AI drones can improve Singapore building inspection times

With a highly urbanized society, has been looking into smart infrastructure to kit out its buildings and facilities, to enhance livability and promote physical and social wellbeing even within constrained spaces.

A cornerstone of the city-state's planned roadmap for designing towns over the next decade, Singapore will have to ensure adequate building and facilities management considerations are adhered to.

Traditional building facade inspection involves workers tethered to ropes or on gondola lifts, scaling high and/or remote areas to inspect or take photographs. This manual process is tedious at best, dangerous at worst, and prone to human error.

With regular building inspections now a regulatory requirement under the Building Control Act in Singapore, local artificial intelligence (AI) startup H3 Zoom.AI has been tasked with disseminating AI-enabled drones equipped with cameras to scan and capture images of building facades from multiple angles.

H3 Zoom.AI's co-founder and chief technical officer, Shaun Koo, says his company's drones will disrupt traditional building facade inspection as we know it. The high-resolution footage captured by the drones will be fed into an AI and machine-learning platform trained to flag problem areas, helping make the inspection process safer, faster, and more accurate.

Industry professionals can currently log onto the platform to access the building elevation maps they are familiar with, and view a summary of defects found by severity and by type (paint peels, surface cracks, corrosion marks and other defects) – all of which can be seen as an overlay on the elevation maps.

In 2016, H3 Zoom.AI took part in JTC's Open Innovation Call under its parent company, H3 Dynamics. Eventually, it collaborated with JTC to launch its artificial intelligence-powered solution called Façade Inspector.

Various pilot tests were held around Singapore, including at the JTC Summit, Pixel @ one-north, Tuas industrial estate, Yuhua and Sembawang town councils demonstrated how the solution reduced inspection times by 70%. At the JTC Summit for example, it reduced inspection time from around 4 weeks to 4 days on its pilot run.

The key to this drone system is the AI, which uses predictive thinking to inform its clients not only about current structural issues, but also draws awareness to plausible structural faults that might occur to their buildings in the future. This sort of preemptive strategy could be central to safety concerns and reducing maintenance costs in major cities like Singapore.

H3 Zoom.AI intends to partner with the Singapore Land Authority and Housing & Development Board (HDB) to distribute the use of drones for building inspections city-wide. The company's H3 Zoom.AI's drones have already been used to inspect over 200 buildings in Singapore.

H3's HYCOPTER drones are being used to inspect hydropower dams in Brazil, following two recent collapse incidents that caused more than 300 deaths and major environmental damage. The company is now in talks to expand into Indonesia, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan next.

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