From filming movies to detecting sea mines

The Discovery unmanned helicopter by Belgian company Flying-Cam was showcased at the International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference Asia. The helicopter is about 3m long, with a cruising speed of about 25m per second.
The Discovery unmanned helicopter by Belgian company Flying-Cam was showcased at the International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference Asia. The helicopter is about 3m long, with a cruising speed of about 25m per second.PHOTO: FLYING-CAM

Belgian firm's unmanned copters' capabilities showcased at maritime conference in S'pore

Since its founding in 1988, unmanned helicopter manufacturer Flying-Cam has been involved in the shooting of about 500 feature films - including the Harry Potter and James Bond series - in more than 75 countries.

In 1995, the Belgian company won an Oscar for technical achievement, for pioneering the development of mounting a motion-picture camera on a remotely operated miniature helicopter.

The demands of the movie industry, however, have propelled the company in recent years to venture into the defence sector, with its single-rotor helicopters now used for surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as for detecting sea mines.

Founder and chief executive Emmanuel Previnaire, 63, said: "The movie industry, while niche, is very demanding, asking for high-quality imagery in all kinds of environments. This led us to acquire a lot of know-how, like being able to deploy our helicopters out of a speedboat."

Two such models were unveiled during the company's debut at the 12th International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference Asia, a biennial show that opened at Changi Exhibition Centre on Tuesday and ended yesterday.

The smaller helicopter is about 2.16m long and can cruise at 20m per second, while the other is about 3m long, with a cruising speed of about 25m per second.

They can be configured to carry different payloads and sensors, such as high-resolution cameras, useful for surveillance to see if the crew of a ship are armed, for instance.

Excited pre-schoolers from PCF Sparkletots were shown around the Integrated Command Centre during a tour of the littoral mission vessel RSS Fortitude at the RSS Singapura-Changi Naval Base yesterday. The group of 29 children aged four to six then vis
Pre-schoolers in command: Excited pre-schoolers from PCF Sparkletots were shown around the Integrated Command Centre during a tour of the littoral mission vessel RSS Fortitude at the RSS Singapura-Changi Naval Base yesterday. The group of 29 children aged four to six then visited the Navy Museum, where they found out more about the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) at a storytelling session. A naval officer read to them from the RSN's children's book Indy! Indy! Indy! The tour of the ship - the first time that young children were invited - was part of the navy's public engagement efforts on the sidelines of the 12th International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference Asia, which ended yesterday. Said Major Arens Ong, executive officer of RSS Fortitude: "Their wide-eyed looks of amazement made all the effort put into the visit worthwhile." ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG SEE

On Monday, Singapore's navy gave the media a tour of its unmanned surface vessels (USV) that can detect and deactivate sea mines.

A USV, with two operators controlling it remotely, takes about six minutes to deploy sonar equipment to detect the mine.

Currently, the Bedok-class Mine Countermeasure Vessel, operated by a crew of about 30 men, takes about 45 minutes to do it.

Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Wong Chng Tong, 45, commanding officer of the 194 Squadron, said that the unmanned vessels, when ready, will progressively replace the manned platforms.

"This will help to address the key concern of a declining birth rate," he told reporters on Monday. "We need to make sure that all our servicemen are effectively deployed."

 
 
 

Operational testing of the vessel, called the Mine Countermeasure USV with Towed Synthetic Aperture Sonar, began last June and is expected to be completed this July.

SLTC Wong added that a variant of USV for coastal patrols will be introduced next year.

It will do the job now done by patrol and littoral mission vessels, freeing up such manned platforms to carry out more complex missions.

Mr Raymond Tan, 35, a senior programme manager (naval systems) with the Defence Science and Technology Agency, said a launch and recovery system had to be designed to fit in the smaller USVs.

"When integrating the sonar and mine disposal systems to a USV with a much smaller footprint, we had to scrutinise the design of the launch and recovery system, to ensure its form, fit and size can work there," he added.

French company Thales, which was among 236 exhibitors from 30 countries at the show, has also designed an anti-mine system with USVs and autonomous underwater vessels for the British and French navies, making use of remotely operated vehicles to neutralise mine threats.

Separately, researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design's Robotics and Automation Research Lab have developed a robot that could help inspect man-size drains.

This will improve the efficiency of drain inspectors, who would not need to walk the entire length of a drain to look for cracks, debris and clogs.

It is also safer because they need not run the risk of being caught in a flash flood.

Dr Karthikeyan Elangovan, 33, the robot's designer who was at the show, expressed the hope that it will be used by inspectors not only in Singapore but also worldwide.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2019, with the headline 'From filming movies to detecting sea mines'. Print Edition | Subscribe