Rise of the Machines: How Micropolis Robotics is Redefining Functional Mobility

Rise of the Machines: How Micropolis Robotics is Redefining Functional Mobility 

Fareed AlJawhari, founder and CEO of Micropolis Robotics, explains how his company came to develop autonomous robots for government entities in the UAE and beyond.

What got you into robotics and AI?

We started in 2014 with the idea of building Dubai’s digital twin. However, it was a bit early and we didn’t manage to convince stakeholders. So, we turned into a software company, still building our graphic engine but trying to commercialise it differently. We started providing 3D-based applications to government customers, including the Dubai Police for whom we developed surveillance software in 2018. This software, called Microspot, used fixed cameras with an added AI layer. It impressed the Dubai Police’s command so much that they asked us to take it to the next level by developing, with their support, mobile autonomous patrols equipped with cameras. 

It ended up being a great public/private partnership. We have the technical knowledge and they have the field knowledge.

But how did you have that technical knowledge? Before Micropolis, you were a creative director in a media group. 

That’s my dark history [laughs]. I was kind of forced to go into design. The company I used to work for paid for my tuition fees, and they wanted me to study something related to their work – and I was good at it! But I always was tech-savvy. I believe any knowledge can be acquired. So, I knew programming and software architecture very well and I combined them with my design knowledge to create a product. 

How did you develop the actual robots?

We started studying, building, figuring out how robotics works. We kept experimenting. And, because I took this project very seriously, I stopped all our other work. 

In less than 18 months, we came up with a prototype. By then, COVID had happened and we had just got a little investment to build this prototype. It was very challenging financially because we didn’t know the VC market or how to ask people for money; we just knew how to build things. But we learned and the same investor got us a $4 million Seed round from San Francisco in 2022, which we used to build the factory. 

We designed the M01 and M02 robots, but they were not big enough to actually go on the road. This meant we had to create in-house a completely new mechanical system – chassis, suspensions, power train, power storage unit, etc. – which we call the Skateboard and that’s fully electric. We also developed a mobility-specific platform and added not only the autonomous system but also our application-specific pod, designed to meet industry-specific requirements. And we create docking stations where the robot can autonomously go, dock, charge, and move. Production is now in the final stages. 

It took us a while and we did it the hard way, but it was the right way. 

How did you address the challenge of electric batteries, which is a pain point in EVs?

You have no idea how advanced the UAE is until you start digging. We were struggling with sourcing lithium batteries, like everyone else, and it was the only thing we were importing. But just next door, in Dubai Industrial City, we discovered a company that manufactures supercapacitor batteries. You know how rare this is? These batteries can be charged in six minutes instead of two hours. 

This country has the perfect infrastructure. If companies collaborate, we can have superior homegrown technology.

Who are your customers besides Dubai Police?

We’re now developing six robots for Dubai Police, two robots for ADNOC, and two robots NEOM. We’re also in talks with the Ministry of Interior and the mining industry.  We’re trying to redefine functional mobility, so we develop the product to 80% only, leaving 20% for customisation; some might ask for a robotic arm, others for sensors, and so on.  

So, this means you sell each customised product individually?

Yes. The organisations we deal with like to own and operate. And we make it easy for them. They just need to plug and play, with a minimum amount of training. 

Besides, I always encourage our customers to go through a pilot project with us before they make any purchase decision because it’s a new, disruptive technology from an emerging market where there’s a perception that we can’t be innovators. I want to change that. I want people to be proud of what we are building here.

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