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More than 25 drone uses being tested by public sector: Transport Ministry

The National Environment Agency, for one, is looking to combat dengue with drones that can deposit larvicide on hard-to-reach places like roof gutters. 

SINGAPORE: More than 25 uses of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones, are being tested out by public sector agencies, according to the Transport Ministry on Thursday (Feb 4).

The trials are being facilitated by an inter-agency UAS Committee - chaired by the Transport Ministry - and formed early last year. For example, the National Environment Agency (NEA) is looking to combat dengue with drones that can monitor infected areas and deposit larvicide on hard-to-reach places like roof gutters.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore is another agency that is exploring the use of drones in marine incidents, such as to support oil spill clean-ups and search and rescue operations.

Said Mr Pang Kin Keong, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport: "I think if you put your mind to it, there are actually a lot of very innovative applications and uses that you can put the drones to that will save, that will enhance efficiency and enhance the effectiveness of the operations. Not just of the public sector agencies, but also private sector companies as well."

In addition, the UAS Committee is working on bringing together the use of drones by various public sector agencies. So far, it has conducted three inter-agency proof-of-concept trials for the inspection of construction sites, the Transport Ministry said. 

These trials involve the Manpower Ministry, PUB, Building and Construction Authority, NEA, Land Transport Authority, Singapore Land Authority and Agri-food and Veterinary Authority.

The trials are aimed at allowing participating agencies to tap on a single UAS flight for their respective purposes, which include inspection and monitoring, said the Transport Ministry.

Mr Pang noted: "I would say in the last two or three years particularly, you find that all over the world and in Singapore, the cost has gone down. The technology has improved. And I think it's reached a level of development on those two fronts, whereby more and more people and more and more agencies are starting to think, 'I can actually start putting them to very good use to enhance my effectiveness.'"

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Mr Pang said: "We need a UAS policy framework that is balanced, practical and sustainable, given the many potential applications and use of drones, and their increasing availability and affordability.

"We want to facilitate their use by industry and the public sector, and also hobbyists, but we must at the same time balance against aviation safety, public safety, security and privacy concerns."

Mr Pang said organisations may not be able to do all that they would like with drones, but the UAS' risk-based framework will try to "facilitate as much as possible".

To achieve better economies of scale from the collective demand of public agencies for UAS services, the Ministry of Transport will be calling a tender in end-February to invite service providers to bid for a master contract for drone services.