Drones: Flying Robots Set to Soar in Singapore

(Amelia Pang/Epoch Times)
Charles Whiting, a helicopter pilot, flies his drone in Montvale, New Jersey on January 11, 2015. (Amelia Pang/Epoch Times)
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By Epoch Newsroom

“We believe that in the future, unmanned autonomous vehicles (not just aerial vehicles) will become an integral part of a city’s infrastructure, monitoring their surroundings and carrying out various tasks in the background.” – Mr Mark Yong, CEO & co-founder of Garuda Robotics

Drones are flying robots also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The drone may be operated autonomously (either fully or intermittently) by onboard computers, by a human operator under remote control, or embedded with GPS.

As stated on the Ministry of Transport website, which chairs the inter-agency UAS (unmanned aircraft system) committee, public agencies have up their sleeves “more than 25 potential uses of UAS, which are undergoing conceptualisation and proof-of-concept (POC) trials to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of agencies’ operations”.

To realise the potential of UAV technology, government agencies have come up with the following plans: (1) The exploitation of drones, called the Water Spider, to augment the efficiency in rescue operations in marine incidents by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore; (2) the deployment of drones to aid in the dengue control programme by the National Environment Agency (NEA), in areas such as surveillance of roof gutters and spraying bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BTI) larvicide to kill mosquito larvae. In addition, drones are currently being tested by the Home Team to counter terrorism and crime; they could help in areas like managing major incidents, surveillance of public space and reinforcing public order. Last but not least, the Singapore Civil Defence Force has set forth the use of drones for safer and more efficient firefighting.

Other than government agencies, the National University of Singapore (NUS) is proposing parcel delivery using drones. The NUS has worked together with Airbus Helicopters for a trial network to deliver goods via UAS across the NUS premise. If the trial proves workable, the solution will be implemented to address the efficiency of parcel delivery services in Singapore.

In 2015, SingPost had succeeded in ferrying a packet of letters and a T-shirt to Pulau Ubin in around five minutes using a drone, a move to explore drone technology “to provide enhanced end-to-end solutions to facilitate urban logistics as well as tap on the burgeoning eCommerce growth in Asia Pacific”, which is foreseen to reach US$175 billion (S$243 billion) by 2016. Despite the success, Singpost has yet to define its plans to commercialise the use of drones for deliveries.

Local pest control company PestBusters has also drawn up a plan to utilise drones for the inspection of roof gutters for mosquito breeding sites.

Beyond deliveries, drones can capture the (1) exterior views of tall buildings for safety inspections, (2) aerial views of parks and forests for land management, and (3) real-time views of emergency situations for first responders, as quoted from an article by Mr Mark Yong, CEO & co-founder of Garuda Robotics on e27.co website.

(Amelia Pang/Epoch Times)
A Drone flies in the sky in Montvale, New Jersey on January 11, 2015. As the Federal Aviation Administration attempts to enforce drone regulations, drone user communities find it harder to find spaces to fly. (Amelia Pang/Epoch Times)

Cyberattack Possibility

While ‘drone fever’ has hit the island state, safety concerns such as cyberattacks should not be overlooked. Professor Lanier A. Watkins and his security informatics graduates at John Hopkins University wirelessly hacked into a drone’s operation by transmitting rogue commands from a computer laptop. The team managed to take control of the drone, leading it to crash.

“Cybersecurity is the biggest threat to drones. It is something we are taking into account because if drones are taking over, they will become a weapon, and that is something we do not wish to happen,” said Mr Yong at the Security Industry Conference on September 29.

“This is a critical matter for drone operators, and several drone technology developers are exploring ways to balance security and data transmission speed in the design of communications links,” he elaborated in an interview with Epoch Times.

In the meantime, the Dutch Police force is investigating the possibility of using trained eagles to take down “dangerous” drones in the event of a cyberattack.

As drones are set to soar and become more commoditised and commercialised, Mr Yong tells us why drones could be the next disruptive technology, and how it will affect our lives.

Q&A with Mr Mark Yong, CEO & co-founder of Garuda Robotics

“Drones will radically transform the way things are done, especially in traditional industries operating at scale.” – Mr Mark Yong, CEO & co-founder of Garuda Robotics

Mr Mark Yong, CEO & co-founder of Garuda Robotics
Mr Mark Yong, CEO & co-founder of Garuda Robotics

Epoch Times (ET): Why are drones considered disruptive technology?

Mark Yong: Drones will radically transform the way things are done, especially in traditional industries operating at scale.

The aerial perspective that a drone provides allows for very quick data gathering over a large area. This flow of [data feed analysis can] identify potential issues on the ground before they become more serious problems.

For example, this is particularly important in agriculture, a key economic driver in Southeast Asia, where getting good visibility into ground conditions has always been a challenge – with drones, plantation managers will be able to make resource-distribution decisions based on up-to-date information.

ET: What are the advantages of UAV technology? How can companies incorporate drones into their business models?

Mark Yong: Drones improve safety and increase productivity by autonomously carrying out tasks that would otherwise involve people working in hazardous conditions.

For example, building inspectors can use drones to carry out their jobs and eliminate the need to work at heights. Commercial drone operators will be able to advise on drone solutions that can be deployed today for companies seeking to gain an edge over their competition.

ET: According to new research by consulting firm PwC, drones will replace up to $127 billion worth of business services and human labour over the next four years. Will this be the case in Singapore? Will drones take over our jobs?

Mark Yong: For the next few years, drones will primarily be replacing manual labour in dangerous conditions and capturing high quality data to support decision making. Looking forward, as Singapore progresses towards being a Smart Nation, we can expect that our service and knowledge-based economy will benefit most from the use of drones for real-time monitoring and data gathering.

ET: How do you think UAV technology will affect our lives in the future?

Mark Yong: We believe that in the future, unmanned autonomous vehicles (not just aerial vehicles) will become an integral part of a city’s infrastructure, monitoring their surroundings and carrying out various tasks in the background.

ET: Do you think the landscape of operating drones for commercialised use is complex in Singapore?

Mark Yong: Singapore has taken important steps towards a full-fledged drone regulatory and operations framework. Since June 2015, commercial drone operators in Singapore have been required to obtain an Unmanned Operator Permit as well as prior clearance for flights (Activity Permit). The process is transparent, applications are submitted online, and the airspace layout is clearly defined.

Garuda Robotics was one of the first companies to be awarded the CAAS Unmanned Operator Permit last year.

ET: Am I right to say that UAV technology is still in its early stages in Singapore? How do you predict UAV growth in the next five years?

Mark Yong: The global commercial UAV market is very much in its early days, and even more so in this part of Asia. In the near future, we expect rapid growth as private companies and government agencies integrate drone technology into their day-to-day operations.

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