Saudi woman honored at technology conference

EmTech’s regional edition was held in Dubai for the first time on Sept. 23 and 24. (Photo/EmTech)
Updated 29 September 2018

Saudi woman honored at technology conference

  • Dubai conference featured the launch of an Arabic version of the journal, aimed at those interested in emerging technologies in the Middle East and North Africa region

JEDDAH: A Saudi woman has been honored by a regional innovators initiative launched last July by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al-Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai and chairman of the board of trustees of Dubai Future Foundation.
Sadeem Rashed Al-Marri was a winner in the Innovators Under 35 competition at the EmTech MENA emerging technology conference. With her partners, she used 3D-printing technology to create a mechanical hand that can translate Arabic text entered in a specially designed mobile application into sign language. The device has the potential to help millions of deaf people in the Arab world and can also be used to help teach sign language.
EmTech, a leading international event dedicated to emerging technologies, was founded in 1999 and the regional edition was held in Dubai for the first time on Sept. 23 and 24, hosted by the Dubai Future Foundation in cooperation with Haykal Media. It attracted 300 participants, including scientists, researchers, industry experts, spokespersons and specialists in a variety of emerging technologies from around the world.
The Innovators Under 35 winners also included Taki Hinai and Issa Basaid from the United Arab Emirates, Munther Abu Rumaila and Abdul Mohsin Al-Husseini from Jordan, Marwan Abu Deeb from Lebanon, Abdelkader Nasr El-Din Belkacem from Algeria, Feras Khalifa from Syria, Emad Masoudi from Yemen and Derya Baran from Turkey.
The conference showcased the winners in interactive sessions during which they presented their inventions and shared their stories, visions and future aspirations. They have achieved excellence in a range of fields, including biomedicine, computing, energy, communication, software development, infrastructure, and the internet, all of which help contribute to the development of smart cities. The young entrepreneurs will now have a chance to present their innovative ideas to officials, decision-makers and corporate leaders in the region.
EmTech and the Innovators Under 35 contest are organized globally by American magazine the MIT Technology Review. The regional edition of the contest received more than 400 nominations, from which 54 were shortlisted and judged by a jury of officials and experts.
The first Innovators Under 35 list was published in 1999 in the MIT Technology Review, featuring young innovators making contributions that were expected to play important roles in the development of smart cities. The first day of the Dubai conference featured the launch of an Arabic version of the journal, aimed at those interested in emerging technologies in the Middle East and North Africa region.
EmTech is one of the most important annual international technology events, with a number of regional editions around the world that showcase the latest inventions and developments. They bring together technology pioneers and businesses to network, share their experiences, learn about innovative technologies and discuss how they might affect communities in the future.
Al-Marri told Arab News that the invention was part of four students’ graduation project at the College of Computer Information and Sciences in the Imam Mohammed Ibn Saudi Islamic University. She said that the title of the project was “Designing a Robotic Hand for Arabic Sign Language Teaching and Translation.”
The participants in the project were Ebtsam Aqeel Al-Shammari, Faten Abdulmajeed Al-Sunaid, Hessa Saad Al-Monif and Sadeem Al-Marri. The project was supervised by Dr. Maha Sulaiman Al-Rabiah
Describing the project, Al-Marri said that deaf and deaf-blind persons face many challenges in communicating with others and understanding the world surrounding them.
“Although they use sign language or tactile sign language in an attempt to overcome their isolation, they experience difficulties connecting with their community because not all individuals are familiar with sign language or are comfortable with the tactile approach,” Al-Marri said.
She added that they attempted, in that project, to solve this problem by designing and building a robotic hand that translates Arabic texts entered in the mobile application into the equivalent Arabic sign language alphabet gestures, that acts as a mean of communication between the deaf/deaf-blind person and the world.
Al-Marri told Arab News that a TV interview was the spark that ignited their invention.
“A deaf-blind person introduced the challenges that he was facing while communicating with others and understanding the people around him. During that interview, he said that although he used tactile sign language in an attempt to overcome his isolation, he experienced difficulties connecting with his community because not all individuals are familiar with sign language or are comfortable with the tactile approach,” she recalled.
Explaining how their invention. works, Al-Marri said that the robotic hand parts are printed using a 3D printer and are connected with servo-motors that act as joints of the hand and attached with strings that act like tendons. “When a user enters a word in the mobile application, a microprocessor sends the appropriate command to the servo-motors causing them to move to pull the attached strings and performing the corresponding sign language gesture,” she said.
Al-Marri believes what makes their invention special is that their robotic hand is the first robotic hand that has been used in translating and teaching Arabic Sign Language. “It can be used as an effective 3-dimensional educational tool to teach Arabic Sign Language either for deaf or non-deaf people,” she said.
Al-Marri added that in the future they would focus on enhancing the system by making it consist of left and right hands to be able to perform the Arabic Sign Language words. Moreover, she said, the robot can be developed to adapt to any other language.
Al-Marri said that she is proud to be one of the young active members of her community in education, technology, and business, where she was chosen by Google to work as a liaison between Google and her university and other organizations.
“Furthermore, I was a member of different initiatives that targeted youth technology; in addition, I played a role in startups that worked in innovation and the manufacturing industry and I started my startup in the field of e-learning to contribute to raising student achievement and scientific performance to reach the highest level of his/her aspiring career position using the latest methods in education,” she concluded.

