From Robocop to Robo Doc: Redefining healthcare in Dubai through robotics and automation

The evolution of the Dubai medical robotics market opens up lucrative opportunities for businesses

As per a recent report, the UAE’s medical robotics market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 14.2%, reaching USD 182 million by 2025, with a sizeable demand coming from Dubai. Dubai has recently emerged as a global hub for tech innovation, particularly in healthcare, with robotics and automation taking centre stage. Government support, a robust capital ecosystem, and a diverse talent pool are attracting global robotics companies, startups, and skilled medical professionals to the city. The emphasis extends beyond testing and commercialization, including high-tech manufacturing and the development of ancillary ecosystems.

Dubai has witnessed notable use-cases of robotics in healthcare, such as robotic-assisted surgeries, robotic pharmacy services, rehabilitation and physical therapy support, social robots, robotic telemedicine and sterilization robots. Manoj Sahi, a robotic design specialist and entrepreneur, shares, “The opportunities go beyond just the high-tech stuff. Robotics and automation in healthcare also open up an ancillary ecosystem of data collection, data analysis and AI-related biomedical research. There are also manufacturing prospects for high-tech robots, and high-margin disposables, and repair and maintenance equipment.”

Emerging opportunities and entrepreneurial success stories

Bansan Thomas of Unique World Robotics (UWR) told us that he established his venture in Dubai after a stint in India due to a relatively more favourable investment environment (since upfront costs are huge), an assured customer base and the potential to expand into other emirates. Furthermore, establishing his business in Dubai provided the required capital and credibility to expand internationally. According to Thomas, “UWR has got more value and more trust enhancing relations and networking with the global and Indian start-up ecosystems”.

Thomas said that he also wanted to capitalize on the changing economic dynamics in Dubai – as the city moved from being an importer of everything to a testing, commercialization and manufacturing hub. By highlighting the goals of the Dubai Robotics and Automation Program (which aims to provide 200,000 robots in critical sectors, including healthcare), he noted that his firm “is trying to enable the vision of the leaders to facilitate the ecosystem.” Thomas’s UWR has pioneered a robot capable of providing cost-effective therapy to children with sensory processing disorders.

For Dr. Labib Riachi, a robotic surgeon at the Mediclinic City Hospital and visiting consultant physician at the Ministry of Health and Prevention, one immediate business opportunity is the demand for robotic surgeries in Dubai, with several hospitals equipped with multiple robotic systems (and trained surgeons) and looking for more. Medical tourism is expanding, and he has operated on many patients traveling from abroad, including Europe and the USA, to undergo minimal invasive surgeries in Dubai. This is an opportune fit for companies producing high-tech robotic systems to integrate with Dubai’s healthcare providers, startups related to AI and data analytics and trained surgeons.

Mark Barrish, Co-founder and CEO of Morey Medical, a med-tech company in Silicon Valley, echoed Dr. Raichi’s opinions. Barrish said “Ten years ago, the Middle East region was nowhere on the med-tech and health-tech map. However now it is coming to be known for its well-trained surgeons, good medical facilities and high-tech innovations. Moray Medical has pioneered a structural heart robotic delivery system for heart valves repair, and Mark said “I look forward to understanding the eco-system in Dubai for adaptation of global technologies.”

According to Dr. Manish Bhandari, US med-tech innovator and Founder of Angel Physicians Fund, Dubai’s streamlined regulations speed up testing and commercialization, promoting early go-to-market strategies for startups. He shares, “Regulatory and other clearances that take forever in other geographies can be fast-tracked in Dubai due to the coordinated nature of authorities, saving startup time and capital investment.” He added that he is encouraging his portfolio companies to explore manufacturing opportunities in Dubai, leveraging its well-developed logistics network for exports to GCC, India and Southeast Asia.

Creating an ancillary ecosystem

Elaborating on the ancillary opportunities in healthcare robotics for UAE’s partner nations, Manoj Sahi said “The vast data generated from robotic platforms needs to be analysed to enable R&D in future technologies and improve patient outcomes. And who better to collaborate with than Indian software firms that have specialized in data collection, analysis and application of AI.” Incidentally, Dubai has set up its first Robotic, AI-based Biobank at the Mohammad Bin Rashid Medical Research Institute at Dubai Healthcare city. With an investment of AED17 million, this state-of-the-art facility aims to store human biological samples and related data for biomedical research.

An ecosystem is also evolving to train medical professionals and future generations (including students) in these technologies, with companies like UWR at the forefront. According to Mr. Bansen, “I established UWR in 2019 with the two-fold vision of equipping students with robotic technology skillsets and providing solutions for customized robots.” UWR is also creating a collaborative approach with Indian startups in the field. Companies like Peppermint Robotics from India are also partnering with the UAE for housekeeping and cleaning robots, including in healthcare institutions.

However, with advancements come challenges. Ensuring patient data privacy and cybersecurity is paramount as robots become integral to healthcare. Skilling the workforce to manage and operate these robotic systems and social acceptance is vital for a smooth transition. According to Dennis Ledenkof – Founder of Robosculptor, the time in Dubai is right for giving a fillip to the hardware robotics (design and manufacturing) ecosystem. Empowering startups in a segment that requires vast upfront costs, navigating heavy regulations and a robust knowledge economy must be prioritised. He said that according to the Dubai Future Foundation, SMEs operate 80% of the robotics sector and he recommends how they can be better supported.

He first highlighted infrastructure and community support. While free zones like Dubai Silicon Oasis and Dubai Production City support robotic startups, a special cluster for robotics can be created in the UAE on the lines of Mhub in Chicago.

Mr. Ledenkof also emphasized the need to highlight success stories in the robotics field so that more funds, like the Dubai District Future Fund, could be incentivized to invest in the sector. Overall, he highlighted the creation of an academic base of students and experienced technicians, scientists and engineers who are now in demand all over the world.

As Dubai strives towards its vision of the Dubai Robotics and Automation Program 2032, opportunities are being created for partnerships at all levels – technologies, trained manpower, cutting-edge starts and the ancillary ecosystem.


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