UAE entrants offer positive alternatives uses for drones in competition

Winners of Vice President’s global contest to find peaceful uses for surveillance aircraft will be announced in two weeks.

The CatUAV drone, designed with the assistance of the European Space Agency, will be used to detect landmines in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and is a finalist in the UAE Drones for Good contest. Courtesy CatUAV

ABU DHABI // Detecting landmines in former conflict zones, giving archaeology buffs a better look at digging sites, and helping to redevelop slums – all are examples of using drone technology for good.

And the three ideas are among 34 projects, 15 of them local, in the semi-finals of the Dh3.6 million UAE Drones for Good international competition.

Eight hundred people from 57 countries have entered the contest since it was launched last February, led by Spain with 62 entries and followed by the US and India.

The award was launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, during last year’s Government Summit.

Local candidates are eligible for a Dh1m prize, with the winner to be announced on February 7.

One of the finalists, from Denmark, wants to use drones to give visitors to the Royal Jelling museum a bird’s-eye view of the country’s biggest archaeological site.

The museum has several exhibits on Viking history and the curators want to give visitors a real-world experience.

“We wanted to give the visitors a concrete sense of the space as it is today,” said Jussi Angesleva, vice creative director of Art+Com, on a video posted to the company’s Vimeo page.

“It’s a huge space so we have to go high up. Denmark is flat so how do you get up? Well, you can fly a drone.”

The team designed an archaeodrone concept that gives visitors the ability to pilot the drones and survey the archaeological site by controlling one of six Gopro3 cameras attached to the aircraft.

“We want to show what drones are capable of for good,” Mr Angesleva said.

“It’s not only a military technology and it’s not all about surveillance.

“But drones can also be used for discovering new things, to be excited about history and to understand the world better.”

Another submission uses the machines to detect landmines in countries coming out of war.

"It is hard to believe that still there are 70 countries with landmines still in the soil," says the narrator in Marc Beltran's Cat-UAV Land Mines Detection video submission.

“Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the countries with the highest density.”

The landmine project searches for devices deployed during the early 1990s.

“Unfortunately, they keep making victims every year. Some get seriously injured and some get killed,” the narration continues.

“Landmines are buried throughout the country, which interrupts people from having normal lives.”

Other methods of clearing mines include using specially trained dogs to sniff them out or through robotics, which can be “extremely slow and dangerous”.

CatUAV, along with the European Space Agency, came up with the idea of using an unmanned drone, the parts of which cost less than US$1,300 (Dh4,775).

The aerial photographs from the drone are run through a post-processing programme that provides a mosaic map of the area and determines the probability of landmines.

Another submission comes from David Kiarie, from Kenya, whose project uses drones to help governments and non-profit organisations deliver civil services to the 7.8 million people living in urban slums in his country.

In Kenya, slum huts are often so densely packed that roads and railway systems are encroached upon, causing fire hazards and sanitation issues from lack of access.

“Huge fires have at many times consumed valuable property and claimed many lives, with firefighters, humanitarian volunteers, health workers and police officers unable to access scenes of accidents,” said Mr Kiarie, on a video submission to the competition.

Drones can fly over the slums and capture spatial data to help stakeholders redevelop and control access.

“This data will inform decision-making and therefore help to save lives, fight poverty and improve security, reduce congestion and allow smooth service delivery to slum residents,” Mr Kiarie said.