Rough start, smooth finish
The Singapore Maritime Week (SMW) kicked off yesterday with international speakers discussing issues such as cyber security and new technology in the shipping industry. CHOO XIN HUI (firstname.lastname@example.org) speaks to students who designed and built their own unmanned aerial and underwater vehicles, which are being exhibited during SMW
They were banned from testing drone in public pools
They were testing their submarine at a condominium swimming pool when it knocked into the legs of a pregnant woman.
She was not hurt, but she complained to the condo management and the National University of Singapore (NUS) engineering students were banned from returning with their machine.
This happened in 2013 while they were preparing for a major international competition in the United States.
They have since found another pool in which to test the latest version of their vehicle, which organisers deemed good enough to be displayed at an international exhibition here.
Team Bumblebee is a group of 30 engineering students from NUS who have an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) - similar to a submarine - on display at Marina Square as part of the events organised for Singapore Maritime Week (SMW).
Mr Goh Eng Wei, 27, a Singapore Armed Forces regular, graduated in 2013 and is a mentor to the team.
He was a final-year student and was there at the pool when their AUV bumped into the woman.
Equipped with sensors, it was supposed to avoid objects in the water.
Instead, the slow-moving 1.5m-long vehicle hit the legs of a pregnant woman, who scolded them.
Said Mr Goh: "She said, 'How can you be testing something so dangerous in this sort of public pool? If you hit someone, they could get hurt.'
"From that, we learnt not to test our AUVs where there were civilians around. During the testing phase, the robots can go crazy."
Their latest AUV is called Bumblebee 3.0 and they have been testing it at the diving pool at Queenstown Swimming Complex.
It can navigate independently underwater without operator control due to its optical sensors and cameras on board.
The submarine is also able to fire projectiles using compressed gas, through mini tubes.
Mr Alex John, 22, a third-year computer engineering student, said: "If you had a dart board underwater, it would be able to identify the board, find the centre and fire the projectile."
These features clearly impressed judges at the International RoboSub Competition last year.
Organised by the US Office of Naval Research (ONR), this prestigious annual competition held in the US requires students to create their own AUVs and program them to complete various challenging activities in obstacle course-style missions.
The team clinched second place.
One of the team members, Mr Tey Kee Yeow, 23, recalled a funny incident that happened recently when they were preparing to head to Queenstown Swimming Complex.
Mr Tey said: "It was raining heavily as we were pushing our AUV to bring it to the van. One of our friends panicked and shouted to us, 'Hey, your robot is in the rain!' "We were stunned. It took us a while before we realised it didn't matter because our machine is meant to be in the water."
Govt to use more drones
Like many Government bodies, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) will be using drones on a wider scale.
The MPA plans to use its DragonFly drone, which can take off and land on water, to help monitor oil spills and help in search-and-rescue missions.
The National Environmental Agency (NEA) also plans to use drones as part of its dengue control programme.
It uses drones to survey mosquito breeding grounds and to deposit larvicide onto roof gutters to eradicate mosquito larvae.
Mr Pang Kin Keong, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Transport, said: "We want to try to facilitate and encourage the use of drones in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of operations, both at the public and private sectors."