Q&A: Rabih Bou Rashid, CEO.
Falcon Eye Drones.
Why is the GCC region a particularly exciting place for the commercial UAV sector?
The GCC region has always been committed to innovation, adopting the latest technologies to maintain and enhance its leading position in various fields. Just this year, as the region began reopening their economic activities under the new normal, an increasing number of construction firms and real estate developers in the GCC are turning to drones’ technology as they get their operations back on track while safeguarding the health and safety of their workers.
In addition, the GCC’s drone industry is expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2022, according to PwC’s Strategy&. Much of this will be generated from oil and gas as well as utilities, constituting 43 per cent and 32 per cent, respectively.
As GCC realises the vital role drones play in helping sectors stay afloat as we reel from the effects of the crisis, the region will prove to be an ideal haven for the UAV sector to thrive further.
What is the full potential of commercial drones in the UAE?
I am confident that the potential of commercial drones in the UAE will be fully realised in the very near future, especially with the new drone law in Dubai that is set to position the emirate as the world’s commercial and start-up hub for drone services.
The new law will drive growth in the region’s drones industry, making it one of the strategic sectors that will lead to the economic recovery as it removes a major barrier in developing and utilising drones to its fullest potential.
This law will bring about a new economic stream that will position the emirate as the go-to hub for technology start-ups seeking new opportunities. It will also enable the creation of an integrated airport network and ground control infrastructure for drones, which will set a world precedent
Which key industries is FEDS targeting? For example, how is FEDS involved in the constriction and agriculture sector?
The region has been using drones extensively in the agriculture and construction sectors, even before the pandemic started. In a project for the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, FEDS had conducted a seeding initiative to plant 6.25 million Ghaf and Samar trees across 25 locations in the country in just a few days – a process that used to take decades with the traditional farming methods.
Drones can also help the construction industry as it would cut down expenses by 11.8 per cent in terms of progress monitoring—with the technology allowing constructors to constantly detect potential errors before they become costly problems over time.
Drones can also decrease time by 18.4 per cent as they help developers save hours plotting the site through their fast data collection capabilities. The ability of drones to conduct return flights and provide precise data through aerial view maps allows firms to detect potential errors effortlessly.
Drones also keep construction personnel away from the dangers of surveying hazardous sites, especially since they can hover even around risky spots to gather clips of the construction development.
The UAE authorities in Al Ain also sought the assistance of FEDS in mapping the flood-prone areas in the city, mirroring further the vital role these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) play in ensuring crucial emergency response procedures. Our team surveyed an area in Al Ain, which was affected by flash floods due to heavy rainfall. The team was able to give the authorities an effective visual reference of the inundated areas in a timely manner.
How can radiation-proof drones increase safety and speed up inspection missions at nuclear power plants?
With their ability to inspect confined spaces and areas beyond the human’s line of sight, drones can perform flawless assessments and capture crucial data in nuclear power plants without putting the workforce in harm’s way.
Prior to drones, surveying nuclear power plants required workers to don heavy anti-contamination suits. They also need to bring a radiation monitor—which exposes them to 250 millirem of radiation (around 10 per cent of the limit for radiation exposure yearly). But since drones are immune to radiation, inspectors can employ them to gather superior data—even around the most inaccessible spaces—without exposing workers to unnecessary dangers.
In addition, their capacity to comprehensively post-process data can play a crucial role in completing the set-up and maintaining the operations of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in the most cost-efficient way possible. They provide a first-hand full perspective of the site that was previously unrealistic to obtain, as well as help inspectors identify any potential deviations that could, in the future, dent its budget and even pose dangers to workers.
Drones can also record areas using photogrammetry, allowing inspectors to view the nuclear site from different angles. The information they will capture can also be used to build information models and even virtual reality systems to help inspectors truly immerse in the data.
Lastly, drones cut a significant amount of time spent in nuclear site inspections. In the assessment done by Elios 2 at DSRL nuclear site, the time spent for tank inspection was drastically downsized from 1.5 hours to 15 minutes.
Has the pandemic accelerated the need for commercial UAVs in the Gulf? How?
COVID-19 has prompted more usage of drones in the region, especially in the UAE, where they are being used by officials to enforce the #stayhome campaign. Authorities in Dubai and Sharjah have been using them to disseminate relevant announcements and information about the disease. In addition, drones have also been useful to the police in terms of monitoring residents who violate COVID-19 regulations. The government has also deployed them in disinfecting various areas in the country as part of the National Sterilisation Programme.
Could we see drones rolled out on a large scale in the UAE in the next five years?
I truly believe so. We have witnessed the keen initiative of the UAE to use the capabilities of drones as it goes in pursuit of becoming a smart nation that puts technology at the forefront of its governance. As one of the best countries to start a business, it has proven to be an innovative powerhouse that can cater to almost all industries, and that includes the UAV sector. Its strong political system and investor-friendly government, not to mention its initiatives leaning towards innovation, have made it possible for us at the sector to expand our capabilities and operations here.
What are the main barriers holding back the commercial UAV sector in this region?
As mentioned earlier, the lack of regulations and law that cover the usage of drones has been a major barrier in utilising UAVs to its full potential. Before Dubai’s Law No. 04 of 2020, no place in the world has ever formed a blanket law that covers the creation of an aerial infrastructure network and integrated framework for manufacturing, licencing, inspection, sale and ownership, as well as drone-based transport activities and services regulations.
This is the reason FEDS is confident that new law will drive growth in the drones industry, thereby cementing the position of the UAE as the global hub for drones technology businesses.
In terms of regulation, how supportive is the GCAA when it comes to commercial UAVs?
Recognising the enormous potential for growth of the sector—as well as its ability to create jobs—GCAA has led the development of a regulatory framework for drone operations in the UAE. Creating the drone law in Dubai is the Authority’s response to the increasing demand for UAVs across sectors, positioning the country further as the ideal place to launch start-up businesses for drone services.
Like what I have mentioned, the new law spearheaded by GCAA will drive growth in the region’s drones industry, leaving to a new economic stream that will open up countless opportunities for technology start-ups seeking new opportunities.
Are you able to share any plans from FEDS for 2021?
FEDS will always be committed to innovative technological advancements that provide cost-effective, timesaving, accurate and safe solutions to improve business decisions and strategic planning.
We will be also working on expanding our efforts further when it comes to the field of tackling COVID 19 as the pandemic has prompted more usage of drones, with a lot of countries utilising them to conduct its services without the risk of infection. We must put drones to our advantage in this crisis, as this technology offers a unique yet safe way to conduct remotely what used to be only human-to-human interactions
The exposure that drones enjoyed due to COVID-19 has spring boarded as from the position of a new and high-tech alternative, to some what of the next logical step to improving operations. Especially in the agriculture sector, drones are a viable way to increase food security and thereby reducing the dependence on importation- and that is huge, given the harsh climate that this land is subjected to. I think it’s important to make the distinction that the drone infrastructure we’re laying down today is not only helping the current pandemic we are going through, but also helps mitigate the effects of any other pandemics in the future. We want to bring about a positive impact in the world from sustainability to increasing human safety while making businesses more profitable.
The author Joe Peskett