Singapore start-up trials autonomous drones

SwarmX Autonomous Drones

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[Editor’s Note: SwarmX drones will inspect solar panels and wind turbines.]

A multinational energy services company is launching a pilot project to operate drones that can recharge and transmit data without the use of human handlers, potentially slashing one of the growing costs of the new industry.

DNV GL, a Norwegian company that is one of the world’s biggest providers of technical services for the renewable energy sector, is teaming up with a Singapore-based start-up to trial autonomous drones, which are operated by robotic systems rather than human employees.

As well as inspecting solar panels and wind turbines for faults, drones are now widely used for surveying purposes in agriculture, mining and infrastructure projects.

The expansion of this technology has been accompanied by a growth in demand for human operators; in Japan, a drone manufacturer recently announced plans to train 10,000 pilots over the next three years.

Pulkit Jaiswal, co-founder of SwarmX, the Singapore company that is supplying the drone technology to DNV GL, said: “Industry brought in drones to complement the workforce, but instead more and more people are being hired to run them.”

Mr Jaiswal said the company, which is privately held, mainly has military and security clients, but is seeking to expand into energy services.


The pilot programme, which is expected to start later this month on a solar farm in Thailand, will use robotic base stations known as hives to control the drones.

Drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras will be used to search for defective solar panels. Hot spots on a solar panel are an indication that the mechanism is faulty.

Industry brought in drones to complement the workforce, but instead more and more people are being hired to run them

– Pulkit Jaiswal, co-founder of SwarmX

Instead of relying on a human pilot to recharge them, the drones will return to their base stations for recharging, and to transmit data to a control centre. The base station will process the data before transmission, speeding up the analysis by isolating the faulty areas.

Mathias Steck, Asia Pacific manager for energy and renewables at DNV GL, said: “DNV is not a specialist in operating drones and don’t want to be. That’s why we’ve teamed up with SwarmX.”

Mr Steck said that, depending on the success of the pilot in Southeast Asia, the company may sign a commercial agreement with SwarmX to make broader use of its autonomous drone systems.

He said: “Things we have in mind include inspection of overhead distribution and transmission lines, and certainly the oil and gas sector.

“In maritime, you have sniffer drones, which go behind a ship to find out what emissions it has. You could think, for example, of piracy — reconnaissance flights around a ship.”

Singapore, which introduced new regulation last year to provide a clear legal framework for drone operators, is a hub for drone services startups in Asia.

Aside from SwarmX, drone companies based in the city-state include Infinium Robotics, which has showcased ‘waiter drones’ that can serve food in restaurants, and Avetics, which has provided aerial inspection and photography for companies including Shell and Halliburton.

Singapore’s government is seeking to expand the use of drones in public services. Earlier this year, the government announced pilots for drones to search for oil spills off the coast, inspect construction sites, as well as a “killer drone” that would spray insecticide in spots where mosquito larvae flourish.


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