Dubai has a complicated relationship with drones. The emirate had one of the world’s first major airport closures linked to a drone sighting back in 2015 – such events are estimated to cost up to $1 million a minute.
But it will take more than a few scares to dampen Dubai’s prolific appetite for the future; the emirate is currently working on regulations to allow drones to operate as taxis, service airports and even deliver coffees on the beach.
Emirati entrepreneur Ahmad Al Darwish has plans to muscle in on the future with his drone company, Falcon Robotics.
Right now, I think drones have a bit of an unfair reputation but I don’t blame them with all those hobbyists not following the rules
He tells Arabian Business: “I want to compete with Amazon as they are going to start their autonomous delivery services here. That’s what I want to do but I will have to wait a bit because of regulations. Drones are like the enemy, so I am hoping that will change in due course in the GCC.”
Al Darwish says he was moved to set up Falcon Robotics by Dubai government’s Drones For Good Award, which awards AED1m ($272,000) in prize money to inventors that can create drones that ‘provide service to humanity’, across sectors such as the environment, education and logistics.
He says: “Right now, I think drones have a bit of an unfair reputation but I don’t blame them with all those hobbyists not following the rules. They need time until they all get regulated so that they all have a tracking system. Once it’s all controlled, then we can start.”
Although drones have been in existence for several decades, they have long outgrown their military surveillance roots and are now widely used by consumers and professionals. Globally, drones are expected to become part of daily operations across industries as varied as construction, insurance, agriculture, and journalism.
In five years time, we are going to be a big research company for robotics within the aircraft industry
In a 2016 report, Goldman Sachs estimated that drone technologies would reach a total market size of $100 billion between 2016 and 2020. The commercial business represents the fastest growth opportunity, projected to reach $13bn between 2016 and 2020.
Dubai proved it is a fearless technology leader when it announced plans to provide the world’s first air taxi service by 2023. The technology, which is expected to come online in the next four to five years, could potentially enable two passengers to fly on journeys of up to 30 minutes.
Al Darwish says the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) is setting a global precedent with its air taxi plans but adds there are ‘many projects going on’.
The Falcon Robotics founder, who is currently acting as a broker for drone hire, believes there are many different industries that could potentially benefit from drones.
He says: “The uses for drones are vast – whether it’s production, delivery, logistics, or aerial photography. Once you start applying the robotics part and the intelligence to the drones, the sky is the limit.
“You can use drones to clean the windows on the towers, you can use them to help the police, you can use them for search and rescue. So it’s a big market but it’s very new so some people are wary as the technology is developing fast.”
Falcon Robotics is currently able to source drones for a variety of services within the UAE and beyond. It bills itself as a specialist RPAS and sUAS company with access to the most advanced equipment and elite drone pilots. “There are many qualified drone pilots in the country,” says Al Darwish. “They have done courses and practiced hours of flying basically.”
Al Darwish says he currently has access to two local drones that he can reserve, but he has a global book of available drones and pilots for different services.
“I’m basically a broker at the moment. I’m a middleman; I get the orders and then I see who has the drones then I get them and provide the service,” he says.
The entrepreneur is currently working with a local energy company to provide drones that pick up water samples to test for pollution, as well as providing aerial photography services for logistics and inventory tracking.
However, he stresses: “That’s not my main focus; this is just to get it started. I have some patents to create my own drones and manufacture them in Dubai and provide services for the aircraft industry. But unfortunately the regulations are not there yet so this will need time.”
Al Darwish says he has plans to help with airport services in the future. “I think the aircraft industry can make use of drones – that’s what I realised when I was doing my research. I want to help the airline industry, not just regionally but globally. In the future, every airline will need at least two or three of my drones,” he says.
Al Darwish says he has already started to attract seed funding from investors and support from government entities.
“Currently I’m working on getting my patents finalised, so I can look for more investors and co-founders to assist in manufacturing my drones.”
Make no mistake, this entrepreneur has big plans for Falcon Robotics.
He says: “In five years time we are going to be a big research company for robotics within the aircraft industry. We are going to be manufacturing drones for regional and worldwide customers. Why limit myself to the region?”For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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