October 09, 2014      

Expo on robotics in the Middle East

RTEX 2014, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), the region’s first-ever robot exhibition was held September 28-30 at The Meydan, Dubai.

The previous May, RTEX held a pre-launch introduction to the September event that brought together global and local experts and close to 200 delegates, including the UAE’s key decision-makers. Such attention to detail and good planning made for a great expo and conference in September.

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RTEX 2014 focused on those technologies of nearest and most benefit to the both the near-term and long-term UAE economy: automation, town automation (Smart City Concept), logistics and material handling, unmanned and remotely controlled systems; and consumer and healthcare robotics.

Analysts, according to Zawya.com, predict that the early adoption of such technology in the UAE would significantly increase the overall GDP of the country and accelerate the adoption of a more knowledge-based economy.

It’s anticipated that such a future for the UAE would make Dubai a premier destination for leading companies worldwide. As such, an RTEX event held annually would also make for a good synergistic partner to the much heralded World Expo scheduled for Dubai in 2020.

See complete list of exhibitors: RTEX 2014 Exhibition Sections

Mark Atkinson, Middle East correspondent to Robotics Business Review, filed the following report:

dubai rtex 2014

Held from 28-30 September at Meydan — also the location of the world’s richest horserace — the event held the vibrancy one might expect from a city like Dubai. One of the seven United Arab Emirates (UAE) along the Arabian Gulf, Dubai has courted much publicity over recent years as the Middle East’s most cosmopolitan and dynamic city.

With a first-class infrastructure and minimal red tape, Dubai is known as an easy place to do business where many of the world’s largest multinationals choose to position their regional headquarters. Year-round sunshine, political stability, cultural tolerance, and plentiful hotel and recreational options have made it one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

map of uae

Dubai’s widely-diversified and entrepreneurial economy comprises more than 85 percent SMEs. What could be more appropriate than to host a robotics and automation event to feed the city’s thirst for technology and project its high-tech image?

RTEX co-founder Golnaz van Huyssteen said she feels that, with the UAE’s burgeoning growth rate, its robotics and automation sector is on the verge of a boom.

“With nearly 43 percent of the population under the age of 30, the city represents a future-oriented culture,” she comments. “In fact, the UAE has successfully implemented a number of automated services in the last five years.

Dubai Metro is the world’s longest fully automated driverless metro network,” van Huyssteen said. “In Abu Dhabi [the UAE’s capital city], Khalifa University has come up with the FLOAT — Free Levitation for Overground Active Training –system that can help people with movement disabilities. Dubai International Financial Centre has the world’s largest automated parking facility.”

“The UAE government and security services are using drones for border surveillance and deliveries, and there is automated warehousing within the logistics and infrastructure sectors,” she said.

There was a buzz from the moment RTEX opened its doors. Drawing almost 2,500 visitors over the three days, more than 30 exhibitors displayed robot technologies ranging from healthcare, education, industrial, and space applications through to topographical surveys and surveillance monitoring.

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There were university stands manned by students showcasing their own drone prototypes. Some were looking forward to competing for The UAE Drone for Good Award, a clear demonstration of the country’s commitment to developing its robotics industry. A large proportion of visitors were technology student groups.

Within the seminars program which stretched over the three days, was a notable presentation by Dr Pedro Sousa from Portugese firm, Holos, on the company’s innovative new surveillance product, ServRobot.

With 20 years’ experience in technological research projects, Holos is no stranger to robotics. It has developed intelligent satellite monitoring and data collection systems, as well as ways to collect weather data from the sun. More recently the company has developed a drilling tool for the latest Mars exploration project.

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Holos’ latest venture, ServRobot, is an autonomous service robot adaptable to different types of usage, terrain and environmental conditions.

Already it is in use in Europe and Angola, although Sousa declined to say how many were in operation.

Applications include the analysis of power stations, checking for pipeline integrity (running along the surface, not internally which requires other machinery), the surveillance of public spaces, and the monitoring of oilfields. This includes detecting fires, spills, gas leakages and intruders.

Rather than selling ServRobot in manufactured form, Holos sells the patent for specific components or configurations to its clients.

“After that the client can produce much as it wants, or incorporate the same components into its own products,” explained Sousa. “But the client must have manufacturing capabilities.”

The development process engaged multiple people from several countries, and included interfaces with PhD students from universities across Europe. At a cost of around US$1 million each to produce, ServRobot research and development projects are co-financed by Holos, other Portuguese companies and the European Union.

ServRobot’s multiple computers provide artificial intelligence, allowing it to read its environment while minimizing the need for human intervention. Its different sensors (including heat, cameras, lasers and ultrasonic) enable it to collect information it needs to meet its objectives.

Being adaptable to a number of diverse conditions, claims Holos, is what differentiates ServRobot from other robotic systems which are often designed for very specific roles.

Another application is to move cargo within a military scenario, or carry loads up buildings under construction. In the latter case it ascends the building via the existing structures used for construction. With 30 watts of power, it can transport loads of up to around 143 pounds with up to a 5 percent maximum slope.

dubai silicon oasis

ServRobot’s movement can be activated in different ways. One is using a set of predefined hand signals that give specific commands such as start and stop, and which also set the path to memorized landmarks.

It can also be radio-controlled by joystick, or move autonomously when given a target coordinate. It will endeavor to reach its goal by the most direct route, while detecting and moving around obstacles it may encounter.

Holos has a small office in one of the city?s tech hubs, Dubai Silicon Oasis, and a modest presence thus far, although it is hoping to grow its regional presence over time.

RTEX was a resounding success, according to van Huyssteen,with visitors already inquiring about next year’s event.

“This year, we strongly focused on technology that can provide solutions to a smarter and more sustainable way of living,” she said. “From the second RTEX onwards, we hope to add sectors that address the stark need for sustainability and environmentalism.”

On leaving the event, we were handed a copy of The Young Vision, a UAE youth education magazine, with RTEX featured boldly on the front cover and containing a special feature on robotics and automation.

If RTEX 2014 summed up anything, it was how it captured the imagination of a younger generation which already is leading the drive towards robotics in the UAE.