Seeking Technologies for Automated Inspection and Detection of Irregularities in Niches

Background / Description

The Open Innovation Platform (OIP), an initiative by the Info-Communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA), aims to connect real business challenges to problem solvers. 



The National Environment Agency (NEA) is the leading public organisation responsible for ensuring a clean and green environment, and the sustainable development of Singapore. Its key roles are to protect Singapore from pollution, maintain a high level of public health and provide timely meteorological information.

NEA is the leading planning agency for the after-death services and facilities, managing government-owned cemeteries, crematoria, and columbaria. In the funerary industry, NEA’s key customer segments are the bereaved families, claimants and families, general public, funeral directors, and monument and marble contractors.

NEA manages 3 government columbaria namely Mandai, Choa Chu Kang and Yishun. Currently about 170,000 out of 300,000 standard and family niches are occupied. In addition, about 1,000 niches are sold or allocated monthly. A niche could be sold for the placement of cremated remains of a recently deceased, or for deceased persons who have been exhumed or are part of a niche relocation programme. There is no restriction on the number of urns allowed in each niche. The niche interment process comprises the urn placement and the installation of a marble plaque with inscriptions and porcelain photo of the deceased. There is a niche identification number placed below each plaque.

Currently, the inspections of the niches are carried out manually. Existing inspections are tedious and manpower- and time- intensive. Firstly, there are some differences between the official records and the actual inscriptions on the niche plaques, i.e. (1) Official records of inscriptions are in English, while the inscriptions on the niches are often in Chinese; (2) Official records of birth and death dates of the deceased might be Gregorian calendar dates while the dates on the inscriptions are based on the Lunar calendar. In addition to the above difficulties, the database is dynamic and may change with the addition of new urn placements or official transfers of urns to other columbaria. In order to detect irregularities soon after they occur, staff would need to inspect very regularly, which is not feasible given the high quantity of niches (300,000 in total over 4 columbaria). CCTV cannot be installed at the niche rooms due to the privacy of the visitors.


Problem Statement

How might we enhance niche inspection and detection of irregularities to improve productivity in a non-intrusive and sensitive manner to the next of kin?

Technical Specifications

What Are We Looking For

A prototype solution that has the ability to detect and send an alert about unauthorised activity or irregularity, prioritising the following:

  • Wrong occupancy detection: An urn may be placed wrongly in a niche by contractors
  • Damage detection, e.g. soot from the burning of joss sticks and candles within the niche room may cause damage to the surrounding niche plaques, vandalism
  • Unauthorised removal of urn
  • New/transferred niche is installed in the wrong location and/or with the wrong inscription

Other considerations:

  • The task needs to be done at night when visitors are not in the columbaria
  • There is currently no digital record of the columbarium grounds. For the purpose of developing the prototype, digital records of a sample area would have to be created
  • Existing digital record of the deceased only contain the name of the deceased in English


Possible Use Case

  • Common areas of the columbarium are equipped with digital imaging technologies to detect and alert NEA officers of any cases of unauthorised activities and irregularities to property and assets
  • The solution executes the daily ‘scan’ for irregularities and update the digital database automatically at night
  • NEA officers will then assess and confirm those irregularities that would need a next course of action and follow up accordingly
  • Next of kin are timely updated


What's In It For You

  • SGD 50,000 of prize money for each winner of this challenge (see Award Model)
  • Winner will be able to use NEA as a reference customer for business promotion
  • Solution could also be adapted for other applications where a large surface needs to be visually inspected and compared against a database for anomalies



We are open to global and Singapore-based individuals, research providers and companies that have digital technology expertise and innovation capabilities. Some of these include Info-Comm and Media (ICM) start-ups, SMEs and larger companies. Problem Solvers should have the ability and desire to co-create and innovate with Problem Owners or/and other partners to translate their ideas into solutions that can address real business needs. 

Problem solvers who choose to apply for this challenge must be registered and operating in Singapore. The prototype needs to be demonstrated in Singapore.


Further Details

Technical details of the problem statements as well as information related to the innovation calls can be found on the IMDA Open Innovation Platform (OIP) which you will be redirected to after clicking on the 'Proceed To Details' button below and filling up a short form with your basic information.

Preferred Business Model

  • R&D Collaboration
  • Business Collaboration (Joint Venture, Distribution)

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