Imagine a world where communities are safer, cleaner, more efficient, and more convenient for residents.
In this world, a crime in progress can be immediately identified and reported. Groceries and food are delivered to homes without extra service fees or wait times. Trash is collected and roads are frequently cleaned with zero emissions.
All powered by robots.
It’s not the future, nor is it science fiction.
It’s happening now, and Dubai-based tech startup Micropolis Robotics is making it real.
I sat down with CEO and founder, Fareed Aljawhari, to learn more about his company and how they’ve partnered with Siemens to bring this vision to life.
Since I was a small child, I’ve always been fascinated with technology. You could say it’s in my blood. Funny enough, what got me interested in robotics was my discovery of a plotter back in 1996.
I remember watching a storekeeper set up a small sign and complimenting him on the artwork, expressing my admiration of the artist’s precision and quality. His response? “A person didn’t draw this, it was a robot.”
I was shocked. I asked him if he would show me the plotter and he gave me the address, so I went to see it for myself.
When I arrived, I was in awe. I must have watched that plotter run for at least 30 minutes. I asked the machine operator if he would show me how to use it. This turned into my first “job,” but because I just wanted to learn, I didn’t ask to be paid.
A few months later, I used this knowledge to get a job at a trade center operating the plotters. I wanted the job so badly that I didn’t tell them during my interview that I was underage. Of course, they eventually found out, but I had gotten so good at operating this machine that they agreed to pay my high school and college tuition fees in exchange for my work.
In school, I studied architecture, which gave me a solid foundation in design. Then I learned about product development, and eventually jumped to marketing and brand development. This led to a career as a creative director. All this experience was vital to the founding of Micropolis Robotics, as it gave me a comprehensive understanding of what a product is.
In 2012, I started my own agency with a similar idea as what is now known as the Metaverse. This was the inspiration for the name Micropolis – think “metropolis,” but it’s micro because we want to mimic a virtual city.
In 2014, I was introduced to my first investor, who also founded the Sustainable City in Dubai. He loved the idea of a virtual city, and I began developing a graphic engine to build a virtual city for Dubai.
Fast forward to 2018 and I presented a project called Microspot to Dubai Police. Microspot is a crime deterrence/prevention software we developed based on our graphic engine that we created for the virtual city. It identifies a crime in progress and uses facial recognition software to identify the person committing the crime.
The Commander in Chief loved it and asked, “What if you added embedded this technology into an autonomous patrol robot?”
I knew we could fail, but I also knew that if I didn’t say yes, I would regret it the rest of my life. So, I said yes.
Next, we started to research and learn how to build robots. My background is in design, so I designed a mockup of an autonomous police robot. It was good, but the Commander in Chief told us, “Great, but it won’t work for police. You need to make it bigger.” So we went back to the drawing board.
This is where things got even more difficult. Dubai is very advanced – we have excellent infrastructure with an Internet City, Media Production City, and lots of industrial cities. And the government is very supportive of technologies like this, but the problem is we don’t have a lot of investors who are interested in tech and we don’t have a large pool of engineering talent here. You either need to attract talent from Europe and the United States, which is where engineering talent tends to be concentrated, or you have to make your own.
We hired local engineers and adopted a framework inside of our company where we allowed them to experiment and make as many mistakes as possible. We learned from each other’s triumphs and errors and eventually got organized. We now have a very professional, extremely talented team and presented the first successful models of the M01 and M02 robots in 2022.
In 2023, we received an investment from Dubai Police to build the final stage of these patrol robots, and we succeeded. It’s now a production-level robot.
The learning curve is getting shorter and shorter, our team is bigger, and everyone just got very good at what they do. I’m proud of my team. Suddenly they are all like masters of their craft.
We got everything right with our robots except autonomous driving. This was the biggest challenge facing our company and we needed a company like Siemens with expertise and know-how in autonomy.
We partnered with the Simcenter Engineering and Consulting Services team to develop algorithms to help us reach Level 4 in autonomous driving. For both the M01 and M02, our plan is to develop a perception layer, including internal sensors with audiometry wheels, encoders, IMU, and steering angles, as well as external sensors such as LIDAR, cameras, ultrasonics, imaging radars, and obstacle detection.
