Skills to soar

Flying high: Narendran (second from right) working on a drone with his students.

THE Malaysian drone tech market is projected to contribute RM50bil to the country’s gross domestic product and create 100,000 job opportunities by 2030, according to the Malaysian Research Accelerator for Technology and Innovation (MRANTI).

Leading the Centre of Research and Development of IoT (CREDIT) at Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU), Narendran Ramasenderan, senior lecturer at the School of Engineering, foresees software and hardware integration to be the most sought-after skillset in the country’s drone tech industry.

Established in 2016, CREDIT is a testbed and prototype centre for various industry-academic partnerships, having established projects with various multinational companies.

“Specifically, there will be a demand for customised artificial intelligence (AI) solutions embedded in various specific applications and the ability to design and customise drone designs, payloads and overall systems.

“The skillsets in demand would require a team of engineers with a high degree of multidisciplinary aptitude, working in collaboration to calibrate and troubleshoot the various issues,” said Narendran, a registered engineer in Australia, Germany and Malaysia.

Narendran, APU’s first drone pilot endorsed by the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM), is spearheading aerial drone projects at the varsity.

He acquired a Remote Pilot Certificate of Competency (RCoC-B) to secure a partnership with the Malaysia fire department through MRANTI, which leads the national Drone Technology (MyDroneTech) industry development initiative.

“Only registered pilots can fly a drone in Malaysia.

“So, to participate in the drone technology task force and help the flood rescue operation last year, I had to be a registered pilot.

“It will also allow me to train more drone pilots at APU,” Narendran, who aims to develop swarm capability solutions with more advanced AI features, explained.

Having earned multiple national and international awards including the bronze prize at the Bitgram International Exposition of Electric Power Technology (BIXPO 2022) for their smart fire-fighting drone and the grand prize at the Intel Industry-University Challenge 2022 for their flood-assist drone, Narendran and his team at APU are gearing up to conduct field tests with their drones.

In the latter, the team won prizes worth RM10,000 in the competition’s Smart Disaster category in November last year.

To save people who are trapped during a flood by providing critical information such as the location and depth of water to the rescue teams, Team Delta APU, comprising computer engineering student Ng Joo Kiat, electrical and electronic engineering student Ryan Teo Han Ji, and mechatronics engineering student Aaron Raj Bhatti, came up with an integrated system which included drones, the Smart Disaster Application and LoRa sensors.“When floods strike, usual routes that are used to travel to the affected areas may be flooded, hence the Road Segmentation system in our work could help people determine if the road is swamped.

“This is done by a flood model using YOLO – an algorithm that uses neural networks to provide real-time object detection – as this model is trained to detect people and also floods,” explained Ng, the team leader.

Narendran enthused, “I am very proud that my students are not only trained in a classroom, but also towards a pilot prototype deployment in the real industrial context.”

He said the trio had demonstrated their technical skills in developing autonomous drone systems that were integrated with AI through a smart app.

“At CREDIT, we leverage students from across the computing and engineering spectrums to create cohesive and diverse teams.

“It builds character as they work within the constraint of a timeline based on the contest’s due date and the need to be creative to solve the problems with the resources at hand,” he said, adding that students were taught to design, build and troubleshoot prototypes for pilot deployment and in some cases, full deployment as they worked with industrial partners, engaging them in real-life scenarios which mimicked closely their future working lives.

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