Singapore is keen to start using drones and unmanned aerial vehicles to inspect its extensive underground subway tunnel network.

The transport regulator put out a request for companies on Wednesday to design and develop suitable trial technologies, including 360-degree video mapping of the tunnels, as well as software that would automatically detect defects and provide their location. 

These smarter technologies are hoped to supplement the current manual inspection process, which take about three hours at a time, the Land Transport Authority said in a press release

These manual checks are usually conducted at night, after daily service is over, when personnel look for defects such as cracks and water leakage.

“The use of automated technologies … will not only improve the accuracy of inspections, but will also free up engineers’ time, enabling them to focus on the analysis of the data captured to recommend any necessary remedial measures,” the LTA said.

Aerial footage of a construction site for the Thomson-East Coast Line, an upcoming 43km line spanning the north and east of Singapore

The LTA said drones are being trialed at 10 worksites on the upcoming Thomson-East Coast line, spanning from the north to the east of the city, where they are used to monitor work progress through taking photos and videos. 

“These new trials will help to further current research developments and validate [drone and unmanned vehicle] technologies under demanding operational conditions,” it said.

In recent years, Singapore has suffered a rise in major train breakdowns in two of its ageing subway lines, which are nearly two decades old. Both the North-South and East-West line suffered a three-hour system-wide breakdown in July 2015 due to a water leak in a tunnel, which caused a power trip.

These efforts also come on the back of new revelations that the city’s largest subway operator, SMRT, had failed to comply with operating procedures meant to protect workers’ safety for more than 14 years.

While the drone projects are not directly linked to personnel safety, having more automation within tunnels is likely to reduce the number of man hours within tunnels and exposure to potential danger.



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