Saudi drone startup puts limitless abilities in our hands

Saudi drone startup puts limitless abilities in our hands
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The pioneering Saudi startup company, Firnas Aero, wants to bring its Drone as a Service (DaaS) concept to the regional market, where it has developed new applications for inspection purposes, to solve problems more efficiently. (Supplied)
Saudi drone startup puts limitless abilities in our hands
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The pioneering Saudi startup company, Firnas Aero, wants to bring its Drone as a Service (DaaS) concept to the regional market, where it has developed new applications for inspection purposes, to solve problems more efficiently.
Saudi drone startup puts limitless abilities in our hands
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The pioneering Saudi startup company, Firnas Aero, wants to bring its Drone as a Service (DaaS) concept to the regional market, where it has developed new applications for inspection purposes, to solve problems more efficiently.
Saudi drone startup puts limitless abilities in our hands
4 / 6
The pioneering Saudi startup company, Firnas Aero, wants to bring its Drone as a Service (DaaS) concept to the regional market, where it has developed new applications for inspection purposes, to solve problems more efficiently.
Saudi drone startup puts limitless abilities in our hands
5 / 6
The pioneering Saudi startup company, Firnas Aero, wants to bring its Drone as a Service (DaaS) concept to the regional market, where it has developed new applications for inspection purposes, to solve problems more efficiently.
Saudi drone startup puts limitless abilities in our hands
6 / 6
The pioneering Saudi startup company, Firnas Aero, wants to bring its Drone as a Service (DaaS) concept to the regional market, where it has developed new applications for inspection purposes, to solve problems more efficiently.
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Updated 21 July 2020

Saudi drone startup puts limitless abilities in our hands

Saudi drone startup puts limitless abilities in our hands
  • Inspired by the father of aviation Abbas ibn Firnas, Tariq Nasraldeen and his friend Sariah Aljefri founded the company Firnas Aero in 2018

KAUST, Saudi Arabia: The use of drones has changed rapidly over recent years, offering limitless innovative opportunities for game-changing businesses through its dynamic technology.

The adoption of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology in Saudi Arabia is still in its infancy as regulations are constantly changing. Young Saudi entrepreneurs are keen to foster the demand for drone-based innovative solutions aimed at facilitating and revolutionizing how we get things done.

The pioneering Saudi startup company, Firnas Aero, wants to bring its Drone as a Service (DaaS) concept to the regional market, where it has developed new applications for inspection purposes, to solve problems more efficiently.


Inspired by the father of aviation Abbas ibn Firnas, Tariq Nasraldeen and his friend Sariah Aljefri founded the company in 2018 to provide inspection services that target the aviation, security, industrial, and delivery sectors.

“When we first started, the idea of the drone as a service was getting a drone off the shelf and doing some kind of footage for clients and hoping the images or videos were beneficial for them. If you want to go further you need to differentiate yourself. Therefore, we decided to specialize in inspections,” CEO Nasraldeen told Arab News.

Nasraldeen said that Firnas Aero offers more flexible, sustainable, accurate, and continually evolving solutions than manual inspection, as the company has developed their own drones and AI-equipped software, which they customize to serve each client’s needs.

His experience in aviation and airports management formed the idea of the startup. He noticed the inefficiency in performing periodic maintenance and scanning of runways for foreign objects that can threaten airplane safety. These missions carried out manually by inspection workers take a long time and risk human error.

“At present we are competing mainly with manual inspection, by that I mean two guys with a truck going up a crane and looking at something and deciding whether it needs to be fixed or not,” said Nasraldeen. “By the time you do manual inspection for one spot for instance, we can do 50 (spots) with a drone.”

The drone can take thousands of high-resolution pictures of one location in a short time and send them to be analyzed by the AI-equipped software, which will identify the exact location of the problem for the inspection workers. As a result, it allows clients to overcome the limitations of manual work in speed, accuracy, and human error potential.

Nasraldeen noted that the highly repetitive nature of the inspection tasks would train the AI algorithms. Hence the drone and the software improve its abilities to do that specific task each time.

“We are in the 90 percent accuracy range, whereas most manual inspection is in the 50 or 60 percent,” Nasraldeen added.

The company’s journey started at TAQADAM Startup Accelerator at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in 2019, the six-month program that supports startups with training and mentorship. Firnas Aero were the first winners of that year and received startup funding.

After TAQADAM, Firnas Aero was incorporated at KAUST Research and Technology Park (KRTP), which provides an environment for technology-based businesses to access the university’s laboratories, faculty and student talent and network of public spaces and facilities designed for creative collision and knowledge-sharing.

The ambitious company with their team of three has been involved in various projects; the most recent was a collaboration with the health ministry to help identify COVID-19 suspected cases in crowds using drones with infrared cameras.

