Debate on ministries’ budgets: Transport

Drones to be tested near Marina South Pier

The "maritime drone estate" to test unmanned aircraft for use at sea will be near Marina South Pier. Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min said the close proximity to an anchorage provides a conducive environment to test-bed and develop
The "maritime drone estate" to test unmanned aircraft for use at sea will be near Marina South Pier. Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min said the close proximity to an anchorage provides a conducive environment to test-bed and develop drone technology for maritime applications.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

A "maritime drone estate" to test unmanned aircraft for use at sea will be set up near Marina South Pier, Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min announced yesterday, while Singapore con-siders making it compulsory for drones to be registered.

The estate will be run by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS). It will act as a "regulatory sandbox" to help the authorities draw up standards for maritime drone operations.

"Its close proximity to an anchorage provides a conducive environment to test-bed and develop drone technology for maritime applications," he added, during the debate on his ministry's budget.

He said companies such as mari-time firm Wilhelmsen and aircraft maker Airbus are already testing the use of drones to deliver goods from shore to ship.

Such a use increases productivity and reduces the need for manpower, unlike the boats that now ferry these deliveries, said Dr Lam, without specifying when the drone estate would begin operations.

He was responding to Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport chairman Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir), who had asked how Singapore's air and sea hubs would remain "relevant and competitive".

For safety and security reasons, the registration of drones may also be required as part of a review of the Unmanned Aircraft Regulatory Framework, said Dr Lam.

Last year, business district one-north was identified as Singapore's first drone estate, where organisations can test the use of drones in an urban environment.

The use of drones is in line with blueprints introduced last year to transform air and sea transport. These Industry Transformation Maps identified technology and innovation as strategies, said Dr Lam.

He noted that ground-handling firm Sats is also testing the use of autonomous container trailers, which could eradicate the need for manual labour and create, instead, higher-skilled and less physically demanding jobs, such as autonomous vehicle operators and fleet managers.

To help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) embrace technology, the MPA - together with the Infocomm Media Development Authority and Enterprise Singapore - will introduce a sea transport industry digital plan.

It will provide a guide on the various technologies available to SMEs at their different stages of growth and will be made available to ship agency and harbour craft companies at first, he said.

"SMEs can tap available co-funding government support when they adopt the list of digital solutions relevant for the sea transport sector for their digital journey," said Dr Lam, adding that more details will be provided when the plan is launched.

Later this year, the MPA will introduce an Earn and Learn Programme (ELP) for shore-based jobs in the ship-owning, operating and broking sectors, he said, adding that CAAS will enhance course fee support for the Passenger Service ELP to cover three additional modular certifications.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2019, with the headline 'Drones to be tested near Marina South Pier'. Print Edition | Subscribe