Unmanned drones for monitoring Singapore's Southern Islands on trial

A photo taken on Feb 22 shows an aerial view of St John's Island. A trial involving the use of unmanned drones for the remote inspection and maintenance of Singapore's Southern Islands has begun. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A trial involving the use of unmanned drones for the remote inspection and maintenance of Singapore's Southern Islands has begun as part of Singapore's smart nation sensor network roll-out.

The six-month trial will test the use of a broadcasting spectrum, called TV white space, to control the unmanned drones and transmit video footage over long distances for real-time analysis.

The three government agencies behind the initiative are the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).

In a joint statement on Thursday (Aug 29), SLA's assistant chief executive of land operations Thong Wai Lin said her agency has been using unmanned drones and sensors to monitor and manage about 11,000ha of state land. In the Southern Islands, however, intermittent and poor mobile and Wi-Fi connectivity has hampered the use of drones.

The drones are a more efficient alternative to the current practice of having SLA officers physically scour the islands at frequent intervals.

Unlike Wi-Fi and 4G signals, however, TV white space signals are not affected by sea waves, weather conditions and passing ships.

Mr Lim Chinn Hwa, senior director of smart nation platform solutions at GovTech, said: "TV white space can potentially be an affordable and reliable solution to enable technologies such as sensors, IoT (Internet of Things) and robotics to be deployed in areas of Singapore with limited 4G and Wi-Fi coverage."

The trial is part of Singapore's Smart Nation Sensor Platform project, a nationwide network of sensors and Web cameras to collect and analyse various sorts of data from temperature to water levels to improve public service.

The trial will assess if TV white space is suitable for transmitting high-quality videos in real time. It is also an underused band in Singapore and can be exploited to provide low-cost, reliable and long-range wireless connectivity for data transmission, the agencies added.

The three agencies will work with technology start-up Whizpace during the trial on the five Southern Islands of Kias Island, St John's Island, Pulau Seringat, Pulau Hantu Besar and Kusu Island.

Besides enabling island maintenance and inspections, TV white space could also potentially provide Internet network connectivity for island visitors to St John's and Kusu Islands, such as students and devotees, bringing about a more pleasurable experience.

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