“We used our drone to spot people with a high body temperature at the central market in Madinah city. We reported that information to the Ministry of Health team, which was working alongside us, and then they would go and double-check with the individual,” said Nasraldeen. “This was one of the most interesting projects that we’ve worked on.”

Currently, Firnas Aero is in discussion with KAUST to implement their drone-in-a-box service, which offers perimeter surveillance drones.

“It is the next step of having a fully autonomous system. So that box will house the drone and all its vital systems. Whether it’s cooling data transmission, the charging pad, etc, it will be located in a specific area, and once you have an emergency or a routine controlling mission, the drone is already programmed to fly that out, and you would cover that specific area from your station,” said Nasraldeen.

This technology does not require a pilot to manually control the drone in the same spot; it is an efficient solution to control and monitor projects and huge complexes with the least effort and in the quickest way possible.

“The drone can live in the box in remote areas securely for a few months or a few weeks, depending on the project,” he said.

Potential beneficiaries of such services are airports, industrial complexes, and various governmental institutions. “It increases the coverage or the quality, which will have an indirect effect on the level of services that the government offers to citizens and residents,” said Aljefri, Firnas Aero’s director of strategy.

In the long run, Firnas Aero believes that it can reduce all kinds of car-based patrolling operations gradually until they reach zero

“In a sense, these types of jobs are no longer needed, you can monitor autonomously without the support of people driving vehicles,” said Aljefri.

However, Aljefri said this technology does generate other kinds of jobs, mainly technological or in the backend, where workers will have to analyze images, make decisions, and dispatch teams.

So drone technology is not only speed and cost-cutting, it should also help to lower the environmental impact of inspection and delivery missions using vehicles.

Firnas Aero aspires to conquer the delivery sector too. “The second phase for us is we want to go into light cargo, or what they call in the industry, last-mile delivery, which is the most expensive part of the logistic supply chain,” said Nasraldeen.

“In a five to ten years’ time frame, we’re looking to move into bigger cargo and hopefully moving people using drones,” he added.

Nasraldeen believes that in the 2020s, and beyond, the world will witness huge shifts in technology. He thinks that there is a crucial need to re-evaluate how we do business and provide services in today’s on-demand economy, where consumers expect immediate solutions.

“Artificial Intelligence was a very futuristic word five years ago. But now the filter in Snapchat uses AI, so it’s not that far-fetched,” Nasraldeen said. “It’s not that science fiction terminology anymore. It’s real. It’s day-to-day stuff.”

Regardless of challenges with cash flow, regulations, and permissions that can slow down progress, Firnas Aero aspires to cover the Saudi market and expand to GCC countries within two years and the MENA region within three to five years. After establishing a good track record, the company wants to reach out to Europe, the US, Australia and South East Asia.


Arabic calligraphy’s fusion with Japanese Kanji captures beauty of both worlds

Arabic calligraphy’s fusion with Japanese Kanji captures beauty of both worlds
Noha Raheem says when she was younger, she discovered the three famous Japanese written scripts — including Kanji, Katakana and Hiragana — and she was awestruck. (Supplied)
Updated 23 June 2021

Arabic calligraphy’s fusion with Japanese Kanji captures beauty of both worlds

Arabic calligraphy’s fusion with Japanese Kanji captures beauty of both worlds
  • My enthusiasm for Kanji script started six years ago, says Saudi designer and calligrapher Noha Raheem

JEDDAH: Saudi artist, designer and calligrapher Noha Raheem ventured into the world of calligraphy in an unconventional way, fusing her interest in Kanji — the logographic Chinese characters used in the Japanese writing system — with Arabic calligraphy.

The result has been a portfolio of unique and eye-catching works that capture the beauty of both worlds
“I’m fond of Arabic calligraphy and graphics in general. My enthusiasm for Kanji script started six years ago,” Raheem told Arab News.
“Any calligraphic font has its roles and system. When I was younger, I discovered the three famous Japanese written scripts — including Kanji, Katakana and Hiragana — and I was awestruck. The impressive vertical letters, the way they are formed and their meaningful symbols were like a secret code.”

FASTFACT

In Arabic calligraphy, writing proceeds from right to left and forms a horizontal line. Artists rarely confine themselves to convention, though.

In Arabic calligraphy, writing proceeds from right to left and forms a horizontal line. Artists rarely confine themselves to convention, though.
“For Kufic calligraphy and freestyle in Arabic, I was driven by passion. I was inspired by Hajji Noor Deen in my beginnings, and later on, I created Arabic calligraphy in the Kanji style to show the beauty and flexibility of this complex yet innovative mix,” Raheem said.


