- The UAE launched the Drones for Good Award last month
- They're seeking ideas on how unmanned aerial vehicles can better the world
- Dubai is hoping to use drones for government services
Unmanned aerial vehicles aren't generally thought of as technology that improves lives; they're more readily associated with spying or attacking things.
However a competition in the United Arab Emirates is trying to change all that.
Last month, the government launched the Drones for Good Award, a two-part competition inviting local and international engineers alike to submit proposals for UAVs aimed at improving government services locally and bettering humanity worldwide.
While the UAE has thrown itself into the manufacturing of military drones (at last year's Dubai Airshow, Abu Dhabi-based Adcom Systems had the largest selection of UAVs), the government is also hoping to lead the way in the implementation of machines meant for civilian use.
"Drones get a lot of bad publicity related to surveillance and military operations," admits Saif Al Aleeli, the project manager.
"But at the end of the day, they're only a tool of technology. Our message is that we can use it for the good of people all over the world. We've already seen a lot of potential for humanitarian uses."
The first phase of the competition, which comes with a $270,000 cash award, invites UAE residents to submit ideas that can be employed by the country's various government services (Al Aleeli envisions drones monitoring traffic and being the first responder at emergency scenes within the next five years).
The competition is an extension of the UAE's ambition of becoming the first government to use UAVs to deliver government services.
In February, Dubai announced it started testing drones to make lightweight deliveries -- namely official documents, like IDs and driver's licenses, and medication -- and would employ fingerprint technology to confirm the identities of recipients. The government also envisions drones acting as the first responder at accident scenes.
The announcement was accompanied by the unveiling of a battery-operated drone model developed by Emirati engineers.
"I think it is a new stage of development, not only for the UAE, but for the world," the UAE's minister of cabinet affairs, Mohammed Al Gergawi, told CNNMoney earlier this year.
"Either you embrace this technology, or you resist it. If you resist it, then the gap between you and your competitor wouldn't be a year or two, it's going to be 500 years," he continued.
The competition also has an international component, with higher stakes, and a heftier award of $1m. International submissions aren't limited to government services. They just need to make the world a better place.
"Innovation doesn't have an address. It comes from different geographical areas, from R&D centers and from the poor guy in Africa trying to provide a service or feed a certain need with technology. We want to give a chance to everyone in this world to be part of this innovation exercise," says Al Aleeli.