From Garage Talks to A New Office in Dubai: Our Startup Story

Header photo credit (above): Pierre Bassez

Just over a year and a half ago, my wife and I hosted an Iftar in our home in Dubai, as we do each year during Ramadan. It was on this night while catching up with some friends over coffee one of them started telling us about a specific technology his company makes that has been garnering international interest. This tech, he told us, is part of the “sensorization” of our world, advancing the concept of the Internet of Everything.

My co-founder, a trusted friend and I, all passionate about technology’s potential to connect and protect people, were intrigued and listened with curiosity. In almost synchronized movement, we began discussing potential applications of the technology, the likes of which is not restricted to any single industry or practice.

Because of our experiences growing up and working in the region and particularly, our familiarity with frequent commute, one particular use case – traffic safety –  stood out to us. We began convening at my house weekly, drawing up ideas for hardware that could be equipped with this technology to help solve traffic safety challenges.

I had, just a week earlier, registered my already existing IoT company as a consulting firm to leverage my M2M and IoT knowledge. After several meetings with my slowly forming team, I changed the company’s license from a consultancy to a trading license.

Our first product blueprint was born within a matter of weeks.

As our meetings and ideas matured, we laid the foundations for an IoT-ready business operating in the traffic safety and smart city space offering solutions boosted by artificial intelligence algorithms and other advanced technologies.

A few hackathons and a lot of organic sales and marketing efforts later, we are proud to have achieved the following milestones:

 

  • Built a makeshift IoT lab in October 2016
  • Private beta launch of our medium viable product December 2016
  • Hired CTO in January 2017
  • Signed an agreement with a western European IT firm March 2017
  • Accepted into the Dubai Future Accelerators August 2017
  • Signed MoU with Dubai Police November 2017
  • Expanded team to 8 in December 2017

 

In the last 60 days, we’ve made inroads with a number of multinationals attracted by our agility and readiness to create to discuss partnerships for specific smart city projects.

Today we are proud to share that we have opened the doors to our brand-new office in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lakes Towers. If you want to know more about us and our work, or if you’d like to meet us at our new space, give us a call.

     

 

Contact us

+9714 264 2828

Business inquiries: [email protected]

Media inquiries: [email protected]

A View From Inside the Dubai Future Accelerators

Last week marked the end of the third cohort of the Dubai Future Accelerators (DFA), a government-backed accelerator introduced in 2016, in which our startup, COM-Technologies, recently participated along with 45 other companies.

DFA pairs the world’s most promising innovators with Dubai government entities over a period of nine weeks to address the challenges of the 21st century through the development and application of new technologies. As the MENA region’s startup ecosystem continues to soar, DFA puts Dubai squarely on the map in the effort to promote entrepreneurship and public-private partnerships.

During the nine weeks, government entities work closely with their assigned companies to help them transform groundbreaking concepts and early prototypes into feasible, scalable pilot programs with the aim of serving society amid emerging modern challenges.

What do companies do at Dubai Future Accelerators?

If you’re considering applying to DFA, which garnered more than 4,000 applications for its third cohort, you can expect a fast application process which may involve a video pitch on behalf of your company, written forms and an interview. Once you’re in, the fun begins.

Each government entity has its own section where paired companies work, sometimes into the evenings and through the weekend, to achieve their objectives. In their sections, companies rub shoulders and establish a relationship with their assigned government representative who serves as the liaison between the company and the entity.

Cohort participants tend to bond over lunches and after-work gatherings, which offer great opportunities to take advantage of your proximity to other path-breaking entrepreneurs.

What does it look like on the inside?

The motto “Pulling the future forward faster” can be seen scrawled on various displays at the DFA grounds in Emirates Towers and can be heard echoed by any of DFA’s deeply committed program leaders during a presentation. Smart signage, bold wallpapers and design structures give the space a palpable “future Dubai” feel. DFA’s 3-D printed office, pictured below, is an icon.

Although contemporary in design, the campus radiates a homey ambience, complete with a stocked kitchen, open work spaces, welcoming lounging areas and meeting rooms.

Brilliant green wall gardens line sections of the campus while prototypes including an identity sensor that uses biometric scanners, a machine that turns humidity into drinkable water, and mannequins sporting smart, connected active wear make for an atmosphere fitting of its name.

How do companies benefit from participating in the accelerator program?

It is DFA’s goal to catapult promising revolutionary teams and technologies from the idea phase onto the path of real-world application readiness. While DFA generally do not finance the development of your prototype, they seek to facilitate your work by giving you access to resources and individuals in government who can accelerate processes.

