Inspecting a building's facade for possible defects can be a tedious and long-drawn process that takes up to several weeks, requires equipment such as ropes and gondolas, and may pose a safety risk to inspectors. No longer.
Welcome to the world of drones, which can be deployed to check building facades instead.
The technology was developed by statutory board JTC Corporation and H3 Zoom.AI, a digital services platform under parent company H3 Dynamics, following JTC's 2016 open innovation call for sustainable building solutions.
The H3 Zoom.AI Facade Inspector, which was unveiled to the media in a demonstration at one-north last Friday, promises to conduct checks in a faster, safer and cheaper way compared with human inspections, and is likely to be the first of its kind to be introduced on a large scale in Singapore.
The system, which has cameras that upload thousands of images onto a cloud platform to be scanned, has already been tested at several JTC properties such as the 31-storey, 128m-tall JTC Summit, and could be making the rounds at JTC industrial parks next year.
Drone inspection might go a long way in addressing some facade woes that have been seen here in recent years, with facade components falling off residential blocks and questions raised over the combustibility of cladding.
These concerns have led the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to announce regulations for mandatory facade inspections of buildings, which might kick in next year.
Currently, most inspections are carried out by people, and could be costly, risky and tedious. The process of marking out defects, taking photographs and churning out a report could take up to four to six weeks, depending on the building's dimensions.
The H3 Zoom.AI Facade Inspector, which is operated by a two-man team, aims to slash the time taken to a few days using artificial intelligence to mark facade defects, said H3 Zoom.AI chief technical officer and co-founder Shaun Koo, who has a background in information systems.
"The solution is also scaleable and can be replicated anywhere," he added.
Mr Jason Foo, director of building management at JTC, said that the efficiency and ease of using the system will encourage building owners to conduct facade inspections more frequently, resulting in a safer environment.
There are currently no regulations that require facade inspections to be carried out, while the upcoming BCA regulations will call for such inspections to be done every seven years in line with the "lifespan" of the facade material.
Still, the use of drones will not completely do away with the need for human input. For instance, a professional engineer has to endorse the findings and the defects have to be rectified by humans.
In addition, the current system can pick up only defects such as wall cracks, peeling paint and water marks - and only on concrete surfaces. It is not programmed to work on other surfaces such as glass and aluminium or detect rust and corrosion.
Mr Koo said the H3 Zoom.AI team is working hard to develop more features by the end of this year. With machine learning, the more buildings the drones scan, the greater the data base of defects it can detect, he added.
Ms Dong Wenjuan, manager for building management at JTC, said the tech company has worked with JTC extensively to ensure that the programme is user-friendly for facility managers on the ground too.
Correction note: This article was updated for clarity.