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Drone tech and the roar of Malaysia’s flying dragons

Malaysia is ramping up initiatives to speed up the global growth of local technology champions in the drone tech sector

Drone technology (drone tech) is disrupting industries ranging from agriculture to film-making and is throwing up dynamic estimates of growth depending on which sectors are taken into account.

According to a PwC study, the emerging global market for business services using drones is valued at $127bn. The Drone market report 2019 foresees the global drone market soaring from $14bn in 2018 to more than $43bn in 2024 – a compound annual growth rate of 20.5%.

Meanwhile, a new report predicts that the global manufacturing sector’s demands will drive the drone market from $23.6bn in 2018 to $52.2bn by 2023.

These numbers suggest a surge in the use of drone tech across various industries to achieve greater productivity and operational efficiencies.

In the light of this, Malaysia’s government has been quietly ramping up ecosystem initiatives to accelerate the global growth of local champions in the drone tech sector.

Gopi Ganesalingam, vice-president for enterprise development at the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), believes that the country’s drone tech sector, while nascent, is growing rapidly and going global. MDEC is the government agency spearheading Malaysia’s digital economy to be an engine of growth for the country.

“Under MDEC’s Global Acceleration and Innovation Network programme, which aims to support the regional and global expansion of local tech companies that have potential, there are several fast-growing Malaysian high-flying ‘dragons’,” he said.

Ganesalingam singled out some local firms that have already received global recognition, such as Aerodyne, Poladrone and Ofo Tech.

“Our initiative to develop Malaysia’s drone tech industry began in 2017, specifically when we met Aerodyne in Dubai during the 2017 Gitex event,” he said.

Ganesalingam’s belief is based on the premise that drones can acquire data, take certain actions and are remotely controlled or flown with certain levels of autonomy using pre-programmed flight plans.

“Typically, drones are used to acquire data in a cost-effective manner for a variety of field applications, and when the data is processed, it generates results that can benefit the user,” he said.

“Drone tech has been used by defence organisations for some years now, but now its commercial possibilities are expanding rapidly – and we are fortunate to have local entrepreneurs who are passionate and have the expertise to extend this frontier.”

Indeed, Aerodyne has been growing rapidly in recent years. The company is now present in 25 countries and its technologies combine drone-as-a-service (DaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) capabilities to deliver enterprise-integrated managed solutions for industries such as oil and gas, power and telecoms.

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Aerodyne CEO Kamarul A Muhamad said a common use for drones is aerial mapping, where drones are used instead of satellite systems to capture hundreds or thousands of images of a given site.

Using the right software, these images can be joined together into a highly precise map, thanks to the high-quality images enabled by today’s drone cameras, said Kamarul.

In agriculture, drones can be used to count trees and conduct plant health assessments using multi-spectral sensors that detect chlorophyll levels in plants. Drones can also be used to spray fertilisers and pesticides.

To fuel the growth of the drone tech space, Dato’ Sri Ganes, founder and chairman of SG Education Group, said the Malaysian government will need to widen its support for the industry further.

“There are two segments in the drone tech industry,” said Ganes. “The first is the build/customisation of the drone, which requires a thorough understanding of the practicality and mechanics of drones and a lot of hands-on skill. The second segment is about the drone process workflow, which involves data collection and processing. This requires a different set of skills.”

Visiting the recent MyDroneX exhibition in Cyberjaya, Millie Radovic, industry analyst at Drone Industry Insights, was impressed by the high level of commitment demonstrated by Malaysia to tap the potential of drones.

“However, the common concern I heard from different stakeholders is the still-complex drone regulations in Malaysia,” said Radovic. “Those same individuals seem very committed to engaging with regulators and the government in order to improve drone regulations and streamline drone adoption.”

On that front, Ganesalingam pointed out that MDEC has organised drone tech industry sessions to engage the Futurise technology incubation centre, the Malaysian Global Innovation Centre, and regulators such as the Civil Aviation Authority Malaysia, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, the Department of Survey and Mapping Malaysia, and the Malaysian Aviation Commission.

Ganesalingam said Futurise has established a drone testing zone in Cyberjaya, which will boost the growth of Malaysia’s drone tech industry.

“We are also collaborating with the ministry of entrepreneurship to boost the creation of more ‘dronepreneurs’, and are working hand-in-hand with universities to funnel and develop the future skills required to scale our drone tech industry,” he added.

Globally, MDEC is engaging with international bodies involved in drone tech, such as the World Economic Forum Drone Innovator Network, Drone Industry Insights, Federation Aeronautique Anternationale and various global drone tech companies, as part of its efforts to enhance the competitiveness and visibility of Malaysia’s drone tech capabilities.

Ganesalingam concluded that the challenges faced by drone tech players are not unique to Malaysia. “We are positioning Malaysia as a global frontrunner in drone tech and air mobility by tacking four key areas – putting in place adaptive regulations and policies; certifying our talents and developing future skills; elevating public awareness and improving enterprise adoption; and harnessing expertise via strategic partnerships,” he said.

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