Govt bodies to ride drone wave with new regime

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.

This article was first published on February 5, 2016.
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