UAE hosts $1 million international drone contest

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Drones have become pretty commonplace over the last year or so. Once upon a time, the concept of a drone seemed like something out of a sci-fi movie. But now, anyone can walk into their local shopping centre and pick one off the shelves, and we’re used to seeing countless videos of drone footage online. The idea of the drone might have lost its magic somewhat, but there’s so much more potential to this space than just being able to capture some dramatic aerial footage.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen concepts like the emergency defibrillator drone in Holland and Amazon’s delivery drone project that could revolutionize online shopping and logistics in general. But even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos admits that it’s up to 5 years from seeing the light of day due to the multitude of regulations and lengthy approval process required to get such an idea off the ground in the United States.

Some countries however don’t have these restrictions. The UAE government for example are extremely enthusiastic about the idea of utilising drones, and because they aren’t constricted by the regulations that exist in the US, they can be a bit more adventurous and push through these ideas a lot quicker than most places. The Dubai government announced last year that they’ve been testing delivery drones with the intention of using them for the delivery of government documents and launched an initiative called ‘Drones For Good‘ to encourage new practical drone concepts that could improve people’s lives and make public services more efficient.

The initiative culminated this weekend with over 30 finalists competing in Dubai for a US$1 million international prize. The year-long competition drew over 800 entries from 57 countries around the world with entrants covering everything from traffic management, firefighting, reforestation, urgent transportation of organs and fog dissipation.

The international category was won by Swiss company Flyability and their collision-resistant ‘GimBall’ drone. The drone is built inside a rotating rollcage which makes it capable of colliding with obstacles in challenging environments without losing its stability. GimBall was designed to aid rescue relief efforts, enabling it to comb disaster areas, dense forests, or other tight spaces without fear of being damaged. The 400-gram drone can be deployed in hard-to-reach places during fires and disasters, which are usually addressed by search and rescue officials that could endanger their lives.

Flyability’s Patrick Thevoz said: “We struggled to find funding to develop our search and rescue drone but this UAE Government Summit initiative, Drones for Good, means we can commercially develop our project within a year, and with Flyability able to go where it is dangerous for rescuers, help save lives.”