DUBAI// They’re small, high-tech, and, if you’re smart enough to build a really useful one that can be put to use in the UAE, it could bag you a cool Dh1 million.
The country’s inventors are buzzing with ideas to create the next generation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or remote-control drones, spurred on by advances in technology and the cash prize offered as part of Dubai government’s Drones for Good Award.
The potential day-to-day civilian uses of drones are vast, with developers’ ideas ranging from traffic surveillance, package deliveries and even walking the family dog, all controlled by a smartphone app. The competition’s local judges, however, will be looking for more practical benefits for health, education, civil defence, transport and tourism that can be up and running within 12 months.
Civilian drone technology is still in its infancy but is expected to become a major manufacturing sector in the future. In the meantime, creating a UAV capable of delivering on inventors’ promises means fulfilling several difficult criteria.
“Above all, it must be capable of handling different climate conditions equally effectively, like no wind, light wind, strong wind, heavy rain, etc,” said Anton Gavrailov, co-founder of Flyver, a Bulgarian company that helps programmers to develop software for drones. “What will make a difference in the drones will be the software.”
But the technology is there and is becoming cheaper and more accessible, said Mr Garailov, who added that drone apps are at the beginning of their development cycle and in time will become just as simple and as popular as smartphone apps to programme.
“From a software perspective, developers need to learn proprietary low-level development interfaces to control the drone. This trend can be observed in many areas of customer electronics and hardware,” he said. “You need to be a real geek, a motivated geek, to overcome this barrier.”
But that has not deterred students from entering the contest.
A team of five from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science Pilani, Dubai, have already developed remote-controlled aerial and land bots for previous contests.
“We plan to upgrade our bot to a completely autonomous drone for the contest,” said Yashaan Cooper, a second-year electronics and communication-engineering student.
“Our bot now is pilot controlled. But we will upgrade it to make it completely based on artificial intelligence. We want to give something back to society. We want to take it to the next level and contribute to the Dubai government.”
Mr Cooper, 20, said their new drone would cost at least Dh15,000 to develop and could be used for navigation, exploration, traffic updates and to deliver parcels.
“If the government wants to deliver a small parcel, it can be done securely and with the use of fingerprints. Ours will be an integrated drone that can store data and can be linked to Google Images.”
He said the team were looking for sponsors to fund their project.
The remote-controlled drone weighs 1.8kg, costs Dh4,000 and took six weeks to develop.
As well as the local award, an international prize of US$1 million (Dh3.67m) is also up for grabs that will recognise the best ideas for using drones in the next one to three years, focusing on delivering government services in remote areas and even providing relief during disasters.
The finalists will present their UAVs in Dubai at the Government Summit 2015, in February. For details visit www.dronesforgood.ae.