ABU DHABI // Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed was, on Sunday, met at Khalifa University by a very special individual – “Reem”, one of only four US$50 million, all-purpose robots in the world.
With the touch of a button on its casing, Sheikh Hamed, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court, launched the $5m (Dh18.3m) Mohammed bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge.
Sheikh Hamed is also deputy chairman of the Khalifa University board of trustees, and the challenge will take place every two years.
“Challenges like this stimulate students and researchers from all over the world to enable scientific research and innovation,” said Dr Arif Al Hammadi, executive vice president at the university.
Next year’s challenge will focus on land and aerial robots that can assess situations and work together in emergencies.
Dr Mohammed Al Mualla, senior vice president of research and development at KU, said the first challenge would be open only to postgraduate departments and research centres around the world. Later versions will be open to all students and the public.
Participants will have to design and build robots that can, in tandem, land on a moving vehicle, put out fires and access areas that are hazardous for humans.
Dr Al Hammadi said the contest was in line with the Government’s push for innovation.
“We want to encourage students to create and for every university in the UAE to eventually have a robotics lab for its students,” he said.
Encouraging innovation among Emirati youth is one of the key goals of the competition, Dr Al Mualla said.
“We envision these robots having greater access to hard-to-reach places and decreasing response times rapidly,” he said.
Dr Paolo Dario, director of the BioRobotics Institute in Pontedera, Italy, said: “We are asking participants to create robots that are fast, dynamic and have the ability to react in shifting situations.”
Dr Dario, the visiting chief researcher of robotics and biomedical engineering at Khalifa University, said the challenge would provide an important step in developing the robotics industry in the UAE.
“Involving local companies by making them the beneficiary end-users would help create the industry and could assist many sectors such as energy, health and security,” he said.
Although it is widely believed that the development of a robotic industry will usher in unlimited economic growth, Dr Lakmal Seneviratne said there were many gaps to be filled.
“There is still a lot of work to be done to fill these technological gaps,” said Dr Seneviratne, director of the university’s Robotics Institute.
A call for proposals will begin in May, with submissions due in September. Seven finalists will be chosen in October and the challenge will take place in November next year.
Each group of finalists will receive $500,000, with the winning team taking home $2m.
Teams interested in entering the competition can find more information at mbzirc.com.