High-tech industries and Turkey

High-tech industries and Turkey

It is common knowledge that Turkish people like to use high-tech products, be it a smart phone or a vehicle. A foreigner could be puzzled by the front pages of Turkish newspapers at times of near to war, as they resemble a technological journal more than a newspaper, with detailed explanations of how high-tech war machines work, with bright illustrations. Every Turk who reads newspapers can tell you the difference between Tomahawk, Sidearm or Patriot missiles for minutes. 

However, it is also common knowledge that we don’t invest in R&D as much as we should. That’s what I thought when I scanned the technology related news this week. 

The first is from Turkish Airlines (THY). A THY chairman said on Dec. 3 the company aims to take a spot among the advanced technological companies furthering space travel. THY will also take part in space tourism in the future, THY Chairman Temel Kotil said. Disclosing an ambitious and robust future plan, Kotil said he expects interplanetary travel by the end of the century. When that day comes, he noted, Turkey’s flag carrier also wants to be among the top companies to offer spaceflights. 

It is wonderful news. Great and big ambitions are needed to make dreams come true. However I feel this is going to remain as a nice conversation to be remembered and not acted upon. We have witnessed such bold statements from different authorities before. We should have had a national car, fighting aircraft, helicopter, submarine, mobile phone, drones, processor, main board and destroyer. So far the destroyer was the closest to come to life after years of research and investment, but the government cancelled the project which was led by KOÇ group. So we don’t have any national technologies years after those flamboyant speeches and there is very little hope that we will ever have them. 

Drones are being researched by a handful of universities and private companies and they have really gotten close to the finish line. However the second piece of news got me thinking again. 

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan went to an innovation fair and visited Uludağ University’s stand to look at a drone they are developing. He liked the drone, but he thought the drone would not be useable with the current technical qualifications. So he asked them to develop it further to some specific qualifications, which he told on the spot, and told them to come and see him a year later. 

It is very nice that he took an interest in a high-tech project and it is awesome he is willing to support it. However, his spontaneous reaction is a nightmare in terms of the country’s project management and technology management. 

These students were trying to be heard on yesterday by stating they need 100 thousand Turkish Liras to make Tayyip Erdoğan’s wishes come true, given in an interview they did with a local newspaper.
Aside from the fact that the students are totally at a loss as to how to proceed any further, how can a prime minister be the judge for such specific technology? Is Uludağ’s drone the best one to support in terms of national goals? I am in favor of supporting all research as much as possible. So I would be happy if this project is added to the list instead of taking the place of a possibly better choice.
Unfortunately, even in a very curial research focus as drones, we don’t have a national strategy. If we had, people in the army and people in TÜBİTAK would already know about the drones those students were developing and they would all have a clear R&D schedule. 

All in all, we have all the good intentions but absolutely no systems in place. That’s why right at exactly the same time, Space X is successfully launching the first ever commercial space craft and THY is just talking about end of the century.