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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 August 2018

The latest generation of unmanned vehicles are on display in Abu Dhabi

Umex 2018 shows the latest in technology in drones and unmanned vehicles from around the world

They can fly, crawl and swim. One has flown around the summit of Everest, while another can lurk at the bottom of the sea for up to two months.

All of them have two things in common. They operate without a human on board, and can be seen at the Unmanned Systems Exhibition and Conference (UMEX) at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre until Tuesday.

The three-day event was opened on Sunday by Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, with more than 100 exhibitors.

The first day saw deals worth Dh291.6 million signed, including for for nearly Dh72.5m by Abu Dhabi Autonomous Systems Investments Company.

On display was the latest cutting edge technology from the world of drones and unmanned vehicles – quite literally in the case of the Croatian built MV-10, a mine-clearing vehicle which features a massive pincer-like grab and a protective shield made of 'Hardox-450'.

The technology of unmanned vehicles - and the biggest demand - comes largely from the military and defence industries, where it offers the prospect of missions and even combat without the risk of human causalities.

Inevitably, the names of some of the machines on display reflect the task they can carry out.

The Fantom by Ukrinmash of Ukraine, is a six-wheeled vehicle that comes with the option of either 7.62 or 12.7mm machine gun.

The Fantom 2 can be equipped with a rocket launcher, while the company’s range of aerial drones include the Valkerie and Commandor.

Rather less threatening was the Chinese company Harry Sky Dream which designs a range of drones for aerial photography and mapping.

The largest drone on display was the massive Hammerhead from Italy’s Piaggo, with a maximum range of 16 hours, and adapted from an executive turboprop with a capacity for nine passengers.

Two years ago it was reported that the UAE had signed a US$346 million deal to buy eight of the Hammerhead unmanned aerial vehicles.

Almost at the other end of the scale is the Russian-made Skat 640 drone, which holds the altitude record for an aircraft under one tonne after circling the summit of Everest last year, and returning with the video to prove it.

A number of UAE companies are also entering the market.

Al Marakeb of Sharjah is promoting a range of technology that allows the conversion of any boat to an unmanned surface vessel, with both civilian and military use.

Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Advanced Research and Technology is a research and development company whose designs include the Seaexplorer, described as an “underwater glider” with a battery endurance of two months and an operating depth of 700 metres.

The Seaexplorer can be used for search and rescue, including recovering black boxes from crashed aircraft, and for anti-submarine warfare.

Not all the devices at Umex 2018 come with a multi-million dirham price tag. A team of young women from the Higher Colleges of Technology in Sharjah is proudly displaying their autonomous firefighting robot.

Designed by Marian Safar, Mathaa Khalfin and Hajar Al Zaroui, the device can be controlled using an app, directing a jet of water at oil and chemical fires. It has already been tested successfully with a view to producing it commercially.

“We wanted to keep firemen safe and sound,” said Ms Safar.

Emirates Technology and Innovation Centre, part of Khalifa University of Science and Technology, was set up in 2014 to develop and encourage local talent.

It aims to help graduates work in industry, including autonomous systems. A team from ETiC is already preparing its entry for the Mohammed Bin Zayed International Robotic Challenge, described as a 'triathlon' for drones and which will take place next in 2019.

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Entrants will have to use unmanned aerial vehicles to complete three tasks, including building a structure with bricks, capturing a flying drone and fighting a high rise fire.

For a team of final year students at Al Ain University, the challenge is to find a way for wireless recharging of electric vehicles.

Ibrahim Bahloul, Mohammed Al Badarneh and Ahmed Zayed have already successfully tested a working model of an autonomous vehicle which can position itself over a recharging station hidden under the track.

“We want to make it easier to recharge your electric vehicle” said Mr Zayed. “You could do it at home or at the mall.”

One day, the team thinks, it will be possible for an electric vehicle to charge itself wirelessly even when moving. As recent graduates though, they have a new challenge – to find jobs.

UMEX continues on Monday and Tuesday.

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