In October 2022, the Dubai Museum of the Future hired a new employee.
She meets visitors, answers their questions, talks about herself, makes jokes, and acts surprised, happy, and angry. All this makes her look human, except she’s a robot with artificial intelligence. Such robots are common in the UAE because the country seriously considers creating a full-scale robotics ecosystem. It’s already succeeding in some areas: for example, the UAE medical robotics market is expected to reach $182 million by 2025, growing by more than 14 per cent annually on average from 2020 to 2025. Today, Denis Ledenkoff, CEO and founder of Robosculptor, shares insights into three key trends shaping the robotics industry in the UAE.
Collaborative robots are becoming widespread in many sectors
“UAE companies across all industries are betting on robotics and automation, allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to introduce new technologies to increase productivity and efficiency. Robots are always on hand – speeding up passenger check-in at airports, delivering food to restaurants, pointing out directions in shopping malls, welcoming guests at conferences, and even monitoring safety in the streets to help police officers”. – says Ledenkoff.
Highly skilled and sophisticated robots help companies serve customers better and faster and reduce their dependence on human error. As the UAE strives to lead the way in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics, robots increasingly perform professional tasks in various sectors of the country’s economy.
Robotic solutions are especially relevant to industries that lack skilled workers. These include, for example, healthcare, where the global shortage of personnel has only intensified since the pandemic. Surgeons in the UAE are already increasingly turning to robotic surgery to perform complex procedures with greater precision and efficiency. In May 2022, for example, Dubai Hospital launched the Da Vinci Xi surgical robot for minimally invasive surgery. Another possible way of using robots in healthcare is in massage therapy. This is especially relevant given the global shortage of massage specialists, many of whom left the profession during the pandemic.
“Based on my experience in the sector, I believe robotic masseurs can assist real people and accommodate clients who are uncomfortable with someone else’s touch or unwilling to wait for their turn to see a human specialis,” indicates Ledenkoff.
Here are a few more examples that clearly illustrate the trend. In cleaning, robots can provide a more economical use of resources at a high level of quality and safety. For instance, Emrill, an integrated facilities management company, recently partnered with Dubai Festival City Mall to launch the first eco-friendly retail cleaning robot. The LeoMop never gets tired and can work up to 20 hours daily. Thanks to a lithium battery, it takes only two hours to charge. The robot also reduces water consumption from 40 litres to 600 millilitres per hour. These two features make it both energy- and water-efficient.
In logistics, robots can solve the last-mile problem. There are already examples in the UAE market, too: in partnership with the Dubai Integrated Economic Zone Authority and Talabat UAE, the Roads and Transportation Authority is testing autonomous food delivery robots, also known as Talabots, in the Dubai Silicon Oasis. They move within a three km radius of the launch point in the Cedre Mall and provide a fast 15-minute delivery. In the future, the use of autonomous robots is expected to optimise fleet operations and consequently reduce carbon dioxide emissions, revolutionising the sustainable last-mile delivery market in the UAE.
AI is making robots more intelligent, easier to use, and more helpful
Many people mistakenly believe that robots and artificial intelligence are interchangeable, but this is untrue. Robots are devices designed to automatically perform one or more simple or complex tasks with maximum speed and accuracy. At the same time, AI is a software component that adds certain human-like behaviours to a robot: the ability to learn, analyse, plan, solve problems, and consider the environment.
AI can be called the brain of a robot. Its rapid development in recent years has made robots much more intelligent, allowing them to perform increasingly complex tasks, including those requiring full autonomy. Not surprisingly, the market for robotics with artificial intelligence was estimated at $4.1 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $28.5 billion by 2028, growing at an impressive CAGR of 27.2 per cent. At the same time, further simplification of the software and controllers used to program robots will help reduce barriers to technology adoption by eliminating the need for specialised knowledge.