The self-taught calligrapher discovered the roles and philosophy behind the beauty of Kanji script. “It is said that the only rule for Japanese and Chinese calligraphy is that it is beautiful, no matter what is written. What matters is how it is written. That’s why I believe the Kanji style can be merged and fitted with our Arabic letters to create a masterpiece for both eye and mind,” she said.
She explained that Arabic letters are equally malleable. “They can be shaped in any way, and still keep their form and meaning. Today I wrote my letters in the Kanji style. Later, I might do it in Urdu just to show the world how flexible and beautiful Arabic letters are.”
Raheem’s artworks, including famous sayings and poetry in Arabic, are written freestyle — a tricky task.


She also writes Qur’anic verses in Kanji: “I love to write words that anyone can relate to, including poetry and short verses with iconic and universal messages. I can apply this art to any word, as long as it makes sense to me.”
Raheem is faithful to the cultures she draws inspiration from, using traditional Sumi ink and off-white, antique-style background colors with black script, or vice versa, to mirror the essence of the Japanese style.
She also uses Japanese calligraphy brushes, Xuan rice paper, and Kakejiku, a Japanese hanging scroll used to display and exhibit paintings and calligraphic inscriptions and designs.
Her love for and dedication to Japanese art drove her to share her knowledge and display her works at art cafes, galleries, and sushi restaurants in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.
She encourages other Arab artists to explore the beauty and flexibility of the Arabic language and preserve it through art. Raheem can be found at her Instagram account @noha_raheem.


Daily virus tally hits 10-month high in Saudi Arabia

Daily virus tally hits 10-month high in Saudi Arabia
Health authorities urged the public to continue to follow all precautionary measures. (SPA)
Updated 23 June 2021

Daily virus tally hits 10-month high in Saudi Arabia

Daily virus tally hits 10-month high in Saudi Arabia
  • Authorities urge compliance with health guidelines

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday recorded the highest single-day total of new COVID-19 cases since Aug. 13, 2020.
Authorities in the Kingdom reported an additional 1,479 infections, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 476,882. Of these, 11,131 remain active and 1,487 patients are in critical condition.
The Health Ministry also said there have been a further 12 virus-related deaths, raising the death toll in the country to 7,703.
Makkah region has the highest number of new infections, with 431, followed by the Eastern Province with 280 and Riyadh region with 256.
The ministry said that an additional 920 patients have recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 458,048. It added that about 16.8 million doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered, an average of 94,104 a day, which is a rate of 48.2 doses per hundred people.
Health authorities urged the public to continue to follow all precautionary measures and ministry guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus. All ministries and other government bodies in the Kingdom are working together to ensure compliance with health guidelines.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Saudi Arabia reported 1,479 new cases on Tuesday.

• The Makkah region reported the highest number of infections.

• With 12 new fatalities, the death toll has risen to 7,703.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development carried out 448,126 inspections of commercial establishments in the private sector throughout the country in the first five months of this year. The aim is to ensure employers are following all rules and regulations relating to pandemic-related health protocols and to Saudization legislation. The teams recorded 45,421 violations and issued 51,005 warnings.
The ministry called on employers to adhere to its decisions and legislation relating to the labor market, improve the working environment and implement localization rules, as well as precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Unannounced inspections of the private sector institutions will continue throughout the Kingdom, it added


Saudi education portal among global top 4, says UNESCO official

Saudi education portal among global top 4, says UNESCO official
Saudi Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh held a meeting with UNESCO’s top official Stefania Giannini in Italy on Tuesday. (SPA)
Updated 23 June 2021

Saudi education portal among global top 4, says UNESCO official

Saudi education portal among global top 4, says UNESCO official
  • The UNESCO official said the Kingdom’s success in introducing distance learning in a short time has propelled it into a leadership role in this field

RIYADH: UNESCO’s assistant director general for education on Tuesday lauded Saudi Arabia for promptly switching over to online learning methods in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
During a meeting with Saudi Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh on the sidelines of the G20 education ministers’ meeting in Catania in Italy, Stefania Giannini said the Kingdom has achieved great success in e-learning and distance education during the pandemic.
She praised the swiftness of the Saudi authorities in switching over to online learning without compromising on the quality of education.
The UNESCO official said the Kingdom’s success in introducing distance learning in a short time has propelled it into a leadership role in this field. Giannini said the Madarasti online learning platform introduced by the Kingdom is among the top four global models.

FASTFACT

The Madarasti platform provides students with virtual classes, homework assignments, and delivery tools and is used in conjunction with the iEN YouTube channel and the iEN national education portal.

The fully interactive platform was developed as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down schools across the Kingdom. It is designed so that students can log in and attend their lessons digitally, interact with their teachers and track their progress.
It provides students with virtual classes, homework assignments, and delivery tools and is used in conjunction with the iEN YouTube channel and the iEN national education portal.
School leaders consistently monitor the educational process via Madrasati, prepare class schedules, communicate with absent students, and provide technical support for students and their parents.


