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UAE residents design drones for public good

Bernd Debusmann Jr. (Chief Reporter)/Dubai
bernd@khaleejtimes.com Filed on January 20, 2016 | Last updated on January 20, 2016 at 09.23 am
UAE residents design drones for public good

Wadi Drone.

Ishaq Alhashmi and Sultan Alsuwaidi, semi-finalists, who developed ‘See in Sea’ drone.

In Dubai alone, drones have already been used to look for labour violations at construction sites, deliver official documents and help authorities keep watch over Dubai Creek.

For most people, the word "drone" conjures up images of unmanned military aircraft silently lurking above the world's war zones, or of toys the likes of which can be purchased at Dubai's Dragon Mart. But UAE residents are working hard to change public perceptions by coming up with innovative ways to use drones for the public good.

In Dubai alone, drones have already been used to look for labour violations at construction sites, deliver official documents and help authorities keep watch over Dubai Creek.

Much of the current surge in interest in drone technology is due to the encouragement of the government, which last year launched the first ever UAE Drones for Good Award. A second edition - the finals of which will begin on February 4 - received 1,017 entries from 165 countries.

Among the successful semi-finalists announced are drones designed to help with healthcare, humanitarian operations, environmental protection and civil defence. While the winning national entry will receive Dh1 million, the international winner will get $1 million.

Last year's winning national entry was the Wadi Drone, which was designed by a team of students from New York University-Abu Dhabi (NYU-Abu Dhabi) to help authorities monitor flora and fauna in remote areas of Fujairah's Wadi Wurayah National Park.

NYU-Abu Dhabi engineering lecturer Matt Karau, who mentored the Wadi Drone team, told Khaleej Times that he is impressed with this year's batch of innovative entries.

"I'm pleasantly surprised to see that they've invited quite a few different applications into the mix," he said.

"The previous year there were a lot of medical and rescue focused ones, and now there are things a bit more focused on public health, as well as land and sea drones and a lot of differently focused drones that hadn't been thought of yet. It's a very diverse range of new applications."

National entries

Among this year's national semi-finalists is the "See in Sea" drone, designed by UAE nationals Sultan Saif Alsuwaidi and Ishaq Alhashmi. The fully-autonomous drone is designed to help monitor the level of oil pollution in the UAE's waters, which can deplete fish populations.

"There are so many limitations to what the government can do. If we are talking about costs, sending a helicopter for visual inspection costs Dh20,000 per trip, for fuel only. Plus the maintenance cost for the helicopter, and the pilot," he said.

"We made our drone to help the government face these challenges."

Another national entry is the SM-1433, designed and built by Dr. Zayem Safar, Professor Mohammed Gadalla and John Mempin of the American University of Sharjah.

"The intention was to develop a drone that can sustain long-endurance flight," Dr. Safar said.

"Current drones can fly for 10 to 5 minutes, stretching the limit. But the practical or commercial applications of something that can only fly for 10 minutes are almost negligible."

The large hydrogen-powered drone can travel for up to three hours, allowing it to be used for aerial mapping, survey chemical properties or pipelines or deliver packages over long distances.

Media

In the UAE, drones have already been put to work by various companies involved in aerial photography and filming. Among the local practitioners is John Falchetto, whose Dubai-based business, Quest Films, specialises in drone-based aerial photography.

"From a filmmaker's perspective, it now means we can fly inside smaller places and yet still film in 4K resolutions," he said.

Falchetto, a former AP journalist, also noted that drones have been successfully used to help media outlets better cover the news.

"They are the perfect tool for getting a bird's eye view of large scale events," he said.

Looking towards the future, Falchetto said he believes drones will one day become a commonplace feature in cities across the globe.

bernd@khaleejtimes.com

author

Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Originally from Mexico City, I've been in Dubai since January 2015. Before arriving in in the UAE I worked as a general news reporter in TV and print in Mexico City, NYC and Washington DC. I'm interested in defence issues, politics, technology, aviation and history. In my spare time i enjoy traveling and football - I'm a keen fan of Chelsea FC. I developed an interest in the Middle East traveling through Jordan and the West Bank. I have a BA in Political Science from Dickinson College in the USA and an MA in International Journalism from City University London.


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