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Police to use autonomous drones to patrol industrial estates

SINGAPORE: New drones which can fly beyond the operator’s line of sight, and which can be operated without an on-site operator,  are currently being trialled by the police, who hope to use it to complement their ground operations during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The trials, which started in late April, will end after enough information on data system reliability and mission effectiveness has been collected.

“The industrial estates can get rather deserted during this circuit breaker period. So the police need to keep up our presence for any illegal or unusual activities. The deployment of drones complement our police officers in keeping the industrial estates crime-free,” said DSP Elvis Chong, commanding officer of the Clementi Neighbourhood Police Centre, which oversees the area where the drones are deployed.

“We don’t want criminals to have the opportunity to actually break into these empty warehouses or office areas itself, because one crime is also too much for anyone to swallow, especially during this difficult period itself.”  

Developed by HTX and its partners, the drone uses an advanced mode of unmanned flight operation through a Drone Box concept. The drones can be operated remotely from a back end command and control centre and eventually fly beyond visual line of sight. 

“What is found inside this drone box system is a series of what we call robotics and automation system, where mundane preparatory tasks like battery insertion, battery preparation, picking and swapping of the payload that’s required for that specific mission has been automated away by the drone box system,” said senior engineer at Robotics, Automation & Unmanned Systems Centre Low Hsien Meng, who is involved in the trial deployment of the Drone Box.

This means that the operator would need minimal training to operate the drones, as it would only require a few clicks of a button to start the flight. A separate wireless network is used to transmit data from the drone to the command and control centre. 

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Footage from the drone. (Photo: Singapore Police Force)

Although this is not the first time the police have deployed drones in their operations, this is the first time they will be using autonomous drones. The drones will be used for aerial surveillance in industrial areas, but the police are looking to extend its use in the future.

Autonomous drones will allow the police to view difficult-to-access areas and provide a “safer and most cost efficient way of gaining greater insights in critical operations”, said the police in a media release.

“Without the need for an on-site operator, these drones can operate safely in the most hazardous and remote sites,” said the police, adding that there was “huge potential” for these drones in public safety, search and rescue and delivery of supplies.

Police have previously deployed drones during major security events.

READ: Singapore police roll out drone-equipped surveillance vehicles 

WATCH: Police to use drone at Marina Bay Singapore Countdown | Video

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The drones weight 10kg and are able to fly out for a distance of a few hundred metres. (Photo: Cindy Co)

Currently, the police are conducting trials in the western part of Singapore, with each trial lasting about 30 minutes. The drones are able to fly for a few hundred metres and are being tested at an altitude of below 250 feet above sea level. 

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