Author’s Blurb: The most common way that I’ve seen drones used is for those jaw-dropping Instagram shots that people take when they’re on holiday. However, I’m also aware that drones can do so much more like aiding in agriculture and environment conservation monitoring efforts, for example. Now, during the MCO, they’re coming in handy too.
On April 7, it was announced that 92 drones would be deployed throughout the country during the second phase of the MCO after approval from the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM).
Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) was given the authorisation to operate the drones for surveillance and enforcement throughout this duration.
The operation is led by the police in collaboration with the Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM) and 3 private Malaysia based drone companies—Aerodyne Group, DEFTECH Unmanned Systems, and System Consultancy Services, all of whom are lending their services as part of CSR efforts.
Vulcan Post reached out to Aerodyne Group to learn more about the workings of the operation and what they’ve managed to achieve so far.
We spoke to Kamarul Muhamed, founder and Group CEO of Aerodyne, and he told us that 54 of the 92 drones belong to Aerodyne.
In fact, 2 weeks ago, they had actually already been operating their drones under PDRM to help out with the first phase.
“We were approached by them and given the permission to operate under them, and at the same time they were requesting for a CAAM approval,” Kamarul recalled.
“But of course, at that time it was a smaller team to just help out during the emergency situation, and now we’ve actually expanded the team.”
As it’s a risky operation, accountability, professionalism and experience all counted, and so the authorities chose the 3 companies due to their proven track records and ability to respect regulations.
“We’re a 5-year-old company with operations in 25 countries, and we have certified pilots from Australia, UK, the US, so we have a large crew of which almost 80 of them are pilots,” Kamarul said.
Editor’s Update: Some information in the above paragraph has been edited to reflect accuracy.
“The use of drones is about ensuring separation and compliance to the MCO, because that’s the only way we can flatten the curve.”
However, Kamarul also said that drone usage during the COVID-19 pandemic could be classified into 4 main uses.
First would be for monitoring, patrolling and crowd control, along with temperature monitoring of crowds.
This, he said, is already being done in Malaysia, and Aerodyne has equipped its drones with thermal cameras at roadblocks to monitor the temperature of passengers.
On the other hand, the 3 other uses for drones globally that aren’t being practised here are for: mass sanitisation, deliveries, security and surveillance.
The effectiveness of using drones for sanitisation on roads in particular could be argued, Kamarul said, but he believes that if they were used to sanitise a compound or place of worship, it could do some good.
The approval of drones being used for deliveries hasn’t been given yet, and the same goes for the use of drones for security and surveillance around facilities with critical assets.
An Unmatched Advantage
Currently, the drones are mainly being used in populated Klang Valley even though Aerodyne has received the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) approval by CAAM to operate nationwide.
While ATM is doing some drone monitoring in Penang and Johor, amongst other places, Klang Valley is the only one with full-coverage drone monitoring for now.
Sure, the police can still monitor by car, but the difference is major, according to Kamarul. “A single drone can cover in one hour what a fleet of maybe 30-40 policemen in a bunch of cars can monitor.”
In the case of the situation getting worse, they would need to have at least 2-4 drone operating teams in every major city.
The drones collect visual and thermal data which are then geotagged to enable Aerodyne and the other companies to do statistical analyses about a certain area’s risk and identify hot zones.
As for how the situation is currently looking, he shared, “To date, we have done more than 500 missions and based on the data that we have so far, roughly 10% of the population in Klang Valley is still non-compliant, and 8% involve observational risks which resulted in the police making announcements.”
“There have been cases where we were able to find escape routes of non-compliant people and as a result, the whole area became a red zone.”
The monitoring is done daily from 8AM until 10PM, unless there’s an emergency, during which the working hours may extend past midnight.
During our interview, Kamarul made sure to thank his team as this was a voluntary effort, yet none of them withdrew.
Navigating Risks & Concerns
There are all kinds of risks involved with operating drones, some of which include having them fall upon people, or people throwing objects at drones.
Thus, Aerodyne is operating smaller drones to minimise their overall risks, and with most of the aircrafts not flying, they simply have to coordinate their operations with police helicopters.
One thing that I had to ask Kamarul though was about privacy concerns, because every time there’s a discussion on drones, there are sure to be comments about how they’re an invasion of privacy.
What can be done about that?
Kamarul replied, “I think this is the responsibility of all stakeholders. We are all heading towards a drone economy.”
He described a drone economy as a time in the near future where drones are a part of everyday life, for deliveries, safety, hobbies, and even virtual tourism.
“This is a vision of 3-4 years away, but before we get there, we need to have public acceptance. The technology is already there.”
We actually have regulations already in place to protect our privacy under Malaysia’s Civil Aviation Regulations 2016 (with an upcoming revision). No-fly zones have been stated, and Under Section 143 (1), drones cannot come within 150 metres of buildings or 50 metres of a person.
What’s left to do is to disseminate the information, Kamarul said, and every stakeholder has a part to play. The media should have more discussions on this, drone companies have to comply with the regulations, and the authorities should have friendlier regulations that support innovation.
Overall, the punishments for non-compliance of the regulations are severe, but more work also needs to be done on the enforcement of the punishments and for spreading awareness of these regulations, he believes.
Bottom Line: Personally, I feel like as is the case with every piece of technology, drones can be used for good or be abused. It all depends on the operators, and some bad apples out there don’t represent the entire drone industry full of people who are working to get the usefulness of these machines recognised.
- You can read more on what we’ve written about the MCO here.
Featured Image Credit: Aerodyne