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Tools down: Singapore’s training bots and drones to digitize construction work

Research agency and housing board sign a deal as COVID-19 makes manpower and materials scarce

Singapore's industrial research agency has started work on 5G-enabled drones that use LiDAR and cameras to monitor construction sites, then send the data they collect to systems that create digital models of buildings that change in real time.

The island nation’s research hub – Agency for Science, Technology and Research, aka A*STAR – has signed deals with the country’s Housing and Development Board to develop the technologies, and commercialize the results.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the supply of building materials and manpower within the construction industry,” said A*STAR's canned statement announcing the new alliance this month.

The agency now plans to build flying, wheeled, and legged robots to capture data from building sites.

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“There is thus a strong impetus for the industry to accelerate the adoption of advanced technologies and digitalization to help us build faster, safer and more efficiently.”

Today, the industry uses “manual and labor-intensive” processes to develop models of building towards the end of construction projects. The two government agencies hope to replace those with models created in real-time, thanks to scans conducted by robots.

The agencies imagine that CCTV systems and onsite safety officers will be replaced by high-definition real-time videos captured wirelessly through cameras mounted on the robots and drones. Safety lapses such as not wearing a helmet or harness, or other unsafe behaviors, will be detected by AI and ML, then reported to a human on-site.

Trials are expected to take two-and-half years. Commercialization? Nobody's saying. But A*STAR has form turning research into reality, and jobs for Singapore: the city state's status as a hard disk research and manufacturing hub is in part attributable to the agency throwing money at basic research in decades past, thereby creating a pool of skilled people for the industry to tap. ®

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