How AI and Robotics will help deliver The Saudi Green Initiative

Jizan, Saudi Arabia. (Getty Images)
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Updated 22 October 2021

How AI and Robotics will help deliver The Saudi Green Initiative

  • Saudi Green Initiative (SGI) Forum to be held in Riyadh on 23-24 October
  • Saudi Arabia plans to plant 10 billion trees

RIYADH: The forthcoming Saudi Green Initiative (SGI) Forum, to be held in Riyadh on 23-24 October, is set to be a milestone in the historic effort to transform the oil-based economy of Saudi Arabia into a cleaner and more sustainable one.
In addition to planting 10 billion trees (covering 30 percent of total land area), the SGI aims to create vast protected zones, conserve marine life around the coasts and encourage alternative forms of agriculture. One key aspect of this sea change will be the contribution of technology to the greening of Saudi Arabia.
A leader in the realm of agritech is Dr. Nahid Sidki, chief technology officer with Research Products Development Company (RPDC), a PIF-owned not-for-profit resource for the commercialization of Saudi-based research and breakthrough technology.
With a 30-year background in Silicon Valley, where he was executive director at the Stanford Research Institute, Dr. Sidki is an authority on robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).
“The SGI is a great initiative that can produce a clean future, reduce carbon emissions and impact climate change,” Dr. Sidki told Arab News. “AI and robotics can play a major role in this, not only here in Saudi Arabia but across the Gulf region.”
But how exactly does hi-tech have anything to do with planting trees and growing crops? The answer lies partly in the sheer volume of what the SGI envisions.
“To plant 10 billion trees in a country like Saudi Arabia, one has to ask how they will be monitored and how their health will be sustained for decades to come. We cannot rely on just hoping for the best. We need to look to the ultimate goal and then work backwards in terms of the development and implementation of technology. It’s like a closed-loop ecosystem: planting, monitoring, irrigating and harvesting the trees.”
A primary consideration of the SGI is the use (and misuse) of water, a precious resource in the desert kingdom. Conventional irrigation methods often lead to significant wastage.
Smart dust
“AI can play a crucial role here via smart, efficient irrigation systems that utilize sensors and data analytics to monitor climate conditions and soil moisture,” Dr. Sidki said. “If every tree and every plant had sensors to monitor the condition of the soil surrounding the roots, this could determine exactly when it requires water and exactly what amount.”
Such AI-based solutions are already being put into practice, for example in the form of “smart dust,” nanoparticles that communicate with each other, enabling complex data collection and efficient decision-making in all aspects of agriculture.
“Land health monitoring is also very important,” said Dr. Sidki. “Throughout the life cycle of crops, drones can enable precision spraying and maximize seed pollination, and the same kind of sensor technology can be used for livestock monitoring, crop spraying and smart harvesting.”
These technologies, combined with local and global advances in genetic engineering, could soon turn the parched landscape of Saudi Arabia into an agricultural powerhouse with many verdant oases. Having said that, the greening of Saudi Arabia will require not just the conservation but also the production of potable water.
Some 60 percent of the Kingdom’s fresh water is currently supplied by energy-intensive seawater desalination plants reliant on polluting fossil fuels, an unsustainable solution in view of the SGI. But new desalination and water filtration techniques are emerging quickly, positioning the KSA as a hub for proprietary green technology.
In one RPDC-assisted project called the Red Sea Farm, a group of KAUST researchers have successfully grown tomatoes using a mix of 75 percent seawater and 25 percent freshwater, a scalable method that was recognized and lauded by the United Nations General Assembly in September.
“The idea is to develop smart technology to reduce the cost of desalination,” said Dr. Sidki. “Imagine if we could utilize solar energy for desalination. We would have unlimited fresh water from the ocean, which we are surrounded by in the KSA.”
The SGI represents one aspect of Saudi Arabia’s broader 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), the fusion of AI, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), genetic engineering and quantum computing, blurring the boundaries between the physical, digital and biological worlds. This is a highly collaborative movement involving numerous government bodies, PIF-owned companies (both commercial and not-for-profit), academic institutions, corporations, startups and SMEs.
“Robotics and AI will be playing a major role in every sector of society,” said Dr. Sidki. “And here in Saudi Arabia we have huge public and private funds to build capabilities.”
Innovation largely comes down to talent and education, and Dr. Sidki is again optimistic in this regard. “Saudi Arabia has a population of about 35 million, 70 percent of which is 25 or younger. And the percentage of those with a higher degree is very high compared to most other countries. In terms of PhD-holders the KSA probably ranks the highest in the region.”
Saudi Arabia is on the cusp of a major transformation that will involve a great deal of hard work and a lot of imagination.
“There’s an endless list of ways that new forms of technology can improve the quality of our daily life,” Dr. Sidki said. “People need to be very passionate about what they’re doing, and to be aware of the contributions they can make to their society, in order to have a huge impact. I think the combination of education and passion, and that impact, are the ingredients for a society to successfully achieve whatever it wants to do.”

