“In the near future, I foresee that we will be able to depend on IRT-enabled drones to perform structural inspections in real time.”
There is a scene in the movie The Incredibles where the villain sends a remote drone to inspect if he has defeated the main protagonist. Or in Star Wars, where drones and robots fly around to scan for signs of life. Such scenes will no longer be confined to fiction as Singapore is poised to see drones flying around building estates carrying out routine inspections on estate structures.
A*STAR scientist Dr Andrew Ngo who is Deputy Head of the Structural Materials Department at the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) in A*STAR, is developing an advanced technique to detect hidden defects in buildings. This mechanism is based on infra-red thermography (IRT) technology which powers commercially available drones to perform specialised functions. IRT is an inspection technique that is capable of non-contact, large area inspections.
“I develop advanced IRT for detailed imaging using infrared energy emitted from objects. The uniqueness of our method lies in the use of air drones, which can be commercially purchased, but enhanced with our technique to industrial-purpose standards. This makes IRT technology transferrable across many platforms,” Dr Ngo explains.
“In the near future, I foresee that we will be able to depend on IRT-enabled drones to perform structural inspections in real time,”.
So how exactly will Dr Ngo’s research on IRT drones disrupt building inspection in Singapore? The short answer is – by using non-destructive testing of drones.
Non-destructive testing (NDT) is the process of inspecting, testing, or evaluating materials, components or assemblies for discontinuities. It helps to assess differences in material characteristics without destroying the serviceability of the part or system. In other words, when the inspection or test is completed, the part is still usable.
Dr Ngo’s research focuses on equipping commercially viable drones with IRT. This will allow for building and infrastructure inspections to be carried out more easily. It would also ensure higher standards of safety and minimal risks due to faulty materials.
Safety is now automated
To the relief of many, IRT drones will help to make building inspections much safer than they are at the moment. At present, safety inspectors sometimes have to access challenging and uncompromising areas like air ducts and toxic environments to carry out inspections. Drones have the significant ability to eliminate the potential hazards to human safety involved in the physical inspections of buildings.
“By deploying drones equipped with IRT technology, we are able to inspect structures unimpaired by human physical limitations. These can range from structurally unsound buildings to inaccessible areas like air ducts, toxic environments and large surface areas,” explained Dr Ngo.
Enabling future-ready building inspection
Drones will soon be the face of safer building inspection in Singapore. Dr Ngo is currently working on the incorporation of IRT-enabled drones for building façade inspection. He is confident that A*STAR’s innovations will speed up maintenance detection works. Soon, one will likely be able to see drones conducting inspection works in your neighbourhoods. Such inspections can quite possibly reveal unnoticed faults within the structure that can be corrected and ensure a safer city for all.
Endless drones, endless possibilities
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of such innovations is the use of commercially available aerial drones. From this, many other industrial applications can be derived using the IRT techniques being developed by the team at A*STAR. With future-readiness being the focus of Singapore’s urbanisation efforts, come endless possibilities. When asked about the future of drone technology, Dr Ngo replied: “As it is, we are already crossing the lines of fact and fiction. Researchers in IRT technology are on the verge of revolutionising the inspection industry not just in Singapore, but worldwide. I am excited to see this and be part of this development!”
Dr Andrew Ngo Chun Yong is a Scientist & Deputy Head of the Structural Materials Department at the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) in A*STAR. His research areas are in the fields of Infrared thermography (IRT), Non-destructive testing (NDT), Condition monitoring (CM), Hyperspectral imaging (HSI), Remote & automated NDT inspection and Artificial intelligence (AI) / Machine learning (ML), with specialised expertise in Infrared thermography and conventional NDT techniques. He has a B.Eng. from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 2003 with a specialisation in Photonics and Optoelectronics.