Saturday, 6 February 2016

Govt agencies testing more than 25 potential uses of drones

Master contract for drone services will make it easier for public agencies to use technology
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 5 Feb 2016

The Government is embracing drone technology in a big way this year, as the authorities roll out changes that will make it easier for government agencies to obtain drones for their operations and save on manpower.

Already, public agencies are testing more than 25 potential uses of drones, it was revealed yesterday.

These include using drones to survey hard-to-reach potential mosquito-breeding sites to fight dengue, and to carry out construction site surveys using fewer people.

Now, the Ministry of Transport (MOT), which chairs the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Committee, is set to make drone adoption even simpler for its sister government agencies.

The ministry will call for a tender at the end of this month to invite drone providers to bid for a master contract for drone services.

Successful contractors will be tasked with providing drones and technical expertise to agencies which may want to use drones for their operations, MOT said yesterday. Safety and operational standards will be spelt out in the tender.

By taking the lead on this tender, MOT cuts the red tape for other agencies that may find themselves in need of drones. These agencies can now ride on this master contract and get a drone from the vendor, within days.

Currently, they have to call for their own tender for drone vendors, which may take weeks.

"It facilitates and speeds up the whole process so that we can really use and deploy drones in a very effective manner," said Permanent Secretary for Transport Pang Kin Keong, who chairs the committee.

The committee is also examining how agencies can work together using drones, and cut back on manpower needs.

Currently, drones are being tested out in construction site inspections. Because these sites are subject to inspection by at least seven public bodies, such as the Building and Construction Authority, Ministry of Manpower and national water agency PUB, work can get disrupted quite frequently if each agency does its own separate inspection.

To cut down on disruptions and duplication, the committee has started an online platform that allows the agencies to indicate what they want to look out for and inspect.

Inspectors from one lead agency then go to the site with a drone vendor and capture footage of the area, which takes about two hours. This footage is then uploaded and shared among the agencies, doing away with the need for each one to send its own inspectors and the developer to accommodate multiple inspections.

"From the developer's perspective as well, it is a huge gain in terms of productivity. One exercise covers all the agencies' requirements - wonderful for the agencies, wonderful for the contractor," said Mr Pang.

Watch Now: An Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) in action.More commonly known as #drones, these could potentially be used...
Posted by Ministry of Transport, Singapore on Thursday, February 4, 2016

Drones can check for mosquitoes, assist in search-and-rescue efforts
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 5 Feb 2016

The next time you hear buzzing outside your window during dengue season, it may not be the mosquitoes making the noise, but a drone sent by the authorities to survey and eradicate them instead.

Drones are set to become an increasingly common sight here as government agencies adopt the technology to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their operations.

The National Environment Agency (NEA), for example, has been testing the use of drones to check roof gutters, which are potential mosquito breeding sites if they are choked with leaves or debris.

These gutters are often located high on the facade of buildings, which can make accessing them difficult for NEA officers performing inspections.

Currently, NEA officers use inspection poles equipped with cameras to check gutters on higher floors.

At times, they may also be required to construct scaffolding outside the building to reach these gutters. This requires more manpower.

Now, it may take only one NEA officer to fly the drone and survey the gutters from the safety of the ground.

These drones can also be equipped to disperse larvicide, which comes in pellets that dissolve in water to kill mosquito larvae.

This test is expected to end in the second quarter of this year and the NEA will evaluate the outcome before deciding on wider drone deployment.

These tests are timely as an unusually large number of dengue cases - almost 2,700 as of Wednesday - have been reported since the start of this year, according to the NEA.

This is a spike compared with previous years.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore is also testing a drone that can be deployed quickly in emergency situations to survey the waters, such as in an oil spill or a search-and-rescue scenario.

Developed by local engineering firm Hope Technik, the drone, named Water Spider, can take off and land in water.

It is able to feed footage to a central command system, and thus allow more eyes to scan what the drone sees. This can increase the chances of spotting debris or boat capsize victims in the water.

The drone is expected to be operational from the second quarter of this year.

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