Robotics groups compete for $1m at Drones for Good in Dubai

Companies from around the world hope to repair the new technology’s reputation

Swiss ‘Flyability’ co-founder and CEO Patrick Thevoz posing with a drone as his team is awarded with the main prize of one million US dollars to Swiss team ‘Flyability’ for winning the ‘UAE Drones for Good’ competition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photograph: EPA/UAE DRONES FOR GOOD

Swiss ‘Flyability’ co-founder and CEO Patrick Thevoz posing with a drone as his team is awarded with the main prize of one million US dollars to Swiss team ‘Flyability’ for winning the ‘UAE Drones for Good’ competition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photograph: EPA/UAE DRONES FOR GOOD

 

Drones are getting a bad reputation on the back of international stories on landing at the White House and buzzing pedestrians.

So at the Drones for Good meeting in Dubai, robotics groups from around the world competed for a $1 million (€884,000) prize and the chance to repair the technology’s reputation.

The winner of what organisers are calling the drone “World Cup”, was Flyability SA, a Swiss company that makes a hovering robot called Gimball that bounces off walls to navigate its way past barriers and through buildings. Flyability’s design was inspired by the way insects move around obstacles, co-founder Patrick Thevoz said. A mesh cage surrounding the motor and camera moves independently from the rest of the machine, meaning it can crash without losing stability.

The design also makes it safer to use near people. In a demonstration video on YouTube, Flyability’s machine is shown bouncing gently off a developer’s head. “Some drones are really very dangerous for humans, and humans have a tendency to like drones,” said Thevoz. People who aren’t used to working with a drone “tend to go right up to it”.

Teams competing in the event had to demonstrate their technology could provide a public service in areas such as disaster relief, humanitarian aid, logistics and education. The prototype drones also had to be within three years of being ready to deploy. Finalists had to give a live demonstration and provide a technical report with details such as the drones’ operating system, tracking, power source and proposed solutions to safety or regulatory issues.

Flyability, whose drone could be used for search and rescue activities, already has customers in Europe who use the robot to inspect the inside of container ships and hard-to-reach parts of buildings. The company plans to use the prize money to move from prototype phase to wider production, Thevoz said. Other finalists included Spain’s Dronlife, whose drone could deliver organs for transplant, BioCarbon Engineering in the UK that has made a tree-planting drone, Germany’s Quantum with a robot that monitors crop conditions, and Skynet, an Australian team whose machine delivers packages.

- (Bloomberg)

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