainly, there are current processes and protocols that have worked for us in the past, however, the pandemic has forced us to consider, and even push forward with radical new alternatives – keeping one step ahead of potential crises that may erupt at any moment.

Give us some examples of use cases you have worked on which have directly impacted or facilitated the control of COVID-19.

We have seen and explored additional use cases, such as cough and sneeze detection, and safe distance monitoring - of which we developed the supporting algorithm. We have also recently deployed a prototype robot to perform testing, which detects cough and sneeze behaviour. Currently, we are studying and researching computer vision for augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR). Imagine joining an online meeting and appearing in front of everyone in virtual form, whilst seeing and hearing others in the meeting as if they were there – which certainly benefits the current work from home situation.

How did you get started in this career?

When I was younger the world had just got started in digital technology, and I was keenly interested in the specifics of imaging and computing technology – how they relate to each other and interact to provide improvements in society. I also had a solid base in electrical and electronic engineering, and this seemed like a natural progression to me. Most of my paths have been chosen by how the world has progressed and shaped itself. 

What are your career aspirations in the long term?

I have been interested in research and how it relates to improving society since young. Hopefully I get to carry on doing this for life, particularly in the analysis of human behaviour – I believe this to have great bearing on evolving cultures and society. Recently, I have been involved in augmented and virtual reality use cases, so it is all very dynamic, and this will continue for the foreseeable future. My entire career revolves around innovation and how solutions are created for the betterment of society. Technology will most certainly evolve through time and I’ll keep up alongside it.

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