New drone docking station a reflection of Singapore's automation push: Sam Tan

Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg (right) and Remi Eriksen (left), Group President and CEO of DNV GL, posing with a sample drone. ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN
Mr Pulkit Jaiswal (right) explaining the drone docking system to Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg (second from right), Mr Remi Eriksen (second from left) and Mr Sam Tan, Minister of State for Manpower (left). ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

SINGAPORE - A Singaporean start-up and a Norwegian multinational corporation have developed a station from which drones can take off, land and recharge their batteries without any humans directly controlling the drones.

Called the Hive, the docking station is a table-like structure which was unveiled on Wednesday at the Singapore laboratory of Norwegian firm DNV GL.

The Hive can hold one six-propeller drone at any one time, said SwarmX, the local start-up that helped develop the docking station. The drone is larger than a football and close to a metre wide, while the Hive is about the size of a 2m-long table.

Previously, drones had to be manually controlled by a human operator to return to a docking station to recharge.

The launch of the Hive was also attended by Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Singapore's Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan.

Mr Tan noted that the docking station reflects Singapore's push towards greater automation and efficiency.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Hive's launch event, Mr Tan said that with the $400 million Automation Support Package announced in Singapore's Budget this year, and Norway's strength in automation, there could be more collaborations between the two countries in this area.

"(Such projects) will raise our level of proficiency and efficiency to a new level and, at the same time, also open up new frontiers for many possibilities in the future. So I think technological advancement is the way to go," said Mr Tan.

Mr Pulkit Jaiswal, 23, a co-founder of SwarmX, said many drone companies make use of human pilots to operate drones. But his company wanted to do away with pilots, which means the costs for operating drones can be lowered and companies can improve their productivity by automating some of the drone's flight controls to get the same amount of work done with less time. That sparked the idea for the Hive.

As part of the Hive's development, SwarmX also worked on developing a way for the drone's flight paths to be programmed beforehand from a location far from the docking station.

The Hive is expected to have applications in the security and surveillance, as well as energy sectors.

Mr Remi Eriksen, 48, the group president and chief executive officer of DNV GL, said the Hive will help "save man hours and travelling costs", as inspections of facilities like solar farms can be conducted in a faster and safer manner with a drone docking system.

A pilot project for the docking station is slated to start by next month (May) in Thailand. If the pilot is successful, the station's first commercial operations could commence in the fourth quarter of this year.

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