x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 October 2017

UAE students design drone to dissipate fog at airports

The team’s design reached the last 19 out of more than 400 entries in the international Drones For Good competition in Dubai.

Khalifa University Students Alaya AlMaaizmi (L) and Mouza Al Shemaili (R) with their drone. Antonie Robertson / The National
Khalifa University Students Alaya AlMaaizmi (L) and Mouza Al Shemaili (R) with their drone. Antonie Robertson / The National

SHARJAH // A team of academics and students from Khalifa University have developed a drone for dissipating fog from an airport runway or a busy road within minutes.

The design has reached the last 19 out of more than 400 entries in the international Drones For Good competition held in Dubai.

Dr Reyad El Khazali, the team’s leader, said such a drone was vital for the UAE as the country suffered heavy and disruptive fog conditions in winter that caused problems on roads and at airports.

“We’ve tested it in a closed greenhouse, which generated the fog conditions, and we were able to dissipate the fog in 11 seconds,” he said, explaining that the use of a salt solution created an imbalance between the temperature and the dew point.

“The salt particles absorb the fog particles, which creates the imbalance, allowing us to dissipate the fog. For this project we’re up to 15-20kgs solution capacity in the drone, but in the future we can build a stronger drone that can carry 40-50kgs of solution,” he added.

The environmentally friendly solution is comprises six per cent salt mixed with water to produce a spray that can clear fog.

This month, Etihad Airways had to book thousands of passengers into Abu Dhabi hotel rooms after heavy fog led to the cancellation of 20 flights. The fog also caused disruptions at Dubai airport.

Moza Al Shemaili, 31, one of three female Emirati PhD students working on the project, said the work represented a personal challenge as she often encountered heavy fog during her daily commute from her RAK home to the Sharjah campus.

“I drive early when the fog is still thick and it causes many accidents,” she said. “This would be very successful to use on the main roads.”

The idea originated from the concept of cloud seeding, which is used to artificially create rain. The drones are designed to convert the fog into damp droplets.

Alya Al Mazmi, 21, a fourth-year communications student, said tackling the problems caused by fog affected everyone. “The airports could buy a number of these drones as well as the emergency services vehicles having them ready for dispatch.”

Dr El Khazali said it would cost up to Dh100,000 to construct each drone, an appealing price considering the amount of revenue lost by airports and airlines in fog delays.

The competition winner will be announced on February 7 with a US$1m (Dh3.67m) prize on offer. The Khalifa University team, the only UAE representation in the competition’s final stages, will face teams from such famed US universities as MIT and Stanford.

Ms Al Mazmi said win or lose the team was proud of its achievements.

“It’s time to make people more aware that there are drones that can be used as solutions to problems. Being involved with such new technology and in this field is a very good thing to be a part of, especially as Emirati women.”

mswan@thenational.ae