Meet Abdulrahman Eid: The Syrian artist inspired by Hijazi heritage

Updated 24 May 2019

Meet Abdulrahman Eid: The Syrian artist inspired by Hijazi heritage

  • ‘Saudi Arabia is becoming a fertile environment for young artists to develop’

JEDDAH: The unique heritage of the historic Jeddah area and the surrounding Hijaz region has long proved fascinating for visitors. That was certainly true for Abdulrahman Eid, a Syrian artist who has lived in the Kingdom for 18 years, and whose work is inspired by Hijazi culture and artistic heritage.

Eid was born in Damascus in 1997. Before moving to Saudi Arabia, he helped restore and renovate historic buildings and works of art, including antiques, manuscripts, and paintings.

He currently works as a jewelry designer in Jeddah, and has plans to share his knowledge with the public through courses and workshops, as he believes jewelry design could and should be much more popular in the Middle East.

Eid first came to Saudi Arabia to work as the director of an exhibition of Eastern and Antarctic at. He said he exhibited some of the work he had produced at Janadriyah’s cultural festival in 2002 and 2003. But between 2003 and 2018, he took a break from making his own artwork.

However, he is now back with a vengeance. His latest creation —  a diorama that portrays life in Jeddah in the 1950s, consists of more than 1,700 pieces, which Eid hopes will get him into the record books. His decision to document life in old Jeddah was partly driven, he says, by nostalgia for his homeland, and partly by his wish to acknowledge his appreciation of art.


The project, which Eid hopes to finish and present to the public within the next two weeks, has taken the artist more than three years of hard work so far, much of which was spent researching.

“I collected many books and old photographs of various Orientalists and studied how they were documenting the country in the 30s, 40s, and 50s,” he said. Eid found numerous sources through which he could study various historic houses and neighborhoods of old Jeddah, including —  of course —  walking the streets himself. He cites Noor Wali House, Al-Batarji, Beit Nasif, Al-Matbouli and others as inspirations. However, none of the houses in his artwork are named, or presented as exact replicas of existing buildings. 

“Some houses and neighborhoods with important historic value do not exist anymore, and I do not want to diminish any of their value. I collected various elements from different houses and made it into one unnamed neighborhood that imitates the reality of the past,” he said.

Eid’s diorama is 320 cm long, 130 cm high and 45 cm wide. It is full of houses, antique cars and shops — a carpet shop, a silver shop, a copper shop, and a shop for household items, such as pottery.

The intricate miniature pieces in the shops include handmade carpets, hanging lamps, lanterns, old swords and other weapons, old-fashioned household appliances, mirrors, antiques, gifts, and handicrafts of the kind sold to pilgrims. “I tried to integrate all the elements that were there in Hijaz in the past,” he said. “It is more of a documentary artwork.” Staying faithful to his source material, Eid even used precious stones and metals to create the miniature merchandise.

Eid describes his project as “a collection of around 10 types of art, including miniature, diorama, painting, sculpture, formative art, and jewelry design.”

His buildings incorporate the many distinctive decorative styles of traditional Hijazi architecture: panelings, moldings, door shapes, and Rawashin — the carved latticed windows typical of the area. “It contains a huge amount of art that interested the people of the country at that time,” he said of his ambitious project.

Eid said he has benefitted from the knowledge of many people who are familiar with historical Jeddah — including intellectuals, architects, civil engineers and local dignitaries.

“Many people have visited me in my studio and seen the work,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of amendments based on their recommendations. I took their comments into account and restructured the work several times over the past year until I finally reached the version that most closely embodies the reality.”

Eid said the fine and precise nature, and the astonishing variety, of Hijazi arts presented a serious challenge —  one that he was keen to embrace. “I found a unique, unparalleled precision and accuracy in Hijazi artistic heritage,” he said. “It is harmoniously composed of rich elements that I have not found in any other regions of the Kingdom.”

Still, he did sometimes worry that he had taken on too big a task. “Sometimes I felt I would not finish it for years,” he said.

Hijazi culture

Hijazi culture, Eid pointed out, is “cross-cultural.” Jeddah has been the main port for pilgrims for hundreds of years, and as a result, the city and surrounding areas have gained a unique character —  possessing the spirit of numerous other cities from both East and West. 

Eid claimed that anyone visiting Jeddah’s historic areas would likely see something of their own country there. “I saw something of Syria,” he said.

Over the last fortnight or so, photographs of Eid’s project have been widely shared on social media —  with some people mistakenly claiming that the images were off work based on the old cities in Damascus or Cairo.

“I was pleased with what happened,” Eid said. “I received a lot of encouragement and support.”

The Syrian artist said he has had many similar experiences with Damascene architecture when he was working in his homeland. “I have to say, though, that this experience has been more enjoyable, with its challenges, fine details, and richness,” he added. 

Eid said he believes recent years have seen an evolving renaissance in the arts in Saudi Arabia, marked by growing interest from the government and the public in the Kingdom’s heritage and its cultural value. 

“Saudi Arabia is becoming a fertile environment for young artists to develop,” he said. “The number of galleries has multiplied, and a real movement has begun. I believe this movement in Saudi Arabia will grant the youth diverse opportunities and will raise the standards and the level of competition between them.” Such competition is important to improve artists’ abilities and the quality of art works delivered to the public, he added.

While Eid views the current condition as very healthy, he pointed out that there are many young artists who need financial support if they are really going to fulfill their potential, and that “those who have the financial support still need guidance.”

“Regardless of everything,” he concluded. “I am sure the future is promising.”