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Exclusive Interview with Rabih Bou Rached, the CEO of Falcon Eye Drones Services (FEDS) Group Holdings

Published by UAE Business

In this interview, we talked about the efficiency of using drones in various areas of business, about the prospects and problems of the development of these innovative technologies. Much attention is paid to the efficiency of using drones in construction, agriculture, at a nuclear power plant and ensuring the safety of people.

Falcon Eye Drones Services (FEDS) Group Holdings is the Middle East’s leading Drone-as-a-Service (DaaS) company and amongst the top 10 drone services companies in the world in the mapping, surveying, and inspection services.

1. In what areas of the economy can drone be used?

The practical application of drones is being adopted in a wide range of sectors. As far as FEDS’ services are concerned, we have projects in agriculture, construction, oil and gas projects, telecommunication, defence and security, logistics sectors. In essence, drones provide safer, better, and cost-effective solutions. They not only improve productivity with faster and better data, but they also help companies save costs, thereby creating positive multiplier effects and economic growth. For example, in the construction industry, adopting drone technology has proven to reduce 11.8% of reworks cost and 25% time. In general, the direct costs of rework alone often tally to 5% of the total construction costs. Now, let’s put that into perspective. In 2019, UAE construction sectors were valued at AED 89.8 billion, which means that potentially, drones can save AED 0.53 billion per year (11.5% of 5% rework cost).

2. In which countries of the Middle East are these technologies most actively developed and used?

Countries such as the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are witnessing a sharp increase in drones’ adoption in the Middle East region for commercial, industrial, recreational and military purposes.

3. Considering security issues, what are the restrictions in the legislation of the Middle East countries on the use of drones?

The lack of crucial legislation and roadmap for drone application is a major setback for the industry globally. However, in Dubai, the new drone law is an important and timely development for the entire industry as it facilitates the optimal benefits of drones in commercial, agriculture, personal, and industrial & construction sectors—specifically for site mapping, pipeline surveillance, and monitoring in oil and gas sector. It could also become an important revolutionary approach to help various sectors embark on a large-scale digital transformation in the face of a new era post-coronavirus. The new law can set a new paradigm in the field of R&D, as it will bring about a new economic stream that will poise the emirate as the go-to hub for technology start-ups seeking growth opportunities.

4. What are the benefits of using drones in construction?

Drones can collect real-time data about projects and understand the accurate status of work sites. The aerial insights help speed up progress by detecting flaws immediately, avoiding costly damages and downtime. The data provided by our drones help project managers to plan, communicate, and deliver timely projects. For example, to cover a 10-km site, four vehicles with people and survey equipment would normally be required to collect the data to produce maps. With drones, it becomes easier for just one person to oversee the monitoring phase as these UAVs contain equipment such as sensors and thermal cameras that can cover large areas in construction sites. By definition, the drone is an IoT device that you can rely on.

Their ‘as-built’ data also makes the monitoring sites and calculation of everything around the area easier and more efficient. These data can be integrated with the company’s software in formats such as infrared for dark areas and RGB for normal areas. This helps easily facilitate inspection, health and safety issues and better data management.

Drones also help companies increase their reporting turnaround by 25 per cent and cut down site time wastage by 18.4 per cent as they conduct activities at a more accurate and stauncher pace than manual labour. These UAVs can also slash project value costs by up to 11.8 per cent as they can do repeat flights that help detect issues regularly, which can become exorbitant problems later on. The possibility of doing manual rework also decreases by 25 per cent with drones due to these repeat flight capabilities. This helps staff save five hours a week on unnecessary meetings, boosting productivity amongst workers as they can focus on other aspects of the project.

5. What are the problems with their application in this area?

As compared to the benefits, the limitations of drones in construction are minimal and few; however, it is not without some disadvantages. For instance, drones can only fly for a limited amount of time depending on the battery power. In projects involving large areas, this can be a hindrance, but good battery management can easily overcome this setback. In addition, harsh windy conditions are also not suitable for operating drones as the winds deflect the device and its optimal use may be disrupted. Survey data produced by drones require specialised data flow pipelines, unlike the traditional 3D maps or charts.

Construction companies without specialised data analysis technology may find the data process flow of drones tedious. However, the accuracy of the data produced by drones is irreplaceable.

6. Please give an example of the economic efficiency of using drones in construction.

The biggest problems construction companies face is reworks. A structure has to be demolished and rebuilt if accidents take place. This causes a lot of delays in the delivery of projects and incurs costs. Drones can monitor the project site on a daily basis and give the extra visibility that allows you to detect flaws early with ‘as-built data’ that can be compared with the blueprint. By avoiding these mistakes and double work, construction companies can save a lot of cost and downtime. The amount of data given by drones allows them to plan better project strategies.

The cost-effectiveness of drones in construction projects is indisputable. However, frequently changing regulations on its application can have a huge impact on obtaining the required permits. This is where FEDS plays a major role in helping companies tackle the regulations and provide the permits needed for the projects, thus, minimising the chances of delayed projects. The optimal benefits of drones can be achieved only if the device is handled by trained professionals. Otherwise, the chance of inaccurate, incomplete, or erratic results can be higher. Without training and experience, a badly controlled drone can cause property damage. All these aspects will determine the actual efficiency of drone use in construction.

7. How are drones used in agriculture?

Drones in agriculture are mostly used to manage livestock and crops survey. They are also used to strategically monitor and spray crops with fertilisers.

The UAE is amongst the first in the region to prioritise environmental protection and climate change as part of its food sustainability programme on a national scale. With the use of drones, spraying of insecticide can be targeted and used just where it is needed, thereby treating pests more effectively and at a lower overall cost.

8. How do these innovations affect agribusiness efficiency?

Drones aids in monitoring the health of the crop, analysing soil and fields, forecasting weather and calculating yield estimates. The efficiency of drones in agriculture can result in an increase in yields to meet the growing worldwide food demand.

For instance, UAE’s massive drone-enabled tree-planting project saw 250,000 Ghaf seeds and 6 million Samar seeds sown in 150 square kilometres of land in a matter of days. Such a process in traditional farming methods could have taken decades.

9. How are safety issues resolved when using drones in a nuclear power plant?

The Arab world’s first Peaceful Nuclear Energy Programme—the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in Abu Dhabi utilises the safety and reliability of drones to inspect confined spaces and areas where it is impossible for humans to have access. This allows for flawless assessments and capturing of crucial data in sensitive locations such as nuclear power plants without putting the workforce in harm’s way.

10. How can drones improve in 5-15 years?

Generation 7 of drones has started to hit the market. Smart drones with built-in safety and compliance tech, accurate sensors, and auto-monitoring are the next phase in drone technology aimed at providing new opportunities in logistics, military and commercial sectors.

11. Nowadays, many companies only think about savings when introducing digital technologies. At the same time, they forget about creating a mutually beneficial relationship between customers and the company, which can ensure the growth and future of the company. Unfortunately, new technologies are taking people’s jobs. At the same time, they can have a positive impact on the development of society and the country. In this regard, how can your company’s innovative technologies affect the lives of ordinary people?

The safety of human life is of prime importance in any project. Drones are the perfect devices to perform hazardous tasks with faster and more accurate results.

Moreover, the use of drones helps detect shallow excavations or unsafe structures early on and avoid potential accidents. Drones can be equipped with video analytics to hover around sites, spot workers defaulting on safety protocols, and alert the security officers, thereby reducing the chances of accidents that can cost human lives.

As technologies evolve, human intervention is bound to be replaced, but that does not mean it will render people jobless. New avenues open up and new skills have to be developed to fill this void.

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