Abdulla Ismail was one of the judges for the inaugural UAE Drones for Good Award. We asked him for his thoughts on last year's event and what he would like to see in this year's competition. 

Do you have a personal interest in drones?
Control systems are my area of teaching and research so one of their applications is in the design and construction of drones. We give students examples of how control systems are used within drones and robotics, which are the main applications right now. How did you end up being on the judging panel of the competition? I am the first UAE national with a Ph.D in engineering, so I am well known in the country because of my long time working in electrical engineering. What was your impression of the ideas submitted? Like any new competition, you see a lot of different submissions. Last year, there was a big number of submissions, some of excellent quality and some weak, but for a first time it was really good. As we go along, things will be streamlined in terms of quality, evaluations and teams.

What did you base your assessments on during last year’s competition?
When we assess projects or submissions like these we look at the idea, the methodology and then the application. We needed to make sure that the submission was practical and can be implemented. There were different stages, so we made sure we picked the submissions that were better for implementation, based on sound scientific and technical grounds. I also looked at how the system and application are running. Some were good and others didn’t work as well as expected.

What would you like to see in this year’s competition?
Number one, I would like to see more local and GCC contributions. Then I would like to see more universities and students participating. In my opinion, it is best when universities and companies work hand-in-hand, so groups from academia and industry can bring new and solid submissions. Last time we had a few universities from the UAE, but hopefully this year we will see more contributions from the academic side. The main idea is to serve, not sell to, the community and to contribute to areas that have been forgotten or don’t get enough interest. Drones for the good of humanity, that’s the idea. We’ve seen some good ones last year, but hopefully we will see more areas where drones can help human beings better.

What challenges do you see competitors facing when it comes to implementing their ideas?
Ideas for projects take between two to three years. You have to submit a proposal and then it goes through a process of evaluation and assessment to get grants. Maybe the time allocated is very short for the teams to propose the idea and go through this long process. To work through the project in terms of design, implementation, assessment and coming up with a practical solution takes time. Also, it would be good to give more time for the teams to demonstrate their projects. If you make one mistake you’re out and as judges we didn’t have enough time to talk to the competitors to look at what they have. We were there just looking at drones starting and running. That may not be enough for the judges to give a fair assessment.

Are there any personal projects you’re working on related to drones?
Many applications that I work on have to do with robots and drones. Drones are a new kind of application that has also been introduced in the textbooks we teach from in our courses. It’s gaining a lot of ground. I’ve been in academia for some 27 years and I haven’t seen any kind of examples or drones in universities here. Maybe in the last couple of years, professors started talking about drones and introducing them into their work and research. Worldwide it’s a new area and in the UAE the government’s interest in drones has created a challenge for us in academia to understand it and to look at how to introduce it into courses and students’ projects.