NEA eyes drones in dengue fight

This drone is being considered for use by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District to speed up the detection of mosquito-breeding areas.

SINGAPORE - Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones could be used by the National Environment Agency (NEA) as its latest weapon against the dengue scourge.

NEA told My Paper that it is assessing various proposals it has received.

The use of drones for such purposes is also being explored in other countries.

On Saturday, The Guardian newspaper reported that drones are being tested by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District in the United States, to speed up the detection of shallow areas of water where mosquitoes lay their eggs.

The report said this will "allow a swifter spraying of larvicide", as well as cut down on manpower costs. The 0.8m Maveric drones cost US$65,000 (S$82,800) each and are built by a North Florida-based company called Condor Aerial.

In a reply to My Paper, NEA said: "A few institutions and private organisations have approached us with proposals on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for our operations. We have seen some trials and are assessing these proposals."

This comes as the number of dengue cases rose for the first time in a month to 378, for the week ending on Saturday.

The number of cases had been consistently falling each week, from 390 in the week ending July 20, to 256 in the week ending Aug 10. Dengue cases hit an all-time high of 842 this year between June 16 and 22.

Associate Professor Gerald Seet, a UAV and robotics expert, said such drones can typically fly up to about 120m high.

Prof Seet, director of the Robotics Research Centre at the Nanyang Technological University, said the drones would have to be "sufficiently close to the ground to locate shallow pools of stagnant water accurately".

Their effective range would depend on infrared sensors that would detect temperature variations when moving over bodies of water, he added. "If the system can be made effective, potential savings would be in response time and manpower requirements."

Get My Paper for more stories.