Dubai institute students shift focus on developing designs for ‘Mars settlers’


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Dubai: Envisioning future tech to make life easier in the tough environment on Mars, where the UAE wants to build a settlement, has spill-over benefits for life on Earth, the dean of Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI) said.

In a wide-ranging interview, Hani Asfour told Gulf News empathy for future settlers of the Red Planet and “humanising” technology fosters a culture of innovation, which can lead to real-world solutions for those of us grounded on Earth.

Beneficial for life on earth

“The approach to designing on Mars requires a solid, scientific understanding of the constraints and challenges. That’s where we would start. Then we would empathise with the humans who will be in that environment in order to provide them with meaningful solutions that would ensure their survival and success. Keep in mind these innovations would also be beneficial to life on earth,” Asfour, a graduate of Harvard University and MIT, said.

“Take for example the Automated Deployable Infrastructure, developed by Alhaan Ahmed, Mona Itani and Rafif Al Hassen, our first-batch students. This portable, light, and self-sustaining structure can be equally functional in harsh and remote environments like the desert here in the UAE.”

Fighting COVID-19

Asfour, recently named as one of the region’s most influential 50 architects by Middle East Architect magazine, said DIDI faculty and students have also been busy tackling a challenge closer to home – the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the outbreak struck, DIDI implemented a quick-term taskforce and a long-term design team.

“Immediately, DIDI faculty and students launched a programme using agile methods to rapidly prototype and produce face shields in collaboration with in5 Design for healthcare workers in the UAE. To do that, we found safe methods to keep the fabrication lab remotely accessible to the agile team,” Asfour said.

“Our Agile Factory team also designed an app to track global pandemic stats in collaboration with the University of Melbourne. We also have a group of faculty and students who are collecting data, in order to be better informed about the pandemic to provide more thoughtful and informed design exercises with longer-lasting effects.”

Designers in demand

These roles signify the rising demand for design talent worldwide, he added. For example, there have lately been continuous acquisitions of design firms by the big five consulting firms globally.

“Today design matters more than ever. Design is the key to innovation, as it humanises technology. Making your products and services desirable is the most effective way to increase sales and loyalty to your brand. Design makes it relevant and increases your bottom line,” Asfour, a practicing designer with more than two decades of experience, said.

New scholarships

Speaking about new developments, he said DIDI will this year see its first cohort to complete a full academic year of cross-concentration.

Also, revealing two new scholarships for the 2020/2021 academic year, the dean said the offerings for talented Emirati students will cover their tuition fees for the four-year Bachelor of Design programme. This will be given to two UAE nationals who demonstrate “outstanding design skills” and each scholarship will be around Dh400,000.

DIDI also provides a range of scholarships for “outstanding students”, up to 50 per cent based on merit and financial need.


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