Written by Arisha Rozaidee

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it is a remote-controlled pilotless aircraft! In recent years, the drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) technology industry in Malaysia has really taken off. Many local companies and organizations are quickly catching up with other international bodies who have been pioneering the industry from the very beginning. However, there is a common misconception that drones are purely for aerial photography enthusiasts or that DroneTech is currently only at a conceptual level. In truth, drones as part of the new wave of technological innovation has many functions ranging from search-and-rescue operations to agricultural usage.

But drones as a piece of hardware alone and in itself can only do so much. In a recent roundtable between DroneTech firms in Malaysia and other industry stakeholders, Kamarul Muhamed, CEO and founder of Aerodyne group mentioned, “To us, AI is the holy grail. It’s not about the physical hardware. Drones are just a platform, it’s all about automating the process”. It is not only the application of the hardware usage of drones that will disrupt numerous industries, it is what the drone’s flying data can be analysed into that will bring a cataclysmic change to how other industries operate.

Based on a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the global market for drone-powered business solutions is currently valued at US$127.3 billion. In Rwanda and Switzerland, UAVs and drones have been used to transport healthcare supplies and specimens to hospitals that are a far distance away from their launch origin. Locally, the industry is getting attention and garnering interests from numerous different industries. In April 2019, the local national mail provider Pos Malaysia and Communications and Multimedia Commission Multimedia (MCMC) recently held two-day Parcel Drone Competition. Not wanting to lose out in the global race for drone adoption, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Minister, YB Gobind Singh Deo is aiming for the adoption of commercial use of drones in the postal and courier industry within five years.

One of the home-grown contributors to the future of Malaysian DroneTech is Jin Xi Cheong, founder and CEO of Poladrone in Malaysia. Poladrone is one of the first in Malaysia to specialise in building custom UAV solutions. They offer services such as training individuals towards licensing, repairing machinery and also providing other businesses access to DroneTech. Sharing insights from his company, Jin Xi Cheong says that Poladrone mainly focuses on serving the agricultural sector in Malaysia where drones help increase crop production and monitor crop growth while reducing labor and also occupational accidents.

Poladrone joins the ranks of many other Malaysian DroneTech firms such as Aerodayne, OFO TECH, Pulsar UAV, IR Technic, Average Drone, Tinjau Mahir, and Syarikat System Consultancy Services Sdn Bhd. Two of these companies have achieved commendable milestones both in Malaysia and abroad; Aerodayne is the only Malaysian company to have made it the top rankings in DRONEII’s 2018 Drone Operator Ranking report at 7th place and Syarikat System Consultancy Services Sdn Bhd won the main prize in the Parcel Drone Competition held locally here in Malaysia.

Working with these local DroneTech firms by helping them connect with a team of researchers, business owners, and policy makers is Futurise – a Malaysian agency whose mission is to develop an innovation platform that stimulates and accelerates capacity building, innovation and commercialisation of futuristic solutions. Mahadhir Aziz, Acting Chief Executive Officer of Futurise Centre in Cyberjaya, sees the potential in the local drone industry as he claims that the use of drones is prevalent and spreads out between many different fields such as oil and gas, construction and agriculture. Futurise works towards pushing our Malaysian pride in the drone industry into the right direction.

Although these parties are very optimistic about the future of drones in Malaysia, their biggest challenge to date is the lack of exposure and public knowledge of the drone industry. Currently, drone services are mostly exclusive to either big business owners and a handful of hobbyists who utilize drones for individual use such as for photography or racing. It is still a challenge for the Malaysian DroneTech industry to penetrate the public sector.

To overcome that, Futurise and Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) has joined forces to make sure information about DroneTech, its potential and opportunities, are accessible to the public. Supported by Cyberview and Malaysia Global Innovation and Creative Centre (MaGIC), Futurise and MDEC are organizing Malaysia Drone Expo, MyDroneX, a one-day event which focuses on everything drone related to deliver participants an opportunity to get up close and personal with drones and also the biggest names in DroneTech.

MyDroneX also aims to bust all the misconceptions about DroneTech that the public may have and hopefully garner support from more people so the DroneTech industry in Malaysia could prosper. Speaking on behalf of the GAIN Programme by MDEC, Safuan Zairi says, “Having this event, MyDroneX, provides an opportunity for people to become more aware and from awareness comes adoption. You can expect to learn and unlearn a lot of things about Drone Tech”. The event which will take place on 17 June 2019 will feature forums, workshops, competitions and even a marketplace; welcoming people from all walks of life to see the future Malaysia is flying into with DroneTech.