The Business Year

Dr. Ray O. Johnson

UAE - Telecoms & IT

Dr. Ray O. Johnson

CEO, Technology Innovation Institute (TII)

Bio

Dr. Johnson brings to TII more than four decades of experience in global technology leadership, making strategic investments in disruptive technologies, and developing business strategies that resulted in several new billion-dollar lines of business. He also holds outstanding networking capabilities and has met with leaders from the highest echelons of government, industry, and academia. He is frequently sought after as a speaker at global forums on business, strategy, innovation, and education. He holds a PhD and an MS degree in electrical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in Ohio. He earned a BS in electrical engineering from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

“The Directed Energy Research Center uses the entire spectrum of electromagnetic energy to add immense value in sectors beyond safety and security.“

What is the mandate behind the formation of TII?
TII was launched in November 2020 as part of Advanced Technology Research Council’s (ATRC) mandate to shape a research ecosystem in Abu Dhabi and drive the research priorities of the UAE. That mandate flows down to three entities: TII, ASPIRE, and VentureOne. At TII, we have 10 research centers pushing the frontiers of science. Our goal, as a leading global research institute, and the applied research pillar of ATRC, is to create breakthrough solutions to tomorrow’s challenges. Clearly, it is important to have a leadership at the top that supports the innovation agenda and works in an open, flexible, and agile environment. We currently have a 430-strong team of scientists, researchers, and engineers. The first seven centers that were set up were in crucial national priority areas. In a mandate that focused on the environment, the world, and vital sectors, ATRC prioritized multiple specializations—from nano materials to autonomous robotics and beyond. One center is enabling the UAE to develop its own protection mechanisms in cryptography. Another is the Quantum Research Center, which is bringing some firsts in quantum computing to the region. The Digital Security Research Center is one of two centers focused on protecting the UAE and the devices that form part of the country’s critical infrastructure. The Directed Energy Research Center uses the entire spectrum of electromagnetic energy to add immense value in sectors beyond safety and security. This in a nutshell, captures the current areas of focus for TII and highlights how we are aligning ourselves to the mandate that ATRC has put in place for Abu Dhabi and the country.

What collaborations have you formed with international organizations?
Partnerships are an important part of our work. As a global research institute, it is important that we attract and retain the best people from around the world. First, from a talent perspective, of the 430 professionals at TII, we have 62 nationalities represented, including 115 Emirati nationals. It is extremely diverse. We currently have 70 global partnership agreements with 37 universities, research centers, and industrial stakeholders from around the world. As a global institute, we are focused on demonstrating to the world the technical progress that we are making. We have developed over 200 publications and filed for five patents in one year. We have 34 globally renowned expert advisors operating within the centers. With a focus on future needs, we have additionally announced three new centers: the Propulsion Research Center, the Biotechnology Research Center, and the Alternative Energy Research Center. The Propulsion Research Center is based on advanced aero and space propulsion technologies. In biotechnology, we have much to accomplish that enables us to work on Arab genomics, which is a core priority for us as we move towards tailored medicine practices. We are aware of how crucial alternative energy is for CO2 mitigation, and we are working on green propulsion and green recycling as we move away from our reliance on a petroleum-based energy sector.

How does TII contribute to the UAE having a fully integrated knowledge-based economy?
TII is working on the innovations that will lead to outcomes to support the green transition. The green economy initiative was launched in 2012 to help the UAE become an exporter of green energy solutions. Similar to its position as an exporter of petroleum solutions today, the UAE will transform to become an exporter of green energy solutions in the future. Our goal is to provide solutions to several sectors such as transportation, energy, medical, and healthcare. These innovative solutions help resolve challenges, and in the process, they also create jobs, which attracts global talent from around the world. Through VentureOne, the commercialization arm of ATRC, these solutions are commercialized through licensing agreements initially and later through startup companies. These solutions are deployed within the UAE, and there is a regenerative cycle of support that transforms the economy.

How does TII assist in the UAE’s overall human capital development?
Part of ATRC’s mandate in addition to the broad transformation to a knowledge-based economy is honing the STEM talent within the UAE, attracting global subject matter experts, and raising the overall level of talent within the country. In terms of talent development in the UAE, we have a program called NexTech that allows us to identify exceptional UAE national STEM talent and give them the opportunity to pursue advanced degrees in world-class institutions while also collaborating as researchers on TII’s breakthrough projects. The NexTech Program helps raise the overall level of talent within the UAE. In the first year, the program saw 101 exceptional UAE nationals fast-tracked into promising R&D careers, which speaks highly of the scale that we are achieving. The UAE offers an amazing opportunity to work in this agile environment, and we can attract the best and the brightest for those reasons.

What is your message to the international technology research audience with regard to taking a step and choosing the UAE for their projects?
Today, we represent a near unique opportunity to work at the intersection of breakthrough science and advanced technologies and engage on exciting innovations that are purposeful and result in solutions to global problems. We are conducting the research efforts in a flexible environment and wonderful place like the UAE. It is hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t see this as an attractive proposition. Through technology and innovation, we are helping to move the country into a new league with some of the brightest people in the world. It is a great honor and privilege to be able to do that.

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