By design, developing a working prototype within the span of just over two months is no easy feat. It is understood that most companies will not achieve this fully, but all of them will make tremendous headway in other essential areas on their DFA journey.

In addition to working alongside innovative minds from around the world and some of the gatekeepers in the Dubai Government, DFA regularly hosts scholars, VCs, futurists, and startup growth experts to share their knowledge and learn about us.

What tips do you have for companies looking to join DFA?

To become a part of DFA, your big idea should serve a cause that will positively impact the world and people in a way that is sustainable and feasible. Your idea should be backed up with strong technical capabilities and a deep knowledge of your landscape.

Once you’re accepted into DFA, take advantage of all of the face-time you get with your peers, project managers and government entity representatives. Weekly meetings and status updates with your entity rep ensure that both of you stay on the same page and are aware of your responsibilities. Use these meetings to keep your entity engaged and to build friendship.

Participants are also afforded exposure to other government entities who may be viable business partners in the future, and opportunities to identify synergies with other participating teams abound.

What was COM-IoT Technologies working on at DFA?

During the program our team worked with the Dubai Police to customize our intelligent traffic safety technology. We have been working on two solutions, Plug & Play Patrol (P3) and HORUS, which maximize traffic safety management through collision and violation detection using an artificial intelligence toolkit, GPS and LiDAR sensors.

We demonstrated the utility and potential scalability of our solution – which is also in a trial program with an IT firm in Portugal – resulting in the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Dubai Police. Now we’re conducting a pilot program in Dubai.

As a DFA program manager frequently reminded us during our weekly all-hands, “[DFA] is an artificial environment housing future-history makers from around the world”, the likes of which we would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

For participants who come with diligence and a breakthrough vision, the Dubai Future Accelerators serves as a one-of-kind springboard into the MENA startup ecosystem and a seal of approval from the Dubai government.

Can AI Save Lives?

With around 1.5 million cases reported annually, the number of lives lost in traffic collisions remains high, according to the World Health Organization’s Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015. The report found that traffic collisions cost most countries around three percent of their GDP.

Adding to these concerns is the fact that only 38% of drivers in the UAE see a direct link between distracted driving and road collisions, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by Road Safety UAE and QIC Insured. Distracted driving is what happens when a driver chooses to text, talk on the phone, smoke, eat or drink, apply makeup or self-groom, reach for objects in the car while driving or adjust entertainment and navigation systems while driving, in addition to driving while intoxicated.

One of the challenges faced by governments and traffic safety administrators around the world is to reduce the frequency of collisions and resulting fatalities by discouraging the practice of distracted driving. The advent of new traffic management technologies will continue to be critical to governments and law enforcement in the effort to improve road safety and traffic management.

Speed detection with automated issuance of fines is a practical and effective measure that has been used for years to discourage driving over the speed limit.

Taking it a step further, the implementation of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies combined with LiDAR sensors and high accuracy cameras in internet-enabled police vehicles allows for autonomous detection of vehicles that are in violation of specific road rules. Traffic violations taking place in the vicinity are depicted in a 3-D grid on a compact computer screen in the police vehicle.

This technology is capable of measuring distances between cars with accuracy and precision, allowing the police officer operating the technology to focus on the road without having to manually detect violations.

With concern over distracted driving and its impact on public safety mounting in the UAE and the rest of the world, effective, automated methods that utilize advanced technology can play a critical role in reducing incidences of distracted driving. Detection of distracted driving is made possible by training a machine to identify specific behaviors classified as distracted and programming that machine to generate alerts each time an incidence is detected. The alerts – generated in real-time for law enforcement – enable equipped officers in the area to act immediately to halt the distracted driving and prevent further danger.

An in-vehicle system that autonomously detects drivers and alerts the officer is an ideal use of artificial intelligence and allows the officers to keep their attention on their own driving while machines manage detection and alert reporting. The same solution can be replicated in stationary road-side devices.

Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR), another feature of this technology, provides real-time information on vehicles on the road by legally accessing traffic records and identifying high risk vehicles, wanted vehicles or wanted registered owners. When the in-vehicle system identifies the license plate number of a car, it connects with the police records in real-time to determine a variety of data such as the vehicle’s registration status, the registered owner’s traffic history, whether the car has been reported stolen and other critical information.

