Abu Dhabi’s new Advanced Technology Research Council will shift research and development into “high gear”, helping to make the emirate a more attractive global hub for start-ups and technology companies, according to experts.
A pipeline of high-tech R&D investment and initiatives from Ghadan 21, Abu Dhabi’s three-year Dh50 billion economic stimulus plan, has attracted and supported academics and the private sector over the last 18 months.
The research council will build on that progress, setting the priorities for technology development in the emirate and finance standards for R&D contracts, while reporting to the Abu Dhabi Executive Council.
"There has been growing recognition that investment in R&D can create new value, developing home-grown technologies and creating valuable intellectual property, rather than viewing all technology simply as an expense," Carrington Malin, an independent consultant in the UAE who publishes a weekly newsletter on artificial intelligence in the Middle East, told The National.
“There's certainly an opportunity for the ATRC to both help co-ordinate R&D activities and align with government goals and needs. As the ecosystem develops further, it will become more and more attractive for established tech [companies] and new start-ups alike.”
There are signs this is already taking place.
The Abu Dhabi Investment Office, for example, which oversees foreign direct investment and private sector development in the emirate, as well as several initiatives under Ghadan 21, announced last year that China’s AI giant SenseTime would open an R&D centre for Europe, the Middle East and Africa in Abu Dhabi, employing 600 engineers.
More recently, ADQ, one of the region’s largest holding companies, launched a $300 million (Dh1.1bn) start-up fund that aims to bring promising Asian start-ups to set up business in Masdar City.
The investment office's director general, Tariq Bin Hendi, told The National that the research council would further develop R&D financing, partnership opportunities and access to technology.
“ATRC will play a significant role in continuing the development of Abu Dhabi’s innovation ecosystem and supporting the growth of businesses here,” he said.
There's a big role for the research council to play in both helping to support local R&D needs and paving the way for global investment in Abu Dhabi.
Faisal Al Bannai, the chief executive and managing director of Abu Dhabi’s defence company, Edge, who founded cybersecurity company DarkMatter, is the ATRC’s secretary general.
The research council's scope includes R&D activities in "engineering, communications, AI, robotics, space, alternative energy, renewables and the environmental, chemical, petrochemical, food, pharmaceutical and construction industries”.
“Bringing together cross-disciplinary leaders in research and technology, the new council will cultivate a collaborative research community, accelerate innovation and discovery and foster a culture of inquiry.”