A S$53 million laboratory to build advanced robotics and autonomous systems was launched at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) on Thursday.
In five years, the ST Engineering-NTU Corporate Laboratory set up by ST Engineering and NTU aims to come up with at least 10 technologies to improve airport operations and disaster-response missions.
Its work is the stuff of science fiction: For instance, robotic arms and driverless vehicles could be developed to help load and move luggage from aircraft to the terminal and vice versa, cutting down on manpower by up to half.
In disaster response, drones and ground vehicles could be designed to run surveys under all visibility conditions, to help human responders gather data on the environment in times of crises and to plan safer, more effective rescue missions.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, speaking at the launch of the lab, said: "This ... comes at an appropriate time, as we plan for (Changi Airport's) Terminal 4 and Terminal 5. T5 will eventually have a capacity similar to that of Terminals 1 to 3 combined."
He added that the solutions developed by the lab will also find applications in health care, transport, security and urban development, and all these are major themes under Singapore's evolution into a "Smart Nation".
Lam Khin Yong, NTU's vice-president for research, said: "This collaboration draws on the strengths of both partners - NTU's in engineering and research, and ST Engineering's, in mission-critical systems and understanding of the market - to develop robust, practical and market-driven solutions."
The lab, supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF), is the fifth one under the NRF's Corporate Laboratory @ University scheme, which seeks to boost public-private partnerships in R&D.
ST Engineering will second up to 30 engineers, and NTU will rope in some 55 researchers and 47 students for the project.
Paul Tan, co-director of the lab, said opportunities to collaborate with industry players will eventually come up.
Mark Yong, co-founder of homegrown drone-solutions startup Garuda Robotics, said: "As a commercial operator, we focus on delivering immediate value for our customers through the capture and analysis of highly relevant drone data. We're always happy to establish collaborative efforts with researchers investigating fundamental technologies that support our work."
Describing the drone industry as being in its early days, he added: "Different players are still working on building diverse parts of the ecosystem."
The new lab is the fifth - not fourth - lab under the National Research Foundation's Corporate Laboratory @ University scheme. The article has been amended to reflect that.