Data generated by in-vehicle and road-side monitoring systems offer valuable insights for traffic administrators and law enforcement. Data analytics will enable us to identify trends such as high-risk times on the roads, locations of frequent collisions and car types and age groups commonly involved in collisions. Data scientists and engineers will also be to use this information to improve roads and inform traffic regulations for future city planning.

IoT and the Sixth Sense

Our senses enable us to experience and learn from a variety of stimuli in our surroundings. We use our senses to avoid danger as well as to observe, study and make sense of ourselves and our environment. We experience the pleasures of the world through taste, smell, sound, sight and touch.Those who are able to sense what is to come are said to possess ‘the sixth sense’, however some scientists posit we have as many as 21 senses.

These are said to include our ability to sense differences in pressure, passive detection of numbers of things around us, and our sensitivity to the emotions of others. Combining two or more of these senses gives us a more acute awareness of our environment.

We learn from the experiences we gather through our senses and our memory keeps track of how the things that we experience affect us. Learning from our experiences allows us to make better informed decisions, improving the quality of our lives. But what do our senses have to do with the Internet of Things (IoT)?

Deep learning, anyone?
IoT is basically the effort to import some or many of these senses with machine precision into a specific realm or process, connected through the Internet with other similar or different processes to serve one or more purposes in one or more industries with the aim of making our lives better, easier and more productive.

The principle can be simplified this way: a sensor detects a certain measure, such as temperature, and sends a signal if it reaches a threshold so action can be taken by an administrator, which can be a human or a process.

Picture arrays of sensors measuring pressure, temperatures, humidity levels, distances and 3D objects with the addition of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and other high precision sensors. These sensors continuously detect and compute other measurements and continuously send huge sets of collected data to a central location where it is combined with other data coming from other arrays of sensors. The data is analyzed and processed to reach certain decisions, greatly reducing costs and input requirements while maximizing revenue, and reducing the need for human intervention.

Now imagine that this central processor integrates deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) with enhanced recognition of people, animals and objects and even emotions.

Getting a glimpse into how people may feel in a community at a given time is data of immense value to researchers and authorities alike. Units that detect such a wide range of data could be placed across communities and smart cities in order to gather relevant data which authorities can use to monitor everything, from weather conditions and air quality, to traffic safety and power grid status. The technology would aid in crime fighting and would enhance the quality of life for residents of these cities.

Countless use cases
Traffic safety will be significantly enhanced with the help of IoT. Stopping potential accidents before they happen or reducing their numbers is a major objective for the authorities, and can be achieved with the help of IoT based sensors that detect drivers’ behavior. Detecting distracted drivers by processing on-the-road behavior patterns that indicate reckless driving enables the concerned authorities to make swift decisions to address potential threats on the road.

Drone technology, aided by 360 degree cameras and sensors such as LiDAR can provide precision surveys, whether for construction, agriculture or security monitoring purposes, saving time, money and, in the case of security applications, lives.

It is hard to conceive of the myriad uses of IoT and what the results will show, but we are already seeing successful trials with autonomous cars. Furthermore, new experiments in the Internet of Nano Things (IoNT) whereby very small sensors are introduced in people, animals and objects are opening the door for further innovation in connected nanotechnology.

Experimentation with nano-biotechnology, the application of nanotechnology in the human body for healthcare and treatment purposes, has risen tremendously since the early 2000s. Among the numerous advantages of connected nano-biotechnology are improved human and animal health real-time monitoring and enhanced accuracy in machine-led surgery.

As scientists, physicians and lawmakers continue to see the benefits of this technological integration, service providers and technology companies will inevitably realize the surmount ting need to collaborate to bring these technologies to the mass market.

The telecommunication companies’ challenge
Telecommunications companies, service providers in particular, now make their revenue by selling data plans to their customers. That model is already under pressure, and is likely to continue to struggle as more and more data offering players enter the market. These new entrants are not telecommunications companies and they do not intend to profit off selling data; they can afford to offer data at little to no cost to the consumer.

Their revenue stream will come from what’s riding on the ‘data highways’ by way of IoT technology, which has been introduced into nearly every industry, estate and establishment. Advertisements, too, will create significant revenue as they will now have a much wider audience due to the continued expected growth in the global Internet reach.

So, just what are telecommunications service providers to do? The solution is clear: join them. Lead the way in IoT and help define its course. Telecom companies already have some unique advantages on their side: their infrastructure and existing customer reach. Unfortunately, if they do not act swiftly to innovate, they will lose their ground in an evolving and increasingly sophisticated market. Many will be forced to fold or desperately catch up when they begin to experience the pains of market irrelevance and a rapidly reducing customer base amid growing competition.

