NEA looking to drones in war on mosquitoes

Neo Chai Chin Today Online 14 Sep 13;

SINGAPORE — A monitoring system to detect noisy vehicles on the roads and unmanned aerial vehicles to inspect high spaces like roof gutters for mosquito-breeding spots.

These are two of the solutions being explored by the National Environment Agency (NEA), as part of efforts to better detect and tackle a myriad of bugbears, ranging from illegal hawkers to mysterious ambient odours.

A Noisy Vehicle Monitoring System, for instance, is being piloted at an undisclosed location. It aims to use directional microphones installed on road lanes and video technology to capture the licence plate numbers of vehicles that make excessive noise.

The pilot will go on for at least another year, given the extensive tests needed to get a shipshape system in place, said NEA Deputy Chief Executive (Technology and Corporate Development) Joseph Hui Kim Sung.

Outlining new detection capabilities being developed by the agency yesterday at the World Engineers Summit, Mr Hui said it is now operating in a more challenging environment. The Republic is getting more compact and urbanised and feeling the impact of climate change, and the NEA has to deal with extreme events and crises like mass food poisoning, oil spills, the haze and nuclear incidents happening in Singapore and other countries.

At the same time, the authorities are facing the need for greater transparency, accountability and public consultation, said Mr Hui, who was giving a presentation on integrated environmental management systems.

Speaking to TODAY, Mr Hui cautioned that these projects are in the test-bedding stage. “Hopefully 50 per cent of them work out,” he said. “We have to recognise there’ll be some that may not work out, but at least we try.”

The project in its earliest stages is an “E-Nose” system that could help detect odours, enabling the authorities to trace the source early and nip any problems in the bud. “From time to time, we get complaints from the public that there is this smell in the air, and they don’t know where it comes from and they want something to be done about it,” he said. He added that the project has yet to be piloted, adding that odours are complex and can consist of many different compounds.

Already being piloted is a system to detect illegal hawkers. The aim is for portable cameras and video analytics to accurately alert the authorities to unauthorised vendors who set up shop temporarily at various locations.

Also on trial are unmanned aerial vehicles that could help public health officers to inspect rooftops, rain gutters and other inaccessible places for mosquito-breeding spots.

And to get “a better grip of the noise situation in Singapore”, the NEA is working with researchers on wireless sensors to map ambient noise in heartland areas and along roads in real time. The technology being tried will be cheaper and more efficient than what is currently used — but details are under wraps for now as it has not been patented, said Mr Hui.

The NEA hopes to channel air, water and land monitoring data into an integrated system. The information will then be processed and used in modelling to help forecast environmental conditions the public can expect for the next few hours.