A solution harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) is driving faster, more accurate inspections at JTC’s one-north, marking the first time such a solution is used in an industrial estate to help inspectors spot and report defects in its roadside infrastructure.
The result of a collaboration between JTC and local start-up Vebits AI, the solution was developed and trialled in industrial estates in western Singapore before being used at one-north since November 2022. JTC is also working with another start-up, Vulcan AI, on a similar solution currently under trial in other JTC estates.
Estate defect inspections are traditionally labour- and time-intensive, usually requiring a team of two estate inspectors at a time – with one to drive and another to look out for and verify critical defects posing a risk to road and estate users. Depending on the size of the estate, the process of marking out defects, taking photographs and churning out a report for subsequent rectification works could take a few days to a couple of months.
There are also safety concerns and time constraints with the traditional method of inspections. Estate inspectors had to carry out the inspections manually during off-peak hours when vehicular traffic is lighter. When a defect is detected, they had to park their vehicle nearby and walk to the spot for a closer visual inspection and to document the defect.
To address these shortcomings, JTC organised an Innovation Challenge in 2020 to call for a cost-effective, safer and more efficient solution. The Challenge received 12 submissions from local and global technology providers, and the two start-ups Vebits AI and Vulcan AI were awarded to develop and commercialise their proposals.
Tapping AI and smartphones for a streamlined workflow
The system used at one-north taps AI and real-time machine vision to inspect defects on road surfaces and other roadside infrastructure in the estate. It is capable of automatically detecting more than 10 common estate defects*, including those normally missed out by the inspectors such as slanted lamp posts, damaged traffic signs and grille covers, broken manholes and water ponding.
A smartphone with a full HD camera is mounted on a vehicle driven at a normal speed. The footage captured is uploaded and processed by an AI system hosted in the backend server, which identifies the defects, grades their severity, and highlights those in need of repair.
After the drive-through, the inspectors can verify the defects highlighted, and the system instantaneously generates a report with the details of the defects to facility managers for their action, streamlining the previous workflow where the latter had to wait at least a few days for the report.
Faster, more accurate inspections
Dr Marcus Chen, Founder of Vebits, said that the smart inspection system can conduct an inspection in 60 minutes compared to the past where a manual inspection can take up to two days. “The extensive training of the AI models also allows a high accuracy rate of 90% to be achieved for estate inspections at one-north, and by using a slightly higher-end smartphone, the system can operate in low-light settings, providing the opportunity for night-time inspections,” he added.
In addition, the system leverages a geographic information system (GIS) to automatically fuse multiple sources of information such as geospatial data (eg. maps and satellite images) and historical inspection data to quickly provide a complete overview of the estate’s condition.
Said Mr Tan Chee Kiat, Group Director, Engineering, JTC, “The new solution developed raises the bar on estate inspections – leading to safer, more enjoyable estates for our customers and partners. A main consideration for the drive-through smart inspection system was that it had to be cost-effective and easy-to-use, enabling the facilities management sector to seamlessly adopt smart facility management to achieve more efficient operations and a safer working environment, while upskilling their workforce and overcoming manpower challenges.”
“We are looking forward to implementing the solution at our other estates wherever feasible,” he added.
Said Dr Chen, "We are proud to partner with JTC in the development and test-bedding of this innovative solution to propel the concept of smart facility management forward, successfully becoming the first to bring to market a robust solution that is used at one-north. This solution opens new possibilities and opportunities for us to serve other inspection service companies in the construction and build industry.”
Said Dr Kamal Mannar, Head of AI at Vulcan AI, “Working with JTC has helped us customise our SmartVision AI solution to be more operations-driven and enabled us to propose redesigns of workflow for improved productivity. It has also helped us see the impact of our work in making it safer for estate inspectors and the community that lives, works and plays in these estates. We are excited about the possibilities of our technology being applied in estate and facilities management not just in Singapore but overseas as well.”
* Defects include broken kerbs, broken railings, potholes, cracks, faded road markings, overgrown vegetation, water ponding, encroachment, fallen trees, debris, slanted signboards, damaged grilles, broken manholes, damaged pavements, fused lamps and rusty vehicular impact guardrails.