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Startup of the Week: Wafeer — helping Saudis spend wisely and save money

Updated 27 November 2021

Startup of the Week: Wafeer — helping Saudis spend wisely and save money

JEDDAH: Personal finance app Wafeer is the only service in Saudi Arabia that automatically tracks user’s spending patterns in a bid to help them stick to budgets.
The fintech company was founded by Salah Al-Bassam, Ahmad Ramadan and Abdulaziz Al-Jasser in 2019.
Each founder brings their own skills to the firm — Al-Bassam is an investment professional, Ramadan specialized in tech, while Al-Jasser is an engineer.
“We believe this was the formula that made Wafeer what it is right now, the broad and diverse experience that each founder brings to the table and of course our value add investors,” Al-Bassam told Arab News.
In March, Wafeer raised an undisclosed amount in a pre-seed funding round led by Nama Ventures, with participation from RAI group, WomenSpark, and several angel investors.
At the time, Nama Venture’s general partner Mohammed Alzubi said: “We first met the Wafeer team in August of 2020. The first thing that stood out for us was how complementary was the skillsets of the team, with real role clarity from the get go.”
Al-Bassam explains that its software automatically updates expenses that are paid through the app, rather than needing manual entry.
“Beyond tracking user’s expenses, Wafeer offers personalized advice using artificial intelligence helping users get notified before overspending and gives them recommendations that help cut spending or create wiggle room,” Al-Bassam said.
He added the Saudi Vision 2030 growth initiative highlights the importance of creating more awareness of spending, savings and investment through its Financial Sector Development Program.
Al-Bassam said: “It is one of the Vision's realization programs. This program has several goals, the most important of which are achieving financial diversity, stability, and promoting the culture of saving.
“Our goal at Wafeer is to play a role in achieving these objectives with the aim of answering this ongoing question that arises at the end of each month: What did I spend my salary on?”
Wafeer has 82,000 active users in its platform, who have notched up almost 1 million transactions.
The startup has partnered up with big companies in the region, such as online marketplace Noon and Saudi fast food app Hungerstation to provide special offers to customers.
Al-Bassam said: “We are proud of our partnerships, we have signed a number of strategic partnerships, most recently with Noon and Hungerstation to provide Wafeer users with exclusive discounts and offers that match their spending behavior.”
Wafeer currently only operates in the Kingdom, but has plans to extend its services to other Middle Eastern and North African countries.


Anghami to complete US merger ‘soon,’ CEO says

Updated 26 November 2021

Anghami to complete US merger ‘soon,’ CEO says

  • Maroun said the company’s priority is growth not profitability as it seeks to increase its market share from 6 percent

RIYADH: Lebanon’s Anghami, known as the Spotify of the Arab world, will not postpone its merger with the blank-check company Vistas Media in a potential $90 million deal, according to the firm’s CEO.

Eddie Maroun said the agreement had suffered a delay due to the procedures of the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US, but the deal will still go ahead.

The process is currently in its final stages, and the implementation will be announced very soon, he told Al-Arabiya on Thursday.

Maroun said the company’s priority is growth not profitability as it seeks to increase its market share from 6 percent.

He expects Anghami to achieve profitability within three years, he added.

Subscriptions represent 80 percent of the company’s revenue with the rest coming from advertising, Maround said.

Founded in 2012 in Lebanon, Anghami is the first legal music streaming platform in the Middle East and North Africa region.


Dubai real estate sector deals back to pre-pandemic level: Land department

Updated 26 November 2021

Dubai real estate sector deals back to pre-pandemic level: Land department

  • The number of deals in October was at the highest level since June 2019

RIYADH: Dubai’s real estate market has seen the highest value of deals since March 2019, according to data from the Dubai Land Department.

Figures show that in October, 5,352 transactions worth 13.12 billion UAE dirhams ($3.57 billion) were recorded.

The number of deals was at the highest level since June 2019.

The value of real estate sales transactions in the first 10 months of 2021 are more than the whole of 2020 and the highest since 2015, according to the data.

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Oman’s Bank Nizwa welcomes merger proposal from Sohar International

Updated 26 November 2021

Oman’s Bank Nizwa welcomes merger proposal from Sohar International

RIYADH: Oman-based Sohar International Bank and Bank Nizwa are considering a merger, according to Al-Arabiya.

Bank Nizwa’s board welcomed the proposal from Sohar International on Nov. 25 to study the idea of merging the two banks, it was reported.

Bank Nizwa recorded profit growth of 14 percent in the third quarter to 3 million Omani riyals ($7.7 million).

Profit growth of Bank Nizwa increased by 6 percent in the first nine months of 2021 to 9 million riyals.

Bank Nizwa is Oman’s first dedicated Islamic bank, launching in January 2013, with fully Shariah-compliant products and services.


Foxconn’s Jusda unit seeks pre-IPO financing

Updated 26 November 2021

Foxconn’s Jusda unit seeks pre-IPO financing

  • Foxconn’s supply chain management platform seeks $300 million to $400 million

RIYADH: Foxconn’s Jusda unit is considering raising funds from private investors ahead of a potential initial public offering early next year, sources told Bloomberg.

Foxconn’s supply chain management platform seeks to raise $300 million to $400 million in the so-called pre-IPO round, the sources said.

The company will use the proceeds to expand logistics services, they said.

Jusda is also in the early stages of evaluating a potential listing in Hong Kong in the second half of next year, the sources added.

No final decision has been taken because the considerations are preliminary and details such as the size of the funding can still be changed, they said.

Foxconn spokesman Jimmy Huang said Jusda has no plan for an IPO right now, and declined to comment on the fundraising.

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