Dubai in the UAE

Dubai is working to become an automation hub.

August 02, 2016      

In the first part of “Robotics in the UAE,” we looked at how the United Arab Emirates is actively laying down the seeds for an advanced robotics industry in the country. As the government does this, two other developments are taking place. First, the private sector is paying attention, and second, a city-level robotics blueprint is evolving.

Private-sector robotics in the UAE

Several private robotics companies already have operations in the UAE. Four of them are worth paying attention to.

The first two companies are Kuka Robotics AG and DigiRobotics LLC. Kuka is the German robotics company that made headlines for being bought by Chinese appliance maker Midea Group Co. UAE-based DigiRobotics is focused on several sectors, including aviation and unmanned vehicles.

Late last year, Kuka partnered with DigiRobotics to bring German industrial automation (and other kinds of robots) into the UAE.

This partnership has geopolitical undertones. As a Chinese company becomes the controlling stakeholder of Kuka, it will also gain Kuka’s global footprint, including a hand in the UAE’s local robotics industry.

Merlin Digital's minidrones

Merlin Digital has released three new mini-drones.

The third company is UAE-based Merlin Digital Hi Tech Gadgets and Consumer Electronics. In 2014, Merlin Digital was asked by the UAE government to create an app that allows people to take a “virtual tour” of Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque.

In 2016, Merlin Digital unveiled three new mini-drones. The company is focusing on mini-drones for their “compactness” and ease when it comes to storing and carrying objects. Can these drones be used by the UAE for a future drone delivery project?

The fourth company is San Francisco-based Anki Inc., which gained attention in 2013 when it showcased a car-racing game called Anki Drive during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. The game uses robot cars, artificial intelligence, and smartphone connectivity to bring a new kind of car racing to life.

In 2016, Anki announced that it will be selling the second version of Anki Drive known as Anki Overdrive in the UAE. The company wants to take advantage of the local connected-toys industry, which is part of a $762 million toys and games market in the country.

Separately, Fun Robotics is a self-branded “specalized robotics center” in Dubai. The private institution is working to help youngsters improve their robotics skills.

As children experiment and work with robotics in this center, some of the initial innovations can be around robotics and gaming.

In other countries, robotics is taking off around humanoid robots or service robots. In the UAE, will robotics take off around gaming?

Smart city vision for Dubai

By far, smart city initiatives are the biggest “seed” for the robotics blueprint in the UAE. In 2013, Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, unveiled a “smart city” vision to turn Dubai into one of the world’s most advanced cities. The main focus of the project is to revolutionize government services at the city level.

The smart-city initiative involves robotics in two ways. The first is public policy.

The “Open Data Law,” which was passed in October 2015, allows the sharing of data between the government and public to allow different parties, such as investors and researchers, to make use of the data in new ways.

Can a drone company use government logistics data to introduce a drone delivery program? Or, can an industrial automation company deploy collaborative robots in government agencies based on staffing data?

The second area involving the robotics blueprint is in transportation.

The UAE is pursuing smart transportation for two reasons: the smart city project and because Dubai has been selected for World Expo 2020. The UAE wants to use the expo to make an impression on the world stage.

The smart transport initiative looks at unifying traffic control under one system. The Expo2020 projects look to bring self-driving cars to Dubai by 2020 — a “robotics objective” for the country.

A professor at Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute of Science and Technology believes that, by 2020, there could be driverless cars on the UAE’s roads. Akka Technologies, a French technology company, is looking to bring its self-driving technology called “Link & Go” to the UAE by 2020 as well.

Masdar City driverless pod

The Masdar Institute is working to bring self-driving cars to the UAE by 2020.

This isn’t the first time the UAE has experimented in self-driving cars. The Masdar Institute is also working to bring self-driving cars to the UAE by 2020.

In 2010, it introduced self-driving “pods” in “Masdar City” (part of Abu Dhabi). These self-driving pods gained fame all around the world. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the UAE in August, 2015, he rode in one.

If the UAE develops and deploys self-driving vehicles throughout the country, will it serve as a de-facto “testing ground” for autonomous vehicle services in the Middle East?

The Dubai Future Foundation today said it’s working with Wilmington, Del.-based WeRobotics to create a global network of “flying labs” to help transfer robotics technology to developing countries.

More on Robotics and Economic Diversification:

UAE robotics blueprint for success

Through the government and private companies, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is making investments in robotics. It’s not clear whether these investments will provide the diversification the UAE is seeking, but one thing is clear.

The country is becoming a testing-ground for robotics. And this testing ground can yield all kinds of new ideas and innovations.

For the Middle East, this means the UAE is in the process of developing a strategy for technology-based economic diversification — with a huge focus on robotics. If the UAE’s robotics blueprint is successful, other countries in the region may follow, creating a “robotic ripple effect.”

For other robotics companies, the UAE’s investments signal that a new robotic power is emerging. But, unlike other countries who are investing in robotics, the UAE is in a different position.

As oil declines in value, the UAE knows it has a limited time to “pivot.” And that means its robotic strategies and investments in the coming months and years can be unlike anything the world has seen before.