The Gulf States, particularly Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have become incredibly wealthy because of the presence of oil in the region. However, the same oil that helped these states become rich is a finite resource, which will force these states to turn to other means of generating revenue. Luckily, the tech industry in the UAE is growing quickly thanks to the Al Zeina complex in Abu Dhabi, the second largest city in the UAE after Dubai.
The workshop, supported by the government’s Abu Dhabi Technology Development Committee (TDC), helped build jetpacks that allowed two men to fly alongside an Emirates A380 plane near Dubai earlier this year. With oil prices falling, the UAE government is seeking to diversify its economy and has chosen to develop the tech sector. The non-oil economy accounts for about half of economic activity in Abu Dhabi, and a tremendous 94 percent in Dubai.
Anish Alex, lead dream consultant at TechShop, the operators of the Al Zeina workshop, claims that the goal of the initiative is to “train, support and help people manufacture almost anything that can be built in wood, plastic, textiles,and metal—and anything that falls broadly into digital.”
Alex said that the possibilities at Al Zeina are endless. “There’s a million things you can do if you just come in and learn how to do them. It’s a well-equipped space to do training and prototype manufacturing,” he said, claiming that there are around 40 people who are active in the workshop, and a bigger group of hobbyists. The goal is to bring people together to work on various projects. “They are hidden someplace, but the thing is to get them out of their shells. When that community builds up, it’s fun. They’re goofy and they take risks. It’s a select group, but they’re out there.”
The workshops are open to all people who are interested in tech. The youngest member is only 12, while the oldest is in his late seventies. “Locally, there’s a large community playing with robotics of all kinds, from drones to small projects for home automation. In Ajman there are kids as young as eight being trained in how to build clapper circuits from scratch, and being taught basic optical video recognition,” he said.
Membership is about Dh 350 (US$95.29) for Emirati residents and Dh 450 (US$122.52) for all others, but discounts are given to women, children, students and members of the military and their families. The Al Zeina workshop has room for about 700 and will train people in milling, welding, woodworking, electronics, bookbinding and 3D printing, among other things. Safety classes are mandatory for operating machinery. This project has even drawn the attention of YahSat, a satellite communications company that operates in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. “The general manager of YahSat came in here the other day, and said, ‘Man, this is cool.'” Looks like the sky’s the limit for TechShop.