Leveraging Robotics in SCDF

November 15, 2021

Meet Captain (CPT) Sahul Hameed S/O B Sardhar, who has been driving the implementation and adoption of technologies in SCDF to bolster the organisation’s future capabilities in support of its transformation vision since 2020.


CPT Sahul Hameed S/O B Sardhar


CPT Sahul started his journey with SCDF in 2012 as a full-time National Service enlistee. After his training, he was posted to Yishun Fire Station as a Fire and Rescue Specialist. His avid interest in robotics development and automation landed him in a staff appointment at SCDF’s Transformation and Future Technology Department to oversee the Force’s research and development in Robotics, Automation and Unmanned Systems.


Rescue 995 engaged CPT Sahul in this exclusive interview as he talked about the use of robotics in SCDF and how the organisation is leveraging the emerging technologies to further advance and enhance its existing arsenal of robots.


Rescue 995: Hi CPT Sahul! My first question: why did SCDF decide to leverage robotic technology?


CPT Sahul: Since the early 2010s, we have been exploring ways to enhance our operational capabilities by quantum leap and one of the means is by leveraging on robotic technology. Robots such as the Unmanned Firefighting Machine (UFM) provide us with sustained firefighting power, especially in prolonged operations by enabling us to take precise actions to cut off the “fuel” at the heart of the fire without risking our officers to do so. The UFM is remotely controlled by just one person and this also frees up our frontliners to focus on other critical aspects of our operation. This significantly contributes to our operational excellence.


The Unmanned Firefighting MachineThe Unmanned Firefighting Machine


Rescue 995: Besides the UFM, what other robots are there in SCDF?


CPT Sahul: For fires involving light factories and shophouses, that would be the Pumper Firefighting Machine (PFM). It is a smaller version of the UFM. We also have the Red Rhino Robot or 3R that provides critical support to the SCDF crew in the initial stages of a fire by using its in-built sensors to swiftly detect heat sources.


The Pumper Firefighting Machine (foreground)The Pumper Firefighting Machine (foreground)


The Red Rhino RobotThe Red Rhino Robot


In the area of sense-making, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) provide us with a birds-eye-view of an incident site to precisely detect not only casualties but also inconspicuous hazards that may not be so apparent to the human eyes.


The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (manoeuvring in the air)The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (manoeuvring in the air)


For search-and-rescue missions, the Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV) speeds up the detection of potential life in intricate underwater rescue operations by using the dual sonar (echo-location) and image-capturing capabilities.


The Remotely Operated Underwater VehicleThe Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle


As for casualty management, SCDF has already developed and is now further enhancing the Autonomous Casualty Transporter (ACT). It can carry patients just like a mobile hands-free stretcher but what is most amazing is its in-built ability to autonomously navigate itself from an incident site to an awaiting ambulance! This frees up our emergency medical services personnel to focus on critical medical interventions for the victims.


The Autonomous Casualty TransporterThe Autonomous Casualty Transporter


Rescue 995: Tell us more about the modus operandi in robotic deployment during firefighting operations?


CPT Sahul: We are rolling out a 2-tier approach for the firefighting robots in mitigating fire incidents.


In Tier 1, the PFM and 3R will be placed at every fire station in enabling them to be quickly deployed to small and medium scale fires. The Tier 2 robots, consisting of the more powerful, next-generation UFM as well as the soon-to-be rolled out High Mobility Modular Machine (H3M), will be placed strategically at certain fire stations.


These Tier 2 robots together with their Tier 1 counterparts will be collectively deployed to tackle large-scale fires. With this tiered robotic approach, we forecast a nearly 50% reduction in the number of firefighters needed to be committed into the high-risk areas during offensive firefighting operations. We aim for this 2-tier approach to be fully operationalised by 2023.


Rescue 995: Wow, a 50% reduction in manpower! That is indeed remarkable!

CPT Shahul, my final question: What is SCDF’s vision to further leverage the robotic technology?


CPT Sahul: Together with the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) and other SCDF’s strategic partners, we have come up with a 10-year roadmap on our robotics development. Meanwhile, we are tapping on emerging technologies to further propel our existing robots.


Moreover, teleconferencing, augmented reality, low-latency communication networks and sensor technology, just to name a few, are becoming increasingly mature. As such, we will incorporate such technologies into our existing arsenal of robots to further enhance our frontline emergency response. For example, today we are manually deploying robots from our emergency vehicles upon arriving at the incident site. In the near future, these robots can be autonomously deployed to carry out a range of multi-tasks from laying hoses, fighting fires to transporting casualties.


In the later stages of our robotic roadmap, we envisioned the use of swarm technology to manage a whole fleet of sophisticated, advanced capabilities robots at the incident site, all being coordinated with the touch of buttons from an integrated console. To put it simply, this will allow a single operator to deploy multiple robots performing a slew of functions. Above all, we envision a state where artificial intelligence (AI) robots are able to automatically coordinate among themselves to complete various complex tasks for each mission. This final stage will represent the pinnacle of SCDF’s integration with robotic technology in its life saving mission. But of course, central to all these exciting future developments is the further training and enhancement of skill sets of our most precious asset, our people.