The Drones We Are Looking For

28 November 2017

Out of its unassuming shoplot space in Taman Puncak Jalil, Seri Kembangan, Malaysian drone company Pulsar UAV has big plans to revolutionise everything from farming to clean energy.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. This old proverb rings true for Malaysian drone company Pulsar UAV, whose innovative drones have improved efficiency for the local telecommunications and agriculture industries. Their next mission: to revolutionise clean energy technology.

The journey for Pulsar UAV (Pulsar being an acronym for Programmable Unmanned Large Surface Area Reconnaissance; UAV – unmanned aerial vehicles) began as early as 2010, with founder and CEO Izmir Yamin running it in its prototype phase by observing the actual demand for drone technology. He identified farming and agriculture as an industry ripe for innovation, and by the end of 2012, Pulsar UAV was officially set up.

Pulsar UAV’s flagship creation, the Report Generating Drone or ReGiD.

“I had ideas for precision farming even way back when I was studying. Even in 2005 I had built a drone for crop dusting to help paddy farmers spread fertiliser on their crops more effectively. There were others, but they were all prototype machines, not commercial,” Izmir says.

According to Izmir, there were only two ways for local farmers to gain data about their fields and optimise efficiency at the time. One of which was to rely on satellite data, which is consistently out of date for farmers due to cloudy skies that cause data compilation to take longer than what would be useful for a farmer. The other is by relying on manned flights with humans photographing from the sky – this method is not only costly, but subject to human error.

Pulsar UAV founder and CEO, Izmir Yamin.

The solution was clear to Izmir that developing a specialised drone would solve all these problems. But then came another problem: electric drones could only fly for one hour at a time, and petrol-powered drones that could last six to eight hours would weigh over 300kg, a weight which would have to go through licensing procedures with the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia (DCA).

Faced with these challenges, Izmir had to back-burn this idea, and focused on pursuing business opportunities for Pulsar UAV.

The company moved on to use its automated drones to help telecommunications companies shorten site report procedures for tower installations. What was once a two-day job, Pulsar UAV managed to shave down to just 30 minutes using its flagship product, Report Generating Drone (ReGiD), which would take 360-degree photos from the tip of the potential tower and produce a full report about the site, ready for delivery.

On top of that, oil and gas companies also use Pulsar UAV’s services to monitor oil spills in the Straits of Malacca. Reports would be generated instantly by the drone, which also includes a live feed to monitor the spread of the spill.

Pulsar UAV’s breakthrough drones didn’t go unnoticed. Earlier this year, the company won the 2017 Frost & Sullivan Malaysia Excellence Award for Malaysia Entrepreneurial Company of the Year for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Drones).

With business now financially strong, Pulsar UAV has since been able to revisit its roots in agriculture, primarily focusing on oil palm plantations.

In 2014, Izmir was among the 26 science luminaries nominated for a World Technology Award.

The four-person team is presently working on technology that would allow aerial mapping by drone, which would also collect data on the health of individual trees and go as far as equipping on-ground workers with technology that would dispense the right amount of fertiliser automatically, based on GPS coordinates provided by the drone.

“A 100,000 hectare plantation could be wasting up to 40 percent of their fertiliser, so this makes it more efficient,” Izmir says. “With our tech, we can optimise oil palm plantations to double or even quadruple their output.”

Izmir’s interest in helping farmers with drones has come a long way from crop dusting to now building drones that can gauge the health of individual oil palm trees in plantations.

Izmir adds that they’ve even figured out an alternative power source that could keep the drone lightweight and powered for longer – by using a more efficient form of hydrogen fuel cells.

Hydrogen fuel cells were famously called “incredibly dumb” by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. It’s also been criticised by some experts for its reliance on fossil fuels for hydrogen extraction, making it not as clean a power source as it was originally perceived.

But Izmir, who was among the 26 science luminaries nominated for the 2014 World Technology Award in its Space (individual) category – the winner of which turned out to be the Tesla CEO himself – has found a way to make hydrogen fuel cells more efficient.

“We’re going to prove Elon Musk wrong,” he says.

To make Pulsar UAV drones lighter and able to travel long distances, the team created a reusable hydrogen source using chemical electrolysis, which can be “recharged” with solar energy. This salt-like “secret recipe” Izmir says, could power a drone for two hours with as little as 200g of the fuel.

“How long can your phone battery last? Eight hours? This could triple that. That’s the power of hydrogen energy,” says Izmir.

Once ready, Pulsar UAV plans to display the power of their tech with an electric drone flight from Kuantan, Pahang all the way to Kuching, Sarawak. The drone will cross the South China Sea and cover an estimated 1,500km distance one way – they even have plans to make it a round trip.

And the target launch for this landmark drone flight? Izmir says they aim to launch by the end of 2018. Until then, Pulsar UAV continues to be hard at work to prove that they’re worth their salt on a global level.

To learn more about Pulsar UAV, visit www.pulsar-uav.com.

By Aizyl Azlee
Photos by Teoh Eng Hooi

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