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Dubai Customs innovates with drones, AI and the metaverse to secure UAE’s borders


Smart Deterrent Inspection Drones for Dubai Customs (Provided)


From floating drones, underwater robots, predictive AI to the expansion of the Metaverse – Dubai Customs is embracing innovation to strengthen its mission to secure the UAE’s borders.

From the threat of smugglers to illicit trade, border control authorities in the Gulf city are using highly innovative technology to deter criminal activity, while also investing to simplify the movement of goods in and out of the country.

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Customs Dolphin – a dolphin-like marine robot – is equipped with advanced technology, including a waterproof 12-megapixel 4k camera attached to a robotic arm that can move to cover 220-degree angles (Credit: Dubai Customs)

“Innovation is an important part of our mission at Dubai Customs to protect society, facilitate trade and boost the economy,” Khalid al-Zarooni, Head of Innovation at Dubai Customs, told Al Arabiya English in an interview.

“Innovation is one of our key values, along with compliance and facilitation, of course.”

He said a lot of the ideas came from comments submitted by Dubai Customs employees.

Dubai customs inspection vehicle (provided)

“One of our strong points at Dubai Customs is the culture we have established here; a culture of innovation and a culture of motivation, where we always encourage employees from all levels, all nationalities to submit their ideas for improvement, their ideas for development, their ideas for innovation. “

marine robot

One such proposal is the Dubai Customs Dolphin — a marine robot shaped like a dolphin — equipped with advanced technology, including a waterproof 12-megapixel 4k camera attached to a robotic arm that can move around to cover a 220-degree angle.

The sub can swim at 8 knots or 16 km/h, record live video and take high-resolution still photos. It can also scan certain places underwater with the help of GPS. It has a control and streaming range of approximately 1,000 meters.

Inspectors can remotely control the customs dolphins and send them to monitor marine vessels and their movements before they enter port. The technology enables customs officials to detect any attempts by vessels to clear prohibited cargo before entering the inspection dock.

Dubai Customs inspectors have stopped the smuggling of 12.5kg of cannabis hidden in the bag lining of a passenger entering Dubai International Airport. (supply)

al-Zarooni said the marine robot recently helped seize illegal cargo in the UAE.

deter drone

Another proposal that has become a reality is customs deterrence drones. The innovation is changing the previously challenging inspection procedures of traditional wooden dhows, where smugglers apparently hid things in bulkheads and hidden compartments.

“When we do inspections for suspicious or dangerous objects, we’re really hesitant to send inspectors, or even our dog teams — any organic life — out there,” al-Zarooni said.

Then, a member of Dubai Customs suggested the use of hovering drones.

“It’s a smart drone, and we’re sending it into a wooden sloop, which has traditionally posed a major challenge for us,” he said. “A traditional dhow coming to the creek can be a very dangerous situation, especially in the cargo hold … the floor is very unstable and sometimes there are dangerous toxins in there.”

“Drone technology has reached a level where the drone itself can be very stable in mid-air,” al-Zarooni said. “The drone is almost motionless and can be controlled with GPS. It can be equipped with various scanners and high-definition cameras.”

“So, we prototyped the drone and secured it with a cage. We sent it into one of the cargo bays, and it was a very successful pilot test program that we will be implementing as part of our inspection program in the future.”

“Each inspector could potentially have his own personal drone, and he can send whatever he needs to inspect certain areas.”

use of artificial intelligence

This year, al-Zarooni said, more new technology will be deployed as Dubai Customs continues to deter smugglers while simplifying services for companies trading in and out of the country.

“We’re trying to implement more artificial intelligence into our procedures. For example, there’s something called robotic process automation, which speeds up the ‘declaration’ of certain shipments.

“We now have a digital system for declarations. When customers or clients declare their items online, this robotic process automation really leverages the power of artificial intelligence to expedite declaration clearance and certain other operations.”

“We’re also trying to implement artificial intelligence in a way that we understand our customers better. So some kind of official recognition system can help us understand their pain points.”

“AI can help with this through image analysis and facial recognition.”

Identify Early Threats

Predictive AI will also be used to help Dubai Customs conduct “early threat assessments” of cargo ships bound for the UAE, al-Zarooni said.

“It will give us a kind of early warning system for certain things that we might have suspected before.”

enter the metaverse

The Metaverse is being touted as the next big leap forward in technology. To stay ahead of the trend, Dubai Customs is planning an online presence in an interactive virtual space, joining Google, Amazon and other Dubai government agencies.

This is in line with the Dubai Metaverse Strategy launched in July 2022 by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai. The strategy aims to contribute $4 billion to the Dubai economy over five years and support 40,000 virtual jobs, seeking to position the emirate of Dubai as one of the world’s top 10 metaverse economic players.

“Yes, we are also experimenting with virtual worlds,” al-Zarooni said. “Certain government organizations are going to have a significant presence in the metaverse – whether it’s providing services or providing awareness to (partners) who want to be present in the metaverse, as well as expediting our customer service and even further improving our customer satisfaction .”

“What really impresses me and makes me proud is the city of Dubai, the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has really inspired us a lot because he loves innovation and he believes in Innovation is the engine of the future.”

Dubai Customs recently organized the Future Vision Forum during UAE Innovation Month 2023 in support of the UAE Vision 2031 and Dubai Economic Agenda D33 goals. The forum aims to discuss the future of customs and the success factors of customs services. Participants included Ahmed Mahboob Musabih, Director General of Dubai Customs and CEO of Ports, Customs and Free Zones Corporation, as well as representatives from various business sectors.

Themed “Innovating Together for a Sustainable Economy,” the forum was overseen by Customer Happiness, supported by Strategy & Corporate Excellence and Service Innovation. Representatives of foreign diplomatic missions and strategic partners also participated in the forum.

A working group was formed, comprising traders and investors from different business sectors, to share opinions and ideas on the most effective ways to tackle future challenges and turn them into achievements.

Discussions involved groups representing various industries including Electronics, Supply Chain and Logistics, Business Council of India, National Association of Freight and Supply, Trademark Owners Protection Group, Dubai Gold and Jewelry Group, Dubai Computer Group, Fruit and Vegetable Trading Group, Retail business groups, and multinational corporations. The working group produced high-quality ideas for improving customs work, bringing a new start to Dubai Customs’ efforts to develop and deliver first-class customs services and facilities.

read more:

Dubai Customs stops smuggling of 12.5kg of marijuana hidden in bag lining

GITEX 2022: Dubai Customs showcases advanced drones to stop flow of illegal drugs, goods

Counterfeit designer goods and counterfeit medicines: The inside story of Dubai Customs’ crackdown

read also


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