Abu Dhabi, and UAE in general, has come of age as a technology hub, says Aspire CEO Dr Arthur Morrish

The technology management firm will host the MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge to curb piracy, smuggling and illegal fishing in June 2023


Joydeep Sengupta

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Published: Mon 29 Nov 2021, 6:22 PM

Dr Arthur Morrish is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aspire, a technology management vertical of Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC). Khaleej Times caught up with Morrish, who elaborated upon how Abu Dhabi and the UAE have evolved into a hub of technology and innovation and the young nation’s incredible journey since it was founded on December 2, 1971.

Aspire is also organising the MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge, where international universities, research institutions, companies and individual innovators will collaborate to develop an autonomous system – a first-of-its-kind experiment in the world – to help curb maritime crimes such as piracy, smuggling and illegal fishing. Abu Dhabi will host the event in June 2023.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

How has Abu Dhabi and the UAE come of age as a technology hub?

In less than 50 years, Abu Dhabi – and the UAE in general – is well on the way to becoming one of the world’s leading hubs of technology innovation and research and development (R&D). Behind the success lies a well-defined roadmap of initiatives developed by national leadership that includes the National Innovation Strategy announced in 2014 to the UAE National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence 2031, announced in 2017. Further to this, last year Abu Dhabi established ASPIRE and Advanced Technology Research Council, and more recently, the UAE announced its Net Zero 2050 Strategic Initiative.

These initiatives have created a culture of exploration and collaboration to pursue high-risk, high-impact return on investments (ROIs) and a dynamic R&D ecosystem with foundations of a strong research community. They have also helped bridge the gap that used to exist between worthwhile R&D projects and access to funding, unfettered by bureaucratic hurdles.

What is the role of Abu Dhabi’s ARTC?

The ATRC is the overarching advanced technology research body in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. The council was established to shape research and development for transformative technology outcomes.

Today, it is responsible for consolidating funds for efficient investment and driving policy and regulation for agile decision-making. It implements its objectives through two of its key components – ASPIRE and Technology Innovation Institute (TII).

What are the highlights of the $3 million (Dh11.02 million) MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge?

The very idea of the MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge is born out of our belief that partnership and collaboration will drive future advances in robotics. Thus, the competition provides a platform for collaboration among robotics pioneers to innovate and generate new technical solutions that meet the demands of the modern world.

This is an amazing opportunity for universities, research institutions, companies and individual innovators from all over the world to come together and complement each other’s expertise to innovate. Therefore, collaboration is key to success.

At a national level, the MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge seeks to stimulate the UAE’s knowledge economy, while reinforcing Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s role as an emerging hub of advanced technological innovation, including in the field of safety and security, and in pioneering innovative solutions through collaboration to some of the world’s critical challenges.

Who all are eligible to take part in this exercise?

The core idea of hosting the MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge is to leverage the power of partnership and collaboration to drive future advances in autonomous technology. Based on this idea, we have opened the competition to universities, research establishments, companies and individual innovators from all over the world. We urge people to collaborate and form teams to take on the challenge.

What is the primary focus of the competition?

The MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge uses a real-world problem to push technological boundaries and foster innovation through global cooperation in unmanned systems technologies.

The idea is to leverage the potential of advanced autonomous technology to develop solutions to tackle maritime problems such as smuggling, piracy, illegal fishing, and more broadly, coastline security. We expect the competition to inspire researchers to explore the uncharted territory of autonomous systems.

While the maritime sector is the focus of this challenge, the winning technology will have a much broader application across multiple sectors facing similar issues.

How are Emirati youth and professionals learning new technological skills?

An overwhelming number of Emirati youth and professionals are showing keen interest in learning new technological skills to fit into the future workplace. This is becoming increasingly evident as the UAE undergoes digital transformation, builds a knowledge economy and continues to position the country at the forefront of global technological innovation. Events such as the MBZIRC will encourage Emirati youth to study, do research or become entrepreneurs in emerging technology fields.


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