Summer vacations: Insurance providers step up to cover travel risks

Summer vacations: Insurance providers step up to cover travel risks
Saudis will not be allowed to enter airports or board aircraft without showing their health status through the Tawakkalna app. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 23 June 2021

Summer vacations: Insurance providers step up to cover travel risks

Summer vacations: Insurance providers step up to cover travel risks
  • Countries are demanding travelers have travel insurance in order to lift the financial burden of medical bills in case of emergencies
  • A traveler is exposed to losses such as quarantine and treatment costs of COVID-19, cancellation of a flight or shortening its duration or missing flights, or loss of luggage or delay of luggage

RIYADH: With summer vacations underway and more countries easing restrictions on international travelers, health risks from COVID-19 remain a source of concern.
Citizens are being encouraged to follow health precautions before departure to ensure a safe trip, while health insurance is also an entry requirement for some countries.
Pre-flight tests are required and more countries are demanding travelers to their countries have travel insurance in order to lift the financial burden of medical bills in case of emergencies. Others require visitors to buy healthcare policies from their destination’s government.
For travelers under 18, health insurance that covers COVID-19 infection is mandatory. The 12 accredited health insurance service providers are following the guidelines.
In a joint press conference with the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation last month, Council of Cooperative Health Insurance (CCHI) spokesman Othman Al-Qasabi said that a new insurance policy in conjunction with the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) will include benefits that cover the risks of COVID-19 infection.
The policy is mandatory for those under 18 planning to travel.
Talal Albotty, regional director of the Central Region at Salama Insurance Co, told Arab News that the central bank initiative in collaboration with the CCHI aims to distribute risks and losses if these occur.
Comprehensive coverage is included for travelers on international flights against all risks related to travel outside Saudi Arabia, he said.
“A traveler is exposed to losses such as quarantine and treatment costs of COVID-19, cancellation of a flight or shortening its duration or missing flights, or loss of luggage or delay of luggage. The policy includes coverage of emergency medical expenses, personal accidents, or transportation of a deceased from or to Saudi Arabia and liability toward others as per the conditions and exceptions delineated in the unified insurance policy,” he said.
Albotty said the cost of an insurance policy does not exceed SR375 ($100) a month. However, if more services are added, these will be calculated proportionately as per the duration of the policy.

Saudis will not be allowed to enter airports or board aircraft without showing their health status through the Tawakkalna app. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)

The policy is for people vaccinated against COVID-19 and is required for anyone under 18 traveling outside Saudi Arabia since they are not required to take a vaccine under global protocols, he said.
Husain Quhal, a senior executive with a leading insurance company, told Arab News: “The Saudi Central Bank has launched a campaign to educate people on the importance of travel insurance covering COVID-19 risks as well as reducing costs of traveling abroad.”
Feroz Khan, vice president of sales in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for Webbeds, a leading accommodation supplier to the travel industry, told Arab News: “Resumption of flights in May, opening of borders, and relaxation in travel and quarantine protocols have all resulted in positive travel sentiments.”
Webbeds is in touch with its partner company in the Kingdom and will make this travel insurance available for travel agents to book online shortly, he said.
Saudis travelers will not be allowed to enter airports or board aircraft without showing their health status through the government-approved health app, Tawakkalna.
Travelers who have received two vaccine doses, those who have completed two weeks since receiving the first jab, those who are immune by recovery no more than six months since infection and children under the age of 18 who have travel insurance obtained in cooperation with the Saudi Central Bank will be the only groups allowed to cross international borders.


Saudi rights chief meets top Philippines official

Saudi rights chief meets top Philippines official
Saudi human rights chief meets top Philippines official in Riyadh. (SPA)
Updated 23 June 2021

Saudi rights chief meets top Philippines official

Saudi rights chief meets top Philippines official
  • Saudi Arabia hosts more than 800,000 Filipinos, the highest in any Gulf state, according to a 2020 government estimate

RIYADH: The president of Human Right Commission, Dr. Awwad Al-Awwad, held a meeting with Robert Eric Borje, chief of presidential protocol and presidential assistant on foreign affairs of the Philippines, in Riyadh on Tuesday.
They discussed ways to enhance cooperation in all field especially human rights.
Al-Awwad highlighted the Kingdom’s efforts in streamlining the local labor market and the steps Saudi Arabia has taken to ensure the safety of all in the wake of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Philippines and Saudi Arabia have agreed to increase cooperation on labor reforms and ensure the well-being of over 800,000 Filipino migrant workers in the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia hosts more than 800,000 Filipinos, the highest in any Gulf state, according to a 2020 government estimate.