Siemens is one of those brands who, when you hear the name, you know you’re going to succeed. We selected Simcenter Engineering and Consulting Services because we needed their expertise, knowledge, and ability to get the job done right. We thought we just needed help developing some algorithms, but they’re taking our autonomous technology to a different level and have really partnered with us to develop a proper autonomous driving program.
Simcenter Engineering Services has been an incredible partner to our company. When we first contracted with them, I thought we would maybe get four or five of their engineers to work with. Instead, we get access to 26 of their engineers. It’s beyond anything I could have hoped for.
We have been delighted by the amount of expertise Simcenter Engineering Services is providing for this project. Their professionalism, organization, and level of knowledge is just extraordinary. My team and I are constantly learning from them and we are getting better every day because of them.
The Dubai Police have been excellent partners and have been very flexible in their timing with us. We are hoping to launch the patrol robots in summer 2024. We would start with residential and commercial areas first with the M02 because it is smaller. We hope to launch the M01, which is the size of an SUV, in 2025.
The delivery and cleaning robots are a bit further out. We don’t have the capacity to develop all three robots at the same time, so we will take what we have developed and learned from the patrol robots and apply similar technologies to the other robot types.
Absolutely. Abu Dhabi is also interested. The Emirati Ministry of the Interior is interested. We will first focus on the UAE and Saudi Arabia, but will eventually expand to an international scale. We won’t be regional forever.
What would you say to someone who questions the ethics of using robots to do police work? Or to those who would accuse robots of stealing jobs?
My response would be that this is simply a reporting robot. It sends a picture of the person committing a crime to the police along with an identification. If it has misidentified the person, the human analyzing the picture can tell the system it is wrong. However, facial recognition software has made some incredible advancements in recent years and is almost always right. But even if the facial recognition software did make a mistake, the AI embedded into the robots will learn from that mistake and use it to get better with time.
As to whether robots are stealing jobs, it is true that some jobs will vanish as new technologies emerge. But we’re also adding new jobs that didn’t exist before and augmenting others. We’re enhancing security for residents of Dubai and improving safety for Dubai Police officers by removing the need for them to go into dangerous situations.
Robots also have the potential to enhance human lives and creativity. If I can send a robot to get my groceries, that is 20 minutes of my day that I have to focus on something else or create something new. We are not only making society safer, we are also giving people time back to think and create.
You mentioned earlier that it is challenging to hire engineers due to your location in the Middle East. Given this challenge, can you explain why you launched Micropolis Robotics in Dubai rather than somewhere else?
As an entrepreneur, I believe I have a responsibility to my region. Dubai and the broader Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region have been actively working to transform the technology consumers in our area into technology innovators. The government of the UAE is taking proactive steps to encourage entrepreneurs from the region to take the initiative and establish their tech firms. They’ve invested heavily in developing advanced infrastructure to foster innovation in technology and attract the best talent from around the world.
Their commitment to innovation aligns perfectly with our vision at Micropolis Robotics. We are excited to be part of this transformative journey, leveraging the promising local market demand. With GCC countries increasingly focusing on developing smart cities and enhancing the well-being of our residents, the opportunities for innovative tech products and solutions are very promising here.
Succeeding here feels like a victory.
Our goal is to be a tech powerhouse that develops technology to automate large operations. We think Siemens will play a huge role in all our future software development – this autonomous robot project is just the beginning. We don’t live alone in this world and recognize that we need big partners like Siemens and NVIDIA in order to be successful.
But what we’ve talked about today is just one example. Robots are just one piece of technology that is useful for humanity, and our goal is really to develop any technology that is useful for humanity.
For example, one project that is currently in the development stage is an alarm system for forests. I consider myself an environmentalist, so seeing all the recent forest fires in every corner of the earth saddens me. We are developing an idea for a sensor grid that could alert the authorities at the very start of a fire. The sensors would detect whether there is a change in the atmosphere that would indicate a fire has started. Forest authorities could then go to that location and confirm whether a fire has started and stop it before it spreads.
Our overarching goal is to develop technologies that better humanity and the planet.