The satellite industry stands to benefit from IoT
IoT’s success requires connectivity which will provide a further catalyst to connect our world and will necessarily provide more opportunities for telecommunication companies as well as satellite operators where terrestrial connectivity is not feasible. To explain the relation between connectivity requirement for IoT and the impact on increased global access to the Internet, consider the field of security.

More IoT based solutions will be in demand and these solutions will be systems that utilize sensors to detect border intrusion detection, motion detection, 3D image detection, and other information that could give signal to security breaches. Given that vast sections of international borders are not covered by the Internet, there will be a need to provide this coverage whether through terrestrial networks or through the use of satellite communication.

How do satellite operators, system integrators (SI’s) and very small aperture terminal (VSAT) companies take advantage of the impending explosive growth of IoT? They have to be part of this revolution, or risk missing the boat. One use case that demonstrates this is with the insurance industry. Fraudulent claims cost insurance companies tens of billions of dollars annually. Insurance companies who cover the global food trade transported on large cargo ships across oceans have to regularly investigate claims of spoiled food items during ocean travel. These investigations are rather costly and in many cases do not conclusively identify fraud.

Connected sensor systems that measure ideal food conditions from the moment foods are loaded into a container to the moment they are off loaded constantly monitor and communicate data in real time to control centers. This alerts the control center of any changes in the conditions of the food, allowing for timely intervention ensuring transparency in reports of spoilage. This requires continuous connectivity which can only be provided with the help of satellite communication in addition to seamless roaming with various GSM networks installed at container ports.

Satellite operators and system integrators will have to take the initiative to develop their own innovative IoT solutions that integrate with their existing service offering to better serve their customers and ensure they reserve their spot in an IoT world.

IoT and Job Security: To Fear or To Embrace IoT Innovation?

Excitement for the explosive growth currently underway in the IoT market is accompanied by a silent yet brewing concern over job security. Cisco predicts a $19 trillion IoT market with 50 billion connected objects by 2022 As IoT technology is increasingly being adopted across professional fields, governments, municipalities and large and small enterprises view the potential benefits with half a smile, fearing potential displacement of large segments of employees by the automation of tasks and complex processes.

The growth of the IoT market need not intimidate businesses. As IoT continues to transform industries, opportunities for existing technical experts and low-skilled workers are emerging, calling on us to prepare our talent for future industry trends and skills demand.

Experts agree automation has the potential to save costs, increase revenue, enhance efficiency and improve safety, security and productivity. Automation involves sensory devices such as machines, robots or computers doing the work that is currently being done by human workers. For more on IoT and what it means for businesses, you can refer to my previous LinkedIn article, IoT and the Sixth Sense.

A cursory glance tells us that this development will pose a threat to the utility of existing and future professionals whose responsibilities will be overtaken by computers. Yet as we have witnessed throughout history, the perceived ‘problem’ of technological advancement always presents opportunities for human ingenuity

Jobs that IoT will create
Two immediate large scale vacancies will open with the introduction of IoT in any given discipline:

1. Skilled employees who have spent years working in jobs that are being taken over by automation are suited to assume roles in knowledge transfer. Human expertise and intelligence will always be required to transfer data analytics towards actions in the field. Data analysts specializing in interpretation and visualization will be in high demand as the amount of data recorded by and communicated between machines will rise steeply, necessitating coherent interpretation and visualization of complex information thus allowing businesses to make informed decisions. A good example of this need in the IoT optimized oil and gas industry – specifically in a smart oil field – is illustrated in this Automation World article.

2. Recent graduates and STEM students are suited to be trained in the field of data science. This will be one of the most in-demand categories of jobs that will follow IoT wherever the technology is introduced. Collecting, mining, structuring and developing the wealth of accumulated data and utilizing them on computers with the use of deep learning and artificial intelligence are the key to making the most use of IoT for continuous improvement. To facilitate this shift, universities, and technical institutions will need to adapt to the changing market requirements and expand their course offerings with data analysis, and data science to prepare for the future workforce.

Several other job categories will emerge with the growing implementation of IoT platforms around the globe, and a host of skills will be in greater demand for the Internet of Things to take off. Given that these sensory devices are physical entities, they will need to be manufactured, tested, bought and sold, shipped, deployed, integrated, commissioned, monitored, maintained and repaired. Field work will always be required in this space and is likely to continue to grow.

Embrace IoT for all of its advantages. Find out where you fit within this sphere, and make sure your career plan positions you well for the inevitable tech revolution.