The Business Year

Dr. Arthur Morrish

UAE - Industry

Dr. Arthur Morrish

CEO, ASPIRE

Bio

Dr Arthur (Art) Morrish is Chief Executive Officer at ASPIRE, the dedicated technology programme management pillar of Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC), which was set up in May 2020 to shape the Emirate’s R&D strategy. An experienced senior executive with deep knowledge of the advanced tech sector, Dr Morrish brings more than 30 years of professional experience in developing and managing innovative, technical solutions to a wide array of commercial challenges, in addition to overseeing multi-million-dollar, cross-business programmes from inception to advanced prototype then transition to internal and external customers. In his current role, Dr Morrish is responsible for leading ASPIRE, which drives the creation of future transformative technologies by working with cross-sector industry stakeholders, universities and research institutes to frame problem statements, and which also launches grand challenges and international competitions to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.

“Sustainability means having resources that you don't use up or recycle. It means having the ability to feed your population.“

What are ASPIRE’s main strategic mandates?

The Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC) is the policy arm for Abu Dhabi. Beneath ATRC, there are two legs, which are ASPIRE and TII. To set the stage for ASPIRE, it is probably a little easier if I talk about TII first. TII does fundamental research, everything such as quantum computing, cryptography, telecom, and AI. They cover a broad spectrum. ASPIRE’s role is to take the technology that TII develops in conjunction with local universities and their international partners and work with other international partners, local businesses, universities, and other entities to try and move it into the commercial sector. His Excellency’s favorite description of us is that we are the glue between TII and the customers’ needs. Our clients and customers are the Ministries, such as the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Health. Then, there are the local businesses that would provide and service those needs. Our job is to take new technology and turn it into things that work for the customers. The businesses will address needs, wants, and desires of the clients. That’s the kind of the pathway we have. We are helping new businesses start here, and support businesses that are already here to develop sustainable R&D structures to help build the economic ecosystem in the UAE in Abu Dhabi. We want to turn Abu Dhabi into a hub for technical innovation, not just locally, but regionally and globally. We intend for people to come here to solve problems, do research, start businesses, and find technical solutions that they can apply elsewhere.

The UAE has recently announced its latest vision to transform the country over the next 50 years. How does ASPIRE align with these objectives and strategies in thinking about the country’s long-term prospects?

The next 50 years will be focused on building the economic ecosystem. A healthy ecosystem requires many elements, just like you would find in a natural ecosystem. What we are trying to do now is focus on the six sectors of transportation, communications, logistics, biotech, health, and agriculture or food security. Those are the broad sectors. TII has seven research centers focused on specific technologies. We want to take those technologies and pull them into specific business opportunities and focuses that will reside here in the UAE. This will help to grow that infrastructure. Investing overseas is good and will give a return on investment, but that’s not employing the local populace. The work that we can do here would be applicable to other parts of the world as the climate changes. We can be at the forefront of the precision medicine, sustainable food security, and electronics industries. There are considerable electronic sales in the local market, and we can help with electronic design. Water is another potential growth area. In global agriculture, a lot of water is only used once. There are really many areas we are interested in, but we are trying to figure out where we can make the biggest difference. The six sectors are part of the Vision 2030 and 2050, so those are the key sectors that we are focusing on.

What does sustainability in research and development mean?

Sustainability means having resources that you don’t use up or recycle. It means having the ability to feed your population. One of the things that we are doing is working with the XPRIZE Foundation, an organization that undertakes global challenges, one is called XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion. This challenge looks at feeding the next billion without decimating the planet’s livestock or overgrazing. So, one of the things we are looking at is how to synthetically make protein that can be used for food. This challenge is being judged by food scientists, environmental scientists, and world-class chefs. We are hosting the semifinal and final competition to narrow down a winner. The semifinals are in 2022 in the fall and the finals the year after that.

The UAE has recently announced its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. What does this mean for ASPIRE’s operations?

There’s an alternative and renewable energy center in the works for TII. By the time this is published it will have already be publicly announced. When that center becomes public knowledge, ASPIRE’s mission will be to work with that center, just like all the other centers, to try and take their projects to fruition. We are essentially a catalyst. I’m a chemist by training, and what a catalyst does is start a reaction and make it go more efficiently. We will catalyze investments and development technologies to help with the transition from the laboratory to the commercial arena.

Aspire is also part of the Ghadan 21 Accelerator Program. How does this program support your mission?

Our funding from Ghadan is directed into certain specific areas. We have three virtual research institutes that we are developing using the Ghadan funding. The virtual research institute (VRI) has a hub and spoke model, and several local universities like Khalifa and UAEU are hub institutions. They have developed research proposals that address three sectors: sustainability, biotech, and food security. They reach out to develop an ecosystem of international universities, corporations, and research centers that are all working on specific problems within those general topics. That’s why we call it a VRI or a virtual research institute. It doesn’t have a physical presence, but everybody that’s part of this VRI shares their information back and forth. We are addressing fundamental research problems in those specific areas. There are a number of research projects within each of these virtual research centers, but they address fundamental, publishable research within these technologies that are looking at basic questions of sustainability, biotech, and food security.

The Mohammed bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge focuses on using technological innovations in the maritime sector. Can you elaborate as to what the challenge is?

We were looking for a civic challenge that would utilize technology such as AI, robotics, and navigation. We then put it all together into a system. That’s why we call it a heterogeneous challenge because it’s got a number of different elements. One element is the UAVs, or the drones. Another element is the USV, which is the unmanned surface vessel. We also have robotic arms, AI, GNSS satellite-based navigation systems. The constraints are to have between 5-20 UAVs. We will provide the teams with a USV and offset funding for the robotic arm. The idea is to put all these things together. The significance of this is that it is a civil challenge. The UAE MOD owns the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard only has a limited number of patrol vessels. So, we’re looking to extend that reach. We want to take that asymmetric advantage away from the bad guys by providing swarms of UAVs to go out and inspect all boats in a given area and find one that’s about 30 or 40 feet and reddish orange, for example. I’m really interested in the team’s ability to perform such navigation and identification without relying on GNSS.

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