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One-North to be designated as Singapore’s first drone estate

In his opening address at the 6th Singapore Airshow Aviation Leadership Summit (SAALS), Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Minister for Transport and Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, announced that the R&D hub of One-North will be designated as Singapore’s first drone estate.  

Master-planned and developed by JTC, one-north is a 200ha business park that offers an ideal location to test varying urban environment complexities for Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operations. These include various typologies ranging from high-rise to low-rise buildings, as well as public spaces like parks. one-north is also a fertile ground for research and innovation, where a vibrant community of start-ups, technology owners and research institutions test-bed their latest urban solutions. This is expected to help the growth of high-tech companies with UAS capabilities, and spur meaningful commercial partnerships. 

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) will work with companies which intend to conduct trials and other development activities in the drone estate for a variety of potential use cases. Airbus, ST Aerospace and the Nanyang Technological University’s Air Traffic Management Research Institute (a joint research centre by NTU and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore) have already joined as pioneer users of the One-North drone estate. The smart solutions being showcased at ST Engineering’s Singapore Airshow pavilion include an operating platform that is capable of integrating highly autonomous networks of drones to form a ‘Drone City’. Optimised for operating in the urban environment, it can be employed by users such as the police force and large-scale facilities management to enhance urban living, security and convenience.

Some of the planned trials and development activities at the drone estate are as below:

(a) Airbus is at an advanced stage of an experimental project ‘Skyways’, to develop a safe and economically viable aerial unmanned parcel delivery system for use in dense urban environment. The trial phase commenced at the National University of Singapore campus from 2018. Airbus is looking to extend its urban air delivery service to other areas of Singapore. 

(b) NTU's ATMRI plans to conduct test flights on site to validate design concepts, algorithms, technology and systems on the traffic management of multiple-drone operations in low-altitude airspace for various applications, in different conditions and requirements. 

(c) Singtel (with NCS and HopeTechnik) intends to explore and trial a host of technologies to enable the use of delivery drones and drone stations for Drone-as-a-Service last mile deliveries. The trials will include working closely with the authorities to ensure conformance to regulatory standards. 

(d) ST Aerospace plans to trial and evaluate key enabling technologies for its DroNet system, which is designed for remote (beyond visual line of sight) and autonomous deployment of drones within an urban environment. The DroNet aims to improve the efficiency of work and reduce the safety hazards associated with tasks normally performed by humans. For example, it can be used to assist a security team to perform perimeter patrols or respond to an emergency call by being the first on site to provide early situational awareness, help a surveyor to perform building façade inspections at heights with automatic detection, or provide faster movement of items within a large facility to reduce waiting time and ground logistic traffic. 

(e) JTC and H3 Dynamics are collaborating to enhance the quality and productivity of building inspections, by automating the current manual process with an autonomous drone data collection and analytics solution for building facades and vertical surfaces in one-north. The process of defect identification is made faster and safer as the need for heavy equipment such as scaffolding and gondolas, along with the associated work-at-height risks, are eliminated. H3 Dynamics’ solution is able to scan buildings for anomalies or defects. The data is stored in the cloud and then analysed, following which a report with a list of associated defects can be generated to show the exact locations of the anomalies and how they rank against each other in terms of severity across a large amount of building assets. Hence, this end-to-end system will provide key actionable insights to the facilities management team and enable efficient allocation of resources. (In November last year, JTC and Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority launched a Call for Proposal on using drones for Building Facade Inspection.)

Minister Khaw highlighted UAS as a major disruptor to aviation. They have the potential to spur new applications across industries, improving processes and saving time and manpower. However, safety and security concerns, especially in relation to the impact on manned flights and air traffic management (ATM) systems have to be addressed before the full potential of UAS can be realised.

“Singapore has a limited airspace and hence, our risk tolerance is low when it comes to UAS operations. Nonetheless, we do not want to miss out on the benefits of UAS. The Government is actively facilitating the use of UAS by both the private and the public sectors,” said Minister Khaw.

He also talked about disruption caused by new aircraft technologies which enable airlines to serve destinations that they were previously unable to. They are making some long-haul routes with thin traffic commercially viable. Low cost carriers are flying longer haul routes, giving passengers more choices, while posing competition for the legacy carriers. These developments mean that air hubs and airlines will need new strategies and new business models.

Minister Khaw said, “As regulators, we should enable them to respond nimbly to market opportunities.”

The Minister also announced a new Singapore-ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) Programme for Young Aviation Professionals. The programme will provide S$6 million in training assistance, offering 40 scholarships and 600 fellowships to young aviation professionals over the next 5 years (2018-2023). This is in addition to the usual amount provided in each run of the Developing Countries Training Programme, which was launched in 2001 and has provided assistance of about S$800,000 a year till date.

Featured image: yeowatzup/ CC BY 2.0

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