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From Driverless Tractors to Robotic Grass Cutters, Is Robotics the Future of Singapore?

In a report by The Straits Times, Changi Airport continues to push efforts in improving productivity by using robotic grass cutters in its facilities maintenance. From the initial seven machines that are being used, Changi Airport will add more machines in the future to better maintain the grass on its massive airfield with a land area similar to 1,000 football fields.

Credit: Unsplash

In September, Changi Airport also started using a driverless tractor to transfer luggage from planes arriving at Terminal 3.

To prevent any possible mishaps as the machines to be deployed will be operating completely without the aid of humans, Changi Airport Group (CAG) conducted studies to address possible safety issues. Similarly, they also conducted a test run for its driverless tractor last year.

Unbeknownst to many, the proper maintenance of grass turf is immensely important for everyone’s safety. It must always be maintained at an appropriate length. Grass that is too short would attract birds who will be spotting their prey, which is a potential danger to aircraft whether on the air or on ground. Meanwhile, grass that is kept too long could end up attracting other wildlife seeking sanctuary from predators.

Credit: Unsplash

As such, it’s essential to seek ways to properly maintain these grass patches. Other benefits of well-maintained grass patches at Changi Airport include prevention of soil erosion, providing a cushion in case any aircraft veers off the runway and absorbing surface water run-off whenever there’s a storm.

Before using robotic grass cutters, Changi Airport maintained its grass patches through the old-school way - manual and labour intensive effort. CAG is hoping that this trial period will be successful for them to be able to work out a better maintenance system for its facilities.

Currently, the seven robotic grass cutters that are maintaining Changi Airport’s grass patches each cover a land area of 1.2 hectares, which is equivalent to one and a half football fields. This shows how much land area is needed to be covered by this new initiative.

Credit: The Straits Times

CAG purchased the initial six robotic grass cutters from Abrogio, an Italian company while the last unit was bought from a Swedish firm, Husqvarna. All the robotic grass cutters currently being used in Changi Airport have been programmed to maintain their designated areas in a coordinated manner. They will also automatically head back to recharge once their battery level is low. It’s also worth noting that the robotic grass cutters run entirely on solar energy.

Aside from the addition of more robotic grass cutters, CAG has also worked with a local vendor in developing a mobile app to enable Changi Airport staff to identify the exact locations of underground cables and manholes. This is to help airport staff in their maintenance of the airfield lighting system at Changi, which is conducted at night when the airport is less busy. Hence, the dark conditions make it challenging for airport staff, who also need to conduct maintenance even during bad weather conditions. The app is hoped to significantly improve their maintenance operations as the staff will be able to easily see the underground cable route and accurately locate what they need to troubleshoot or repair even in the dark.

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