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Flying high with robots

10 Jan 2017

Garuda Robotics - Flying high with robots

Operations manager Nicholas Hon (right) takes charge of planning and researching how robots can help businesses.

Talking business solutions is about droning on and on? Not for Nicholas Hon. There is nary a dull moment at work for the operations manager of the start-up Garuda Robotics.

The 29-year-old works with drones and other types of robots to help companies become more productive, and to keep their employees safe. The machines assist these companies in inspecting places that are hard to reach, such as the roofs of buildings and inside drains. The robots are also used to survey large patches of agricultural land outside of Singapore.

Nicholas takes charge of researching and planning the robot’s path. “For drone-flying, it’ll take half a day to plan a 15-minute flight,” he explains. “We would need to calculate things such as the flight speed and angle, as well as consider safety factors.”

Learning never stops

Handling robots is a task that is familiar, yet new, to Nicholas.

He was previously an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) pilot instructor with the Republic of Singapore Air Force. The research and planning skills which Nicholas learned during his six-year stint at the Air Force came to good use at Garuda Robotics. As a UAV instructor, he would help to plan operations involving the machines – and he would later handle a similar scope of work at Garuda Robotics.

However, the role switch was challenging for Nicholas. He was required to perform duties that were beyond what he had been familiar with. He had to learn how to put together and maintain the robots that form the core of his work. He found the learning curve steep.

Nicholas credits his engineering diploma for helping him to learn the ropes quickly. “I studied about electronics and computers. When I came here, I knew about processes like soldering, so we could buy parts of the machines and I would put them together,” he says. Nicholas also holds a business degree.

Despite overcoming this hurdle, Nicholas’ learning journey has not ended. He does a lot of research and e-learning to catch up with ever-changing technology.

“I joined a few interest groups and online forums where netizens discuss the devices that we use,” he says. “I read what others say – about mistakes in handling the devices, to ensure that we do not commit the same errors. There is a lot to learn through trial and error.”

Despite having to venture beyond his comfort zone to brush up on his technical skills, Nicholas’ interest in technology and building things keeps him going. “I see engineering – where I get to tinker with computers and build things – as something that is fun,” he shares.

Nicholas harbours big dreams of expanding robotics into more areas, such as meal deliveries and assisting disaster rescuers. “It’s limitless - you can apply robotics in almost every field,” he says.

SkillsFuture provides Singaporeans with opportunities to improve and expand their skills throughout their lives. For more information, visit the SkillsFuture website.