Space, transport tech among DOST’s top achievements in 2019

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The continuation of the country’s space program and rollout of new transportation solutions were some of the accomplishments of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in 2019, the agency said on Friday, Jan. 3.

File hoto shows DOST secretary Fortunato dela Pena (center) with ASTI director Joel Marciano (left) and PCIEERD director Eric Paringit during a press briefing called upon the signing of the law creating the Philippine Space Agency

The DOST noted that the country’s largest satellite-tracking antenna, called the Philippine Earth Data Resource and Observation (PEDRO), was launched last year.

The ground receiving station (GRS) in Davao is designed to communicate with earth observation satellites, including Filipino-made Diwata-1 and Diwata-2 microsatellites, by receiving, processing, and distributing space-borne imagery. It will also be utilized for agricultural monitoring, maritime surveillance and urban mapping.

In line with disaster risk reduction and mitigation, the DOST also launched four apps: the GeoMapper-Exposure Data Mapper, GeoMapper-Situation Data Mapper, Geo Analytics, and HazardHunter PH.

Developed under the GeoRiskPhilippines Initiative project of DOST, the apps show hazard maps and exposure data. Hazard Hunter, for instance, helps people to know if their location is at risk for volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and other hazards.

It was also in August 2019 that a bill creating the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) was signed into law. The PhilSA, however, was placed under the administrative supervision of the Office of the President (OP) and not as an attached unit of the DOST as originally intended.

In the field of transportation, the first locally-made hybrid-electric train (HET) was officially turned over to the Philippine National Railways (PNR). Made by Filipino engineers, HET is powered by batteries, and could run at a speed of about 50 kph and could accommodate 220 passengers.

DOST secretary Fortunato dela Peña earlier said Department of Transportation secretary Arthur Tugade has expressed interest to have more units of the DOST-made train.

A so-called USHER (Universal Structural Health Evaluation and Recording System) was also launched last year. “USHER was launched as a commercialized R&D (research and development) product for passive seismic monitoring of buildings and bridges,” dela Peña said.

Developed through research funding from the DOST, the equipment monitors the “health” of buildings to determine if these could withstand a strong earthquake.

The data or analysis from USHER is accessible through the cloud, enabling both the structural engineer and the building owner could access this anytime and anywhere. In case there is no Internet connection, data can also be retrieved from the equipment.

It was also in 2019 when the Philippines leaped by 19th notches to rank number 54th in the Global Innovation Index (GII) from its previous ranking of 73rd in 2018 and 2017.

GII is a ranking of world economies based on innovative capabilities and ranks seven pillars: institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure, business sophistication, market sophistication, knowledge and technology outputs, and creative outputs.

The country had high scores in all these pillars, except for market sophistication (credit investments), wherein the Philippines ranked 110th. Despite this, the Philippines performed above average in knowledge and technology outputs and ranked in the top 25 in the following areas: trade, competition and market scale, knowledge absorption, and knowledge diffusion.

“Technology adoption was promoted and accelerated (in 2019),” added dela Pena.

Dela Peña also noted the high number of Balik Scientists in 2019, and there were 53 of them who have been working with various universities. Most of them worked in the fields of health, agriculture, aquatic and marine, and energy and emerging technologies.

Balik Scientists are science and technology experts residing abroad who are contracted to return to the Philippines to work and use their expertise at home.

In the field of healthcare, Dela Peña noted the Biotek-M dengue diagnostic kit qualified for Asean market penetration with the help of the Asean Network for Diagnostics.

Funded by the DOST and developed in partnership with the University of the Philippines-Manila, this kit was developed for early detection and management of dengue. It has the power of DNA/RNA-based accurate detection of the dengue virus and can be used in health centers and hospitals.

Dela Peña said the kit is already sold by a spin-off company.

In 2019, Phase 1 of the clinical trials for an anti-dengue herbal medicine obtained from three herbs “showed very promising results”, according to Dela Peña. “We move to Phase 2 clinical trials now. If this will give positive results, it can be applied at our FDA (Food and Drug Administration) as the first anti-dengue medicine,” he added. — with Ma. Cristina Arayata (PNA)

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