Eyes Everywhere At Sea

The Police Coast Guard keeps Singapore’s waters safe, with help from their self-driving boats and drones. 
To explore her own “innovation dreams”, ASP Jane Tan bought herself a mini drone to explore first-hand the possibilities of drone technology.

ASP Jane Tan
Commanding Officer (Coastal Patrol Squadron)
Police Coast Guard, Singapore Police Force

You’ve heard of self-driving cars. Now imagine self-driving boats: you’re strolling along the Singapore coastline when a patrol boat zips by – and there’s not a single person on board.

It’s no longer a far-fetched scenario, thanks to ASP Jane Tan and her Police Coast Guard colleagues.

They have developed an autonomous boat, or Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV), that can navigate Singapore’s dense sea traffic and avoid obstacles. The vessel’s purpose: to project a police presence at sea, and to prevent, deter and detect crimes in Singapore territorial waters.

On the vessel, cameras, radars, sensors, search lights and loudhailers work together to detect anomalies (e.g., intruders) and alert onshore operators, who can then take over the controls remotely to intercept the trespassers.

ASP Tan, 46, and her team had studied self-driving vessel technology to overcome manpower constraints. A manned vessel requires the presence of three to four officers, whereas the USV system allows for one trained person to oversee up to four USVs at a time – freeing up officers to do more critical tasks that require human expertise and cannot be automated, such as checking on suspicious crafts.

The innovation process, says Ms Tan, is like a baby that takes years to “nurture and develop”. For this project, the team started by researching into existing USVs, then worked with industry experts to develop prototypes in-house. Together, they customised the USV to fit the Police Coast Guard’s operational needs and Singapore’s unique maritime terrain.

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For concrete innovative change, we need a collective effort from the whole team.

The gradual process of testing and tweaking the USV mirrors ASP Tan’s steady approach towards innovation.

Believing in the “power of constant improvement” and having the right attitude have enabled her team to set themselves apart and “achieve the impossible”, she says.

Having the support and trust of direct supervisors and senior management also helps. After all, innovation goes beyond “lip service or innovation posters”, ASP Tan says. “For concrete innovative change, we need collective effort from the whole team.”


This story is part of a Public Service Week series called At the Heart of Transformation, celebrating public officers whose sense of purpose pushes them to always improve the way they work.

Read more in this series:

  • POSTED ON
    Jul 19, 2018
  • TEXT BY
    Tay Qiao Wei
  • ILLUSTRATION BY
    Brenda Lim
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