Saturday, 23 May 2015

Govt agencies turn to drones to boost their operations

By Amos Lee, The Straits Times, 22 May 2015

DRONES could soon be buzzing about more here, as government agencies start tapping unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for various projects.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, for instance, is working with local engineering firm Hope Technik to develop a Water Spider drone to better assess oil spills.

Also, last month, the Singapore Civil Defence Force announced the use of aerial drones for safer and more efficient firefighting.

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Drones are becoming more popular because they are getting cheaper to make.

Said Mr Mark Yong, chief executive of Garuda Robotics, which builds drones: "They are cheaper to manufacture today, and cost from a third to half the price of those made just a few years ago."

A simpler model could cost about $1,300 now, he noted.

At the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Centre in Maxwell Road yesterday, the benefits were highlighted at an exhibition called Drones: Changing The Way We See The World.

The URA also announced a collaboration with various drone development firms to aid in urban planning.

One new application would see the creation of 3D digital models of heritage buildings using aerial images captured by drones.

Mr Zhang Weiliang, CEO of Avetics, which created the software for the 3D modelling, said most people think of drones as photo-taking devices.

"Here, we combine them with land survey and engineering," he explained.

URA planners can then use the models to monitor restoration and conservation efforts in a new way.

The models can also be uploaded on the Web and made accessible to the public.

In addition, the National Environment Agency could use drones to conduct building inspections and check for mosquito breeding grounds in higher or more dangerous places.

This would help to reduce the number of man-hours spent climbing up to rooftops, as well as cut costs.

Noted Mr Yong: "Drones are not just for flying and fun, and we are making them useful by collecting data."

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