Saudi Arabia aims to build buses, operate toll roads

Daimler last May won an order from Riyadh for 600 Mercedes-Benz Citaro buses, the largest order for the vehicles in the history of its bus division. (Photo courtesy of Daimler)
Updated 07 May 2018
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Saudi Arabia aims to build buses, operate toll roads

  • Toll road plan under consideration
  • Kingdom looks to cut imports and boost manufacturing

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has held preliminary discussions with foreign firms about manufacturing buses domestically and plans to convert part of its highway system into toll roads to help make its transport system more efficient, the transport minister said.

“We are developing the public transport system with a lot of buses, so we want to see how we can leverage this to develop domestic industry,” Nabeel Al-Amudi said in an interview on the sidelines of a business conference in Jeddah on Sunday.

He declined to name the companies with which Saudi Arabia had been talking.

The Kingdom, which does not have a significant auto manufacturing industry, is spending billions of dollars to expand public transport systems in the capital Riyadh and other big cities, and has imported thousands of buses in the last few years.

Last May, German vehicle maker Daimler received an order from Riyadh for 600 Mercedes-Benz Citaro buses, the largest order for the vehicles in the history of its bus division. China Yuchai International last month announced the delivery of 800 buses to Saudi Arabia.

Producing the vehicles locally would allow Saudi Arabia to save on import costs while creating jobs and expanding domestic industry — key goals of an economic reform program designed to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil exports.

Amudi said the potential bus project was separate from a memorandum of understanding signed by Toyota Motor Corp. in March last year to conduct a feasibility study on producing vehicles and parts in Saudi Arabia.

The reform program features plans to have the private sector operate much of the Kingdom’s transport infrastructure, including airports and sea ports, with the government keeping a role as regulator.

Amudi said that approach would be extended to the highway network.

The government hopes to establish between four and six toll roads which private companies would operate in exchange for fees, although this may be difficult because of the need to give road users the option of taking a non-toll route in each case, Amudi said.

Draft plans for this project may be ready in six months, he added.


Search engine Baidu becomes first China firm to join US AI ethics group

Updated 17 October 2018
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Search engine Baidu becomes first China firm to join US AI ethics group

  • The Partnership on AI (PAI), which counts Alphabet Inc’s Google, Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. as members, is a body that develops ethical guidelines for AI research
  • Baidu’s inclusion in the group comes as Chinese and US companies are looking to ramp up cooperation on AI

BEIJING: Chinese search engine Baidu has become the first Chinese company to join an artificial intelligence (AI) ethics group led by top US tech firms, amid wider political clashes over AI competition between China and the US.
The Partnership on AI (PAI), which counts Alphabet Inc’s Google, Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. as members, is a body that develops ethical guidelines for AI research, including ensuring research does not violate international conventions or human rights.
Last year China’s industry ministry named Baidu as one of four national AI champions, and the search firm has invested heavily in autonomous driving and deep learning in recent years.
“Baidu’s admission represents the beginning of PAI’s entrance into China. We will continue to add new members in China and around the world as we grow,” said PAI in a statement on Tuesday.

 

Baidu’s inclusion in the group comes as Chinese and US companies are looking to ramp up cooperation on AI, despite a looming political scuffle between the US and China over technology transfers.
Last year China set out a roadmap to become a world leader in AI by 2025, with plans to invest roughly $400 billion in the industry in the coming years.
The ambitions have rankled the US government, which has discussed plans to bolster security reviews of cutting-edge technology, including AI, over fears that China could access technology of strategic military importance.
China’s AI roadmap encourages technology sharing between private, public and military research groups.
Despite the clash, US companies have expanded their AI presence in China while Baidu and other Chinese firms have launched AI research labs in the US.
Last month China’s cyber ministry hosted Google, Amazon Inc. and Microsoft Corp. at its annual AI forum. All three companies have launched AI research labs in China over the past year, despite tightening censorship and data restrictions that limit the companies’ involvement in the market.
At the forum, top government officials stressed that China’s development of AI technology would be ethically conducted, adding that they have plans to retrain workers who lose their jobs to AI.

Decoder

China’s AI roadmap encourages technology sharing between private, public and military research groups.