Robotic grass cutters now in use at Changi Airport, more to be deployed

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SINGAPORE - An army of robotic grass cutters will help to maintain all grass turf at the Changi Airport airfield in future, as the airport steps up its push to improve productivity.

Seven such machines are already in operation, and more will be gradually added to cut the grass on the airfield, which occupies a land area similar to the size of 1,000 football fields.

A Changi Airport Group (CAG) spokesman told The Straits Times that the group "is working towards a future where robotic grass cutters can be deployed to all grass turf areas in the airside, so that grass maintenance can eventually become completely manless".

Various safety issues have to be studied first, she added.

Grass turf maintenance at the airport is especially important due to safety implications. Grass that is kept too short would draw birds to spot prey from the air, said CAG, thus posing a danger to aircraft in the air or on the ground.

But if allowed to grow out too much, the grass could become a sanctuary for wildlife hiding from predators.

Despite the challenges posed in maintenance, these grass patches remain essential. They prevent soil erosion at the airport, provide a cushion in case an aircraft veers off the runway, and absorb surface water run-off during storms.

CAG general manager of engineering management and systems planning Cindy Koh noted that airfield turf maintenance has traditionally been a manual and labour-intensive effort.

"With Changi's robotic grass cutter trial, we hope to redesign the entire process," she added.

The CAG spokesman said each of the seven robotic grass cutters covers an area of 1.2ha - the size of about 1½ football fields.

But she did not provide details on how much manpower the grass cutters can save, noting that the trial is still in the early stages.

CAG had bought six units of the robotic grass cutter from Italian company Ambrogio. The last unit was bought from Husqvarna, a Swedish firm.

An autonomous grass cutter being set up at Changi Airport on Nov 19, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

The robotic grass cutters are programmed to maintain specific areas in a coordinated manner, and automatically head back for a recharge when the battery level becomes low. They all run entirely on solar energy.

People holding up autonomous grass cutters to show the blades, at Changi Airport on Nov 19, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Separately, CAG said it has worked with a local vendor to develop a mobile app that enables its staff to identify the exact locations of underground cables and their associated manholes.

This helps staff to keep the airfield lighting system at Changi Airport functioning well.

An app used to identify manholes in use at Changi Airport on Nov 19, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Mr Seoh Zhi Wen, general manager for innovation and process enhancement, cost planning and contract management at CAG, said: "As most of the airfield lighting system maintenance work can be carried out only at night during the airport's lull period, locating and accessing these underground assets can be a daunting task in the dark or in adverse weather conditions.

"(The app) enables our maintenance staff to virtually see the exact underground cable route, and to accurately find where they need to access the system for speedy troubleshooting and repair even in pitch darkness."

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