Robotics company branches into food service and taxi rides


Dubai: Google driverless cars might still be in the future, but you might find yourself taking a ride in a driverless vehicle in the Middle East as early as next year.

The catch is that these vehicles won’t be on the road. Digi Robotics, which is based in the International Media Production Zone, is developing self-driving vehicles, called Carbots, which will operate in airports, conventions centres, shopping malls and other large places with human traffic.

Bilal Al Hattab, the company’s managing director, says the company isn’t trying to compete with the likes of Google, although there will be similarities.

“All of them have to use the same [technology],” he said. “They have to use a scanner, they have to use sensors and they have to use integrated automated control system. … The problem with the high street is the reaction of other people. Here, it a controlled environment.”

The Carbots use a combination of censors, both on top of the car and around the sides, to avoid collisions. The car is navigated by a computer, which is comparable to a laptop, located behind the rear seat, said Al Hattab. The vehicles are electric, take about three hours to charge, and can run for between 6 to 8 hours.

So far the company has only produced one prototype, which seats six, said Al Hattab, but the vehicles, which cost between 50,000 euros (Dh208,284) to 60,000 euros to produce, only take about six months to produce. He said he is currently seeing demand from both the private and public sector, with a deal expected to be announced on Wednesday.

Carbot isn’t Digi Robotics only product. The company was founded in 2009 and focuses mainly, obviously, on robots, although the main function of most of the company’s robots is industrial use, which is still driving the company’s revenues, he said.

Carbots isn’t the company’s only attempts to branch into non-industrial though. At Gitex on Monday outside of the Dubai World Trade Centre concourse, the company had robots mounted with TV cameras and even robots that could serve coffee and juice in a restaurant-type setting. Al Hattab also said the company is working on robots that can fight fires and work as trash collectors. He said they are even thinking of ways of making a trash can that can signal the robot to empty it when it’s full.

While robots may sound cool to some people, there are still challenges to getting people to use and buy them, Al Hattab said.

Even in the industrial sector, where robots are not uncommon, he said it can take a lot of convincing that an expensive robot — a camera-robot for a newsroom can use between 300,000 euros and 350,000 euros — that can be cheaper and do the work of a person.

“But that’s something we’re working on making companies understand,” he said.

People too can be wary of the new technology, especially when it involves handing control of a vehicle, especially one that can travel at 60km an hour, over to a computer.

“We had one photographer get in the car today,” he said. “He kept saying. ‘It’s moving. Am I ok? Am I ok?’ We’re just going to have to educate people on the technology.”


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