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Don't stand so close: Singapore trials automated drones to check

Tova Cohen and John Geddie
·2-min read

By Tova Cohen and John Geddie

TEL AVIV/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Beware, Singaporeans standing too close, automated drones might be keeping an eye on you from above.

Singapore's police have been trialling two pilotless drones developed by Israel's Airobotics to help enforce social distancing measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.

The small machines weigh 10 kg (22 pounds) and are programmed to track anomalies such as gatherings and stream footage to the police.

The three-and-a-half-month trial, over an industrial estate in the west of the city, is the first time automated commercial drones have been approved to fly over a major metropolis, according to Airobotics.

"Specifically for COVID, what we are doing is helping them maintain normal operations," CEO Ran Krauss told Reuters. "The pandemic created a situation where it might be difficult for police to maintain operations."

Singapore government's Home Team Science & Technology Agency (HTX) said it had trialled the drones with police.

They can pinpoint locations and zoom into areas that might not be visible to police officers on foot or in vehicles, Senior Engineer Low Hsien Meng from HTX's Robotics, Automation & Unmanned Systems Centre, said.

Airobotics, which has raised $120 million in funding, said it had invested some $100 million to develop the drones. It was leasing them to HTX and also for business and industrial use in Israel and the United States, it said.

Airobotics and HTX have begun the next, year-long stage of the project to explore further capabilities, including using the drones to deliver defibrillators where needed, the company said.

Airobotics said the social distancing aspect of the trial was still ongoing. HTX did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

The tiny island nation, known for its strict laws and widespread surveillance, initially won global praise for containing virus spread before mass outbreaks in cramped migrant worker dormitories saw its caseload climb sharply.

Krauss said Airobotics is in talks with other cities to deploy the drones.

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)