In conversation with Sarah Yousef Amiri, Head of Research and Development Section, The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST).
I was expecting Sarah Amiri to delve into an hour-long dissertation on earth observation satellites, image resolution and research projects. She did speak of research projects but in the process redefined the traditional concept of research and development.
“R & D in the popular mindset is about laboratories and scientists working on cutting edge technology. However when you are focused on technology transfer and building a knowledge-based organisation, research should be done across the organisation by everyone. This rethinking on R&D is taking place in other space-related organisations as it is in EIAST.”
A year ago, Amiri, a Bachelor in Computer Science from the American University of Sharjah, and currently studying for her Masters, was made the Head of Research and Development Section as part of an internal restructuring process. The transition, according to her was largely smooth.
“I started working with EIAST as an Assistant Researcher for the ground segments of DubaiSat1 and DubaiSat2. While the entire organisation underwent restructuring last year and various departments emerged, namely, Space Image Processing and Analysis, Space
Systems Development and Ground Services, my mandate to work across departments did not faze me because of Sarah Yousef Amiri, Head of Research and Development Section, The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) the familiarity I had developed both with the work and the personnel.”
Reporting to the Director General of EIAST, the one year at EIAST in her new role saw Amiri introduce the novel concept through departmental meetings as well as individual one-on-one meetings.
We get monthly reports. All we need to know is whether the research is aligned with the goals of the department in question and the organisation as a whole
“Change is never easy. And some may even have nursed notions of the department being a police of sorts. However, a number of factors have helped my colleagues understand the role of our department. Firstly, research was already central to our organisation. So our initiative to systematise the process found resonance. My colleagues in other departments are akin to clients. What we are doing is protecting their roles as engineers and researchers.”
Elaborating on the philosophy behind the unique approach to R & D, Amiri says: “In the process of developing DubaiSat1 and DubaiSat2, we have worked on numerous developments that are our intellectual property. The same goes for the ground station and image processing.
“Our intellectual capital includes the process of development and the experience of the researcher; and we need to protect these assets. More importantly, our main aim is to have Emiratis with know-how and give them the tools to expand in their areas of research and eventually contribute to the knowledge economy of the country. All this factors into enhancing the sovereignty of the country.”
My colleagues in other departments are akin to clients. What we are doing is protecting their roles as engineers and researchers
To fulfill these lofty goals, Amiri’s team has some practical day-to-day tasks given that the individuals within EIAST do research on varied activities ranging from applying invisible watermarks on the satellite images to improving the resolution of the camera on-board future DubaiSat missions.
“We get monthly reports. All we need to know is whether the research is aligned with the goals of the department in question and the organisation as a whole. We do not interfere with the development work because they are the experts.”
Apart from the monthly reports, Amiri also has the onerous task of setting up a data centre that will intelligently store the huge legacy of information being generated.
“The mandate of the data centre is to organise the information and get it to the right person at the right time. It is not just about gathering and storing information. We are currently in the planning phase and we should be up and running early next year.”
Regardless of the odd skepticism that her section evoked initially, Amiri sees progress a year on.
“While I cannot quantify it, people talk more about research. And across the departments, we are seeing an increase in research activities. This is reflected in the reports published every month – another aspect of our transparent approach to R & D across the organisation.”