Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Home to ski hills in the desert, rental Lamborghinis, and flying drone taxis. Admittedly, that last one isn’t a reality quite yet, but it’s not far off. Dubai is a city of surprises, and our team excitedly jumped on the 14-hour flight from Grand Rapids, Michigan to DXB international airport to bring one of our own.
After a congregate thirteen in-flight movies (of which I can remember half) John, Chris, and I found ourselves approaching the city of Dubai as it emerged out of the desert darkness with the shine of bustling metropolis. Artificial islands in the shape of palm branches formed an unorthodox runway as we descended above the Persian Gulf, and caught a glimpse at the country we were entering.
Navigating the terminal, we hopped in one of the queued taxis where our confident driver sped off towards, what I hoped at the time was, the correct hotel (one of two with identical names, located on opposite sides of the city). This is where our first taste of Dubai began.
Many people will say that culture is defined by individualities such as language, religion, and food. I would like to add another option: driving.
If you thought people didn’t use turn signals in the United States, your position might soften after visiting the United Arab Emirates. It's a free-for-all. Picture driving in a busy city and now spread that city out into the Arabian Desert. Everyone has somewhere to be, and the dude behind you in the Ferrari has an open lane to speed past at a breakneck speed typically reserved for jets and other miscellaneous aircraft. It’s fun, in a I’m-glad-we-invented-airbags kind of way.
Maybe you're asking at this point, “Why bring an underwater drone to a desert country?" or maybe now you’re wondering what any of this has to do with an underwater drone at all. Both good questions. To answer the first, the Fathom team was lucky enough to be accepted into the Awards for Good competition, hosted annually in the Dubai, UAE. As for the second, if you traveled down some internet rabbit hole and found yourself here, you can learn more about the Fathom One underwater drone here.
Basically, we traveled halfway around the world to show off the Fathom One, the underwater drone for anyone, and make a case for how it could benefit society. All of this for a million dollar grand prize (yes, that’s million with six zero’s). I may as well just break the news now. No, we didn’t win the million dollars, but we did meet some awesome teams doing some incredible things.
This is Dan. Dan has a freaking awesome bionic arm. He also works with a company called OpenBionics. They're working towards making affordable robotic prosthetics and they’re also the ones that took home the grand prize, and they totally deserved it. I mean… look at that arm!
This isn't to say we didn’t give it our best shot. We truly believe that the Fathom One can help have a positive impact on our environment, our infrastructure, and our students. Unfortunately, due to an unforeseen technical issue, our live demo was a bust. Needless to say, with the demo accounting for a large, *cough* *cough* 35%, portion of the final score, our odds were pretty low.
See below: the moments directly following a technical glitch. John powering through a presentation, me holding a reminder of my failure, and Chris staring into nothingness.
I’m kidding of course. It was an incredible competition and platform for us to discuss some very important issues and our possible solutions. We met teams from countries around the world all working towards benefiting humanity with their technology. Locals from the area also came out to see what we’d been building, as well as ask critical questions about solving issues like human trafficking, delivering humanitarian aid, and protecting a decaying global environment.
Also seen in a few of these pictures, another idea we’ve been experimenting with for the Fathom One. We make a big deal out of the modularity, but can you honestly say you’ve ever seen the propellers come off a drone and wheels put in their place? Fathom One modularity truly means the sky (or land, or sea) is the limit. the same central unit is built to be modified and adapted to your situation. See more features of the Fathom One drone here.
With the competition out of the way, we had a little bit of free time to head out and explore the city. We walked the Dubai Marina waterfront, explored the multitude of malls scattered across the downtown, and made it to the top of the world at the Burj Khalifa.
One thing you notice off the bat is the architecture. It’s like they gave the New York skyscraper template to the engineers in Dubai, to which they promptly responded "hah, no thanks”. Each building seems to have been conceived of independently and built as such. The resulting cityscape is an intricate yet undeniably impressive puzzle of concrete rivaling that of MC Escher.
Dubai may be home to its multitude of man-made islands, but for each and every island, there are no less than 7 malls, each a testament to how much people like shiny things. Once inside a mall in Dubai (pick a mall, any mall, doesn’t matter) the order of shops you would pass while walking through was as follows: jewelry store, wristwatch store, suit store, repeat. Regardless, they were awesome buildings each with some unique aspect separating it from your average shopping center. Take the Mall of the Emirates for example. Walk to the far side of the building and what you’ll find is the world famous Ski Dubai, a bonafide, genuine, real life ski hill, trapped within the confines of urban sprawl. It really is incredible. It won’t compare to a mountain in the Rockies, but it doesn’t need to. If I had taken a picture five feet to the right, it would have been of a Starbucks. It’s a ski hill inside a mall people!
Anyways, enough about that, let's move on to the Starbucks briefly. Turns out they don't know how to spell names correctly in Dubai either, but good on them for having some global brand consistency.
In the end I felt that this picture summed up the trip rather well. Sometimes we are all a little awestruck by our own creations as a human species as evidenced by this crowd gathered on a tiny bridge overlooking the Burj Khalifa. But even this towering, two-times-the-height-of-the-empire-state-building, marvel of engineering was inspired by the shape of a simple desert flower. Nature, though its own magnificent masterpiece, is also a fragile one, and one not to be taken for granted.
When we started Fathom, we wanted to build a company committed to protecting the world that we so eagerly wanted to explore. We will continue to do that to the best of our abilities and we hope all of you will join us in that.
Until next time,