Young Iraqi innovator building home-made drones

Sunday 23/04/2017
Childhood hobby. Haidar Husseini preparing to fly a remote-controlled drone that he built in Karbala in central Iraq. (Oumayma Omar)

Baghdad - Haidar Husseini is deter­mined to turn his hobby of making remote-con­trolled drones that can be used for agricultural, military and information purposes into a fully fledged official business. In a small workshop in his home in Karbala in central Iraq, he has pro­duced at least 400 drones.
“It is a hobby that I have been practising since childhood. At first I used to make miniature planes in­spired by the cartoons I watched on TV and from the few scientific mag­azines I could find in bookshops and libraries,” said Husseini, 27.
“At a later stage, I started buy­ing second-hand electronic games, which I disassembled to extract cer­tain parts, such as engines and bat­teries, which I used in the creation of a miniature drone specimen that I was able to fly.”
Husseini’s quest for more knowl­edge to develop his hobby prompt­ed him to learn English.
“Learning English helped me a lot as I was constantly reading research papers posted on the internet and following lessons on how to manu­facture drones on YouTube,” he said.
Husseini created a Facebook page on which he wrote: “This page aims at linking all the hobbyists in Kar­bala together as well as providing training and sharing knowledge.”
Through his Facebook page, Hus­seini set up an 11-person team called RC Karbala. The team includes a 16-year-old who won the gold medal in the competition for young innovators organised by the Arab League in 2015 for designing a drone that could be used in the pollination of date palms.
Husseini and his team aspire to set up a licensed workshop to pro­duce drones, a matter fraught with difficulties due to security reasons. “Drones are considered to be a kind of weapon by security forces that have occasionally confiscated some of our planes,” he said.
Some of team’s drones have been equipped with high-definition and infrared cameras used for aerial filming at night.
“We find difficulties in procuring raw material and essential parts, namely engines, remote-control de­vices, cameras and batteries, which we try to get from neighbouring countries such as Iran and Kuwait or order online on Amazon through friends established in Europe and the United States,” Husseini said.
The group’s reputation has grown and it has been hired to film reli­gious feasts and cultural festivals in Karbala and other areas. The op­eration features a production part offering filming services to produce documentaries.
“Many satellite televisions seek our services for aerial footage but the work is challenging and fraught with risks because of the volatile security situation in the country,” Husseini said.
He said he was arrested and inter­rogated three years ago after a tech­nical error caused one of his drones to crash near a school. “Security agencies always try to obstruct our work, although our drones can help maintain security if they are used in a conventional way,” he said.
Hazem Khalidi, the head of Youth and Sports Committee in Karbala Provincial Council, acknowledged that security challenges in addition to financial restrictions have been hindering innovative young peo­ple from practising and developing their talents.
“The lack of budget allocations for the Ministry of Youth and Sports deprived innovative youth of the support they need to develop their skills and inventions,” Khalidi said. “We are very well aware of security issues in the country and we could reach an agreement with the author­ities allowing the youth to practise the hobby of manufacturing and fly­ing remote-controlled drones within certain limits to prevent being ex­ploited by unruly parties.”
He said the provincial council would soon launch a new initiative called the Innovator Gate, which is aimed at developing young people’s talents. Under the initiative, inno­vators will be invited to show their creations to council members and local investors, who would spon­sor or support inventions and ideas they deem feasible.
Husseini said he welcomed the council’s initiative as an encourag­ing step for fulfilling the ambitions of Iraqi innovators.