So, what exactly are intelligent robots capable of? AI robots are equipped with various sensors (including vision, vibration and proximity ones, accelerometers, and others) that provide them with data they can analyse and use in real-time. Machine learning as part of AI allows them to use this data and contextual information to learn and perform tasks more efficiently. And natural language processing technologies enable robots to answer questions posed by humans, taking into account the latter’s mood. NLP allows AI robots in retail, healthcare, and hospitality industries to interact directly with customers and serve as virtual assistants.
For example, in the beauty industry robots can be even more effective than human specialists or many of them. Particularly Robosculptor an automated robotic system for aesthetic body contouring can do massage fully autonomously without a specialist. Using accelerometers and high-sensitivity pressure sensors, it is aggregating input data from many specialists to create protocols that achieve maximum effectiveness across all body types. Utilising 3D cameras, it can build a unique 3D model of every patient that can then be stored in a custom metaverse. During treatment, the system tracks patient body changes and compares them against the stored metaverse model. This allows for real-time, high-fidelity tracking that can reroute instrument trajectories and follow the prescribed treatment model despite patient movements.
In the case of delivery robots such as Talabots, AI is required to receive information from 3D cameras and LiDAR sensors, analyse it, draw conclusions based on surroundings, and help robots avoid collisions while determining the best path to complete the task. In the Emrill cleaning robot example, AI is needed to intelligently map the areas that need to be cleaned. The robot also self-learns with each activation to improve scheduling.
In surgery, AI helps specialists to focus on the complex aspects of interventions. The surgeon controls the robotic system from a computer and receives detailed visualisations of microscopic structures from cameras. AI ensures procedure accuracy and speed, allowing the doctor to distinguish tissue types and determine their sizes. AI can also help with preoperative planning by analysing MRI and CT images, medical records, and historical data to create a surgery plan according to specific criteria and adjust it in real-time
“And in robotic massage, an AI-enabled high-resolution 3D camera can be used to scan the client’s body, transfer this information to an executive device and build a toolpath map that will adapt to the client’s position. This is how it works in our Robosculptor system,” says Ledenkoff about Robosculptor.
Government, business, and educators initiatives are helping robotics to thrive
“The latest notable trend in the UAE robotics market is the active participation of the government, businesses, and educational institutions in the development of the industry. I have experienced the UAE’s openness to innovation in the process of my company’s growth. In the country, you can quickly receive support for AI and robotics projects by getting approval from top officials” – told Denis Ledenkoff, founder of Robosculptor.
The UAE already has a National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence for 2031, which includes eight strategic goals and several initiatives aimed at applying artificial intelligence to improve the well-being of society. Among these goals are global ones, like increasing the competitiveness of AI in the UAE, and more specific ones, such as creating an incubator for AI innovation and attracting and training professionals for the jobs of the future.
It doesn’t stop with the national strategy. In September 2022, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the launch of the Dubai Robotics and Automation Programme, which aims to encourage R&A development, testing, and adoption in critical economic sectors. The program should increase the industry’s contribution to Dubai’s GDP to nine per cent within ten years. It will provide 200,000 robots to improve efficiency and productivity in services, logistics, manufacturing, and other industries.
And in November, Dubai Future Labs launched the Emirates Robotics Competition in collaboration with the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Caliph University of Science and Technology. Teams had to develop intelligent systems that would enable robots to perceive their environment and make decisions based on external factors. The Emirates Robotics Competition aimed to bridge the gap between the current capabilities of robots and the requirements of potential applications. It also raised awareness about robotics and promoted the development of young people’s skills.
Finally, in January 2023, Dubai hosted its first Roboday, organised by the free economic zone Dubai Silicon Oasis. The latter plans to create an ecosystem for robotics consisting of international companies, startups, and students. In this environment, they will be able to participate in specialized events, develop new ideas, and solve complex problems.
The role of educational institutions cannot be overlooked: for example, there are at least 30 bachelor programmes in the UAE in fields directly related to the creation of robots. Schools have also begun to incorporate robotics into the core curriculum more frequently. I expect numerous initiatives related to robot development and training to make the UAE a major robotics centre in the Middle Eastern market in the coming years.