In recent years, the drone market has witnessed growth in commercial sectors such as agriculture, media, and construction. Valued in 2016 at $11.45 billion USD, the global market for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is expected to grow to $51.85 billion USD by 2025. While stringent regulations have slowed down the drone industry in some ASEAN countries, there’s no stopping the emergence of UAVs in Southeast Asia.
Singapore’s tightening of regulations might have clipped its wings somewhat in its drive to become the drone hub of the region, but despite this, they continue to examine ways the technology can be used. Recently Singapore Post made a mail delivery to an off-shore island as part of their testing, and other companies are continuing to develop their ideas. We look at what is happening in other countries in the region as the drone industry evolves.
Malaysia is vying to become the leading country for the drone industry in Southeast Asia. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government has introduced U.S. and European corporations to the idea that Malaysia should be central to the development of dependable drone vehicles. Malaysia’s varied terrain and diverse geography are essential claims to the pitch.
Aerodyne is a young and globally-ranked drone company that combines drones with powerful AI analytics. Based in Malaysia, Aerodyne is also active in Indonesia, Singapore, and Brunei. CEO and founder Kamarul Muhamed is an outspoken leader for growth in the drone industry in Southeast Asia. He advocates for ASEAN countries to adopt a more proactive approach to drone development as well as regulation of the industry through licensing rather than blanket restrictions based on weight and height flown.
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Advancements to farming in Cambodia are happening thanks to Heng Sopheak’s Sprayer Drone. Retired farmer Sopheak says he’s “seen some people hesitate to take jobs spraying pesticides, fearing they might get poisoned.” The Sprayer Drone is a major agricultural innovation that offers pesticide assistance without endangering human health. It is equipped with GPS and features five types of electrostatic sprayers suitable for various crops. The 15kg drone can carry up to 20 litres of liquid.
Phnom Penh-based Aniwaa is a unique comparative platform for drones. Initially focusing on 3D printers, Aniwaa launched their drone section in February 2019 with 89 personally-tested drones. They aim to have a database of at least 500 purchasable units for professionals and hobbyists alike. Their website contains “Best Of” articles, purchasing guides, and will soon feature comprehensive reviews of drone units.
Agricultural drones are still relatively new to Thailand and are not widely adopted, but the market shows enormous potential. In 2016, research company Oxford Business Group reported agriculture to be worth $31.6 billion USD to the Thai economy, approximately 8.5% of the national GDP. Moreover, a third of Thai jobs are agriculture-related. In 2020, Thailand plans to invest billions in smart farming initiatives, including AI-powered drones. These drones will photograph entire farms to evaluate the landscape for problems and potential improvements in real-time.
Although Thailand has strict regulations regarding UAVs, Fling CEO Michael Currie sees vast potential for the drone sector in the country. Bangkok based Fling, a leading drone services provider, was founded in 2017 and offers services including surveillance and inspection, data collection and analysis, and delivery services. Global leaders such as Amazon, Wing, and Zipline are developing drone-powered delivery systems, and Currie hopes to disrupt and revolutionise the delivery industry, including food and post, in Thailand.
Indonesia has been utilising drone technology in its agricultural sector with Genting Plantations Bhd. in Jakarta using images collected from drones to help the palm oil company spot fires in remote and inaccessible areas. Palm oil is the world’s most-consumed vegetable oil, and oil-palm plantations cover approximately 22.3 million hectares of Malaysia and Indonesia. Drones are also used to collect data on crops and their water or nutrient levels, as well as locating leaks in irrigation systems. While a human labourer can cover only five hectares daily and requires protection against the dangers of fire, floods, snakes, and scorpions, a single drone can observe about 2,500 hectares.
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Terra Drone Indonesia recently demonstrated how UAVs are practical tools to monitor transmission lines in Indonesia. In conjunction with the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry (CRIEPI), they showed that, in only ten minutes, the drone could monitor 2 km of electricity lines and four transmission towers. The demonstration also showed a reduced risk to human workers in high-voltage areas, promising safety and financial savings in monitoring high-risk areas for the energy and utility industries.
The countries listed contain only a few examples of how the drone industry in Southeast Asia is affecting multiple commercial sectors across the region. From infrastructure to agriculture to restaurant service, and with Malaysia jockeying to become Southeast Asia’s drone hub, UAVs are only beginning to change lives in ASEAN.